Monday, April 25, 2011

Author Spotlight on: Roland Smith

It's another Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and I'm pleased to welcome author Roland Smith to the blog.

If you've been reading kids' books for a while, chances are you've come across a book by Roland Smith. With nearly 30 published titles to his name, Smith is a prolific writer of picture books, middle grade and YA novels. His stories are filled with realistic characters and amazing adventures that appeal to a wide range of readers. Last month he released STORM RUNNERS, the story of a boy and his father racing across the country in pursuit of hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.  The second book in this series will be out in September.

Read through to the end for a chance to win one of Roland's books. But first, the interview...

Do you still write all your first drafts by hand?
My preference is to write my first drafts in a Moleskine journal. I do this because it's portable and doesn't need a battery. For me to keep the momentum on a story going it's best to carry it wherever I go, reminding that what I'm supposed to be doing is writing, even though as an author there are many other things that I have to do like speaking, signing, and selling books. If you write by hand there is no spell check, grammar check, it's just you and the story and the words. I just returned from speaking at a conference last night.  Got to the airport early, took out my Moleskine and wrote my way across the country.

Just like Grace in Cryptid Hunters! I love it!

Besides the penchant for moleskine journals, your background working with animals also plays a part in a number of your novels. You’ve said that you’re uncomfortable with animals in captivity. How did that influence your choices when you worked in zoos, and now as an author? 
I think everything in your life influences your writing and working in zoos as a zookeeper, curator, and research biologist for twenty years has certainly influenced my writing.  When I say that I'm uncomfortable with animals in captivity I'm not saying that I oppose zoos. Zoos are here to stay and have done many wonderful things for wildlife. When I was hiring zookeepers I liked candidates that were a little uncomfortable with the idea of animals in captivity.  I felt (and I believe I was right) that they would take better care of the animals in their charge. I should point out that 99% animals people see in zoos today were born in captivity. Very few wild born animals are put in zoos.

You’ve rescued sea otters, reintroduced wolves to the wild, lived in the jungle with elephants: is it safe to say that you’ve had hands on experience with many of the topics you write about? 
Many, but not all. It's been said that you should write what you know. I think this is a little misleading. I don't know Stephanie Meyers, but I doubt that she's ever had an encounter with a vampire. My point is that you need to write about what is important to you, what's interesting to you, which can be very different than what you KNOW from personal experience.

You spend a lot of time traveling and doing hands on research for your novels. How long does it take you to research a novel before you start writing? 
That of course depends on the novel. Here's my spectrum... I wrote my novel SASQUATCH in three weeks, and I was traveling during that entire period. The three elements in the novel were Mount St. Helens, Big Foot, and D.B. Cooper. I already knew a lot about all three subjects, so I didn't have to do a great deal of research.  ELEPHANT RUN took me about 10 years to complete. I had to do a great deal of research, travel to Myanmar, and there are four completed novels with the same title, totally different from each other, that no one will ever see. I just couldn't get the story right until the fifth try and I won't send a book in unless I like it. When I started writing it took me twice as long to do the research as it did to write the novel. It takes me a little less time now. I think experience has made me a little more efficient.

SASQUATCH is one of my son's favorites. He'll probably be in awe to hear how fast you wrote that. I'm in awe of how fast you wrote that! But you’ve managed to release at least a book year since your first book came out in 1990. Do you work on more than one book at a time? How long does it take you to write and revise a novel? 
 On any given day I only work on one novel, but alas because of my many deadlines and book contracts (I'm not complaining) I'm working on more than one novel at a time. I don't think this is the best way to write a book and I don't recommend it. Ideally you (and I) should work on one book at a time. As soon as I catch up, and I've told myself this for years, this is how I'm going to write my books.

What happens to me is that I will be working on a book and an editor will send in the line edits for a book I finished, which means I need to stop working on the book I was working on and put my head back into the book I finished. Or, I will be working on a book and an editor will say we need for you to outline the book your supposed to send to us next year... "Could you please..." Again, I'm not complaining. I'm happy editors and readers want my books. Maybe someday, when I grow up, I will be able to work on one book at a time.

I know you’re a big reader. Do you read nonfiction? Middle grade? Adult fiction? What’s on your nightstand right now?
I read two or three books a week, and for the last couple of years almost all of the books I've read have been read with the Kindle app on my iPhone and iPad. I travel a lot and I travel light with a library of 250 books in my pocket. I read a lot of adult thrillers, adventure, and mysteries, which is the genres I write for young adults. I also read a lot of non-fiction.  I just finished reading "At Home: A Short History of Private Life" by Bill Bryson. The week before I finished "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival and Redemption" by Laura Hillenbran." Both were fantastic reads, which have nothing to do with the novels I'm working on at the moment.

I do read YA books that my friends write, or publishers send me. For instance I just got back from Texas where I was speaking at a luncheon with 5 other authors, some whom I knew, some whom I didn't know. I read their most current books, because it's rude not to know the work of the people you are speaking with.

Your I,Q novels don’t deal with wild animals or cryptids or the outdoors at all. What was the inspiration for this series?
Again, I write about what's important to me. When an author writes something different from what they've written before it's often said that "it's a departure" for them. The truth is that it's a departure for the reader because the reader doesn't know the author personally or what interests him or her.

My son and I are dying to know: how much longer do we have to wait for the sequel to Tentacles?
It's schedule to be out in 2012. In fact, I'm working on it today right now....

Awesome! Can't wait to read it!

Want to know more about Roland Smith? Here's where you can find him around the web:

If you'd like to win one of Roland Smith's amazing novels, tell me in the comments. One lucky reader will get to choose any of his novels that is available in paperback. Comment by Thursday midnight (PST). A winner will be announced Friday.

Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade Books? Check out these bloggers:
Shannon Whitney Messenger talks TIGER and has a giveaway as well.
Shannon O'Donnell
Ben Langhinrichs
Joanne Fritz
Brooke Favero
Myrna Foster
Barbara Watson
Aly at Kidlit Frenzy
Anita Laydon Miller

I also have winners to announce from the YA giveaway last week.

The winner of Jellicoe Road is:

The winner of The Water Wars is:

And since Amanda Hoving was the only one to put her name in for Soul Enchilada, that one goes to her!

Congrats to all the winners!! Send your mailing address to solvangsherrie at gmail dot com and I will get these books out to you.


Bish Denham said...

You have the best interviews Sherrie, and I mean that literally. You ask interesting and different question that relate to each author. Thanks!

Unknown said...

I'm still sitting in awe that you actually spend time writing in your moleskin journal. That's so impressive. I have a terrible case of tendinitis so typing allows me to get the words out faster. Though I'd love to write my novel in a journal it's just not as feesible! Kudos to you though!

Fabulous interview! So detailed! I'm a fan!

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Wow, Roland, thanks for sharing this. Over 30 titles - That's wonderful! You've introduced so much to your readers. Love that.

Thanks, Sherrie, for sharing Roland's thoughts. Oh, and I received my book on Saturday!! TY!! And I'd love to win one of Roland's books.

Kristan said...

Wonderful interview! I love how grounded and yet passionate he seems.

"When an author writes something different from what they've written before it's often said that "it's a departure" for them. The truth is that it's a departure for the reader because the reader doesn't know the author personally or what interests him or her."

Precisely! Thanks to both of you for this great interview. :)

Kelly Polark said...

What a knowledgable, interesting man! I love that he writes his first draft in a journal. Very freeing.
Excellent interview!

Laura Pauling said...

I've heard many writers say that writing longhand helps with the creativity b/c the slower process allows their brain time to work. All that to say, I haven't tried it yet. I prewrite in longhand but that's it.

Yay! Thanks Sherrie. Can't wait to read Jellicoe Road!

Unknown said...

Great interview -- I'm a big fan of Roland's books. Looking forward to his newest.

Stina said...

Eeek! Someone who writes their first draft by hand. I could never do that. Epic disaster. :P

Shannon O'Donnell said...

My students LOVE Roland Smith! This was a fantastic interview, Sherrie. I love that he writes his books in a moleskin notebook. Love it! :-)

Kristin said...

I think I read somewhere that Neil Gaiman wrote Coraline in a composition book first. So, Roland's in good company! :)

Thanks, Sherrie!

P.S. Kicks self I missed out on Soul Enchilada.

Amanda Hoving said...

Great interview! I loved the image of Roland pulling out his moleskin notebook and writing across the country. That's a kick for me today -- you really can write excuses!

P.S. Very excited about Soul Enchilada -- thank you!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Roland, I hosted an after-school book club a few years ago, and PEAK was one of the title we read. My kids were rabid about this book. One of my students took to checking which page I was on and told me we had to discuss as soon as I got to a certain part.

One of my reluctant readers went on to read a number of your books.

Thanks for all you do! And I love the moleskin connection you gave Peak.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this! Loved the Cryptid Hunters!

Vivien said...

Loved the excellent interview!! Great post :)

deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

bfav said...

Great interview. I can't believe he writes a hard copy first draft. I'm impressed with all the reading he slips in during the week too.

Joanne R. Fritz said...

Great interview!

This is my favorite line: "Maybe someday, when I grow up, I will be able to work on one book at a time." It must be difficult having to work on so many things at once, Roland.

Fascinating stuff, Sherrie. Very thorough. And I'd love to win one of his books.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

Another fantastic interview! Thanks for the introduction!

Tess said...

I am really enjoying these MG Mondays! And, yes, I do know Rolands work. My son loves much of it :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Awesome interview! I love the range (in time and subject matter)! And somehow I have to figure out how to read that much.

Tiana Smith said...

Woot woot! Thanks! I'll send you my address.

Lisa Reiss said...

Another awesome interview! Thank you!

Lisa Reiss

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