I'm delighted today to be interviewing Ronald L. Smith, an author whose MG debut HOODOO comes out next Tuesday, September 1st from Clarion Books. It's one that I've been dying to read since I first read it's premise:
"Twelve-year-old Hoodoo Hatcher was born into a family with a rich tradition of practicing folk magic: hoodoo, as most people call it. But even though his name is Hoodoo, he can't seem to cast a simple spell.
When a mysterious man called the Stranger comes to town, Hoodoo starts dreaming of the dead rising from their graves. Even worse, he soon learns the Stranger is looking for a boy. Not just any boy. A boy named Hoodoo. The entire town is at risk from the Stranger's black magic, and only Hoodoo can defeat him. He'll just need to learn how to conjure first.
Set amid the swamps, red soil, and sweltering heat of small town Alabama in the 1930s, Hoodoo is infused with a big dose of creepiness leavened with gentle humor."
Sounds great, right? (purchase links are at the bottom of the page)
Mr. Smith graciously agreed to answer a few questions about this compelling book as well his writing journey and process. Enjoy!
DG: HOODOO sounds like such a unique, original story. If you were pitching it to a middle grade reader, how would you describe it?
RS: You like scary stuff, right?
You like stories where kids become heroes and save the day, right?
You like books that aren’t too long and you can finish pretty quickly, right?
Great, sounds like you’d like to read Hoodoo!
DG: What was your journey to publication like? Did you have to deal with lots of rejections and setbacks?
RS: Wow. Well, anyone can visit my blog at strangeblackflowers.com and search the archives to see my road to publication. I’ve always been a writer, and I left a career in advertising as a writer when I got my book deal. When I was in the corporate world, I pretty much forgot about writing fiction. But one day, all that changed.
My younger brother, who was working in a Barnes & Noble at the time, turned me on to some good kid’s books: The Sabriel series by Garth Nix, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman and many others. Once I read these books I rediscovered the love I had for the kind of books I read when I was a kid. I set out to writing again, but instead of literary fiction, which was my preferred type of book, I started writing kid lit. After that, I never looked back.
HOODOO is my third novel but the one that got me an agent and a book deal.
I knew that rejection would be par for the course, setting out on this journey. The advice you’ve all heard is true: keep going, keep writing.
DG: Tell us about your writing process...are you an outliner or a pantser?
RS: I am The God of all Pansters.
Can’t outline to save my life.
Scrivener? How the heck do you use this thing?
No, I like what George R.R. Martin has to say on the subject. Something about being a gardener and not an architect. I have to see where the story is going organically, while I’m in a kind of fugue state. Only then can I begin to put the pieces together into a narrative.
DG: HOODOO looks deliciously creepy...did you have any inspiration or tricks to get your mind in the "HOODOO mood" when you were writing it?
RS: Do you mean aside from walking around my neighborhood dressed like the Grim Reaper?
No. I just tried to write what I would find scary, whether you’re a kid or an adult.
DG: Why did you choose to write middle grade?
RS: Interesting. I don’t think I chose it. Hoodoo just turned out that way. Once I realized it was MG, I made sure to keep my reader in mind. I have another MG book in my contract, too. I love MG, but also want to write YA as well. I do remember that time as a kid, though, when you’re discovering the wonder of books and the places they can take you. That is a wonderful feeling and it is unique unto MG books.
DG: What are some of your very favorite recent middle grade reads?
RS: Hmm. Good question. I haven’t read a lot lately because of the impending Hoodoo release and also working on my second book, but let me tell you what I’ve picked up lately:
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
Doll Bones by Holly Black
I’m also actually re-reading the Harry Potter books and am amazed at how much I’d forgotten. And, um, I’m looking forward to reading a book called the Honest Truth.
DG: Your book is SO close to coming out...after the long wait for publication, what are you most excited about?
RS: Honestly? I am most excited by getting it behind me and moving on to the next thing!
Maybe it’s looking at it on a bookstore shelf, or perhaps seeing someone reading it somewhere.
I feel curiously numb, Dan. Maybe it’s a writer thing. I’m sure you can relate.
Oh, I just thought of something. I’m looking forward to being on some writing panels/events. I think that will be fun
DG: Quick: an aspiring middle grade writer wants advice on making the dream happen. You can only go give them two pieces of advice and have 20 seconds to do it. Go!
RS: Write as much as you can, if not every day, whenever you have the chance. Read MG books. And then read some more. Share your work with writers you admire and trust.
DG: Finish this sentence: "The middle grade reader in your life will love HOODOO because..."
RS: …IT’S SCARY!!!
Wanna check it out? Here you go: