Congratulations to Samantha Clark on her gripping debut novel, The Boy, The Boat and the Beast (2018, Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster). This is a one-of-a-kind story that skillfully keeps the reader emotionally invested all the way through to the unexpected ending. I asked Samantha about her writing journey.
Middle Grade Mafia: Where did you find inspiration for this brave book, The Boy, The Boat and Beast?
Samantha Clark: I’m so glad you think this book is brave! I think the Boy is very brave, even if he doesn’t think so. Some of the bravest people are the ones who act even when they’re scared.
The original idea for THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST came to me when we were living in Houston. I was walking our dog on the shore of Clear Lake and began to wonder what would happen if a boy woke up alone on a beach and had no memory of who he was or how he got there. The Boy was so clear in my head, and I thought about him all the way back to our house. I told my husband everything, and we sat brainstorming ideas for over an hour.
But the real story—why the Boy was there and what his true journey was—wasn’t clear to me until I wrote the final scene of the first draft. I had this huge ah ha moment, when I thought, “That’s what this book is about.” Then I got down to writing it in revision.
MGM: What is the main message you want readers to take away from the story?
SC: I’m a big believer that readers will discover what they need in a story, but one of the things I hope readers will take away from THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST is that they don’t have to feel brave to be brave.
The Boy has an inner bully who tells him bad things about himself, and constant negative self-talk isn’t good for anyone. But too often, we allow ourselves to believe those thoughts, and one leads to another. We need to be able to turn around self-talk to something more positive.
I’m actually really excited to have worked with clinical therapist Bonnie Thomas, LCSW, who specializes in working with children, on a program to help kids who experience this. The Make Your Own Courage Art Therapy Project, named after a line in the book, has two downloadable PDFs—one for clinical therapists and one for parents/teachers or other caregivers—filled with activities based on self care tools the Boy uses in the book. The PDFs are downloadable free from my website at SamanthaMClark.com/MakeYourOwnCourageArtTherapy, and I lead kids in some of the fun activities when I visit schools and libraries. I hope the kids who have self doubt can see that they can turn inner bullies into inner friends.
SC: “Never give up. Never surrender!” Okay, technically that’s from Galaxy Quest, but the “never give up” part has been told to me over and over by writing friends—and I like keeping “never surrender” on the end. Never give up might seem a bit cliché; I’ve read it in other interviews with authors. But since rejection can be such a big part of this career, it’s important to find strength wherever you can. Publishing is a dream that can and will come true, but you have to make it happen. You have to keep writing, keep learning, keep revising. You have to submit despite rejections and write more after that. You have to never give up, no matter what.
MGM: How long from when you started writing until it was published.
SC: I wrote the first draft of THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST in 2010, so it took eight years for it to get published. But I wasn’t agented when I first wrote it, and I wrote another two novels before I signed with my agent in January, 2015. We did a few rounds of revisions, then the manuscript went on submission in October of that year. But it wasn’t until I had done another big revision based on some of the notes we’d gotten from editors that the manuscript sold. It actually got two offers within three weeks of the new revision going on submission, so that revision was the key to making the book what it could be.
MGM: Can you share a fun photo?
SC: I’d love to! Here’s a fun one with my bookcover in England. An author there, Jennifer Lynn Gillham (https://www.instagram.com/jlgillham/), takes photos of bookcovers in interesting places,and she snapped this one in Bury where she found trees leaning over just like on THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST. I love it!Samantha M. Clark has always loved stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. After all, if four ordinary brothers and sisters can find a magical world at the back of a wardrobe, why can’t she? While she looks for her real-life Narnia, she writes about other ordinary children and teens who’ve stumbled into a wardrobe of their own. In a past life, Samantha was a photojournalist and managing editor for newspapers and magazines. She lives with her husband and two kooky dogs in Austin, Texas. Samantha is the Regional Advisor for the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and explores wardrobes every chance she gets. You can sign up for news and giveaways at www.SamanthaMClark.com (http://www.samanthamclark.com/).