Local author publishes children’s book, goes global

Published on Thu, Jun 24, 2010 by By Tara Nelson

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Sometimes dreams do come true. Just ask Blaine high school teacher Clete Smith who recently achieved his lifelong dream of becoming a published author.

His first book “Grandma’s Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast” is now being distributed throughout the world in more than seven languages with plans for distribution in Russia, Italy, Germany, France, Portugal, Spain and Brazil.
Smith, 38, signed a two-book deal last year with Hyperion Books and sold movie rights to Disney. He is considering the sequel titles “Boy vs. Alien” and “Alien on a Mission.”

He said he came up with the idea while wandering through the woods two years ago near his home in Bellingham.
Smith teaches eighth and ninth grade English at Blaine high school. He earned his masters degree in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts where graduate students are paired up with published authors. While there, he was paired with Rita Williams-Garcia, who was nominated for the national book award for a book called “Jumped.”

Q: Where did the inspiration for the book come from?
A: I’m a lifelong Whatcom County resident and when I was growing up, I would go out hiking in the woods and think about stories. The woods always seemed like kind of a magical place to me because there were no parents or teachers there and it seems like a place where almost anything could happen.

Q: Tell us about the story
A: The story takes place in a fictional town in the Pacific Northwest, a place in which it seems almost anything can happen. It’s about a Florida boy whose parents send him to work every summer at his grandmother’s bed and breakfast in rural Washington state.
When he gets there, he discovers the bed and breakfast is an undercover operation for aliens vacationing on Earth and he’s put in charge of disguising the aliens and taking them on trips, at least until the local sheriff starts to get suspicious. It’s funny stuff.

Q: What is this place like?
A: I sort of picture Glacier if Glacier were bigger. It’s kind of like Mayberry, a quaint little town being overrun by all these aliens.

Q: What authors have inspired you?
A: I fell in love with reading when I was in second grade and my friend gave me Chronicles of Narnia and I faked a major illness to stay home from school and read it. From that point on, I always wanted to be a writer.But I also love Roald Dahl, who wrote Charlie and Chocolate Factory, because he’s so subversive and funny and his kid characters are so smart and capable. I also liked Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH. Currently, Pete Hawkman, because he writes across a wide variety of genres. I like a lot of fantasy writers such as George R.R. Martin. A lot of kids like fantasy because it’s written for adults but it’s kid friendly and they don’t fee like they’re being talked down to. I think writing for children you shouldn’t be aiming any lower than with an adult audience. David James Duncan, Pat Conroy, and for pulp fiction I love Stephen King. Eric Schlosser. I read so much it’s hard to even pick. I also love Sherman Alexie, he’s very funny.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
A: First, read a lot of books. I’ve always assumed that if people want to write a book that they would be voracious readers. I think people who read a lot just know how things should flow. It’s trying to recreate that, really.
If they want to write a book, they should sit down and write it first and then take a class to finish it.

Q: This is your first published piece and it’s being reproduced in seven language. How does that make you feel?
A: It’s really exciting to think some kid in Russia is reading my story. So many adults have read my book, but they’re all adults in the business, so to have an actual kid read my book that’s the most exciting part.

Q: How long did it take you to finish the book?
A: I probably worked on it a year and a half before school and then with my editor about six months for a rewrite, so about two and a half years total. I just got through the copy editing process about a year ago.
It’s a very strange way to write. Usually I have an idea that is amusing to myself. It’s a very solitary activity but here I am writing something that had been paid for. I had about three days that I sat in front of the computer wondering what was I was doing. I think I write to the 12 year old version of myself. But then I got a funny idea and then it just took off. I signed the contract last summer and it took me about a year to write it.

Q: Do you plan on continuing your teaching career?
A: It’s a little up in the air right now. A teacher is coming back next year so there might not be a job for me next year. But the goal is to become a full-time writer.

For more information, visit  www.cletebarrettsmith.com.