Welcome OOM readers!
Today we got the chance to chat with Roland Smith, New York Times bestselling author of the 39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers, and the Cryptid Hunters series. Smith’s newest book Beneath is filled with page turning twists, secrets and conspiracy theories that will capture the hearts of young readers. Publishers Weekly raves, “Smith delivers a tightly plotted mystery that incorporates themes of nonconformity and social rebellion,” and School Library Journal writes, “Beneath hits all the notes of an underground novel with several allusions to classics such as Jule Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and H. G. Well’s The Time Machine.”
Here’s what fans of Roland Smith’s previous books can look forward to in his newest novel Beneath:
Brotherly love. Dark, creepy places. Explosions. An astronaut. Betrayal. Murder. Kidnapping. Destiny. Human magnetism. Cobwebs. Claustrophobia. A librarian. A Nobel laureate. A lunar eclipse. A bit of romance. Darn it! Now you don't have to read the book.
Can you describe how the idea for Beneath evolved and what interested you most in telling Pat and Coop’s story?
At an elemental level it started with my relationship with my older brother, who passed away a couple years ago. The bonds we have with our siblings stay with us for our entire lives, good or bad (with my brother it was good). The other spark for the story was my claustrophobia. I am fearful of closed, tight, dark spaces, but because I am afraid, I am also fascinated by closed, dark, tight spaces. Fear is a powerful emotion. Love is a powerful emotion. Can a positive emotion conquer a negative emotion? Can love conquer fear?
Which character in Beneath do you relate to most?
Pat O’Toole, the younger brother and the primary narrator of the novel. Although, I have to say that I relate to all of my characters in my novels. The characters come from people I know, people I’ve read about, and my imagination, and most important, there is a little of me in all of the characters, including the bad people. Uh oh.
If Pat and Coop were to meet a character from one of your previous novels, who do you think they would be friends or rivals with? Why?
I love this question. I’m known for having characters jump from one book to another for cameo appearances, and sometimes in even bigger roles in completely different stories. My characters become my friends and check in with me often asking if I have any work for them. If they are persistent I might throw a story their way. I think Pat and Coop would get along famously with Marty O’Hara from the Cryptid Hunters series or Chase Masters from the Storm Runner’s series. In fact, Pat and Coop could really use Marty and Chase’s help in the deep. As for rivals, Coop likes everyone, and everyone likes him. Pat, on the other hand, has a healthy dose of skepticism in his personality. For example, it would take him awhile to warm up to Luther Smyth from the Cryptid Hunters because Luther operates way outside the box of so-called normal human behavior.
If you could spend one day in the world of any of your books, which one would you choose and why?
June 14, 1805, with Captain Meriwether Lewis and his faithful dog, Seaman, above the Great Falls in Montana. I wrote about this day in The Captain's Dog: My Journey with the Lewis and Clark Tribe. Lewis was the first non-native American to see this pristine and astonishing place. On that day he was chased by a grizzly, snarled at by a badger (a species unknown to him), and charged by a buffalo. I think it was happiest day of Lewis’ life.
Your books feature a lot of exciting (and rather dangerous!) adventures. Would you describe yourself as an adventurous person? What has been your most thrilling travel experience?
I don’t know if I would describe myself as adventurous, but I’ve heard myself described that way by other people. Before I had any success as an author I had wonderful day jobs as a zookeeper, a zoological curator, and a research biologist. These jobs took me to some of the most exotic places on earth. The most beautiful place I’ve been to was Kenya. A very close second would be Alaska, where I have been many times as a biologist, writer, and tourist.
My most thrilling travel experience was spending several weeks deep in Myanmar (formerly Burma), living and working in elephant camps. I was there to help elephants and do research for my novel Elephant Run. It was like going back in time a hundred years, and was remarkable in every way. Of all the places I’ve ever been, this was the place that changed my worldview the most.
Who or what is the biggest influence on your writing?
Other authors and their novels, so I guess it’s both a who and a what. I’ve read one or two books every week for over fifty years. Every one of these novels, great, good, or not so good, has influenced my writing. I’m not talking about stealing other author’s ideas here. I'm talking about how they choose to tell their story. The words. The sentence structure. The plot. The characters. The rhythm of the story. What did they do right? Where did they go wrong? What would I do differently if I were writing their novel? These questions, and others, are very inspiring for me.
Being a reader made me a writer. Being a writer has made me a better reader.
Can you describe your writing process and whether it changes depending on the story you’re working on?
I don’t think the process changes much from novel to novel for me. Before I start writing I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do and where the story is going. I write the rough draft relatively quickly making very few corrections. At this point it’s all about getting the words down. Rough means rough. Rough also mean horribly unreadable. Once I have the abomination completed the real writing begins. I go back and make it better, word by word, in the smallest increments imaginable, day after day, month after month, until it’s good. Then I give it to my editor and she makes me look a lot more talented and smarter than I is am.
What do you personally find most challenging about writing?
Beneath is my 25th novel, and you would think that after all these books the process would get easier. It doesn’t. This is a curse and a blessing.
The Curse: I’ll send a book in and the very next day start a new novel with my momentum in high gear. [But] when I start a new novel it’s as if I’ve never written one before. Every single day I have to glance over at the bookshelf and see the long row of books with my name on the spines to prove to myself that I can actually undertake and succeed at this daunting task.
The Blessing:The writing of every novel is a new experience with fabulous highs and terrible lows, it never gets boring. There is a scene in Beneath where Coop is trying to find the People of the Deep. It’s pitch black. He’s reached a dead end. He is starving, exhausted, thirsty, feeling his way for the entrance, for days on end, until he finally...Writing a novel is kind of like that.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Read and write every day for the rest of your lives starting right now. I know you’ve heard this a hundred times before. The reason you’ve heard it a hundred times is because IT’S THE TRUTH. There is no secret trick, or incantation, that only published authors know. Believe me, I’ve asked them. Learning to write well takes time––thousands and thousands of hours. And once you learn to write well it will take a thousand hours or more to complete your first novel. If you are willing to spend this much time writing there is a good chance that you actually have the talent to become an author.
Thanks for stopping by OOM readers! For a chance to win a finished copy of Beneath, tweet this link, tag @RolandCSmith and hashtag #BeneathGiveaway.