This month’s Member Interview features our very own Samantha M. Clark, SCBWI Regional Advisor of the Austin Chapter, author of seven children’s books, and winner of a Crystal Kite Award. Her books include The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2019), American Horse Tales: Hollywood (Penguin Workshop, 2021), Arrow (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2022), and most recently the Gemstone Dragon series of chapter books (Bloomsbury, 2022.) Prior to a writing career, Samantha was a professional photojournalist and managing editor for newspapers and magazines. She is not only our chapter leader, but a mentor, conference planner, public speaker and more! Samantha is currently represented by Rachel Orr at Prospect Agency.
Where did you grow up, and how did that place (or those places) shape your work?
I grew up in five different countries: Guyana, England, Jamaica, Cayman Islands and later the U.S. for college. For my most informative years, I lived in England and the Caribbean, and they have definitely fed my work. A lot of Jamaica and Cayman is in The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast, from the sand crabs to the sea grape trees, but also my feeling isolated as the new kid. Arrow is definitely inspired by Guyana, which is mostly covered by the Amazon and has indigenous tribes who take care of the rainforest.
Did you always want to be an author, or did that come later?
I always wanted to tell stories, but when I was young, I didn’t think writing books was something I could do. My parents encouraged me to try journalism, and ironically, it was in my Mass Communications classes at USF that I first started to think I could become an author. One of my journalism professors was also an author of sci-fi novels and it made me think I could make my dream a reality. It took MANY, MANY, MANY years before it would become a reality, but I’m glad it did.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
Me sitting at my desk a LOT. I recently got a standing desk extension so that I’m not sitting the whole time. My day begins with exercise and walking our two dogs with my husband, then we each go to our individual offices at home. In the mornings, I have my email off and I write. I’m always bouncing between a few different writing projects in various stages, and I work on whatever has a deadline first and whatever is speaking to me the most second. After a quick lunch break (when I have time), I spend my afternoons working on everything else, from marketing, event organizing, speaking presentations, Austin SCBWI duties, editing and mentor-client work, and lately a new venture that I’m very excited about: BooksNotHate.com. The idea and designs started popping into my head a month ago, and I’ve been having so much fun starting the business and celebrating librarians and everyone who shares books. It’s still in its early stages, but I’m looking forward to growing it.
How does your everyday life feed your work?
Stories are all about our everyday life, even when I’m writing about sparkly dragons. I get ideas for stories and characters everywhere. But also, the volunteer work I’ve done with Austin SCBWI has been enormously valuable. Not only have I learned and grown my craft through SCBWI programming, but being the Regional Advisor for our chapter helped me gain confidence as a speaker and helped me through difficult times when my own career was lagging—I was able to gain satisfaction in that I was helping others—and that paid off for me later too.
Tell us about some accomplishments that make you proud.
I’m very proud of our Austin SCBWI chapter. It’s a warm and supportive place, and I’m proud that I’ve been a part of leading it for the past 10 years. I’m proud of the scholarships I’ve started and helped to start that have gone on to help others boost their own careers. And I’m proud that people have found agents and sold books through connections made at events I’ve helped to put on. That feeds me and makes me want to do more. More personally, I’m proud that after getting over 100 rejections from agents and editors before I signed with my agent seven years ago, I now have seven books on shelves, three foreign editions (and more coming) and an audiobook from three different publishing houses. For a long time I dreamed but never truly believed that I’d be an author, and it still feels surreal. But story ideas continue to keep me up at night, and my favorite part of the day is when I can have fun in my worlds with my characters.
What surprises you about the creative life?
I think that my well of ideas hasn’t dried up. I’m never short on ideas, just short on time. LOL I got an idea for a new YA the other day, while I was preparing for a presentation I was giving about ideas at a librarian conference. When I first started writing novels, I felt very intimidated. I would watch movies and read books and think I could never come up with a whole big idea like that. But once I learned that I don’t have to—I just have to come up with the tiniest seed of an idea—they won’t leave me alone. I say, bring them on!
When a reader discovers your work, what do you hope they find?
Heart and at least a little of themselves. I tend to write with my heart on my sleeve. There’s so much of me in all my books—even the Gemstone Dragons—and while there are plenty of issues that are specific to race, religion or geography, one thing I learned from growing up all over the world is that deep down, people are the same all over the world. We all want to be loved, to feel safe, and to be heard. I can’t truly write about what it’s like to grow up and go to school in America since I did neither, but I can write about being loved, feeling safe and trying to be heard.
Any experiences to share about teaching STEAM to children through books?
Generally, STEAM books are considered non-fiction, but I love when these real-world issues are tackled in fantasy books. For a young reader like I was, who was more drawn into fantastical worlds than our real one, these books allow readers to explore these topics where they learn the best. Also, fantasy books allow us to see a what-if world, like my novel ARROW, which answers the question of what would happen if all the indigenous people of the Amazon were pushed out and deforestation was allowed to run more rampantly than it currently does. Books help to open readers’ minds to questions and ideas, and they can be a powerful tool to teach STEAM topics.
Which is your favorite: Guyana, Jamaica, or Cayman?
Hmmm, they’re all so different and I love them all for very different reasons. I love Guyana and the rainforest, Jamaica and the Blue Mountains, and Cayman is where my parents still call home.
What gems do you have to share from your years serving as SCBWI Austin Chapter Regional Advisor?
There’s been so much that I’ve loved during this time, and I feel very lucky to have been able to do the job. One of my favorites, I think, has been getting to know so many of our members and see their craft and careers grow.
If you were a collectible on your bookshelf, what would you be?
Umm, maybe a bookmark, peeking out of a book, trying to grab the person’s attention to remind them their story is still waiting.