I met Clayton Smith at the “Chicago Writes Conference” last September. He read from his then soon-to-be-released novel, Anomaly Flats. He hooked me with the scene where the main character, Mallory, gets introduced to the Oracle, which turns out to be the bowling alley. I could hear, see, and smell that bowling alley. The idea that a place has prescience stayed in my head until I could get the book. Plus, Clayton stuck around and chatted with me for a while.
Okay, maybe I hooked him into a conversation a little bit, too. After all, I’m the woman who sat outside his at-capacity workshop and scribbled notes on self-publishing. He had a lot of gems to share; like look at the color of the paper. Too white screams self-published. I never thought of that, but once Clayton said it, it all seemed obvious.
Anomaly Flats is my favorite read of 2015. I say it’s a fluid read, sorta like a mash-up between Stephen King and Erma Bombeck. Clayton classifies Anomaly Flats as “speculative fiction,” because it incorporates some elements of horror and some elements of science fiction, and it’s got quirky humor and time travel. So it fails to fit neatly into one category. Clayton explains, “When I have a story to tell, it doesn’t always fit neatly in a genre. It can be challenging to market.”
For a long time, I couldn’t finish a novel. My thoughts would shift to something else. I got frustrated.
He joined National Novel Writing month and actually sat down and focused on one project. “I found I get it done quickly.”
Now he gets really hyper focus on one project at a time. He gets up at 5 AM writes for a while, write on train commuting to work, write on train on way home.
“I get story play through at night before go to bed.” says Clayton
For me, it’s hard to sleep at night, if I let my characters in before I go to bed. I must do something mindless, like watch “Full House with CoCo.” Here’s another tip Clayton shared:
I really try not to care about how it sounds or what it is until its done. I Surprise myself sometimes.
Clayton got the idea of Anomaly Flats when a friend introduced him to podcast “Welcome to Night Vale” He also watched “Wayward Pines” on television.
“I like stories about weird worlds.”
One of the criticism Clayton has about these kinds of stories is that eventually the character find out what’s behind the reason for the anomaly. In Anomaly Flats, the town is background character. Explains Clayton, You kind of see the town differently from as the story progresses.
Clayton became an expert at self-publishing after trying the traditional route. He got many rejection letters in 2012 for his novel Apocalypticon, Still
“I thought self-publishing was desperate.”
He sent a query to a publisher looking for a post apocalyptic, heartfelt story about friends and fun. “It sounded perfect.” A few weeks later he got a rejection letter.
“They didn’t even look at a chapter.”
Clayton read everything he could on self-publishing, got together a bunch of short stories and published a collection as a practice run.
“It was terrible, but I learned a lot. I learn something each time I publish.”
I got a pre-publication gift of one of Clayton’s short stories, “The Keyhole Heart,” which led me to ask Clayton whether he intends any sort of message or lesson in his stories.
“Any lesson comes later in the process, secondary to the story-telling. Perhaps there’s a moral, but It sometimes makes a point.”
I remember in Stephen King’s On Writing that he had a fear of spiders. Yes, Clayton has an irrational fear, too. Perhaps it was when his older cousins locked him in his grandfather’s basement as a prank.
“There was just one window that let in just enough light to highlight a 3-dimensional fish with red lips and eyelashes,” says Clayton. “I have a crippling fear of fish. Yes, there is a very scary fish in Anomaly Flats and even scarier lake.
Just so you know, I noticed two F-bombs in the book, otherwise, mild on language. I gave a copy to two early-teen grandsons and a copy to Mom. The boys smirked and told me they could handle a couple of F-bombs. The grandsons love the way the book’s ‘voice’ pulled them in immediately. Mom said it was too scary for her.
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