|Ronald L. Smith, photo by Erik Kvalsvik|
Ronald L. Smith is the author of Gloom Town, a new middle grade novel for kids. His other books include Hoodoo and Black Panther: The Young Prince. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Gloom Town, and for your character Rory?
A: Well, originally the book was called Mr. Foxglove’s Valet. The town was still called Gloom, so I thought Gloomtown would be a more captivating title. I write organically, so I never know where I’m going until I get there. I was surprised to find that the story ventured into a seafaring tale, but that’s what happens sometimes.
I knew I wanted to write a creepy story and make it a fantasy, but that’s about all. I always wait for the story and characters to reveal themselves. Somehow, it seems to work.
Q: The novel is set in a gloomy town by the sea--how did you create your setting, and how important is setting to you in your writing?
A: Setting is probably one of the most important facets of good storytelling. The seaside location came to me as I was working on a map for the book. I knew that Rory, my main character, would live near the docks, so it really took off from there. I love setting.
My first book, Hoodoo, was a lot of fun because I drew on all of the flora and fauna of the South: weeping willow trees, the smell of fried catfish, the intense heat of the sun. My job is to make the reader “fall into the page,” and that’s what I try to do with all of my books.
Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing it, or did you make changes along the way?
A: Well, I’m a pantser not a plotter, so I didn’t know the end. I usually don’t. Once I have a few thousand words I begin to have a better idea of what could happen at the end. It doesn’t make it any easier to get to the actual end, though! I always make changes, as most writers do.
Also, editors sometimes come up with changes at the last minute that help make the book better. I love that phase of the process.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?
A: I just want them to have fun reading my books. Of course, there are always themes like friendship, family, being brave and true to yourself. You don’t want to be obvious, though. Kids are smart and will sniff out moral lessons or preaching in an instant.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Can I say? *Looks around nervously* Sure, why not. It’s called Where the Black Flowers Bloom, and is a fantasy inspired by African mythology and magic!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Yes. Thanks for the work you do!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb