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Ronald L. Smith: 2019 National Book Festival


>>Peggy McGlone: Hello? My name is Peggy McGlone, and
I covered the arts and culture for the Washington Post. It is my pleasure to introduce
Ronald L. Smith this afternoon. Before he became a novelist,
Mr. Smith worked in advertising, a job that took him around the
world to write commercials, promoting cars, cheeseburgers,
and airlines. His childhood love of fantasy
and Science Fiction pushed him to ditch that career and the
fancy meals and hotels that went with it and try his
hand at writing fiction. His first book, “Hoodoo”,
a spooky thriller set in 1930s Alabama was
published in 2015. Critics praised Smith for
his believable characters, his creepy settings, swift
pace and for creating quote, chilling moments
that readers on edge. “Hoodoo” on the American Library
Association’s Coretta Scott King John Steptoe award
for new talent. He switched gears in “The Mesmerist” choosing 19th
century London for the setting of a supernatural adventure
of 13-year-old Jasmine. In his third, “Black Panther, the Young Prince” featured
Marvel comics superhero and was named a fantasy
must read. His most recent book,
“The Owls Have Come to Take us Away” is the story of an alien obsessed
12-year-old a budding author who believes he may
have been abducted while on a camping trip. Mr. Smith will sign
books at 5:30. And now I give you,
Ronald L. Smith. [ Applause ]>>Ronald L. Smith: Hello? Hello? Hello, hello. All right. Can you guys see
that screen there? That’s me. And– with a scary clown. Who knows who that clown is? Stephen King. Who likes scary stories? Where are the kids? Where are the kids in the house? All right. Who likes scary stories? Good. I write scary strange
stories and I like being afraid but I get to make all the
decisions was not that scary. But thanks for hanging
out and being here. I’m going to tell you a
little bit about my books and why I write children’s
books. Do we have some big
readers out there? Who likes to read? All right. Yeah. Reading makes you a
more interesting person. Kids and adults. Nobody wants to be
boring, right? Everybody wants to
know a lot of stuff. So anyway, this is
my first book, “Hoodoo” which you
just heard about. It was my first book. It’s about a 12-year-old
kid in Alabama who has to defeat this magic big bad
guy that comes to his town. But he doesn’t know
any magic himself. I will go through these quickly. And “The Mesmerist”
as you heard. It’s about 12-year-old
Jasmine and she’s in London. She has uber powers,
special powers. She can read minds. She finds other kids like her and there’s a big threat
that’s coming to London that they have to save. And then this book–
you may have heard of. Who knows who that is? Yeah. Wakanda– what? Yeah. So, this one
is a lot of fun. I still can’t believe that
I got a chance to write it. But somehow it got done. It was all like a dream. You know? Like when you’re
doing something in school or your reading a book and
somehow, I got this opportunity and it just kind of
all came together. I was very nervous
writing this, right? Because Black Panther is
a really big superhero. Right? So, I had to
write about him as a kid. So, it was a lot of fun to
write and it’s not a spoiler but the book is about
young Black Panther, right? So, before he becomes
Black Panther, he is what, a prince, right? Before you are a king,
you are a prince. Right? So, what’s it like for
him to not have all that power? So, he is in Wakanda, use
the Prince everybody’s like saying yes, yes, yes. You know, everything he’s
probably pretty spoiled. So, in the book, his father the
ruling Black Panther sends him away to Chicago with M’Baku because there’s a
threat in Wakanda. So, T’Challa is in the Southside
middle school in Chicago. So, what is he like when he
doesn’t have everybody falling over them to talk to him? What’s he like as a regular kid? So that’s what I
wanted to explore. And then my latest book is “The
Owls Have Come to Take us Away”. Who knows about aliens? Anybody? Can you guys see
the alien face in there? Look closely. See the eyes see it? [inaudible] So this is about
a 12-year-old kid who grows up on military Air Force bases
and he is a creative kid. He’s kind of shy
he’s kind of weird. Basically, it’s me
when I was a kid. Because I grew up in
an Air Force family and we moved around a lot. But basically, he’s a nerd. He’s a nerd kid and
nerds are cool. I like nerves. But he thinks he’s been
kidnapped by an alien at some point and
nobody believes him. Right? But he’s telling
his friends. He told his parents,
and nobody believes him. So, the thing is is
he telling the truth? Or you know, or is something
else going on with him? So, you have to read the book
to find out what happens. We are going to save some time
at the end for questions, okay? Oh, and very quickly, this
is something I’m very proud to be a part of. It’s from Random House and we
need diverse books movement. It’s called the hero next door. It’s short stories
about everyday heroes. Not the heroes who were capes but you know the everyday
heroes you might see like neighbors or anybody. So it’s a really cool book and I’m really proud
to be a part of it. All right. So, why does a grown-up
write children’s books? Who wants to answer
the question? Why does a grown-up
write children’s books? Anybody? Right. So, we can write things
that other people enjoy. So, I wrote children’s
books because– well I will just show you. This was one of the first
books I read when I was a kid. It’s really weird. It’s called “The Wonderful
Flight to the Mushroom Planet”. I’m sure nobody has ever heard of it unless you
are very very old. Like me. This book is so
old it only cost $0.50. You can see the price on it. But it’s about these kids who
build a rocket ship to Mars in their basement and this book like really like
took off for me. It made me really
imagine like other worlds. Right? And then have you
guys heard of these books? These are really old covers. You know “The Hobbit” and
“The Lord of the Rings”? These are the really old
covers for those books. And I was really into
these books a lot. I read them all the time. And then there’s “A
Wizard of Earthsea”. It’s about a Wizard who
lives in a world that’s made of archipelagoes these
islands and he goes on a journey to become a Wizard. And have you guys heard of this? You know this, right? The Chronicles of Narnia? “The Lion, the Witch,
and the Wardrobe”? Yeah. So, these books they kind
of ignited an itch in my brain and I had to scratch it. So, you know I did? I started writing. [ Music ] So, I had my journal. Who keeps a journal? Does anybody like to draw like
keep a notebook or journal and write stories
and stuff in it? Yeah. You should do that. It’s cool. When you get older
you can go back and see what you are
thinking when you were like in middle school or
sixth grade or fifth grade. So, I was writing stories and
these are some of my notebooks and I was drying
little maps and stuff and coming up with crazy ideas. And these are all the
manuscripts I was writing before even sold the book. So if there any writers
out there, “Hoodoo” was my first published
book, but I wrote a bunch of books before that but
they were quite good enough to make the cut. But you know what? This is what happened. You guys can read that? I grew up, got a job and
forgot about those books because you grow up and you’re
supposed to get serious, right? They are like, what are you
doing reading those kids books? You need to be serious. Right? So I was too
busy being an adult. So I kind of forgot
about that stuff. I started writing serious books, the ones that make
you fall asleep. And then one day– [ Music ] Doesn’t that sound
just make you like– so my brother worked
at a Barnes and Noble, and he told me there
were some cool books out, Harry Potter, right? So I went in and I read Harry
Potter and I was like wow, these are like the books
I really enjoyed as a kid. And then he turned me
onto these too, right? Do you know these? Lemony Snicket– “A Series
of Unfortunate Events”? Yeah, right. What about “Sabriel”, has
anybody heard of that? That’s a great story. With a girl hero and you know
you guys know there are no boy books and girl books, right? There are only good books. So you can read whatever
you want to read. Don’t let anybody tell you
what you can or can’t read. And then there’s “His Dark
Materials” which is awesome. [ Music ] So, I started writing again. [ Music ] So I wrote some books. And they weren’t very good. But I kept working on it and on my third novel,
I got a book deal. Yay. And this is how I felt. [ Music ] That’s how I felt. [music] Everybody
dances in school, right? All right. So I’m going to show
you a little film. I’d like to know how
much time I have. Where’s my time person? I don’t want to go over. Okay, so how do you
write a novel, right? I’m going to show you
guys how to do it. Okay. Pay close attention. Not everybody learns this. Okay? Here we go. [ Music ] Wait five years. [music] Seriously. Five long years. [music] The heart
will turn into a seed. [ Music ] Eat it. And then wake up,
because you’re dreaming. There’s only one way
to write a novel. [ Music ] Try and try again. That’s how you write a novel. You just have to keep going. Don’t let anybody tell
you you can’t do it. It doesn’t matter how old you
are– for the adults out there. I wasn’t a 20-something or a
30-something or a 40-something. But somehow I still did
it because it’s something that I really wanted to do. So, when I visit schools,
I always show this picture. And I get sad now because I
always showed this picture I ask the kids who it is. And sometimes they know
and sometimes they don’t. But she was a great
writer and I have this on my wall in my office. Her name is Toni Morrison
and we lost her recently. But this is what she said. And that makes a
lot of sense, right? Because everybody has
a different story. Everybody’s story is different. So, only one– everybody’s
got a different story. So I really love this quote. And then I also ask the kids
if they know who this is. Does anybody know who this is? All right. Pablo Picasso. That’s right. And you know what he said? Right? Doesn’t that make sense? Remember when I said
I grew up and I had to like put away the books and the fantasy books
and the sci-fi? Well Pablo Picasso
said the problem of staying an artist you know
every child is an artist, right? So even if you are
not into writing or reading whether you are into
ballet or football or basketball or knitting or whatever you
want to do, just go for it. Just do it. Do it until you get
really really good at it and maybe one day that can
be your job when you grow up. So, always do what
you want to do and don’t let anybody
tell you you can’t. Thank you. [ Applause ] [ Music ] All right. Do we have time for questions? About 10 minutes if
we have any questions. I think the question was
does my book have anything to do with Area 51? Never heard of it. I can’t tell you. Well, there’s a lot of
[inaudible] stuff in there. Yeah, there’s a mention of it. Yeah. It’s crazy stuff. All right, who else
has a question? Really speak up loud. What’s my next book? It’s called “Gloom
Town” [phonetic] and I think I might even be
able to show you the cover. Or maybe not. Oh, wait a minute. Oh, no. I can’t show
you the cover. But it’s about two
kids in a seaside town and there’s something
really creepy going on at a place called
Foxglove Manner, and these bad guys are
stealing people’s shadows. [inaudible] it’s
called “Gloom Town”. As a kid, what really sparked
my desire for science fiction? Well, you know something? We moved around a
lot when I was a kid. I was in a military family. In the Air Force. And we moved to new
schools every two years. So, you know how hard it is to
make friends in school, right? So, every time I got
to have a friend or get to know somebody we
would end up moving. So, I always felt
like I just put myself in books all the time. That was my escape. Because I was always sad
because my friends would leave. So, every time I go to a new
school I go to the library. Any librarians in the house? [cheers] Yeah. So, I would always
go to the library and she would usually
recommend books and they were always
sci-fi and fantasy. I wanted to escape the reality
of moving every two years. So, I think it’s because
I just wanted to escape. That’s why. All right. Anybody else? Have I read the whole
Harry Potter series? Yes. Two times. Maybe three. I’m Gryffindor. Yeah. Oh, my God. On a scale of 1 to 10,
how would I rate the book? Well, it’s J.K. Rowling
who is the greatest person who ever lived, so what
can I ever say to that? It’s a fantastic book. I loved it. [ Inaudible Speaker ] My favorite Harry Potter
movie is Prisoner of Azkaban. That’s my favorite. Who else? Anybody else? We’ve got a few more minutes. Oh. Am I going to make any
of my books into series? Well, that’s not
really up to me. [ Inaudible ] What’s the scariest
book that I’ve read? I have a lot of smart alec
[phonetic] answers to that. But, I don’t know. There’s a writer that you
guys are too young to read so I probably shouldn’t
tell you. He’s kind of like
Stephen King you know? And there’s some others. But they are way too creepy. So, I don’t want to tell you because then you
will go look it up. And then your parents
will be mad at me. I like going to schools because
kids will just ask you anything. How many houses do you have? What kind of car do you have? How much money do you make? How old are you? I’m really old. Yeah. I’m old. I’m old enough to know
that it’s never too late to chase your dreams. All right. Thanks a lot, everybody.

Robin Kshlerin

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