Scrub isn't happy about leaving Florida and his friends to summer with his crazy grandmother in "Middle-of-Nowhere, " Washington. Arriving at her Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast, he isn't surprised by its the-60's-meets-Star-Wars decor, but he is surprised by the weird-looking guests. It turns out that each room in the inn is an off-earth portal and his grandma the gate-keeper, allowing aliens to vacation on Earth. Grandma desperately needs Scrub's help monitoring the visitors, shopping for cartloads of aluminum-foil for dinner, and taking rambunctious alien kids, that glow-in-the-dark and look like trees, camping. The problem is, the town sheriff, already suspicious about Granny, is a scout leader camping in the same spot. Will Scrub blow Granny’s cover, forcing the B&B to shut down for good, or will the intergalactic police have to intervene?
Clete was nice enough to send me an ARC of Aliens on Vacation; what a fun read! Who wouldn't want to work at an intergalactic B&B? With a steady stream of aliens popping in, you never know what craziness Scrub will have to deal with next. Equally interesting human characters (Scrub's Granny in particular is full of quirky greatness!) gives this series the potential to be a huge hit with children. Read on to see what Clete had to say about the book, writing in general, and canned brains...
1) There are all sorts of strange and interesting aliens coming and going throughout Aliens on Vacation. How did you come up with some of them, and which is your favorite?
When I was a kid I was always trying to figure out ways to make money; I got my first summer job right after third grade. So even though the main character has all of this amazing contact with aliens, I wanted his experience at the Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast to seem like an actual job and reflect what it's like to work with the public.
While most customers at any place of business are nice, if you've ever worked the front lines of customer service--especially as a young person--you know that there are certain people who are incredibly rude. They come in with a sense of entitlement and for some reason ignore all of the rules of behavior that would apply to any other social interaction. Instead of getting annoyed with these customers I always found them ridiculous to the point of being hilarious. So one of my favorite alien customers is this purple squid-like creature who was supposed to be having a vacation on a planet entirely covered by oceans but he is transported to a mountainous region of Earth by mistake. He blames everything on the stupid humans and takes all of his frustration out on the main character. That guy cracked me up.
2) If you could have an alien attribute (such as super strength or multiple arms) which would you choose and why?
While I tend to be very skeptical when I'm reading, I'm pretty gullible when interacting with people face-to-face. So I'd like to have the power of knowing when someone is lying.
3) Where did you get the idea for Aliens on Vacation?
Most of my story ideas start with a "What if?" scenario. Usually, visitors-from-outer-space stories are about the aliens coming to invade the planet, or steal our resources, or study us. They all have a Big, Important Purpose. I remember thinking, "Wait. What if the aliens are just coming to hang out?" I thought that would be funny.
4) What made you gravitate toward writing for children?
Probably because I fell in love with reading at such an early age.
5) What was your journey to publication like? Did you have any setbacks? Did it go how you expected?
The thing that has surprised me the most is all of the incredibly helpful, supportive and gracious people that I have met along the way. Published authors who gave me advice and helped me make connections, the advisors in my MFA program in writing for kids who pushed me to do my best work, other aspiring authors who have helped during writing workshops and also commiserated during the tough times. And after I (finally!) signed that first book deal, the people at my publisher, Disney-Hyperion, have been so wonderful to work with. The process of rewrites with my editor felt very comfortable and collaborative, and the folks who work in publicity, marketing, book design, etc. have been so friendly and enthusiastic. I'm trying not to sound too sappy here, but I have just forged so many relationships with great people who truly care about children's literature and the positive impact that reading has on kids.
6) Do you have any advice for debut authors?
Focus on writing your next project. After struggling to get anyone to read your work for years, all of a sudden there are ARC's being sent out and people you have never met are reviewing your book on their blogs and sites like Goodreads and talking about your story on Twitter. It's very surreal and exciting, but don't get too caught up in it. None of that is going to help you write your next story.
7) Can you tell us a bit about your future projects?
I signed a two-book deal so I have been writing a sequel to Aliens on Vacation called Alien on a Rampage. It's about the second summer that the main character comes to work at the Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast and has a whole new cast of alien characters. It will come out in spring of 2012.
8) Just for fun, what is your favorite unusual place to write?
I get up at 5:00 every morning and take a walk while it's still dark and take verbal notes on story ideas with the digital recorder feature on my iPhone. Half of the walk is in the woods, but the other half is in a residential area. Sometimes I get caught up in my ideas and I stop walking and take my notes, not really realizing where I am. Now, if I looked out my window at 5:00 am and saw someone mumbling into his phone right outside my driveway in the dark, I would probably think he was a terrorist. I can't believe no one has called the cops on me yet.
As you might have heard, there’s supposed to be an apocalypse in 2012. Even though that would be totally unfair to the Apocalypsies with 2012 debuts, let’s assume it’s true:
9) What are the 3 worst canned goods to have an unlimited supply of in a bomb shelter? What are the 3 best?
I once saw Cow Brains in a Can and the recipe advertised on the side was for "Brains and Eggs." That has to be number one on the worst list.
There is feature on a pop culture website I love called The A.V. Club where they try out disgusting foods. My favorites have been Cheeseburger in a Can and Breakfast Burrito in a Can (containing something called "egg nuggets"!), so those would complete the worst three list.
The three best would be . . . ummmm . . . oh, gosh. My wife is from the South and loves to cook. I haven't eaten anything from a can in twenty years. I realize that everyone reading this interview now hates me.
Wait! Tuna. I love tuna.
10) Although most aliens are probably wonderful and harmless; in the event of a hostile alien invasion, what would be your survival strategy?
Surrender and assimilation. Maybe I could get a job sweeping up around the spaceship.
Thanks for taking time out to talk to us!