Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Beth Smith at not one, but two different author signing events. I enjoyed picking her brain about the path of self-publishing she has chosen, and I asked her if she would share some of her thoughts about writing and her debut novel, Alien Dude and the Attack of Wormzilla.
“Zany black, white and gray cartoon illustrations and a fast paced, humor and action packed narrative keep Alien Dude! readers on the edges of their seats throughout. In a fabulous plot with interest enhanced by such devices as yucky worms, farts, morphing, and general grossness of a high index, Alien Dude! and the Attack of Wormzilla!! is sure to hook and sustain readers age 6-8 and up.” —Midwest Book Review
LP: Thanks for joining us today, Beth. As a former teacher and a mom of a reluctant reader, you have formed some definite ideas about what is missing in the reading market for this population. Can you explain?
BS: When I was teaching, I couldn’t find good “boy” books for my beginning readers. Most of the books at the beginning level were too “baby.” Struggling readers, especially, couldn’t find books to motivate them to read. They were too mature for the books at their reading level. They wanted to read books that their peers were reading like Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
LP: How did your teaching experience influence your motivation to become a writer of easy-reader books?
BS: I loved teaching reading. As a first and second grade teacher, I needed easy books that had chapters and numerous plots to use with my guided reading groups. It was hard to teach critical thinking skills like inferring and predicting with short, simple books. So now I am not only writing easy books with chapters and multiple problems and solutions, but I am writing lesson plans to go with them.
LP: Tell us how Zip Line Publishing evolved and why you and your husband, Michael, were motivated to start this venture?
BS: When my husband Michael left his job of seven years, he had some free time at home. At that point, he started to get things rolling. I had already written three stories, but had never been able to find the time to do anything about it. Then, when Michael went back to work, I finished my year of teaching and left my full-time job to publish the books.
LP: Tell us about the inspiration for Alien Dude and the Attack of Wormzilla and how you see the proposed 10-book series evolving.
BS: I had a different name for the main character. His name was going to be Shade Farley. My son, Lake (then age 10) was not thrilled with the name, so I asked for his input. He came up with “Alien Dude.” He also came up with the title, Alien Dude and the Attack of Wormzilla. When I wrote the story, I wanted to write about gross “boy” stuff. I thought a morphing alien, a giant worm and a school infested with smaller worms would be perfect. I hope to continue writing the next eight books over the next three or four years. I would also like to see some sort of Alien Dude animation online and possibly in e-books. Eventually, we would like to publish activity books and curriculum guides to go with the series.
LP: Who is your illustrator, and how did that relationship develop?
BS: Peter Grosshauser is my illustrator. I found some great illustrators from the Internet and let the kids in the neighborhood vote on their favorite artist. Peter won! He lives in Arizona so we have never met in person, but we talk on the phone a lot.
LP: I understand you sought the input of both of your children in the creation of your book. Tell us about that.
BS: There are two parts in the first book that were completely written by Lake. Originally, Alien Dude was going to sing and dance to get the attention of the worms. Lake said that wasn’t “boy” enough. He insisted that I change it to “farting” instead of singing and dancing. I was unsure at first, but went ahead and took his advice! Lake also changed the ending. Originally, the worms were going to eat too much and that was that. Instead, Lake suggested that the worms explode. So they did, and Alien Dude went back to school with worm guts on his face. My daughter, Sterling (then 15) helped me more with my website, changing and copying code.
LP: You have had occasion to do numerous school visits. Can you share some of the most gratifying experiences you have had in the classrooms?
BS: I miss teaching so it is nice to be back in the “classroom.” I incorporate learning objectives and classroom management strategies from my teaching days, then I hand the kids back to their teachers. I recently went to a school and it was “Dress as Your Favorite Book Character Day.” One of the kids was dressed as Alien Dude. Made my day!
LP: What advice do you have for those who are choosing the self-published route? Do you have plans to continue in this vein, or would you ever consider crossing over into “traditional publishing?”
BS: The current plan is to stick to self-publishing. My advice is to read, read, read! And join publishing organizations. There is so much advice out there that has helped us along the way. I didn’t realize how much time it would take and how long. Be prepared to spend a few hours a day to publicize your book and yourself, if possible. We call bookstores, libraries, schools, and publications constantly to plan visits and to publicize the books. It’s a lot of fun, but a lot of work!
LP: I wish you every success in your future writing, Beth. Readers, you can follow Beth’s Facebook page listed under E.K. Smith.