Tuesday, August 22, 2017

0 Clete Barrett Smith, author of MR. 60%, on writing something messy and raw

We've had so many amazing authors provide interviews lately that we're spreading them out to Tuesdays and Thursdays rather than overwhelming our readers with writing wisdom on Saturdays. 

We're thrilled to have Clete Barrett Smith stop by to tell us more about his latest novel, MR. 60%.

Clete, what was your inspiration for writing MR. 60%?

I had two main inspirations for writing this novel. The first was that a beloved family member was diagnosed with a terminal case of pancreatic cancer and given six months to live, and he came to live at our house during his final days. He was angry about his diagnosis and not at all ready to die and did not feel like handing out pearls of wisdom or life lessons wrapped up in a bow, as I was reading in some other books about death. So I wanted to write something messier and more raw and closer to the feelings that we all had at that time.

The other inspiration comes from my twenty years of teaching high school. I have known many teens like Matt and Amanda, and I wanted to honor them by telling their story.

How long did you work on MR. 60%?

Mr. 60% has had a strange journey, because I wrote it ten years ago. But my first book—Aliens on Vacation—had just been picked up for a series by Disney-Hyperion, and it is a fun, lighthearted middle grade story. My agent advised that we not follow up a humorous sci-fi adventure for young readers with such a raw, emotional, perhaps edgy book for teens like Mr. 60%. So I wrote four middle grade books for Disney-Hyperion (Aliens on Vacation, Alien on a Rampage, Aliens in Disguise and Magic Delivery) and then after that my agent fought hard to find a good home for Mr. 60%, a story that he really believed in.

To answer the original question, though, I have never written a book this fast. The bulk of it I wrote in less than three months during my second semester at the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. It just sort of came pouring out of me. I think it happened so fast because I really knew the characters well, as they were based on people I had known in real life. I also got excellent advice along the way from my second-semester advisor, the wonderful children’s author Uma Krishnaswami.

What are you working on now?

I am writing a middle grade adventure novel with the musician Dave Matthews (from Dave Matthews Band). It is the first time I have written a book collaboratively and I am really enjoying it! Dave is a very imaginative guy who is passionate about the story and he has been very kind and gracious during the entire process.


Mr. 60%
by Clete Barrett Smith
Crown Books for Young Readers
Released 8/22/2017

Witty, honest, and wholly captivating, Mr. 60% is a perfect read for fans of The Spectacular Now and Where Things Come Back.

Matt Nolan is the high school drug dealer, deadbeat, and soon-to-be dropout according to everyone at his school. His vice principal is counting down the days until Mr. 60% (aka Matt) finally flunks out and is no longer his problem. What no one knows is the only reason Matt sells drugs is to take care of his uncle Jack, who is dying of cancer.

Meet Amanda. The overly cheerful social outcast whose optimism makes Matt want to hurl. Stuck as partners during an after-school club (mandatory for Matt), it’s only a matter of time until Amanda discovers Matt’s secret. But Amanda is used to dealing with heartbreak, and she’s determined to help Matt find a way to give life 100 percent.

Purchase Mr. 60% at Amazon
Purchase Mr. 60% at IndieBound
View Mr. 60% on Goodreads


Clete Barrett Smith’s first novel for teens, Mr. 60%, will be released by Crown Books in August, 2017. Smith has also written four humorous middle grade adventures: Aliens on Vacation Alien on a Rampage, Aliens in Disguise, and Magic Delivery. Aliens on Vacation was released by Disney-Hyperion Books for Children in May, 2011 and named an American Booksellers Council “New Voices” selection as one of the top middle grade novels of the year by a debut author; and AOV was nominated for state award lists in Texas, Florida, Washington, Pennsylvania and Nebraska. A lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, Clete Barrett Smith taught English, Drama and Speech at the high school level for over twenty years. Clete received his MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2010. He currently lives in Bellingham, Washington with his family.


Have you had a chance to read MR. 60% yet? Have you written stories inspired by your life? Do you find it easier to write when characters are based on people you know? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!

Happy reading,

Jocelyn, Anisaa, Sam, Martina, Erin, Susan, Shelly, Kelly, Laura, Emily, and Lori Ann

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