A few months ago, I was super impressed to read about young author Caylen D. Smith in my hometown newspaper. Her self-published "Guardian" series of books is amazingly popular -- the second book in the series, Uneven Odds, even garnered a spot on the Apple iBooks Young Adult New Releases! I reached out to Caylen through her website and she was kind enough to give her time for an interview. I am thrilled to feature her on the blog today! Her story is inspirational and filled with practical writing advice. Read on for more about Caylen, in her own words!
What would you like readers to know about you as an introduction?
My author name is Caylen D. Smith (the D stands for dramatic), and my age is 21, soon to be 22! I’m a senior in college and my hometown is Agoura Hills, California. My hobbies—more likely known as addictions—are scrolling through Tumblr and working on my Tumblr blog. It’s a way to be creative. Also, that tweeting nonsense as well. I will never turn down the opportunity to read, mostly anything, but I lean more toward books that are fantasy, or contemporary novels. They are my weakness. If I am not reading or writing, I am definitely watching my favorite movies repeatedly. Mostly anything from the Marvel Universe or a Christopher Nolan film.
Describe your path to publication. How did you get your idea for the first book? Take us through your writing process.
The idea of the first book, Ripples: Book One of the Guardian Series, was sparked by a dream. The difficult part about it was that I didn’t remember everything that happened. All I remember was there were rebels, a girl and her friends that lived in a huge house, and a lighthouse abandoned on the beach. Not writing down exactly everything in the dream when I first woke up was my fault, but I somehow managed. I thought it would be interesting to name these strangers, and create backgrounds for them as well. Surprisingly, Landon was the first, then came Alexandria, the main character. The rest just followed. I invented their storylines, daily lives and what made them important to the story itself.
I never really thought of putting my work out there to sell. I didn’t think it was quite possible because all I wanted was to write and see where these characters would go on this little adventure I placed them in. Actually, my mother was the one who pushed me to publish my stories. We sent out a few drafts to some companies that were interested, but no offers. So, we decided to self-publish instead. Every now and then we would purchase magazines about self-publishing, and found sites about authors who went that route. It seemed easy enough, but using an editor was something we didn’t think to find at first. Though once we realized how important it was, we found an editor with the help of a friend. We checked out artists on the internet who created book covers too. And soon we had a team that I have used for all three of the Guardian books.
Have you been writing for a long time? What do you like about writing?
Surprisingly, I didn’t start out like other authors. Many say in interviews that they have always aspired to be writers, or how they began to write when they were children. I became passionate with the writing world when I was a tenth grader in high school. That was less than six years ago that I aspired to be a writer. Since then, I have completed nine full manuscripts – three of which have been published. Writing is a complicated thing. I think creating worlds and characters is what keeps me interested. Having to make up backstories of characters and how they got to the point where the book started, and weave in their own unique stories throughout the novel is a challenge I like to make for myself. Like why is this character always angry? Or how can this character have this much joy in their heart? What they look like, smell, and what are their favorite foods—their hobbies and wants. It is what helps me make their world.
What has been the most surprising thing to you in your journey as an author?
The most surprising thing has to be that people actually enjoy reading my books. I know there is this sense that “you are your toughest critic” but all my life I didn’t think I was that great of a writer. That was why I placed myself so low on the food chain, but the funny thing is that each part of the food chain is important in its own way. Each one has a special gift in their own role in life.
Do you have any advice for other writers, or for other young people going after their dreams?
Write what you want to write. I see all the time the contradictions on the internet. For example, one side wants less random death in stories, and the other side can’t get enough of emotional pain. I think, if done appropriately, character death is highly essential for the plot. People die in real life all the time, and having that in the story gives a sense of reality. In one way, listening to the readers is extremely important. Their voices do matter, don’t get me wrong -- but also be aware that not everyone is going to like one thing or the other in a story.
Can you share a few of your favorite books or authors?
Well, author wise it would have to be Flannery O’Connor, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Colleen Hoover, and Meg Cabot. Each of these authors has a special place in my heart. If I ever need inspiration to help me as a writer, I look to these wonderful people. Especially O’Connor, since she is extremely quirky. My favorite books are The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.
What inspires you?
Music inspires me. I cannot write without some type of song playing in the background. The way movies can capture true emotion for the audience is through lyrics and sound, and I use that to my advantage. Music tells its own story with words as well, and it helps me paint a scene in my head, or an emotion I am trying to convey for my characters.
What are you working on now? What's next for you?
With the Guardian Series finished, meaning the fourth book is done, just needs to be edited and cover reveal and all, I am working on this new project of a story retelling of Robyn Hoode. Yes, that is the spelling. I told myself if I were to do a retelling it would have to be on something that has not been constantly retold. So, this was the story that I saw less of on the shelves and wanted to give it a chance and see what I could create.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I know the thought of self-publishing can be taboo in the writing world, but times are changing. It takes finding a wonderful team (editor, cover artist, and proof readers) that can help you along your path. It might be one of the best decisions you can make, if you are more focused on getting your story out there than receiving money right away. Those who start from the bottom sooner or later can reach the top. And that is an inspiring story to be told.