Dhonielle Clayton

First Draft, Ep. 81: Dhonielle Clayton


The original post for this episode can be found here.

Sarah ENNI: Hi friends! As of this month, the First Draft Podcast is two years old. Wow, wow, wow wow. That is crazy. It’s a great time to check in with you, the listeners, so I can figure out how to improve the podcast. So, I would be forever grateful if you could help First Draft grow by filling out a short survey. I’m not gonna tell you the URL because it’s one of those crazy ones that you’ll never remember, so, find the link to the survey on the First Draft website, Twitter, and Facebook. It’s just ten short questions, and it will go a long way to help me making First Draft better. So thank you so much! Now, on with the show.

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ENNI: Welcome to First Draft, with me, Sarah Enni. Today I’m talking to Dhonielle Clayton, co-author of TINY PRETTY THINGS and its sequel SHINY BROKEN PIECES, out now. She also has a new series, THE BELLES, due out in spring 2017. Dhonielle is also COO of book packaging firm, CAKE Literary, and don’t worry, we get into all of that and more in this chat.


ENNI: Dhonielle was so sweet to meet me on a brisk New York morning at Jefferson Market Library, which is the most beautiful book castle with marble stairs and soaring spires. We claimed the library’s large event space for our own, so, if you hear a slight echo to our voices, it’s because we were basically in the dance hall from the Keira Knightley ANNA KARENINA, talking books and diversity and ballet and teen dramas and–well, it was basically a dream. So, pause that CENTER STAGE rerun, apply a Korean face mask, and sit back to enjoy the conversation.

ENNI: Okay, I have everything ready! How are you doing?

Dhonielle CLAYTON: I’m good, thanks!

ENNI: Oh my gosh, I’m so happy you could meet me. We are in the fun event space of a completely gorgeous New York library. Is this your favorite library?

CLAYTON: This is my favorite branch. The Jefferson Market Branch is just full of love.

ENNI: It’s so beautiful. It used to be a courthouse?

CLAYTON: Or a church? I don’t know what it is.

ENNI: It does seem more, more like, I don’t know–like a cathedral type of vibe.

CLAYTON: Yes, it’s very strange, but it’s near The New School, where I went to grad school, so it was a spot for me to come read and get work done before going to class.

ENNI: People were very studious upstairs! [laughs] Um, well, let’s get into the bio a little bit, which, the first question is always where were you born and raised?

CLAYTON: I was born and raised in Olney, Maryland, which is a small little town that’s near Gaithersburg–it’s about 40 minutes from DC and like 45 minutes from Baltimore, so, horses and farms and cows.

ENNI: Yes, great rolling green. I loved in DC for a little while, so I know only a little bit. And you were there all through high school, all that stuff.

CLAYTON: My whole life, born and raised.

ENNI: That’s awesome!

CLAYTON: Kinda country.

ENNI: Where were writing and reading when you were a kid, were you always…?

CLAYTON: I was a bookworm, I loved to read, I went to the bookstore with my dad every single Saturday, because he’s a book nerd. And we’d go to the comic store, and a bookstore called Crown Books, which no longer exists. And we’d go every morning, every Saturday morning, we’d get breakfast and then we’d go off on our nerdy adventures. And I was spoiled–I got a book every week. And I have, you know, my library card, and school library, and all that. So I would sit under my grandmother’s dining room table, because it had a beautiful lace covering, and then the light would come in, and I’d have my lemonade and my cookies and my blanket, and like–that’s where I lived. And my dad did the same thing when he was a kid, so it was kind of like–I just was a bookworm.

ENNI: That’s so neat! I like that it’s so tied to sort of like, family and tradition for you. What I’m really curious about the fact that you went, also, to a comic book store. Were you–what kinds of books were you reading?

CLAYTON: I loved–my dad was a comic book nerd, so I was just reading the stuff he was reading, and also I was really into X-Men, so I collected the cards, I read all the comics, and then he has–he’s one of those nerdy people who has them in sleeves that like protects them. So I was just reading what he would let me read. And it was just kind of our tradition, we would go to Crown Bookstore, and then we would go to his comic book store, and I would always be able to leave with something.

ENNI: Yeah! So have you kept up with comic books, ‘cause it’s not like X-Men went anywhere.

CLAYTON: No, I did not, I fell off about… Probably when I was thirteen or fourteen, and then I was just like, nose in books. I just didn’t… He wasn’t going as much, and I was just devouring more books than comics.

ENNI: Regular novels. So where did you go from high school, where did you go to school after that?

CLAYTON: I went to Wake Forest, which is in North Carolina, small town. Kept following these small towns; I went to Salem, North Carolina, and got my BA in English. And I struggled to read there, because we were reading a lot of dead guys. And I was just finding it hard to connect. And I think it was my sophomore year and my junior year I went back to start reading children’s books again. Because I had to find the love of reading in order to get through all of the massive, you know, really boring things that were things that were on the syllabus. And I would turn to HARRIET THE SPY and THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH and A WRINKLE IN TIME and books like that where I was like, “Yes.” This was the magic, this is what reading was for me as a kid. And then that’s why I got interested in children’s literature, and I knew immediately. I went to get my master’s in children’s lit. I wanna just read the entire canon again.

ENNI: Again!

CLAYTON: Again, I want to revisit that, 'cause that’s where magic and reading connected, and in college they didn’t connect.

ENNI: I’m curious about - while you’re in the middle of reading for classes and everything, the conscious recognition that like, why isn’t this working? The feeling of reading isn’t happening anymore, why is this? And then figuring it out.

CLAYTON: When you get, at certain liberal arts schools, your bachelor’s in English, they spend a lot of time on European literature. And not even eastern European, or like Italian, or anything. It’s always British. And I love British literature, I do, but when you have three semesters of it, how much Shakespeare can I read? I’ve read everything; I’ve read all of it. How many times can I read these same plays over and over again, how many times can I read these dead men? And I got tired of it, and I was just like, I’m tired of doing these papers on the same types of books. And I was craving something different. That’s why I returned to children’s literature. And I wanted to read about women, and it was so lopsided with men, and I knew that children’s books are where women are queens. We run that world. So that was refreshing to me to return to those authors.

ENNI: And you were also going back to genre a little bit. Sort of fantastical things, which are way more interesting.

CLAYTON: Way more interesting.

ENNI: Than victorian London, or whatever.

CLAYTON: Exactly, and I love victorian London! But I got sick of it, because if I’m reading 20 or 30 books from that time period, I don’t have any other palette cleansers, it was just really frustrating. And I never saw myself in those books. So that was like, “Okay, I don’t exist in…”

ENNI: However, going back to children’s lit, you weren’t seeing much of yourself in THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, either.

CLAYTON: Right, that is true, but then I still had Virginia Hamilton. And I had Walter Dean Myers. And I had other people. So I was able to hunt for those.

ENNI: And find those. What was the experience like, being that much older, that much more removed, more life experience, going back and reading the kids’ books, was that when you started to think that you actually wanted to engage in that as a participant of that industry?

CLAYTON: Yes, because I never thought I was going to be a writer. I mean, I loved writing stories. My mom would tell me about the stories I would write, and all of those things, but I was really a reader. Always been a reader. And going back and re-reading things, especially things that didn’t hold up where I was like, “Ugh, this is not as good as I remembered it to be!” And when I couldn’t find myself in those fantastical stories that I just loved, I was like, I need to try to write these stories. And write myself into existence. And write for the little seven, eight, nine, ten-year-old that I was.

ENNI: Okay, a bunch of questions off of that. Well, so, I do want to--just not lose the thread a little bit of the writing--your mom talking about stuff that you did. Do you remember any of that, like, filling notebooks, or?

CLAYTON: She has a lot of stuff in boxes, because she’s a packrat. And I remember just writing really creepy stories. I was really into scary stories, creepy stories, stories about things that I saw growing up, 'cause I always went down south for the summer, or we went overseas, so I’d write a lot about the things I’d see. They’d always have a little bit of a creepy vibe to them, just strange.

ENNI: Well that’s interesting! Kind of a little darkness.

CLAYTON: Darkness, always have darkness.

ENNI: You know, I think that’s a kids’ book thing. I think especially younger kids, like, I WANT MY HAT BACK and stuff, I mean, those are… Kids are kind of good with dark, I like it. Okay, so you were writing a little bit, that’s always kind of the background, and then you decide you really wanna jump in and make your mark.


ENNI: And was that when you were going for the MA, is that with the thought of writing, or was that actually for editing, or for…?

CLAYTON: I went for a masters in children’s literature, really to start with the canon, I thought “Oh, maybe I’ll be a scholar.” I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I just wanted to read children’s books and I wanted to kind of become an expert in that field. And then once we started reading the canon, 'cause I went to Hollins University, which is fabulous. Their masters in children’s literature grad program is great. The type of classes they have, the courses are phenomenal. I got to study fairytales, and gender, and all kinds of very cool things. And I just realized, again, I couldn’t find myself. It was like, “Okay, am I repeating the bachelors issue again?” And that’s the only thing that sparked me. And they forced us to take a writing class, just one. You could just take one. And I took it with Hillary Homzie, and she’s why I’m a writer. 'Cause she forced–she pushed me. 'Cause I was like, “I can’t do this, I don’t know how to do this.” And she was just like “You’re a reader, and you’re a writer.” So.

ENNI: Interesting!

CLAYTON: Yeah, she pushed me, and I wouldn’t be writing if it wasn’t for her. She gets very embarrassed when I say that. It’s very true. Her name is Hillary Homzie, she’s great. She’s a professor at Hollins University and she’s also a writer, she has a couple of middle grade series.

ENNI: Excellent! What was that like, to take the dive and turn something in for the first time?

CLAYTON: It was hellish. I was terrified. I was like–-I had hives, couldn’t sleep. But Hollins has a great community of supportive writers–-some of them are still my friends to this day, and I’ve never experienced that kind of love, 'cause I can contrast it to my MFA at The New School, which was very different. And the people that I met at Hollins, there’s so much love there.

ENNI: That’s huge. Especially when you are literally just starting.

CLAYTON: Green. I was green. I had never… I didn’t even know how to format, all that stuff. I was a n00b, as my ten-year-old niece says. “Complete n00b!”

ENNI: So obviously that experience sort of sparked something, or was it kind of immediately from getting that first opportunity to write?

CLAYTON: Yeah, I exploded. To where I had too many ideas, I had notebooks full of ideas, and I felt like I was going crazy. Because I just had too many ideas, too little time, and I couldn’t focus. So for a period of several years, I would start stuff. I have so many fifty-page chunks of stuff that I was scratching at, that I was trying to write, but I never committed. And so that was my early issue, is that I dug all of these little holes, but I never kept going all the way to the bottom, with any of them.

ENNI: And were all of these ideas full on books, or were you ever trying short stories, or?

CLAYTON: Nope, I just started my first short story kind of thing. I submit short stories to The Hanging Garden, which is a group of YA authors on Tumblr. And I wrote my first short story last year. It was painful, but it was great. They were all novels–they were chapter books to middle grade to YA. I was just starting a whole bunch of stuff. Which is what the professor said to do, they said, “Play around until you figure out what gels.” But I was like, exploding with stuff.

ENNI: That’s so cool! So basically this creative writing class takes off, you all of the sudden have this world that is open to you, is that when you said, “Okay, I need to now focus on the writing side of it,” for New School?

CLAYTON: Yes, because you couldn’t, at that time... So, early 2000s or mid-2000s, you couldn’t get a PhD in children’s literature. So what I did was, I said I wanted to learn the canon, and critical scholarship, and also learn craft. So that’s why I got my master’s in children’s literature, and then my MFA in writing for children. I thought I could like, put them together and be an expert. But after I had to read the entire canon of children’s literature, which was great-–I mean, it’s daunting, to read all of those picture books and middle grade and chapter books and really see the historical changes in children’s literature, and then study the craft, the actual writing was great. It was a nice combination of things.

ENNI: I’m curious about the historical arc kind of, what’s–-when you think about what you learned, what is the arc, what are the main differences of what we’re doing now with children’s lit versus how it began?

CLAYTON: Well if you look at it, they were like, little stories used to teach children how to read. And women and schoolteachers just made these kind of picture books. And they weren’t very sophisticated, and they always told a moral or lesson. And then they kept transforming and getting more and more complex, and then you get fairytales, which also teach a lesson, and warn children. So we learn from all of these warnings and moral tales, to more sophisticated ways of storytelling. Which is interesting, when you have to kind of chart it out and take a look at how it changes.

ENNI: Yeah, yeah! That’s really fun. We talk a lot about how YA took off, within, you know, ten or fifteen years or so. But really it’s like, all children’s books, in a way that is sort of like, open-ended. You know, stories don’t have to have happy endings, crazy stuff happens. So, that’s exciting that you have to kind of track that.

CLAYTON: Yeah, and it was a lot of fun, because you got to see primary documents from the 1800s when these little children’s books first started coming about, seeing what these stories looked like, what the characters looked like, what the gender roles–-all of these things, what it was programming in children. 'Cause it was used as a tool to program children to be able to be in society.

ENNI: Yeah, ooh. So interesting. So when you decided to study the creative writing side, I’d just love to hear about the MFA program, it sounds like that was a different experience.

CLAYTON: Oh, it was completely different. So The New School has a lot of rockstar, you know, it’s got David Levithan, and he’s awesome. And Sarah Weeks, and it was just different. Instead of being in a room of scholars, people who read the canon, understand it, are invested in it, and they happen to dabble in writing, now I’m in a room full of writers. Who could give two shits about the canon.

ENNI: Right! [laughs]

CLAYTON: And have no idea about the canon. It was just a different, completely different experience. And now I’m in New York City, versus in the rolling, lovely mountains of, you know, Roanoke, in the valleys of Roanoke. So it’s a completely different mindset, it became a competitive, Hunger Games gauntlet.

ENNI: Intense!

CLAYTON: Yeah, super intense.

ENNI: Yeah, I kinda wanna hear both aspects, actually, about the move to New York City and about a total paradigm shift in like, what you’re going for. But it sounds like, also, you grew up traveling a lot, so it’s not like you were only in the rolling hills, but what was it like to move to the city for the first time? It’s huge intimidating.

CLAYTON: Right, I was living, actually, in Paris, and then I came home a year–-'cause Obama was elected-–I need to be in America!

ENNI: There’s a black president! Wait, what brought you to Paris?

CLAYTON: Just a frolic–-I’m a frolicker, my parents–-I have a travel bug. Sometimes I get tired of being in America, so I like to save my money and leave for a year or a year and a half or whatnot, and my parents kinda indulged me, because I’m spoiled and they are lovely. And they made me travel as a challenge, which was really great. I was an army brat, so he was all over the world his entire life, so he valued getting out there, you know, seeing the world. So I’d left for like, I guess it was almost a year, and then President Obama was elected. I came back, I got a job, just teaching kids, and again, I was working with kids and teaching literature, and I was following a blog called The Longstockings, which is Jenny HanCoe BoothSiobhan VivianLisa Graff–a bunch of really rockstar authors now, but they were at The New School. They were over there, and I was following the blog, and I was like, “Gosh, this is like, what I want to do.” And I was still writing and not getting any traction. I joined some online writing groups, and my mom was like, “If you’re going to do the things that you want to do, you know the city you need to be in. Plus you’re bored being back home.”

ENNI: Right, so when you came from Paris, you went back to Maryland?

CLAYTON: Back home, yes, back to Maryland–I got a job in Virginia and an apartment in Virginia, which is really close. You can just, you know, it’s the DMV. And she was just like, “You gotta go where–you gotta find your tribe. You gotta go where the magic is.” Because, you know, there’s magic in Paris, and I had been living in Japan. I found these places I just loved. And she was like, “The only place that’s gonna satisfy you is New York City.” And I applied to the MFA program at The New School, and I got in, I was like, “Yay!” And then moved. I saved my money and I moved out.

ENNI: That’s amazing, and–are we skipping over, I think, when you were home from Paris and DC is when teaching at the ballet academy happened, or?

CLAYTON: Yes, yeah.

ENNI: Okay, well let’s go back to that! 'Cause The New School--I just love talking to people who have had experience in MFA because it’s so, kind of enlightening, and everyone explains it so different. But did you go to The New School with one book in mind you wanted to write, or were you totally open? How did that unfold?

CLAYTON: I went to The New School writing middle grade.

ENNI: Oh really? How interesting!

CLAYTON: I only wrote middle grade, up until... I met Sona, and I started reading more–-David Levithan made us read a lot of YA. Coming from Hollins, I’d read a lot of it. But I didn’t get an interest or spark. I feel like people write from the age where they have arrested development, and mine is probably like, twelve. So that’s where my wheelhouse is. Twelve years old, doll houses, and like, magic. No kissing, no boys, none of that stuff. But I was reading a lot of YA, because I had to take his literature course first. And then he forced us to write–I think it was a one chapter like, something that drew from our lives. Kind of like an opening to a YA book. And that’s when I got a little bite of that.

ENNI: And I think in interviews, you and Sona have both talked about how you love sort of YA TV shows.

CLAYTON: Yes, I got hooked to a couple of those shows, and I was just like, “Oh, this is fascinating.” It took me back to high school, and those things. And–you know, I’d been around teens, I was teaching English at a ballet school full of teenage girls and boys. People always think there are no boys, but there are tons of boys, and they’re awesome. And they’re super athletic, it’s great. Yeah, so I’d been around a lot of teens, and I was like, “Oh, well maybe.”

ENNI: It was speaking to you in a different way.

CLAYTON: But I really started out middle grade.

ENNI: Well, and I think–I really do want to talk about the arrested development concept, but also, the fact that you love genre so much–middle grade is such fertile ground for just fantastical things. It’s sort of somehow easier to build that within that kind of age range, it’s–I’m not even sure why that is.

CLAYTON: I feel middle graders will follow you anywhere. Teens can be a little bit snobby about what they want to read, 'cause they’re burgeoning adults, but a middle grade kid? They’ll follow you anywhere if it’s a good story. If it’s good, if it’s funny–it all depends on what the kid likes.

ENNI: Yeah.

CLAYTON: They’ll follow you down any crazy path you lead them.

ENNI: Interesting.

CLAYTON: Their minds, I feel like, are bigger than teenagers.

ENNI: I heard–and I’m not gonna remember who it was, but in middle grade it’s sort of about the phase of development where you’re looking out and thinking, “How do I fit into the great big world, what is the great big world, and what are the boundaries of it?” And then the teenagers are like, navel-gaze-y, and like, “How do I fit in within myself?” And all this kind of stuff.

CLAYTON: Memememe mememe.

ENNI: Yeah yeah yeah, and maybe one boy, or whatever. [laughs] Whatever your interest may be. Um, yeah, that–the fantasy stuff is really what speaks to me about middle grade, too, so I can relate to that. But I would love to hear about the arrested development phase, because I talk to a lot–a lot of people who travel a lot, and a lot of people who’ve had really formative experiences at some point in their childhood and it seems like we circle around it.

CLAYTON: Yes, and so, we–my family was traveling a bunch, especially when I was in middle school and upper elementary school. And that was kind of a lot of fun. I remember they used to smoke on airplanes, and I remember sitting with my dolls and like, smoke coming over me because people could just sit and smoke cigarettes. So my strongest memories are from that 10, 11, 12, and I think that’s where I draw a lot of inspiration from. My high school, I probably blocked it out, because I was pimply and gross and, you know, like, just all over the place. And so I blocked that out, but I can remember lots of chunks of time from my upper elementary school and middle school time period.

ENNI: Yeah, why, do you think?

CLAYTON: I don’t know, I think it’s when I was actually taking in the world, when I was actually really invested. I was reading the most during that time. And I was interested in hunting for material and interests. You know, I’d have all these little projects, I’d build dollhouses, and I’d build swords, and all of these different things, and it was when I was most active, so I think that that kind of impressed upon my memory, that time period.

ENNI: Yeah, that’s huge. And then, I mean, what do you think it was that sort of drew away from that, in high school, or what shifted?

CLAYTON: I think puberty, just like, kills creativity. It makes you start thinking about yourself and how you fit in with social groups, versus my wanderlust and my quest for knowledge and understanding shifted to “How do I fit in? What do I look like?” There’s a lot of pressure on the female body, and like, “How do I fit in the pecking order?” and dating, and relationships, and complicated female friendships, and packs of people. And it went away from being hungry about learning about the world, to figuring out, like, feeling gross. [laughs]

ENNI: Right, right, right, ooh, okay. Let’s come back to that, 'cause that ties in to a quote I read from you–whatever, we’ll get to that–but, because. This is all going to loop together! 'Cause I don’t want to skip over the timeline of meeting Sona and getting TINY PRETTY THINGS going. So, I know you’ve told this a hundred times, but give me the story.

CLAYTON: Well, on the first day of class, when we signed up, you know, everyone’s like, feeling each other out, she was really chatty. And I’m really chatty–I can be, I’m an outgoing introvert–and we just started talking a lot. And that, I kind of immediately was like, “Oh, I like her,” and then she asked me to hang out for coffee and stuff, and I got to know her, she’d just had a kid, she was really ambitious, she had a master’s in screenwriting, and I had a master’s in children’s literature, so we were both coming to this space with wildly different degrees and perspectives. And we could feel, in the group, that we were different. And we just kept hanging out, and we were feisty and talkative and, you know, no holds barred.

ENNI: And were other people at New School also writing Young Adult and children’s, it wasn’t–that wasn’t the big difference.

CLAYTON: Yes, the children’s program is segregated by themselves, so the fiction and poetry and creative non-fiction people have their own groups, and then it’s the little children’s way. And we get shit upon because we’re commercially successful, and everyone else is like, “Oh, I’m waiting for Tin House, read my story in the New Yorker,” and we’re like, “Forget that, I’m gonna sell this book.” So you know, we were kind of… Segregated off in our little shtetl, by ourselves.

ENNI: But you still felt the tension?

CLAYTON: Yeah, the tension was still there, just because everyone was coming from different places and you get a lot of actresses and, you know, things like that in our class. And it was racially diverse in a nice way. So it was–it was just interesting. And Sona is older, and she was with kids and everything, and I think that the way that the two of us kind of fit in was just a little different. We kind of knew who we were and what we wanted to do.

ENNI: Yeah! Oh, I like that. Um, so you kind of sense the–what’s the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES term form it, bosom buddies or whatever thing. And how did the idea to write together come about?

CLAYTON: We kept hanging out and we’d always get a lot of cake and cupcakes together, and when we were learning about each other I told her that I’d been a schoolteacher for a very short amount of time when I was figuring out what I wanted to do, and that I taught at a ballet school. And we’d been watching PRETTY LITTLE LIARS together, and like, talking about it, texting and e-mailing–an obsession. She was just like, “Ooh, there’s something there.” And we were like, “Ooh, let’s do this. Let’s write this together.” Or whatnot.

ENNI: That’s a little scary, though, to think of writing with someone.

CLAYTON: Definitely. It was definitely terrifying. But at that time I was interning for an agent, and I was seeing a lot of projects and seeing a lot of package projects and also dual narrator and all that stuff and I was like, “Oh, they make it look so easy.”

ENNI: Mmm, interesting, so, “I can definitely do it!”

CLAYTON: I was just like, “We can do this!”

ENNI: Where did that fit in with what you were working on yourself?

CLAYTON: I was writing middle grade, so this would’ve been my first foray, dipping into YA.

ENNI: Do you think that had anything to do with making it feel... Novelists are sort of like, can be kinda control freak-y about their own projects. Like, you want to be the god of your universe, so, co-writing and stuff like that brings different elements out. I was wondering if you thought middle grade was your thing and then this would be kind of the way to access a more collaborative…?

CLAYTON: Yeah, I think it’s easier, I think that if I collaborated on someone with middle grade, we would probably futz, because I’m like, “I’m the middle grade expert. I read mostly middle grade.” I think because it’s YA, and because neither of us were precious about it, we really just wanted to find a way to show how we do diversity on the page, in a very accessible, high-concept, commercial way, that we hadn’t seen being done.

ENNI: So you kind of had the parameters, knew what you were working with, and almost, in a way, since you brought the world to the table, 'cause the middle grade–the onus is so much on creating that universe, and creating a universe with someone, that would be the exhausting thing. Tolkien couldn’t have worked with two people. [laughs]

CLAYTON: And she brought her screenwriting background and her love of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS and said “Hey, we gotta put this together, and find a way to merge the two.”

ENNI: Yeah, so, I’d love to–if you don’t mind taking a step back then, just give us some context for TINY PRETTY THINGS and tell me a little more about teaching at this school, I’d love to hear how that came about.

CLAYTON: Well, I got that job on accident. I was going to be a resident advisor–an RA, 'cause it’s boarding school. And we were at training, and it’s a very conservative school run by mostly Soviet Union Russians, and people from Korea. We were at a training. And the English teacher that they hired had come from the Bronx in New York, and she used a nasty term to decide teamwork–her version of teamwork, she said, she’d be like, “a circlejerk.” Like I jerk you off, you jerk me off, and then all of the Russian people were like [gasps]. And then she was quickly fired.

ENNI: Whoa–just for using that term!

CLAYTON: Right, and this was like, four days before school started, we were having our training. She was fired. And then the headmaster asked me, he was like, “You have a BA in English? While we search for our temporary teacher, can you teach at least for the first month?” I think it was 9th, 10th, and 11th grade English.

ENNI: Wow, so you had four days notice.

CLAYTON: Yup, I had to put together curriculum and all that stuff, and I did a good enough job at the academy for a couple years.

ENNI: That’s incredible! So, whoa.

CLAYTON: So I didn’t get my job like, it was just fate.

ENNI: That’s amazing. What was that like, that was the first time you were teaching full on English courses?

CLAYTON: First time I was teaching.

ENNI: And for teens, when really your focus was on younger kids, up until that point? So, I’d love to hear how that went, what was it like looking at the books, how were the kids?

CLAYTON: It was scary, but they were only there to focus on ballet. So they could give two shits about their academics. They had to have academics so they could graduate from high school, 'cause a lot of my girls and boys just went off to dance, they didn’t go to college.

Because they had no interest in that. So we had to give them a basic education. So a lot of the books I had to use were just from the canon in high school–they don’t read YA. They read OF MICE AND MEN and THE CATCHER IN THE RYE.


CLAYTON: GREAT GATSBY, yup, I had to teach all of those.

ENNI: So you’re going back to undergrad [laughs]

CLAYTON: I had to go right back to that place and teach those books. But it was fun, because the classes were really small, and we could have really personal communication.

ENNI: What was it like–it’s so interesting to me to think about, when this is something that is the over-arcing passion of your life, and then to sort of be teaching kids for whom it is not, and they know what the passion of their life is, what was it like to try to bring the joy of reading to them, however you could?

CLAYTON: Well, I was like, dragging them kicking and screaming, so I just made things–I always gave them the option to have a creative project. Because they’re creative bugs, they’re not interested in analyzing literature. So if they had an option to do something creative–to make videos, to make sculptures, to really tap in to that other side, they were much more willing to engage with the text.

ENNI: That’s so interesting!

CLAYTON: We did a lot of reading out loud, because again, they would dance like six hours a day, so by the time they got to me in the afternoon, they would be exhausted. So I’d read to them, and it was a way to also bring them back to when they were children and being read to, which makes an access to literature more comfortable.

ENNI: Yeah, and more soothing. That’s so interesting. And I love–that’s such a good point, that of course these kids are not just creative with their bodies, but that comes from being someone who sees the world in technicolor, and what was it like to see–I love talking to people who have passions besides writing, because there’s a lot of telling stories in those other ways–what was it like to see those books interpreted through whatever creative projects these guys came up with?

CLAYTON: It was awesome, because I got to see the depth of their artistry. I get to see them dancing all the time, 'cause we would watch them practice, they had the big windows, teachers could watch them. But to see them translate that artistry into a different medium really showed me how smart and intelligent they are, because I think that tests and quizzes don’t accurately measure the depth of someone’s intelligence, and especially my dancers. So it was just really great, they brought the text alive in ways that I never did, because I’m very bookworm, so I can write you a paper.

ENNI: Right, right right. [laughs] I know.

CLAYTON: That I can do.

ENNI: Well, it’s funny, 'cause that is–a little bit, though, reminding me of–even from your earliest days as a reader, you were also looking at comic books.


ENNI: Which is another really different way to have texts brought alive. Or even play second fiddle, to the big beautiful world, and I was even–I skipped right over that. I don’t even remember picture books too much from when I was a kid, I was like, “Words words words.” Like, black and white, please.

CLAYTON: Give them to me!

ENNI: So I think that’s really neat, and it’s easier to–it’s fun to have that as part of a formative thing, rather than like, now I’m trying to read graphic novels and I’m like, “Oh, I have to slow down and look at the art.”

CLAYTON: Right, and you have to train yourself to do that, it’s really hard.

ENNI: Yeah, it’s different. And you also sound like, very maternal toward these kids.

CLAYTON: I loved my little birds, yes, because they got beat up so much in the dance world, that the English teachers and math–the little teaching department was a soft place to land for them. Where it’s not about their bodies, it’s not about how high they jump, it’s not about how small they are, it’s not about how much your teacher likes you, it’s just about talking and doing this work. And it’s a completely different feeling for them. Sort of an [exhales], they can actually breathe.

ENNI: And unlike math, you’re in a position to say like, how do you feel about this? It must have been like counseling for these kids.

CLAYTON: It is–or how do you connect to that story? How do you feel like Holden Caulfield, or, you know.

ENNI: And for someone who is clearly so connected to them, I imagine it would be difficult to see them get beat up so much.

CLAYTON: Yes, but there was nothing we could do about it. The pecking order–it was very clear. They’re there for ballet, so ballet is everything. You just know your place.

ENNI: Yes, oh my gosh, okay, which brings us to, then, writing about–in TINY PRETTY THINGS–three young women who are dealing with this, what was–I’d love to hear about how you got in there. How did you create these characters? Tell me about creating that world.

CLAYTON: Well, I talked about my favorite girls with Sona, and then we also took pieces of ourselves and gave them to each girl, 'cause it’s easier to build a flesh and blood character around a kernel of truth about yourself, and then also I borrowed things from some of my kids. They spotted themselves, 'cause a lot of them have read it, like, “Oh my god! Is that me?” or “Is that such-and-such?” And I’m like, “Yup, just a little bit.”

ENNI: That’s so funny.

CLAYTON: And so we just tried to build them so that they had hard spots and soft spots, and that their highs and lows felt very organic to the world, and what ballet creates in a personality.

ENNI: Yeah, ooh, that’s so interesting. And how did that go with, I’ve heard you say before that–and I think you just said it a little bit–that Sona’s plot, Sona’s very screenwriting, getting it going, and that you’re a little bit more world and character, how did it go back and forth figuring out what was going to happen?

CLAYTON: What’s great is that I could brainstorm with Sona and like, give her a dump of things of, here are things that have actually happened at the school, and then she was able to organize that and say, “Okay, how about we do this here, this here, this here, this here.” So we do like a brain dump, and she’s good at cleaning up and organizing, because she likes to do that and I don’t like to do that.

ENNI: She can kind of see.

CLAYTON: Mmm hmm! And she can lay it all out. She lays out the road and then you start the road. That’s like, always what she does.

ENNI: Cool!

CLAYTON: She likes that, and I don’t like that. And I like laying out the characters. So I lay out the characters, and I lay out the world. She lays out the path with which everything travels on.

ENNI: When you are coming up with your own ideas, does that start with world first?

CLAYTON: Yes, starts with world and character, and then the plot comes. That’s why my drafts are really messy, and kind of shitty with plot, and then my editor is my Disney editor, she’s like the cleaner upper of bullshit and–and just mess. And she’s able to say, “Okay, this is what you have, let’s move some stuff around to make it a plot.” Because I don’t have Sona, I don’t have her with that project, so. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had–we’d have a mess!

ENNI: That’s so interesting, okay, the fact that you guys right from the beginning were very explicitly saying, “This needs to be a fun, fast-paced story, and it needs to represent our world, and be diverse.” So can you tell me just about having that as your mission?

CLAYTON: The stories that I followed growing up were always heavy–and they were great, and super important, and we need those stories. Where there’s identity, and struggle, and pain, and civil rights, and slavery, and all of these things are important for me as a brown person living in America to understand. But I never was able to counter-balance it with something light. I wanted SWEET VALLEY HIGH, but with a girl who looks like me. Because I devoured those books too, alongside Mildred Taylor and Virginia Hamilton and Walter Dean Myers.

ENNI: Right.

CLAYTON: And so, I thought that if we could find a balance, and I think kids need a balance between the heavy and the light, with kids who look like them. That that would be perfect. And Sona never saw herself as an Indian child, period. So that was devastating for her, and she’d had a daughter, and she was looking for picture books to read to her, and she couldn’t find anything. And we just decided, we were like, “Okay,” and then we were in grad school reading these submissions with no diversity in them, or problematic diversity in them, and we were like, “Oh gosh, people don’t know how to do this.”

ENNI: Right.

CLAYTON: And the way we were writing diversity is the way that we experienced the world. You gotta show like, “Look! You can do this in a high-paced, fun, exciting way.”

ENNI: Right.

CLAYTON: And then we were watching Shonda RimesGREY’S ANATOMY. And we’re like, “This is really good, look at the way that she does it.” It’s incidental, it’s there, it’s dealt with. But it’s like, not the crux or the heart of the story, where you’re like, “We gotta do something, we gotta put it together and find a way.” And then we were looking at–she almost got a job at Alloy, and she was like, “Ugh, I don’t know if I want to do that.” And I was like, “Oh, I feel like we could do this.” And that kind of is how…

ENNI: Because you both are over-educated, in how publishing works. [laughs] You’re in it, you know what’s going on, so you felt like you were positioned well.

CLAYTON: Right, and we did a lot of research: years of research. I worked at a literary agency and I was just able to see the process, and the agent I worked for had a package, and I was able to watch how things kind of gelled, how they came together, how things were sold, so we did a ton of research, and we were like, “None of these projects have any diversity in them. People are just not–the doors are not open for people who look like us, and who are writing the characters that we’re writing. We’ve gotta kick open a door.” And so that’s kind of how it–it came out of complaining.

ENNI: Yeah, well, that’s amazing! Build your own door–that’s huge. And I love that–I personally am like, super psyched, because I related to what you’re talking about with other writers at The New School, 'cause it’s like, I am so sick of being made to feel bad for loving stories that move and when things happen, and more of those kinds of stories showing the world that we’re all living in. It shouldn’t be that hard, but it’s amazing.

CLAYTON: Yeah, show me the real New York–things like that.

ENNI: And the real dancers, it’s amazing that you got to say, “No, these are my students, let’s show them the boys.” All that kind of stuff.

CLAYTON: Exactly, and that there are just as many Asian women that are dancing as white women. You just don’t see them, 'cause they’re not allowed to be in the front. Things like that, we wanted to dig into that ugliness, but also it’s still just a story. And that’s not the arc of the story, it’s a piece of the puzzle. And we just hadn’t seen that done in books that moved, and that were juicy and had kissing in them, and drama. Because every girl wants drama, and I was working in a library at that time, and that was what the girls were saying to me, “Well, where’s the drama? I just want drama. I want drama with girls who look like me.” And I couldn’t give them anything. So that was frustrating.

ENNI: It’s powerful to be able to be someone that works with kids and then be like, “I know this is what they want.”


ENNI: Because I think there’s somewhat of a divide.

CLAYTON: Yes, there’s a huge divide, because we’re the only market that doesn’t test out with kids. We don’t ask our consumers what they want. We do it for them. Publishers don’t ask kids what they want, they don’t do test runs of covers and stuff like that, they just do what they wanna do. And I think if they talked to kids, they would find out more about what works for them, but adults are always in control of children, so.

ENNI: Mmm, they’re asking what Barnes and Noble wants.

CLAYTON: Exactly!

ENNI: So, I’d love–if you don’t mind, a little bit of just the spin on CAKE, how does it work, give me the structure.

CLAYTON: The skinny? Um, okay, so just how it works in general?

ENNI: Yeah, for people who are listening who are like, “I wanna be a part of this,” and what does that mean.

CLAYTON: So, just like with Alloy or Paper Lantern Lit or Full Fathom Five or The Story Foundation, um, we package books. So the way we do it at CAKE might be a little different than the other packagers that I’ve just listed. Sona and I come up with an idea, a pitch, a synopsis, a fully fleshed out outline, character treatments, all that. We find a writer, and we match. We don’t do auditions, we talk to writers, we read their stuff, we get a feel for them and their goals, too. We match the background of the author with the background in the text. And these were very committed to own voices as well. And we pay them, in order to write, and give them a series of deadlines. And also, they’re working writers, we’re paying them while they’re creating those pages so they can also pay their rent, which is a huge problem, because it’s a luxury to write on spec, and not everyone has the privilege to write on spec, so we decided that we didn’t have that luxury to write on spec. So we would want to pay our writers. And then we enter into a profit share. So once the book is finished, and our agent, Victoria Marini at ICM will read it, give edits, will continue to edit, and then she will send it out and do her magical thing that she does. And then we do a profit share of whatever comes in.

ENNI: That’s amazing!


ENNI: Being dedicated to paying upfront is enormous.

CLAYTON: Yes, because we realize that the whole packaging game, the reason why it looks the way it looks, is because it’s full of writers who have the luxury to write on spec. And when you don’t have that luxury, when you need to be paid per word, or paid a chunk, you can’t even enter that game. And that’s a huge issue in our industry is who gets access, who’s able to get in. And we wanted to be able to help. Someone helped us. Reach back, help other people get in.

ENNI: Yeah, it’s amazing! And it sounds like this is sort of an outlet for you, as someone who was filling notebooks and notebooks and notebooks of ideas.

CLAYTON: Yes, yes, it is. It’s funny because Victoria is my third agent, third time is the charm, and my first agent, she left the business and she was like, when I told her I was launching CAKE she was like, “This is exactly what you need to do, because you have so many ideas and your manuscript were full of everything but the kitchen sink, now you can really feed off of all those ideas and take out those notebooks and really create things, and give other writers opportunities to write them.”

ENNI: Yeah! With Sona’s help, so you guys are still in that same way engaging with story and building and then you can see it come to life.

CLAYTON: Yes, and it’s really fun, because my weaknesses are her strengths, and vice versa. So it’s really nice to have someone I don’t have to worry about, you know, plot so much–the murky middle. 'Cause Sona will fix it. She will work it out.

ENNI: She knows.

CLAYTON: She knows how to do that three act structure, and she just–it’s intuitive to her, where it’s not intuitive to me.

ENNI: Yeah, ooh, that’s so neat. The–with CAKE, besides the fact that you want fast stories and diversity, are there any other genres or themes or other things you want to focus on outside of that?

CLAYTON: Well we have–what we’ve developed now are several imprints within CAKE, because we want to come at it from several different angles and continue our cake metaphor. So we have Baby Cakes, which we’re going to be putting out some picture books and, of course, chapter book series, because we’re finding that children need access to diversity early on. They need to see themselves really quickly once they’re seeing words, otherwise we develop a white default. So that’s one thing. And then we have Cupcake, which is our middle grade imprint, which is classic middle grade, which is what we’ve sold two projects in, one announced and another one is coming. And then we have our regular Cake, which is our YA. And then we’re going to branch into women’s fiction, and new adult, in something called Layer Cake, so.

ENNI: Ah, I love it!

CLAYTON: And Sona came up with all of that, she called it CAKE because we would always eat cake, and also everyone loves cake, and if we only had to eat one flavor, it would be gross, for our whole life. And cake is much better when it comes in a variety of flavors.

ENNI: Oh, that’s really eloquent.

CLAYTON: And making a book is sort of like making a cake, it has many ingredients. So that’s kind of where the idea came from. But we’re really interested in branching out, and coming at the issue from several different vantage points, because we think that–and also we want to help launch people’s careers within those groups.

ENNI: Yes, and that was going to be my next question is that I love–and you mentioned this in another interview that I read with you–that this is sort of a form of mentorship as well, the reaching back and all of that, so how does that–I’d love to just hear you talk about what role that’s playing for you.

CLAYTON: Well, we just want to help other writers get into the business, other writers from communities that aren’t represented well. So, the mentorship is fun, because we’re able to help someone from start to finish. I can see, “Oh, this is how you put together a book, this is the outline, the pitch,” so we teach them how to do that, and then also coach them through the writing, so they actually finish something. Because a lot of writers spin their wheels, and they don’t get it finished. And we also help guide them through the process of selling–okay, this is what it’s like to work with an agent, this is what a submission list looks like, this is what contracts look like. Things like that. And then that way, when they’re ready to go off on their own, we can say, “Okay, these are the contacts you’ve build, you’ve got us, let’s look at your query letter, and here are some references and referrals, and we’ll help you find your agent, and you can use the CAKE book that we sold as your launchpad.” We just want to create low launchpads for people.

ENNI: That’s amazing! I love that.

CLAYTON: We’re committed to that.

ENNI: Let’s talk about BELLES, I don’t want to get kicked out before we get to talk about BELLES. So I’d love to hear about where in the process–did this come to you as an idea that you were like, “Ooh, I want this, this is mine.”

CLAYTON: Right, because this is another YA, and I write middle grade. So I sold it, I think Victoria sold it in 2014, I just was–I was working at my library, and I was stocking THE SELECTION and WITHER, and all of these princess-y books with girls on covers, but none of them looked like my brown girls. I was like, “Oh, we never get to be princesses, we never get to wear frilly dresses, we never get to be beautiful.” And I write about things that bother me, and something that has always bothered me I think since high school and late middle school was how women’s bodies are commodified. And my girls kept talking about how they wanted smaller waists and this and that, because of magazine culture. And I thought, “Let me write about a world where women and men can change themselves down to their bones, and let me scratch at that to open up a conversation about what are we teaching young girls especially about their bodies.” And make the body malleable, and talk about the value we assign to certain body parts, and how when you don’t have that, how you can feel less valued in our current society. But put it in a high fantasy world and wrap it up with fun. So I write about things that bother me, and that bothers me. And it has since I was a teenager, and it’s something I think about all the time when I see magazines still as a thirty-something year old I’m like, “Ooh, if I could just have a little bit more of XYZ, I would feel a little better,” and I was like, “But my girls are talking like that, and they’re only thirteen.” So that just came to me from working with pre-pubescents or teenage girls in middle school, and I was just like, “Oh, I need to write about that,” and I want to give them a high fantasy world where they exist, and where they look beautiful, and where they’re the star of the story. 'Cause there aren’t many high fantasies that have characters of color in them. They’re sidekicks, or they’re dead. They die in fifty pages.

ENNI: Yeah, yeah, I know, I was watching THE PRINCESS BRIDE with someone yesterday, and they were like, “Where is this supposed to take place?” and I was like, “What do you think? England, that’s where all of this stupid crap takes place.”

CLAYTON: Right, things derivative from English and Irish, Celtic. And I just wanted to create a high fantasy world where none of that exists, like it definitely has some cultural references, but where there are girls that look like the girls that I’ve seen, and they look like everyone can find themselves. 'Cause that’s what I needed when I was a kid, too. I wanted to go through the wardrobe, I wanted to go to outer space, I wanted to do all of those things, but no one who looked like me did those things. No one in a beautiful dress does anything that looks like me.

ENNI: Right, right right. And you’re touching on this a little, but I did pull this quote from another interview that you said, “I build characters around my emotional fears,” and it’s kind of the same thing, but I’d love to hear you talk about that, that’s a really powerful motivator.

CLAYTON: Right, so TINY PRETTY THINGS, it’s my fear of perfection and this desire to be perfect. And so that drives each character in a different way, and that’s something that I’ve always grappled with, you know, Perfect Patty, making sure everything–if people looked at my notebooks when I was a kid everything was perfect, my handwriting was perfect, always homework in, all of that. Like, what does that do to your personality. And then with THE BELLES, my emotional fear is not being good enough, looking good enough, not being beautiful enough on the outside. You can be beautiful on the inside all you want, but in a culture that’s obsessed with the physical body, not having enough. And so I write about that emotional fear and what that causes to think about myself, and what it would cause me to do. Would I go under the knife? Would I change things if I had an unlimited amount of money–what would I do to my own physical form? Things like that. And so I like to write about that, because I’m trying to work it out.

ENNI: Yeah, I was going to say, it’s kind of–that’s a really intense place to come from when you’re accessing, when you’re being really vulnerable, and you’re going at the hardest thing to deal with, and you’re spending a lot of time there. I mean, is the writing process difficult for you?

CLAYTON: Yes, so, I’m in my–probably my last edit of THE BELLES right now, hopefully my editor will have BELLES before this launches. And no, it’s really difficult, it’s quite painful, because I have to return to my fifteen-year-old self, who wanted to change everything about my body. And that place, I think it makes the text better, but it’s exhausting to continue to return to that emotional state, but I think a ton of fifteen-year-old girls and boys live in that right now, and they need a place to scratch and work that out, in a way, and that’s what I want THE BELLES to be, to start thinking about how do we think about our bodies, what are we willing to change, and why we do that, and kind of unpack that.

ENNI: Yeah, this is making me wonder if, really, if your arrested development is at middle grade, or if it’s in high school where you ended up spending a lot of your time.

CLAYTON: I know, it’s weird, 'cause I haven’t published a middle grade yet. But no, I think returning to my fifteen-year-old self–I think I want to be back at twelve, like that’s where I want to be there.

ENNI: You’re creatively aspiring to be twelve.

CLAYTON: But I keep writing about the fifteen, sixteen-year-old emotional trauma. Maybe it’s circling back to me in my thirties, because all of that same stuff is coming back like, dating and relationships and social dynamics, you know, the YA world feels very much like high school to me. And I’m circling back to those same emotions where you have cliques of cool girls who are rude, where you’ve got people who are talking about you and like, dating, and the dynamics, and people parading on Instagram, wives, children, all of those pressures–I think it mirrors high school. Who’s cuddling up, and who’s got all of the success, and like, you’re still figuring it out.

ENNI: Yeah, and interesting to be able to explore the ways that those are echoing feelings that we have when we are younger, where we have way less control, and way less understanding, and way less power. So it’s fun to explore them now that they’re not without barbs, but explore them when they were at their most intense and unknowable as a teen. 'Cause it seems to me that BELLES is a book that would–not only would a younger person be able to explore through BELLES, but also maybe even become aware that this is something that they are feeling. I think when I was a teenI was a little bit oblivious to all of the things that were happening to my emotional core. And it’s like looking back, realizing, “Oh my god,” you know, all of this is happening and I was just internalizing it and now it’s like unspooling and I’m figuring it out.

CLAYTON: Spiraling out–oh god, go back in!

ENNI: Wasn’t I all put together at some point? But that’s so interesting to me that you have this love of the middle grade world that are sort of miring through.

CLAYTON: I’m like, trying to get back to the middle grade world. Maybe the forties will be the middle grade world and I’ll just, you know, I’ll return to that and it’ll cycle to that, but right now I do think you’re right, I think I’m digging through that fifteen- sixteen-year-old angst and that uncomfortable feeling in your own body, and I think because it’s paralleling my experience in the YA community and, “Oh, I’m back in high school.”

ENNI: Right, right right, bringing all of these things to the surface.

CLAYTON: Triggers, yes! [laughs]

ENNI: That is so, so interesting. So, I’d love to hear writing advice, and maybe from–I’d love to hear advice from someone who is a writer herself and also someone who is sort of mentoring other writers like, those are kind of two different perspectives, so both of those.

CLAYTON: I think my biggest advice is something that I wish someone had told me, which is that you have to find your tribe. Not everyone gets your writing, not everyone likes your writing, and not everyone likes you. And when you find your tribe–and I found my tribe with We Need Diverse Books, like my crew of peeps, they’re fantastic, they’re lovely, I think, when you find your people, things click into place. People who get your work, understand the road you’ve taken, and what you’re trying to do in your fiction or whatever you’re writing.

So I think finding your tribe, and also recognizing that not everyone has your best interests at heart. So being careful with how much of yourself that you share. And that’s something that Sona and I both learned as we were growing in our business, and writing, and interacting in the YA community is that not everyone has your back, so just remember that you’ve gotta find your tribe, and also find people that have your back, that make you be a better writer.

And you have to write. Writers write. And you just have to find a way to access that creative space, and sit down with your pen or your computer, and get some words out. Even if it’s just a paragraph a day. Get something out.

And I think my last bit of writing advice would be to read. I think reading fuels the creative muscle–at least it fuels mine, and I cannot write unless I am actively reading constantly. And that helps me create a balance and keeps me surrounded by words. And if you write for children, you should spend time with children, because they also can feed your creative spirit. And working at the library for so many years helped me be around little people, and their energy is infectious and can help fill your cup up when it’s really empty, and remind you about the power of story. And so going to a library, doing, you know, volunteering to do a read-aloud, or even mentoring a kid will help you, I think, find your access to kids in a way that will help you be a better writer.

ENNI: I think that’s a big piece of advice that people don’t give writers that often, which is a really important one: it’s very easy to end up writing for yourself under the premise of a teenager.

CLAYTON: Or writing for adults who read YA. Those books never worked for my students–the books that really feel like they are written for the adults who like YA. No. Remind yourself of who you’re writing for. Do a check-in

ENNI: That’s a really, really good piece of advice. So you’re always reading, are you also reading YA, or do you mix it up?

CLAYTON: I exclusively read children’s books and YA, and people judge me for that, but right now I am venturing into an adult book, first one in probably about fifteen years. I just don’t read adult books, and people are just like, “Oh gosh.” People that are snobs that’ll say, “Oh I don’t read YA.” Well, I don’t read adult books. I’m very much interested in children’s books and middle grade and YA, so that’s what I exclusively, exclusively read.

ENNI: I like that, I like telling people, “Well, I’m living an adult life, so…”

CLAYTON: Yeah, I don’t need to unpack that, it’s really difficult. I want to go back to when things were a little bit more interesting.

ENNI: Yeah, yeah, and exciting, and optimistic.

CLAYTON: Exactly. And also have magic in them.

ENNI: Man, I know. I want to go back to the days when you could still be waiting for your owl to show up.

CLAYTON: That’s right, and my Hogwarts letter, and where I could actually be under my grandmother’s table, and just spend hours there without the worry that I have e-mails to check and I have to get my laundry, and I have to do this, and my bills, and X Y and Z–where it was only me and a book. So I like to return to that emotional place, so that’s why I read mostly children’s books.

ENNI: Yay! That’s really powerful; I love that.

CLAYTON: Children’s books are the best in the world.

ENNI: They are the greatest. Yay!

CLAYTON: And so I do love being a part of creating them–creating magic for kids, something that they–I can still remember reading BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, that, books like that where it’s like, “Ooh, I remember what it felt like to read that book.” And I want to create something like that where it creates an imprint, it leaves a little imprint behind.

ENNI: Yes, huge, huge huge. Well, thank you so much dude, this was so fun!

CLAYTON: This was awesome!

ENNI: Yay, we did it!

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ENNI: Thank you so much to Dhonielle. Follow her on Twitter @brownbookworm, and follow the show @FirstDraftPod and me @SarahEnni. Please help the show by filling out the First Draft Podcast Listener Survey, check out this episode’s show notes, the First Draft website at firstdraftpod.com, or the podcast’s Twitter or Facebook page to find the link to that. Again, just ten short questions! And it’s going to be, I mean, fun. That’s a loose term. It’ll be fun, sure, and I would love hearing your responses and trying to make the show the best show it could be. You can also check out the podcast’s Instagram page for sneak peaks as to future author interviews. If you like what you heard, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and leave a rating or review there. Every five-star review helps me challenge my inner Misty Copeland while dancing around my house. Thank you so much to Hashbrown for the theme song, and to Colin Keith and Maurene Goo for the logos. And thanks to Sarah DeMont, the fairest First Draft Intern in all the land. And finally, as ever, to all of you on pointe balletomanes for listening.
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