Clayton Smith (Lecturer) teaches Accounting, Finance, and a few Marketing courses in the Business & Entrepreneurship Department at Columbia College Chicago. He has been teaching at Columbia since 2010, first as a part-time instructor, then as a full-time lecturer starting in 2014. Clayton says his main job is, “to make numbers at least 87% less scary for our students.” Aside from being a lecturer, Clayton is also an accomplished novelist and playwright. His work has been featured on Amazon and his plays have been produced in both St. Louis and New York City. We had a chance to chat with Clayton about his new novel, Na Akua, which was released on September 13, 2016.
Tell me about Na Akua! What was the inspiration for this novel?
Na Akua is a modern-day Hawaiian mythological adventure, and the inspiration came from Hawaii itself. My wife, Paula, and I visited Maui earlier this year, and on our second morning there, Paula woke up especially early and couldn’t fall back asleep. She saw the moonlight outside the window and woke me up and told me we should go down to the open-air lobby and look at the moon. It seemed like a terrible idea, because sleep is the best, but I got up, and we went downstairs. We stepped out onto the patio, and the scene was like something from a postcard; the full moon in a dark sky casting a glimmering white trail across the ocean, the island of Lanai rising in the background, palm trees swaying above the pool…I thought, “Someone should write a book about this.” Then I thought, “Hey, maybe I’ll write that book.” That’s actually where the very first scene in the book comes from.
What does your writing process look like? Do you have any strange writing habits?
Nothing particularly strange…I wake up at 5am most days and start writing, and since I take the blue line in to work every day, I get a lot of opportunity to write on the train. In terms of my process, I usually end up doing a lot of my plotting while I fall asleep at night, then write the scene the next day. It’s sort of fun, because if you picture a story unfolding in your head while you’re drifting off, sometimes it goes in some severely strange directions. Which isn’t always helpful. But sometimes, it adds a lot of magic to the story.
What authors have inspired you?
My biggest inspirations have been Neil Gaiman, Kurt Vonnegut, and Roald Dahl. I had the chance to meet Neil a couple of years ago, and It was just the best. I fan-boyed all over the place, and I’m not sorry.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Write. Just write. It doesn’t matter if what you’re writing is good or bad or marketable or publishable. Just write. You can’t be a writer if you don’t write.
What’s next? Any projects you’re currently working on?
Na Akua is actually a series, so I’m plotting out the second book right now. I’m also working on a new play called The Depths, and I’ll be heading to New York in November to sit in on a table reading to help tidy up the script before presenting it to producers.