I first met Clint Adams the way I tend to meet most people these days: on Facebook. With some important things in common - meditation, The Golden Girls – we soon became friends. I like his adventerous spirit – he’s from San Francisco, but then he was living in London, and there are pictures everywhere of him in France and Italy and Munich and Copenhagen, and right now he’s living in Barcelona. Where’s Waldo much?
Clint is a former television, film and theater actor. He’s now a writer with a series of successful young adult novels, all about facing fear, to his credit. He recently published his first adult novel, The Seventh Ritual. His pet project, however, is Stories About Facing Fear. It’s an ongoing student-led after-school teen storytelling program, aimed at helping teens tell their stories.
Stories About Facing Fear is an ongoing, student-led, after-school teen storytelling program that’s open to any and all teens who want (and need) to tell their stories. It’s held on-site at the school where the students normally attend class, and meets for an hour once a week. Most groups have between 10 and 20 students. Some of these stories are videotaped, and are available through Clint’s website and on YouTube.
Clint says Stories About Facing Fear, which is done at schools throughout the UK, aims to reduce feelings of social isolation and lack of connection; promote open and honest communication without interruption; acknowledge students while providing no criticism or judgement; and instill confidence and a sense of self-worth and importance.
Here is the first video done for the series. It explains far better than I ever could why Clint’s work is so important.
Now that you’ve seen the powerful work that Clint is doing to help these kids who desperately need to be heard, here is our interview.
Tell me about you. How did you go from living in America to living in England, and how does Spain fit into the picture?
Well, Christy, you know (on Facebook) when you see someone’s relationship status: “It’s complicated”? That’s me (minus the relationship part). I LOVE being funny and making people laugh, but I’m quite a serious guy, and I despise all things superficial and trendy. Spirituality dominates my life, yet I’ll die before ever reading/seeing The Secret; I believe being a spiritual person means learning from the life God has given you, not from, as Granny Clampett (“The Beverly Hillbillies,” if you’re old enough to recall) puts it, “book learnin’.”
I’m 53 but still dragged my tired ol’ ass to a Ricky Martin concert last night. I’m single, by choice … or maybe not (it’s complicated). I was born in Oakland, California, but in 2004, became an Italian citizen, deliberately. I used to be an actor, then a writer and now strive to help teens/young adults tell THEIR stories.
Yes, America … been there, done that. After having visited the Frankfurt Book Fair in ’04, I wanted to explore the idea of marketing my books exclusively in Europe. Because of my heritage, I became European (Italian) and never moved back to the U.S. While here, I’ve marketed my books, and lived in Viareggio, IT, Copenhagen twice, Munich twice, Florence, London (for two years) and now Barcelona for the second time.
In ’09 I finally completed the book that needed to come out of me; when it was finished I moved from Barcelona to London to market it. I received a grant from the British government to launch Stories About Facing Fear, a teen/young adult therapeutic storytelling program. The adjective “therapeutic” is just between you and me though, Christy. Definitely not a keyword in the U.K.
While approaching schools, youth centres there, I’ve been told several times, “Clint, that’s SOOO American…talking about your problems.” After the smoke stopped spouting from my ears, like on The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour, I reflect, once more, on the statistics: According to the Depression Alliance, 1 British youth attempts suicide every ½ hour. Need I say more?
Tell me about your professional life. Expand some on what you said above about how you fell into being a writer.
Great question, Christy; the BIGGIE. Yes, as you know, when doing book marketing, one question always comes up during an interview, “So, tell us, why’d you want to become a writer?” My answer’s never changed. “I never wanted to become one. I had to. I had to get my story out, the truth. It was the only way.”
In late 1991, I had a more-than-life-changing event take place, almost too bizarre to be believed. After being profoundly unhappy most of my life, I wanted to find out why. Again, while searching for a relationship, complicated or not, I realized that another one was slipping through my fingers. This had happened too many times, and for the first time in my life, I became ravenous for answers. “There has to be a reason for this,” I thought. Never in a million years would have I speculated on what that answer/that reason ended up being. It’s a rather long story, but has to do with a murder and the activities that surrounded it, a murder that was covered up by a major metropolitan police department.
In addition to spirituality, the truth and justice mean everything to me. I knew what I had just learned in ’91 had to be divulged. I couldn’t go to the authorities (even though I did) because they’re the ones that covered it up. I searched and searched for others to tell my story, to get the truth out. Needless to say, I never did find anyone, so I learned how to become a writer myself. Although I began writing that story, fear prevented me from finishing it. So, I somehow sidetracked the issue, and ended up writing four middle-grade/teen novels in the meantime, all having to do with living without fear.
Finally, as I said prior, I finished writing, editing and revising this “story I was meant to tell” in 2009, while living here in Barcelona. I specifically chose July ’04 for its publication date, American Independence Day.
How did you decide to start this video series? Did your own life play a role in deciding that these young people needed help finding their voice, finding the courage to tell their stories?
These are marketing tools I use to get my point across. Within my program, Stories About Facing Fear, there are no videocameras and maintaining confidentiality is mandatory. I wrote a storyboard for these videos, along with a script for the narrator, and cast actors, but I insisted that they tell their OWN stories. Videos are fantastic! In 5 minutes they convey all I want to tell about my program. They also capture an audience that mass e-mailings fail to reach. People are busy these days, I appreciate that. I’ve spent countless hours trying to get schools and universities on board, and became very frustrated when the majority chose not to participate. After a several months passed, I knew that targeting teens/young adults directly was the right way to go.
As I’d mentioned, I became a writer for one reason, the get my story out. In 2009, my story finally came out, and since it did, I’ve never written another word of fiction. At 51, I looked back and wondered, ‘did my books achieve what I wanted them to?’ No, not even close. I’d like to think that they offered some sort of hope, inspiration and guidance for teens/youth, but let’s face it, they’re still novels, stories, not self-help books. And, let’s face it again, teens are NOT at all inclined to buy any self-help book.
Again, when my last book came out, The Seventh Ritual, it was for adults only. I’d spent nearly a decade around teens, in schools making visits, in the U.S. and Europe, and I found myself missing them. They give me life, and I hope to think I’m giving them something back. When I look back at the urgency of needing to tell my story, I began to think about how easier it would have been for me to have gotten my story out while I was still young. Wouldn’t that have been nice?!
Without a doubt, teens/young adults have so much to say, so much that needs to come out. I’m doing what I’m doing, because I know for a fact, that if some stories aren’t told, some lives are going to end prematurely. Sad but true.
What are some of the most touching stories you’ve heard?
I’ve heard many, Christy. Most of them came to me when I used to visit schools as an author. This storytelling program is still quite new, but one theme, I’m finding, is repeating itself… “My parents don’t believe in me. No one does.” The first time I heard this, my heart sank, then it stopped “sinking” after I’d heard this so many times.
Again, during my teen-writer years, I’ll always remember a British boy at a school in Denmark I was visiting; he told me how much he hated reading and how he never even finished reading one book. He was shocked to hear that I hated reading, too. He was a cool kid; he sent me a few e-mails. One included this (paraphrased) message: “Clint, I started reading your book, Fear Ain’t All That. I like the way you write and the way you say things. You’re funny. Guess what? I finished it. It’s the first book I’ve ever all the way through. My birthday’s coming up in a few weeks and my parents asked me what I want. I told them I want them to buy your next book, Don’t Be Afraid of Heaven, so I can read it.” Nope, not tooting my own horn, as a writer yourself you can just imagine how touched I was when reading this. Oh, yeah!
In my storytelling program, the entire hour-long session of 5-20 students is all about THEM. They are given 5 minutes without interruption and the objective is not to seek criticism, advice, judgment, and is most certainly, not an opportunity to perform or outdo their peers. If they can’t think of a topic that’s personal, I gladly offer this: an obstacle or hurdle that was huge for you at one time but you’ve since overcome. The way I see it, this is empowering/cathartic for the storyteller; inspirational/helpful to the listener (sorta, kinda like… “if Johnny/Joanna can to that, so can I”).
What kinds of things have you learned from these kids? And what lessons can the rest of us learn from them?
Without a doubt, kids, with disabilities in particular, are the BEST teachers. I owe them BIG TIME. The protagonist in my four teen novels, Miguelito Estes, lives with a fatal form of a skin-blistering disease, Epidermolysis Bullosa, and he’s my ultimate hero, not to mention, the son I’d love to have.
When my first book came out, Just Say Mikey, I was a naïve writer – you know the type, the kind that foolishly asks anyone, “So, what did you think?” after they read it. Yikes, what a boob I was. The comment I heard over and over: “Why isn’t he angrier?” Of course these were not the most spiritual folks, but I answered back politely, “Miguel knew too well that holding onto anger would most likely kill him.” I’d spent countless hours meeting with, and interviewing, kids with this disease. None of them were angry. They’ve moved on from such a juvenile response/reaction to their condition. Wow!!! Immediately I learned that they were far wiser than me. I learned a ton during that time.
With relation to my teen/YA storytelling program, I learned by trial and error that 16 is the youngest age that would benefit from cathartic storytelling. I actually started with 12, 13 and up…ooops! They haven’t lived long enough to have had enough experience where they have had a significant challenge and overcome it. By, 16, 17, 18-22…oh, yeah! Most certainly. They get it. I waited until I was 34 to even acknowledge having the desire, the need to tell my story; it wasn’t until I was 51 when I had the guts to actually follow through with it and put it out there. These teens/YAs, the ones that have elected to tell their stories at such an early age, are operating with so much less weight/baggage/debris. I wish I’d had the guts to do earlier on what they’re doing now. They’re free, liberated; almost without really knowing what that even means.
Talk a bit about fear and why it’s important that we face it down.
Great question, Christy. As I mentioned a bit prior, I fell into these teen books; not at all the story(ies) I had envisioned telling. When I had finished writing my very first, full-length manuscript, Miguelito, I read it from start to finish immediately thereafter. I was beyond shocked to discover how spiritual it was. I couldn’t figure it out. WTF? Prior to late-91, when I’d had my “revelation/awakening” of that murder and more, I wasn’t spiritual at all. I never believed in psychology and I never looked inward. Once I did, I began to believe PROFOUNDLY that things never worked out in my life simply because I was afraid. Period.
On Page 1 of my first book, Miguelito talks about the two f-words: faith and fear. He’s quite definite when he describes the latter; he calls it, “The f-word God DIDN’T invent.” Of course, I believe the same. I feel, from the bottom of my soul, that ALL fear is learned; none of us were born with any. I also see it as, ultimately, our only obstacle, challenge or hindrance to what we’re seeking, what we’re meant to do, our true destinies. I think I integrated this theme (the importance of living without fear) into my four teen books, because Miguel inevitably knows that faith/belief will keep him alive as long as he wants to be, while fear is the poison that will kill him, not E.B.
Yes, without a doubt, sustained fears are indeed fatal in my opinion. When viewing fear this way, as a life or death choice, it makes it easier to take risks … and believe.