Editor’s Note: I met David Smith at the LA Times Book Fair this summer and immediately hit it off with him and knew I had to find out more about him and share his story with you.
David Smith, the co-author, is almost as remarkable a story as the hit Hidden Mickey series. He has a long-time family history in Garden Grove, California. His grandfather, Emmet, was the first postmaster in Garden Grove. David’s other grandparents, Walt and Marie Wacker, owned the Wacker Grocery store on Main Street in Garden Grove, (next to Zlacket’s Meat Market). Both his mom and dad, Donna Wacker and Bruce Smith, went to Garden Grove High School (where Bruce Smith would go on to establish a dozen athletic records including earning 17 varsity letters in seven sports), and eventually David (class of 76) and his sister, Janet, (class of 74), would also attend.
While in school, Dave set, and still holds, several tennis team records including most wins in one season and most wins in a high school career. Both father and son, Bruce and David, would go on to teach at Garden Grove High School.
Eventually, Bruce would move on to LaQuinta high school where he and David would both end up teaching and coaching tennis. Together, Dave and his father garnered a tennis team record of 768 wins against less than 10 losses over a 22 year period, at one time winning 399 consecutive team league matches over an 11 year period. In 1979, together coaching, Bruce and David won the first ever CIF championship title of any sport for LaQuinta High School. After his father passed away in 1984, David continued his father’s coaching mantra at LaQuinta for six more years, producing a win-loss record of over 250 wins against 9 losses (including both boys and girls tennis teams).
Dave left for Arizona (where his wife, Kerri, would do her residency in pediatrics) in 1991. While in Arizona, Dave coached tennis, golf, badminton and taught advanced biology at Agua Fria High School for five years. His tennis teams in Arizona (boy’s and girl’s teams) won over 300 region matches against 12 losses in his five years coaching there. In 1997 the Smiths left Arizona for St. George, Utah where Dave’s wife was offered a pediatric practice. At the time Dave started writing op-ed pieces for various magazines and newspapers as well as taking on the duties as the Head Professional at the Green Valley Tennis Club. In 2001, Dave started his own tennis academy and in 2004 he wrote what has become a top-five best selling tennis instructional book, TENNIS MASTERY. In 2006, he became the Senior Editor for TennisOne.com, one of the world’s top-rated web sites for tennis instruction. He wrote his second major book, COACHING MASTERY in 2008 which is also one of the top five best selling coaching manuals.
In 2009, Dave co-authored Hidden Mickey which has become a top-selling novel about Walt Disney and Disneyland. The idea for Hidden Mickey came from his 6 years working at Disneyland in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s as well as a desire to write an adult-level mystery about Disney in a similar style to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and the movie National Treasure, titles that inspired Dave to come up with the idea that Walt Disney may have left a treasure and a set of clues behind before his death in 1966.
David’s co-author, a likely subject of a future OCS article, Nancy Temple Rodrigue, is based out of Lompoc, California. People find their own story as fascinating as their Disney tome. Dave and Nancy met in 1981 at Disneyland when Dave worked at the park. They lost track of each other in 1985 and it was almost twenty years later that they reconnected via a social web site. Still not having seen each other since 1985, the two discussed David’s idea of a Disney novel, one that Nancy immediately found intriguing. Her own writing experience included writing science fiction books and screen plays intended for the Star Trek shows on television. The two discussed outlines and then started sharing chapters by e-mail and telephone calls - until they had actually completed the entire manuscript - still without having seen each other for over 25 years.
Today, Dave lectures on writing, publishing, and marketing of books. The Hidden Mickey novels, (now three in the series), are best selling books at Downtown Disney’s Compass Books as well as enjoying extraordinarily large signings at the Barnes and Nobel stores they have appeared at. Recently at the L.A. Times Book Festival, the two authors sold over 700 books during the two-day event. Dave is still the Senior Editor for TennisOne.com and has just produced two very popular DVD’s: Building a World-Class Volley and TennisOne Tune-up: The Serve. (The latter book selling over 3000 copies in the first five days of release.)
Hidden Mickey is a ‘first-of-its-kind’ adult-level, action-adventure mystery surrounding the discovery of Walt Disney’s lost diary by best friends, Adam and Lance. The diary hints of a treasure hidden by Walt and a cryptic clue that leads the friends on a wild, cross-country quest exploring places in Walt Disney’s history, locating hidden clues and eventually discovering what Disney had indeed left behind. The novels are considered “Historical Fiction” as they are authentic in descriptions of places and events in Walt Disney’s past. Parts of the books take place at Disneyland as well. Because of David’s six years working at Disneyland, he wanted to include some of the secret passages and backstage areas that are intriguing to readers as they search alongside the characters in the books for Walt’s clues.
There are currently three books in the series with two more in the works. The first Hidden Mickey: Sometimes Dead Men DO Tell Tales, came out in 2009; Hidden Mickey 2: It All Started… came out in 2010; and Hidden Mickey 3: WOLF...the Legend of Tom Sawyer’s Island just released in 2011.
Hidden Mickey 4: Happily Ever After? And Hidden Mickey 5: Chasing New Frontiers are both scheduled to be released at the end of 2011.
OCS: Your accomplishments in writing about tennis, primarily non-fiction, don’t logically flow to the historical novels of the Hidden Mickey series. Was there an aha! moment when the idea came to you?
Dave Smith: While I've been a professional writer for non-fiction (tennis instructional and commentary), I've always been interested in fiction. My first actual publication was an entry I made into the Chicago Literary Guild's ARTISAN, their 1st Anniversary Competition in July of 1996 with a poem I wrote about the Titanic. It receive 2nd place award winner recognition.
I had also written Op-Ed pieces and wrote a column called, "Common Sense" for a small publication here in St. George, Utah in 1998.
My aha moment with Hidden Mickey was after reading Dan Brown's DaVinci Code and seeing the movie National Treasure I wanted to write a fun, action adventure book along similar lines and one night I literally sat bolt-upright in bed and came up with the idea, "who better to have potentially left something of significance behind?" And the name Walt Disney popped in my head.
OCS: Was Disney approached by you before you began writing the first book? If so, was there any push back? Have they taken a stance on the books? Can people buy them at Disneyland?
Dave: We wrote Disney not to pursue them for the book but for guidelines in writing such a book that it would be favorable...or, more specifically, what we "couldn't do" relative to such a book. We have sent several copies of the book to many Disney executives as well as to Diane Disney, Walt's sole surviving daughter. We have not heard anything back.
OCS: Please tell us a little more about how your collaboration with Nancy Temple Rodrigue works. Have you divided up the writing process in some way?
Dave: Initially, she was so excited about the concept I shared with her that she wrote a general outline and a number of chapters based on what I told her I thought would be interesting. She developed the three lead characters, Adam, Beth and Lance, as well as coming up with the idea of how to initiate the "treasure hunt". I dug into both her chapters adding my interpretations as well as including my experiences of the Park from working there. She never worked at the Park so we had two slightly different perceptions and impressions to add to the book. I wrote the initial prologue and after we discussed the ending (which we really discussed the exciting ending a lot!), I also wrote the epilogue and she embellished those as I had with many of her initial chapters. We had many phone calls and I remember many of her ideas, which were brilliant, excitedly shared in these phone calls.
In the sequel, we actually were able to sit down and create the basic outline face to face, (which we didn't get to do with the first book since we still had not seen each other for 25 years and didn't see each other until the book was basically finished).
The second book, we both took chapters and wrote them independently and then swapped them and added our embellishments after we each wrote our parts based on the outline we had come up with. The second book took only 2 1/2 months to write since we had such a clear outline, a clear beginning, middle and end, and all we had to do was create fun sequences that led towards the end. In fact, I had wrote the epilogue to the second book while we were discussing the outline...it brought tears to our eyes upon reading it. At which point, we felt it was a really good ending!
OCS: Are movie versions planned.
Dave: We have been approached by a person associated with Jerry Bruckheimer, and were specifically contacted by Irwin-Winkler productions (who did the Rocky movies among many others). They asked for the second book after saying how much they liked the first. We have not heard back yet but we are keeping our fingers crossed. Many who read the book have mentioned how much they felt like they were watching a movie when reading Hidden Mickey. We think it would make a very exciting and appealing motion picture for both Disney fans and mystery fans alike.
OCS: What have you found to be the most challenging and rewarding aspects of writing these novels?
Dave: The most challenging aspect was to come up with clues that would survive over 40 years of being hidden by Walt Disney. We wanted the books to be authentic "Historical Fiction" with real places and events important to Walt. We had to "Think like Walt" in what would he have done with such an idea and then take a look at what would he have imagined would survive the test of time and then be found later.
The rewards have been numerous, to say the least. Obviously, having a book doing well at every location we have signed at tells us we have a good story. The dozens of reviews on various web sites have been mostly "5-star" favorable. Sales of the books have grown exponentially and when we did our signing at the L.A. Times Book Festival last month, we were told that our booth was by far one of the most talked about and busiest booths among the 300 authors there. Among the various Barnes and Noble Bookstores we have done signings at, the managers of each have told us that our signings have been hands-down the most successful signings they have had. We have been back to several due to this response.
OCS: Beyond the 4th and 5th Hidden Mickey books, do you have plans for other subject matter you want to write about?
Dave: I think there will be a limit to the Hidden Mickey series. However, there is a ton of interesting things associated with Disney and his Parks and his history there might be other books along this story line. Case in point, book 5, Hidden Mickey: Chasing New Frontiers is based on a true story about stolen money being lost at one of the Disney Parks...and never has been found. This was intriguing to me and offered a slightly different twist on a treasure hunt related to Disney. My co-author, Nancy Temple Rodrigue, loved a science-fiction-fantasy twist to the idea and based books 3 and 4 on the character she created for book 2 who has special "abilities" relative to specific places at Disneyland.
There are other books I want to write that are not Disney-based in concept. I have no doubt that I will be working towards writing something totally new in the near future.
OCS: How has your success in writing fit in with your life goals?
Dave: As with most writers, I had dreamed of writing something that was well-read by the masses. When I lecture at schools, writing groups, and book clubs, I mention that when we die we usually leave behind two things that are important to us: Our children and what we write. Obviously, knowing that I've written things that will be read long after I am dead and gone, I can rest in peace knowing I've left something behind. My books on tennis are very well received and it is a pleasure knowing that years down the road, my advice written in each book (an in articles I've written on web sites and DVD's I've filmed), will live on, possibly, helping others reach their goals in tennis.
I know how much Disneyland had an influence in my life, (having worked there and having grown up just down the street from the Park), and I have always been interested in the compelling history of Walt Disney. Thus, writing about Disney and Disneyland has been not only rewarding but something very easy to do. I hope our books bring a lot of enjoyment to our readers as well as honor Walt Disney's accomplishments through the stories we penned about him.
Editior’s End Piece: And if all that you have read isn’t enough, in addition to writing and speaking, Dave is a bassist for several bands. His latest contribution is playing alongside the teen sensation, Carlie Wall, the 2010 winner of the Colgate Country Showdown (Southwest). In the early 1980’s Dave’s own band, MAX, played most all the night clubs around southern California. Dave is also a professional Magician and often teaches classes on magic for kids and adults who want to learn the art of performance-level magic.
Dave has been married to Dr. Kerri Smith for 24 years; The Smiths have two children, Kyla age 12 and Keaton age 8.
To find out more about Dave and his writing partner Nancy Temple Rodrigue go to