Monday, January 28, 2013

LAUREL SNYDER



Interview with LAUREL SNYDER

Laurel Snyder is the author of many books for kids (and a few for adults). A Baltimore native, she now lives in Atlanta, where she's finishing up a companion to her most recent novel, BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX. A picture book, THE LONGEST NIGHT, is due out in the spring. Visit her online at http://laurelsnyder.com/.

What are you reading right now?

When I'm working hard on a book (which I am right now), I try not to read anything in that genre - for fear I'll accidentally steal the voice. But I have to read or I'll LOSE MY MIND. So I'm on an adult fiction kick this month. I just finished BEAUTIFUL RUINS (which I loved) and am finally reading THE CORRECTIONS. But my kids are 5 and 7, so I also read a lot of picture books, graphic novels, and chapter books.  About twice a day I'm forced to "read" a Star Wars sticker book to someone.

What first sparked your interest in writing?

Just books! I'm a pretty stereotypical story, I think. I was a geeky little girl, obsessed with fairies (back when they were still spelled like that) and wishes and unicorns. I read everything I could get my hands on. Zilpha Keatly Snyder and Cynthia Voigt and Susan Cooper and Edward Eager and Roald Dahl and Betty McDonald and on and on. In about the third grade I started trying to scribble my own little books, and then bound them in wallpaper scraps and cardboard. Of course, they were all straight-up plagiarism, but I felt like I'd found a magic wand.

What do you love the most about writing? The least?

The best part is either the moment when you first have a BIG IDEA - before you realize it's not so great after all - and you jump up from whatever you're doing to scribble down something that will make very little sense later. Or it's the moment when, after much work, you read back over something you've written, and it feels like, "Wow, did I write that? I don't remember that! It's kind of... smart." The hard part is sitting down to write. Or scrapping massive numbers of pages when you realize you took a wrong turn.

Tell us a little about your writing process.

I have young kids, and am just starting to find a routine that works. In my dream world, I'd get the kids out the door at 7:30, sit down for coffee and email, then read for an hour before writing from 10-2, when it's time to shower and get the kids again.  The hour of reading is a new discovery for me, but it's genius. I asked Peter Brown, last summer, what he does when he can't get himself to write or draw, and he said something like, "Oh, I read! Because it almost counts as work." And it's exactly right. I can hardly feel bad about spending time reading, but it pulls me out of the digital world, and sets the bar for my prose (if I've chose the right book) high.

What are your passions?

People and talking and talking and people.  I'm a ridiculous extrovert, and nothing makes me happier than a fast conversation with smart people. Often I talk with my kids, but other grownups are nice too. I also like food and travel and music and good bourbon. But none of them are fun without people.  Books are the exception to that, because books are almost people. 

What inspires you?

Above all, the right words in the right order. I like language, sentence structure, unusual vocabulary.  Without that, the best idea in the world is bland. I like to eavesdrop, to listen to conversations, in search of funny sentences or compelling language.  I love the way kids speak.

I'm also inspired by trying to remember intense things from my own past, and music can help with this. The right song can kick off feelings that will turn into a story or poem. Bruce Springsteen or Leonard Cohen or Otis Redding on the right day can feed a  book in surprising ways.

Why middle reader?

Hmmm...well, I can't imagine writing an adult novel. They're too dense.  I came into all of this largely as a poet and there's just TOO MANY WORDS in those things.  

So I guess the bigger question is why not YA?  And the answer there is, I think, that YA wasn't YA when I was a kid. I can write middle grade rooted in my memories of how much I loved a book like DICEY’S SONG or THE EGYPT GAME or SEVEN DAY MAGIC. But while I like YA as an adult, I can't go back in time and experience it as a teen.  I don't have a magic tingle when I think about it. Also, I think most YA tends to be inward-looking, and I like to write about the world. I like to create characters who are sort of stumbling through an adventure. Third, I like magic, but I don't believe in evil or villains.  In YA, magic tends to get dark.

All that said, I might try my hand at it one day, if I can figure out the rules.  Every now and then I read a book that makes me want to try.

How was UP AND DOWN THE SCRATCHY MOUNTAINS born?

Slooooooooowly.  I had no clue what I was doing. I'd just finished up my poetry MFA at Iowa, and was working a desk job at a medical journal, still living in Iowa City. I'd been rereading all these old books I'd loved as a kid, and one night I started telling my husband (then boyfriend) a story. He said, "You should write that down!"  I did, and it only took about five drafts and fifty rejections and eight years for it to be published. Ha.

How was BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX born?

The opposite. It happened very quickly.  I was riding in a car (to Iowa, again, from Atlanta, where we'd moved) for many hours, just staring out the window. And this idea popped into my head, about a kid who found a box that gave them anything. But then she began to wonder where the things were coming from. I wanted to know what a kid would do with that ethical problem. Very quickly that kid turned into my 12-year-old self (I'd never done that before, written my own memories), and the book slipped out with relative ease. (I mean, it was still hard, but not compared to SCRATCHY MOUNTAINS, or to the book I'm writing now). 

Do you have a favorite book among your own work? Any that were easier/more fun to write?

I have fun writing picture books. They feel like poems.  I like the process of tightening something short in revision. I like that I can just set them aside and try something else. A novel is such an investment, such a marathon.

That said, BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX is my favorite book of the things I've written. It's very, very, very personal. I was able to do the voice for the audio book, and I cried while recording. It's probably as close as I'll ever get to memoir. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

I do. You have to get BORED. You have to shut out all the noise. You have to step away from the web, from your phone. If you don't let yourself experience a truly blank page, a real silence, you can't really distill your own thoughts, and come up with something that's all your own.

This is very, very hard for me to do, but I force myself. And I try and talk about it with kids a lot, because they can't even imagine a time when people weren't constantly connected. I say to them, "Go outside and stare at a tree trunk until you can't stand it. Then stand it. Stare some more. Eventually, your brain will step in to entertain you, and THEN you can write."

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?

I suppose I should plug my new picture book, THE LONGEST NIGHT.  I've been working on it, in different ways, for about 20 years. It began as a poem I wrote in college.  It retells the story of the ten plagues and the walk to the red sea, but everything is seen through the eyes of a little slave-girl. As a kid, I always wondered, listening to bible stories, what the kids were doing. This book is my own answer to that, I guess. 

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