Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Author Interview with Laurel Snyder

Today I bring to you an interview with Laurel Snyder. Laurel is from Baltimore, Maryland and now lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop and has a background in journalism, in addition to being an award-winning author. Kidlit books by Laurel I have read include several of her middle grade novels-ORPHAN ISLAND (Walden Pond Press), BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX (Random House), and SEVEN STORIES UP (Random House), early readers CHARLIE & MOUSE (Chronicle) and CHARLIE & MOUSE & GRUMPY (Chronicle), and the picture book THE FOREVER GARDEN (Schwartz & Wade).



ORPHAN ISLAND deeply intrigued me from the start all the way to the last page. In this story, nine children live independently on an island without adult supervision. Each year, a toddler joins the group and the oldest child must leave. The backstory and epilogue is left up to the imagination of the reader. What kind of homework did you do to create the untold backstory and epilogue of ORPHAN ISLAND?
Oh, interesting question! This was a book that materialized very gradually. I knew I wanted to write a sort of allegorical story, and I knew I wanted to write about parentless kids. But it took awhile to arrive at the island.

Once I did, the job was all about creating the world and its rules, and I spent about a year on that. I painted a lot of it-- the foods and animals, the map and the kids. Designing their clothes and laying out the houses and other places they spent time in.

And then a lot tweaking had to be done. Figuring out how many kids had lived there in the past (counted in shoes), and how many could live there at once. (initially there were ten, but the math didn't work out that way, for Ess to be Jinny's Care kids).

So while there was very little traditional research, I spent a lot of time in prewriting.

Will readers get to see these details of ORPHAN ISLAND in any future projects? (I hope it’s “yes!”)
My next book (MY JASPER JUNE) isn't about the island-- I had something else in line first. But I'm working on a prequel. One never knows whether a book will work out well enough to be published. (I have lots of unpublished messes in a drawer, trust me). But I'm hopeful. The question is whether the second book is going to make the experience of the first better, or simply tie up the loose ends. I'm not interested in just answering people's questions. It needs to stand on its own.

In BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX, readers meet Rebecca, 12, who is struggling with her parents’ separation. Living with her grandmother, she stumbles across a bread box that grants her wishes. At first, this magic box seems like a dream come true, until Rebecca realizes that the box has a sinister method of producing the things she wants. It almost felt that this bread box was its own character. How did you create a character out of an inanimate object?

The bread box was actually the beginning of the book! I often begin a story with a question or a catalyst, and then I have to build the characters who will serve as the engine for the actual plot. That's exactly what happened in this case.

I wouldn't say I thought of the box as a character, while writing. But it makes sense you read it that way. Rebecca certainly has a relationship with the bread box, a struggle. It's teaching her something, and she's fighting with it.

You know what's interesting? Originally, that book had another character, a boy named Japheth. He became Rebecca's friend in Atlanta, and shared the adventure with her. But I had to remove him, because it felt like he was keeping her from getting lonely/sad enough to really do what she needed to do. I wonder if maybe I channeled that friend-energy into the box, when I took Japheth away. Hmmm.


In SEVEN STORIES UP, Annie accompanies her mother to meet her dying grandmother, a hotel heiress, for the first time. It seems that Annie’s mother and grandmother have never been close. Then Annie time travels to 1937 and befriends her grandmother as a young girl. In doing so, she alters history where it matters the most.

In the Author’s Note at the end of the SEVEN STORIES UP, you shared that you had to check all your facts about history, from finding out the price of a candy bar to learning about Ferris wheels. How did you research these historical details?

Oh, wow. It took forever. I'm not really a researcher or nonfiction writer by nature, and I seriously underestimated the amount of effort involved. My hat is off to people who write historical fiction for real! This book actually fell behind schedule and was published late because of all the time involved.

I used Google a lot, to be honest. And I kept a Pinterest page with maps and old ephemera I found, that helped me with the visuals and world-building. But in the end, I had to go to the library. Because there's just too much online, and I found myself falling down rabbit holes. At the end of the day, an Encyclopedia is a very useful tool. Sometimes, less is more.


In your middle grade books (e.g. ORPHAN ISLAND, BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX,and SEVEN STORIES UP) are an element of magic and fantasy. What rules do you adhere to when you incorporate magical realism into your work? (I hope magical realism is the right term to use.)

People call my books Magical Realism a lot, and I don't think that's exactly correct, from an academic standpoint, but it works.

I think the main thing is that you need to establish a logic to the individual magical system in the book. And you need to deal with any consequences that arise. If you bring a unicorn in through the window, you need to know how it got there, whether there are more unicorns waiting in the wings, and what, exactly, a unicorn is. Then you need to then feed the unicorn, deal with the unicorn poo, etc. I actually really love that part of the job-- figuring out that other world/logic.

THE FOREVER GARDEN tells a sweet story about how a garden can grow on even when its original owner leaves it behind. The CHARLIE & MOUSE books detail the experiences and musings of two young brothers.

How does your writing style differ between writing a picture book such as THE FOREVER GARDEN and early readers, such as the CHARLIE & MOUSE books? 

Hmmm. I'm not sure it does, really. I mean, the CHARLIE & MOUSE books are about my own kids, and so I have a sense of them as ongoing. I could write them forever, because my kids have adventures that inspire me daily. But I'm not sure the actual process of writing them is different.

Though, now that I've said that... I might say that Charlie and Mouse are character-driven (more like a novel). And my picture books typically aren't. So much of the character in a picture book comes from collaboration, from the art. So they tend to be more situational, more about the idea of the story. And less about the character as a person.

7. What books/authors did you enjoy reading when you were younger?

Oh, so many! I loved really gritty human books like DICEY’S SONG and BRIDGE TO TEREBITHIA. I loved magic books like HALF MAGIC and the NARNIA CHRONICLES. I loved old fashioned stories like BALLET SHOE and A LITTLE PRINCESS, books that painted a picture of another time and place. And I loved high voiced and comic stories, like MRS. PIGGLE WIGGLE or THE THIRTEEN CLOCKS.

A lot of these books, I realize now, need context if kids are going to read them today. The world has changed, and we now recognize the problematic elements. I feel strongly about that. But it doesn't change the fact that I loved them.

8. Are there any upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?
I'm always working on something! My next novel, MY JASPER JUNE, will be out in September. (https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2019/02/10/writing-for-the-middle-by-laurel-snyder/)And I have two new CHARLIE & MOUSE stories coming out this year too, and a picture book with Chuck Groenink, called HUNGRY JIM. Right now I'm working on my first graphic novel, a memoir called FAIRY HUNTER. And then the prequel to ORPHAN ISLAND which is Abigail's story, mostly.


8 comments:

Liz A. said...

I think most writers have a bunch of unpublished messes in a drawer somewhere. That may become something. Someday...

Orphan Island is a curious concept. I may have to read that one.

Jo said...

Boy, you've just made me want to read these books. I think they sound wonderful and original. Will have to check them out.

Kate Larkindale said...

What an interesting interview! I may have to find some of these books as they sound very intriguing.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's a lot of upcoming books. Bigger Than a Bread Box is a funny title.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Nice to meet Laurel. A fascinating interview and such a nice variety of books. Thanks for introducing this new author, new for me, to us. Will have to take a look at her books.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I always like hearing about characters who got left on the cutting-room floor; to me it's one of the most fascinating things about process.

Tyrean Martinson said...

These books definitely sound magical and lovely, each in their own way. Thanks for sharing!

Tonja Drecker said...

All of the books sound interesting, and I love twists of magic in kidlit. It was interesting to read how each one had it's own way to be written.

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