Laurel Snyder is my twitter soul-mate. By which I mean that we met on twitter and I know that one day, after about ten minutes in a bar somewhere random, it will feel as if we've known each other forever. Laurel has done and written a whole bunch of interesting stuff that you can read about here. Today, though, we're mostly going to talk about her most excellent and wonderful and fabulous new middle grade novel Any Which Wall, which she herself has described elsewhere as an attempt to pay tribute to Edward Eager in the way he paid tribute to E. Nesbit. And, reader, she does, and then some. Like the best conversations, this interview meanders a bit, but I don't think you'll mind.
GB: I am a process nerd, and the readers of S&S have sadly not had much process porn to witness lately. So, tell me about the writing process for Any Which Wall–was it different than any of your other work, special challenges, motivations, more drinking, etc.
Well… in truth I wrote Any Which Wall because my husband lost his job. My older son was a year old at the time, and I was 6 months pregnant, and suddenly we had NO income, and NO healthcare! So I called my agent and said, "I need X dollars before this baby gets here! Is there any way for me to somehow earn some money fast?
And this is the reason I will forever, forever love my agent. Because she said, "You'll probably get a smaller advance if we do it like this, and it might not work, but if you can dream up a book, honey, we can try." So I sat down and cranked out the proposal, and we did sell it, and the money was enough to buy us a year of Blue Cross, and a few months of mortgage, and a pizza. And that (along with my husband's temp job) was enough to get us through. Whew!
But by the time we signed the contract, there I was, with a newborn, and a toddler, and no clue how to finish this book. I couldn't afford childcare. So what'd I do? I went home to Momma. I took the most horrible plane ride ever, *wearing* both screaming kids (I'm not kidding), to Baltimore. And all day each day, while my mom babysat my older son, I wrote in the unairconditioned third floor bedroom of a neighbor's house (thanks Marjean!). Nursing hourly (the baby slept in his carseat on the floor) and nibbling triscuits.
Then, after 6 hours of solid writing, sweat dripping off my nose, I'd walk home, and my mom would feed me and pour me a very large glass of white wine. And I somehow, somehow finished the draft. Miserable, but very grateful too.
Of course, it was so rushed it was a disaster, and I had to rewrite the whole damn thing in a coffeeshop 6 months later. But by then I could afford luxuries like the occasional sandwich, and a few hours of babysitting.
GB: Clearly this book is–in addition to being a wonderful middle grade novel on its own terms–a love letter to Edward Eager's books. Tell me about the impact those books had on you as a kid and how they influence your own creative work.
LS: Eliot said something once that often gets shortened to "Bad poets borrow. Good poets steal." Well, whether I'm good or bad, I'm (first and last) a poet. I tend to read books over and over. I study them, process them–their cadences, tricks of speech, and dialogue patterns wiggle into my head. For the books I've been rereading or decades this is most true. So it's impossible for me not to be, on some level, always writing a love letter. To Eager and Nesbit, and to Dahl, and Enright, and Lewis, and McDonald, and so many others. I've probably read Eager's books more than 20 times over the years. If I didn't call my books "tributes" someone else would accuse me of plagiarism. I'm just beating my critics to the punch!
GB: I know you are a big fan of small southern towns. Why? And who are some of your favorite bands and musicians from the south?
Sigh. Yeah. I spent 7 years in Chattanooga, and I miss it pretty perpetually. I also love Louisville and Asheville a lot. We haven't been able to find jobs anywhere that size, but I'm always hunting…
For me, the southeast is just a good fit. I grew up thinking I lived in the north (in Baltimore) but in fact, Maryland is a lot more like the south. The muggy summers and the mild winters and the green everywhere and the low mountains. I love other places too, Iowa especially, but the south has a lot of what the midwest has, only warmer. People making up their own kinds of lives. Cheap rent and beautiful landscapes and loud laughs and whiskey and falling-down barns are conducive to art, maybe. To me, the south feels very DIY, sloppy and forgiving, and I could go on forever about this.
Oh, and music. I have to give it to Kentucky for that. I remember being into "progressive music" until discovering Palace Brothers and Freakwater, and that was just IT! Music changed forever for me. Right now I'm obsessed with a local band here, based in Rome, The Little Country Giants. And my friend Pieta Brown, who lives in Iowa, but is really from Birmingham.
GB: You recently published an essay about how a lot of Jewish books for kids are very serious and traditional, when taken as a whole. What was the response to that essay like? Did it surprise you? It seems like there was an instant groundswell of writers saying YES, WHAT SHE JUST SAID.
LS: It was insane and crazy and the ripples are echoing through my life right now. Typically, when I rant online, people yell at me and spank me, but that was different. Everyone just seemed to be on the same page. I got a *huge* number of emails from all kinds of people, doing all sorts of things that excited me when I heard about them. There's an incredible Jewish illustration show being put together by the Skirball Center (in conjunction with the Carle Museum), and the PJ Library is just an amazing initiative that everyone needs to know about. It's very exciting. Really, there's a market ready to eat new books up, and writers and artists eager to make the books. We just have to get everyone together. I'm trying to dream up a conference, and an anthology. Everything just needs a point of connection. Ask m e again in a year!
GB: What have you been reading/watching/listening to lately that you would like to recommend?
LS: I'd embarass myself if I told you what I watch on TV. (*Ed. note)
No, really. It's bad. Like, hair-band bad. I mean, I love the Flight of the Conchords and The Wire and Mad Men, like everyone… but most nights, I'm watching BAD TV!
For books– I read Island of the Aunts not too long ago, and it's a really wonderful book that I'd somehow missed. And I fell in LOVE with My One Hundred Adventures and The Girl Who Could Fly last year.
*This is not possible–I keep a stockpile of Numb7rs episodes Just In Case. Also, yay Island of the Aunts!