Laurel’s the author of BAXTER, THE PIG WHO WANTED TO BE KOSHER and many other wonderful books, including PENNY DREADFUL and the about-to-be-released-so-soon-we-can-almost-taste-it BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX.
If you’ve spent any time on Laurel’s website, you can see why she was a natural for a Literary Friendships interview. The way she talks about books and her elementary-school friend Susan, well, really, you should just take some time to head over there and read up. (After you read this.)
Publishers Weekly, about BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX, said: “The insightful, memorable, and complex characters that Snyder creates result in a story with the same qualities.” To which I say: Bravo! Did this book start with character? And one can’t help but ask at what point in the process you thought, I know! Magic bread box!
Thanks! Yeah, I liked that review a lot. I feel really lucky about the reviews this time.
Actually, it happened backwards, which is humble pie for me because I often teach workshops where I say things like, “A story should start with characters! You can’t know how people will react to a plot point until you know who they ARE!” But in this case, I began with the idea of a bread box. The book itself sort of sprang forth from the box, I guess.
My husband and I were driving to Iowa, and I said to him, “What if there was a kid with a magic box, and the box gave them whatever they wanted, but then they realized the things in the box were coming FROM somewhere?” The characters didn’t become real to me until I realized that the book was actually about the parents’ separation. Because then I channeled a LOT of my own memories into Rebecca.
Many of your books could be said to be about characters trying to figure out who they want to be, which is at the heart of so many of the best children’s books. Which books do you remember adoring as a child? Did they share that theme?
I loved so many kinds of books as a kid. When I was little I loved a lot of magic books that were as much about adventure as they were about character. Edward Eager and James Thurber and Susan Cooper and Edith Nesbit and P.L.Travers and Roald Dahl. As I got older I fell in love with characters more and more, I think.
Right now I’m obsessing over rereading Cynthia Voigt and Katherine Patterson, two authors who really helped me bridge the gap between magical adventure and adult books. I think they have a lot to teach about character (to state the obvious). There’s a long list of books I love and loved as a kid, over on my blog! I sometimes skype with classes who are reading books from my “Penny Dreadful List.”
What literary character would you have liked to move next door to younger-you, and why?
Emily of New Moon! She was so INTENSE! I wanted to be INTENSE too. And she wanted to be a writer.
You write picture books and middle-grade (and many other things, too). Do you have a preference between the two?
Not a preference, exactly, but the experience of each form is totally different. So on any given day I might loathe one and crave the other.
Writing novels is like deep sea diving or something. You have to bury yourself in a novel. On a good day it’s an escape. On a bad day, when I’m not in the right head for it (or just don’t have time) it’s like a forced march to wade into all the words.
Picture books feel like poetry, which I also write. Writing a picture book, and especially revising a picture book, is like tinkering with some delicate mechanical device or building a house of cards. You can mess everything up in an instant, by changing a line or taking out a sentence, and that’s weird. But you also get to feel like you’re playing, because you can just start over again if it gets messed up.
How do friends factor into your process? Do you have writer-friends who read your work? A critique group?
I have a funny relationship with this, I think, because I spent many many years in formal workshop classes. So I’m someone who loves input and can take criticism, but I don’t work well *with* others. I have tried and failed collaboration, and the idea of showing anyone anything before a draft is finished (even my agent) paralyzes me.
That said, I do turn to a few friends who are readers for me, in early drafts. Some of these are friends I’ve made online–other writers like Kurtis Scaletta or Ellen Potter or Gwenda Bond–who are just brilliant and generous. And some of these are personal friends and readers I trust in my offline life. Best of all, I’m lucky to have a genius fiction writer for a sister too, who will always tell me the truth.
What are you working on now?
Ugh. I am attempting a historical novel and it is KICKING MY BUTT! It’s a prequel to BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX, called SEVEN STORIES UP. It’s about the mother from Bread Box, Annie, when she was 12 years old (in 1987). The book is set up the same way as the first–her mom (Ruby, the grandmother from Bread Box) suddenly decides to take her on a trip out of state–but in Seven Stories Up, it’s to visit a grandmother she didn’t know existed, who is dying.
Annie is clueless and angry to discover her mom has been keeping secrets from her. But then she falls back in time, to 1937, and meets her (very sick, lonely) grandmother as a kid, and comes to understand why her mother’s been so secretive all these years. As she gets closer to her grandmother, Molly, she learns a lot of things about friendship and family. IN THEORY! The time travel is hard, HARD! And the historical research is daunting. I don’t want to get anything wrong. I actually just pushed the deadline back a bit, to give myself more time to research 1937 Baltimore.
Sounds great! Thanks so much, Laurel.
At my request, Laurel was kind enough to send along this photo, in which she is pictured with her childhood friend, Susan, about whom you should now go read. Go on. Right here. (Scroll down to “The Long Cut.”)