Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Day Two with Laurel Snyder

We’re back with Laurel Snyder, author of Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains. Today’s the big day when her book is officially “out.” Rather than let Laurel take a well-deserved breather, we decided to pepper her with questions.

So Laurel, where do you do most of your writing?

*Sigh.* I have two very small children and very little childcare, so a surprising amount of my writing happens in my car. I keep a little mini-recorder and notepad in my glove box, and whenever both boys knock out in the backseat, I work. Often in the grocery store parking lot (because of course they fall asleep on the way to the store). I know this sounds completely insane, but it's true. During the school year I have childcare for my older son, and sometimes I work in coffee shops around Atlanta with the little one in tow.

Laurel's laptop and esteemed colleague in Doc Bombay's coffeeshop.

We’re impressed, but not enough to leave you alone, Laurel. Can you tell us how the book came about? How did you begin writing it?

It's a weird story. I had just finished my MFA in poetry, and was lucky enough to have gotten a fellowship that enabled me to quit waiting tables. But I was having trouble writing poems, and with all the extra time on my hands I began re-reading a lot of the books I'd loved as a kid. One night, probably inspired by all the books I was reading, I started telling my husband (though he wasn't yet) a bedtime story. He suggested I write it down the next day, and I did, although I wasn't really thinking of it as serious work. But then it just kept getting longer and longer, and so eventually I chopped it into chapters and called it a novel. I had no clue what I was doing, and no idea where to send it, so it took years to finish. I feel very, very lucky.

And how did it find a publisher?

It was pulled from slush, which makes me so happy! I feel good knowing that there is still a chance for things like that to happen in the world of publishing.

Basically, after I finished the draft (which was too short, like 70 pages) I got a copy of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market and sent the manuscript out. And though editors and agents were complimentary, they made it very clear to me that the book was unmarketable (too old-fashioned), and not a finished novel.

By that time I had run out of fellowship money and gotten a job, so I had no time to revise it. I stuck it in a drawer. Then, a few years later, I pulled it out and sent it to a few more people. I got pretty much the same response, and I figured I'd better rewrite it. I gave up on sending it out and began to rewrite.

But then, out of the blue, a YEAR LATER, I received an email from Lisa Findlay at Random House. She apologized for holding the manuscript for so long. She said she'd had hopes of publishing it as part of a series, but that the series wasn't going to happen and the book wasn't long enough to stand alone. Of course I sent her the new revised draft, and after reading it she asked if I'd be willing to revise on spec. I did another round of revisions for her, and she took it to committee a few months later.

Did anything surprise you or catch you off guard when you were writing the book?

What surprised me was how much I enjoyed writing it. I'd never written long prose before, and it felt very different from poetry. That was a very hard year for me, especially the winter I was working on the end of the book. I was depressed, and I discovered that writing fiction can be a very healthy escape, a good addiction. I'd kind of wander off into the book and resurface five hours later feeling much better, distracted, refocused.

Imagine you have an offer from your dream press to publish your dream book, no matter how insane or unmarketable it might be (although of course it might not be). What story would you want to write and why?

LOL! I have a huge stack of unmarketable picture books. One is called The Little Boy Who Caught his Death and another is a book of slightly profane alphabet poems called The Bestiary of Babble. I also have a desire to rewrite the Bible, but that's unlikely to sell. I think being a poet makes me very willing to write things that will never find an audience. I write because I have to write, and when nobody else wants to read it, I figure it's an exercise. We learn from everything, right?

Absolutely right—that’s why we’re writers! What question won't most people know to ask you? And what's your answer?

Hmmm. I'm epileptic, and people rarely know that or ask about it, maybe because it makes them uncomfortable to pry. But I'm a very transparent person, and I love to share everything. Maybe I wish people would ask me about dealing with that. Because the answer would be that it’s manageable. It's fine.

Thanks, Laurel. Go drive around with your boys for a while.

Laurel's coworkers, wide awake.

Tomorrow: The Little Girl Who Lived in the Library.


Barrie said...

I love slush-pile stories! And what cute co-workers you have!

Regina Scott said...

Your coworkers remind me of my two--now 14 and 17. They made writing challenging some times, but boy are they worth the effort! I'm sure all those fun ideas find their way into your writing!