Laurel Snyder is the author of picture books (like Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher) and middle grade novels (like Bigger than a Bread Box). She also writes poems. Originally from Baltimore, she now lives in Atlanta, in a small house full of boys. To learn more, visit Laurel here!
Let the conversation begin!
Would you rather publish a string of mainstream books or one classic?
An actual classic? No contest. I’d settle for one lasting poem. Or I’d settle for one book that somebody thinks is absolutely perfect. In the meantime, I’ll keep scribbling imperfectly along.
If you could only write one more book, what would it be about?
The book I’m writing now, I guess. I hate not finishing things. But beyond that, I want to write a book about faith. Only I can’t figure out how to do that, because I’m not sure what it is, exactly…
Do you begin with character or plot?
Character, almost always. It’s like I start the seed, and then, when it’s just a thin little vine, I set up the plot as a scaffold, and the character grows against the scaffold. Make sense?
Tell us about the book you’re working on.
It’s a middle grade novel, a companion to Bigger than a Bread Box. It follows the mother of the main character from Bread Box, Annie, when she was 12 (in 1937). Naturally she falls back in time to 1937 and meets her own grandmother as a kid. I just pushed the deadline WAY back. It turns out time travel I REALLY HARD.
What is your favorite quote?
“Your language becomes clear and strong not when you can no longer add, but when you can no longer take away.”
That’s Isaac Babel. I keep it above my desk, always. I love it partly because I think it’s true, and a good reminder, and partly because I learned it from one of my best friends, an author named Thisbe Nissen. Every time I read it, I’m back in Iowa, in 2000, with a glass of wine in my hand, talking about the books I plan to write someday.
Describe your perfect day.
Sleep in a little, maybe until 8, because my kids have magically overslept too. Find that my husband has made the coffee. Get back in bed with coffee and the kids, snuggle. Rise at 9 to eat a hard boiled egg, some fruit, and a Stella D’Oro. When the kids magically disappear to someplace safe but far away, sit down to write. Write. Write more. Manage to avoid Twitter and Facebook and Email. Write a good 2000 words of SHEER BRILLIANCE. Read some poems on the couch. Find that a magical sandwich has arrived at the door, along with a friend I haven’t seen in awhile. Eat the sandwich while catching up. Having accomplished amazing amounts, allow myself to check email and Twitter and discover that my friends are all happy and healthy. Shower. Dress. Read back over what I’ve written. Feel good about it. Just as I’m finishing, look up to see the kids have returned, smiling. Spend an hour in the yard, watching them play. Come inside when husband arrives home. Say hello. Go for a walk with everyone. Return to find the house has picked itself up. Make a simple and delicious meal while listening to NPR (either that, or Indian food magically arrives on doorstep). Read to kids for a short time until they fall asleep. Go out for a drink in an actual bar, or maybe sit on the porch with a bourbon that will not give me a hangover.
It’s either that or a day of wandering around in New York with my best friend, Susan. I miss her.
What was the best thing that happened to you this weekend?
I went to a wonderful birthday party for a six year old friend of mine, at the community garden. Every birthday should have chickens, I think.
Who inspires you and how are you a bit like them?
My sister inspires me. I’m a lot like her, but not in the ways I find inspiring. She’s thoughtful. She’s a watcher. She has more integrity than anyone I know.
If you were an animal, who would you be?
I’d be a bird. I flit. Or maybe a spider monkey.
Where do you get your ideas?
Well, if I could figure that out I’d be more productive. I honestly don’t know. But I know they only come together when I manage to be alone. That’s hard for me.
Advice for new writers?
Be alone. Seek out solitude—which is hard today. Listen to that silence. Don’t be afraid to fail. Challenge yourself to read books you don’t like or understand. Reach.
What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?
Eggs. Eggs are weird. I mean, really? Who figured that out?
What do you consider to the most valuable thing you own?
I’d say my kids, but I don’t exactly own them. My health? Does that count?
Best writing advice you’ve ever received?
“You are what you eat.” My friend, Karri, taught me that. A writer should be reading new work, always. Not just what feels comfortable.
What one word describes you?
What would you like your life to look like in ten years?
The same, but with a second bathroom, and a cure for arthritis. I have RA.
Most embarrassing moment?
I can’t repeat that here. I’ll just say I have had my share. Did I mention I’m generally uncensored?
What’s the first item on your bucket list?
I don’t have a bucket list. I really pretty much live my bucket list. I’m lucky that way.
The work is done. How do you recharge?
The work is never done. I have two kids who are four and five, so I write in my “down time.” And I always have about 17 projects on the back-burner. But at night, once I’m too tired to do anything else, I often watch very very bad television.
What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?
The easiest book I’ve written is a board book called Nosh Schlep Schluff. It’s a tiny thing, and I wrote it in an email. I couldn’t believe it when I managed to sell it. Does that count?
The hardest is the one I’m writing now, in terms of WORK. But emotionally, the last one took a massive toll, Bigger than a Bread Box. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to writing my own story down, and it made me cry daily. I basically relived my parents divorce.
Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress?
Oh, sure. I share with anyone who can help me. I’m not a private person.
Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?
I’m an outliner, more and more. But not with poetry.
What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?
A bathroom. I write in the shed.
How long do you take to write a book?
A novel? About a year. But I’d rather go slower.
In grade school, what’d you want to be when you grew up?
A children’s author, believe it or not. I think I’m the only person I know who grew up to be their childhood dream, exactly.
Easier to write before or after you were published?
The same. I just write. I write a lot that I don’t publish.
Earliest childhood memory?
Oh, wow. I don’t know. There was a blueberry ice cream cone that fell…
What is your secret talent?
I don’t have secrets…
What’s one rule you’re dying to break?
I generally break them. Do you mean as a writer? I’d like to write a book of poems both groundbreaking and thoroughly accessible. But I don’t think there is such a thing, sadly.
If this was your last day on Earth, what would you do?
You mean besides freaking out about it being MY LAST DAY ON EARTH? Wander around the house with my family. Eat whatever I wanted. Not clean. Hug a lot, I guess.
What initially drew you to writing?
I am a complete extrovert. The page is a person I can always talk to. Writing means I’m never ever alone.
If you could spend a vacation with three authors, who would they be?
Published authors? Only three? I guess… Thisbe Nissen, Rachel Zucker, Marc Fitten. They’re the first three who come to mind. I like my friends far better than famous people I haven’t met.