THE ORPHAN ISLAND…

April 6th, 2014

Almost exactly a year ago, after finishing four books I’d sold on proposal, I decided I needed to go back to writing alone. I needed to work at my own pace, however slow that was. I needed to write weird, if that was what came. I needed to get back to feeling like I felt as a kid, and a poet– just a girl playing with words. Flying blind.

I promised myself I wouldn’t even show my agent.

And then I spent 6 months outlining, and staring at the ceiling. I watercolored characters and setting. I wrote the first few chapters with a mechanical pencil, on a yellow legal pad. I played. And eventually, I hit my stride.

Well… last week I typed the words THE END, and took a week away. Then, today I read my rough draft of The Orphan Island, and I LIKE IT. A LOT!

Weird it is!   It’s too short, and it straddles the MG/YA line in a funny way. It’s got a kind of slight magic that people may be bored by. It’s full of fish guts and fig-drying and bee hives and sand. It ends with a kind of cliffhanger, to an equally weird sequel, a book that may or may not be called The Wordless World.

But I’m proud of the work I’ve done. And I’m proud that I did it without a net. It’s good to know I can still write just for me, alone.

So there’s that.

*********

PS: I feel the need to add that I’ve loved every bit of the collaborative experiences I’ve had with my last books, and wouldn’t change a thing! I just… needed to work all by myself for a little while. Figure out what I’d write if I were alone on a (figurative) desert island.

The punchline? I wrote about a desert island.

On Libraries…

April 4th, 2014

When I was a kid, I lived at the library. Both our school library at Roland Park Public Elementary/Middle School and also the Enoch Pratt Library– Govans, Hampden, and especially Roland Park branches.

I really can’t imagine who I’d be without those places– calm and happy and full of ideas and readers, when my life was not always so calm.

My own kids have an amazing school library, for which I’m beyond grateful. But I see budget cuts happening in the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library Systemand my heart sinks.

What can you say about a culture that doesn’t value its libraries? Some things MUST be valued in non-monetary terms. There HAVE to be entities that survive beyond the ruthless nature of the “free market.”

Libraries are islands of culture and intellect, in a world that often moves too fast to ponder, investigate, or dream. I wish some billionaire would step up and endow the libraries.

They may not generate their own revenue in the short-term, but I truly believe our country will suffer greatly for the loss of them.

Twent Has Two Mommies…

March 27th, 2014

In 2010 I published a middle grade novel called Penny Dreadful. It was a fun book. Some people liked it. It went on to become an EB White Readaloud HONOR book. Huzzah!

But I get a lot of emails about it.  Because in the book there is a very minor character, a boy named Twent, who happens to have two mommies.

Last night I received one such email, and because I was having a very hard week, I ignored the email.  Typically I respond to these emails. I try to explain.  Because maybe (just maybe) the author of the letter is not only writing me a mean letter. MAYBE they are open to a response.  I don’t want to miss that chance, if it’s real. But last night I didn’t.

S0 I thought I could respond here, today. ANd then, in the future, when I get these emails, I can direct readers here…

***

Anastasia writes of Twent (among other things):

“How do you explain that? OUR FAMILY IS VERY AGAINST THAT.”

And I will answer her:

Ahhh, Anastasia, good question!  How do I explain it?  It’s really very simple.

The world is very full of people.  No two people are alike. They live many different kinds of lives. Some of them are nuns. Some of them are corporate lawyers. Some of them are the owners of magical chocolate factories.  But we cannot all be nuns, or magical chocolatiers.  For this reason, we have many different kinds of books. To reflect the many kinds of lives people live. In some cases, we expect people to SEE THEMSELVES in the pages of books. In other cases, we expect books to expand the way people see the world.  Maybe YOU have never met a magical chocolatier, but thanks to Roald Dahl, you can!

When someone writes a book, they cannot ask, “Who will I offend with this particular book?”  Because every book will offend someone.  A writer can only tell a story, and if they are fortunate enough to find a publisher, hope some people want to read it.

It makes me sad to hear you were offended by my book. I didn’t mean to do that. I wasn’t writing it for YOU. But I’m not sorry for Twent’s moms either.   I won’t apologize for them.

I wrote Penny Dreadful to reflect the world I live in. A world populated by many kinds of people, not just nuns and corporate lawyers and magical chocolatiers.  My neighborhood has many gay families in it, in addition to people who aren’t white, and Jews like me.  There are also some folks who have hearing loss, or are blind. My neighborhood has musicians in it, and artists, and world travelers, and gardeners, and women with very long hair, and people who like to make their own jam.  All of these people climbed into my book when I wrote it, because I wanted the book to reflect the world I inhabit.

Honestly the book has received criticism for being “unbelievably diverse.” People find this difficult to accept, especially since the book is set in the south.  I would argue that the people who make these complaints are not comparing my book to the actual world of humans, but to the very whitewashed landscape of traditional nuclear families in which most children’s books have been set. I would further argue that the people who argue that THE SOUTH is not diverse in this way should try visiting the actual south.  That is just another stereotype.

In any case, this is how I “EXPLAIN” Twent’s two moms.  Twent has two moms because many kids I know have two moms.  Twent is a minor character, a friend Penny meets along the way.  The same way that I, a girl with a mom and a dad, have friends with two moms or two dads. Should I not have written the world I love and inhabit?

I’m guessing what upset you most about the book was that you got no WARNING. There is no backmatter to inform readers that they might encounter diversity in this book.  You may feel that your daughter should have had a chance to choose for herself that she was about to encounter a few lines of text in which there were gay people.  I don’t know how this would work.  Should I have also included a warning label: WARNING: THIS BOOK HAS SOME JEWS IN IT?

Books are the best way I know for kids to encounter the world beyond their own experience. Books build empathy and understanding.  They get kids ready for what they’re going to stumble into when they take their first job, or open a copy of the New York Times (yeah, I know that’s unlikely, but I still get the paper myself, so play along).

I don’t expect your kid to turn gay. I don’t actually want your kid to turn gay, or Jewish, or into a magical chocolatier.  I’d just like to think that when she encounters magical chocolatiers in books, you won’t scare her away from them. I’d like to think that you, as her mother, will engage with her question. That you’ll explain that you understand her surprise, since she’s never met a chocolatier before. You can explain that YOUR family doesn’t make chocolate, personally. But yes, the world has chocolate in it, made by magical chocolatiers, and isn’t it nice that the world is such an amazing place, full of surprises and mysteries…

 

 

WRAD!!!

March 6th, 2014

Okay, I’ll admit, so when I signed up for World Read Aloud Day again this year, it was with a sense of “doing something nice for the kids” and “giving back a little.”  I was patting myself on the back.  Taking time from my busy week to read to children (besides Mose and Lew).

But here’s the thing… WRAD isn’t just for them. It’s for us too.

I remember, a few years back at AWP, my amazing sister was on a panel with Richard Ford, about writers in the schools, and how wonderful it is to work with kids.  And my sister made a point I’d never heard someone make. She said.  ”People see it as service. But they should be begging to volunteer their time in a school. If they knew how wonderful it was, they would.”  (or something like that. I didn’t write down exactly what she said.)

Her point was that writers work alone, and they use up a lot of their energy writing. They get drained. They tap out.  They forget why they began writing in the first place. They focus on the work of it. They lose their joy.

But kids? Kids are FULL of joy and eagerness and energy. They  fill you back up! They might tire you in other ways, but you can’t spend an hour with a bunch of excited kids, full of awesome questions, and awe and admiration for the fact that you MAKE BOOKS, and not come away reinvigorated.  You can’t work with kids and writing, and not remember why you started writing.

So today I skyped with eleven schools.  Eleven!  Oh, the wonders of technology.  Schools from all over the country. I read the kids picture books (my next book, Charlie & Mouse, as well as my old favorite, Rain Makes Applesauce, by Julian Scheer) and novels (both Seven Stories Up and my WIP, The Orphan Island). I answered questions, and I told them about my day. I introduced them to Lucy (my assistant, who works for carrot-bits and chew toys).

And now? I feel so ready to write. I feel so IN LOVE with The Orphan Island. I feel so… connected. Re-dedicated.

So now, while I have that boost,  I need to take a little time away,  to crank out a draft.  (I’m shooting for April).  I’m putting a moratorium on new skypes for the spring.  But I’ll be back in the fall. I promise.

And I will always always always do WRAD.

You should too.

Boys Will Be Boys, and Girls Will Be Accomodating…

February 15th, 2014

When we assume that boys won’t read books with girls on the cover, and then institutionalize that assumption by leaving the “girlie” books out of award nominations (as well as school wide reads, story times, etc.), we insult them. By suggesting that on the whole our boys have a limited capacity for empathy, an inability to imagine a world beyond their own most obvious understanding, and an unwillingness to stretch.

In the same stroke, we neglect our girls. Not because they can’t read “boy books” (they do and will). But because when they see those awards, they also learn something —to accept a world in which they are rarely the central players. They learn, at a formative age, that the “best” books are the ones about boys. (Or dogs, as previously mentioned. Dogs are good.)

It’s a problem. And when we play into it, when we accept it as THE TRUTH, we’re reaching for the simplest solution, not the best one. Because the best solution would require us to push against the gender bias in the world, and in ourselves. It’s easier to say, “Boys naturally gravitate to these things, and we want them to read, don’t we?”

But when a kid likes candy and French fries, we do not feed them candy and French fries

 
(Follow my collection, over at Medium, for more kidlit-related rants)

 

It’s a book, a book, a book!!!

January 28th, 2014

Today is the day. It’s PUB DAY!

After three years of researching and writing and revising and tweaking and starting over, and beginning again, and tearing my hair out…

SEVEN STORIES UP IS A BOOK!

If you want to know more about how I wrote the book, and what inspired it, you can read here. (warning, it’s a bit sad)

If you’d like to read the first chapter of the book, and see a picture of my grandmother, you can do that here.

If you want to listen to a podcast in which I talk about how this book taught me (finally!) how to enjoy research, you can tune in here!

And if you want to see some old pictures that I used to keep my in the world of 1937, you can take a peek at my Pinterest page for the book!

I’d love to think that you might also go and purchase a copy of the book, or maybe request it from your local library!  You can add it to your Goodreads list or tell your kid’s teacher about it too!

People have said very very nice things about Seven Stories Up already, which makes this day much nicer.  It was selected as #4 on the Indienext List for winter!  And look:

“Time travel is the least of the magic in the sublime Seven Stories Up, which gently and lovingly demonstrates how the right friend at the right time can heal a heart and even change a life. Like Judy Blume before her, Laurel Snyder writes characters that feel like your best friend. I wish I’d had this book when I was a kid; I would have read it a hundred times and slept with it under my pillow.” –Anne Ursu, author of The Real Boy

“Friendship, connection, and understanding are at the heart of this warm, introspective story about the events that shape a person.” Publishers Weekly

The perfectly paced time-travel conundrum is well balanced within the larger plot, and the entire book is imbued with the same sort of forward-driving adventure as Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me (2009) or Laurel Snyder’s Bigger Than a Bread Box (2011, both Random). A wide variety of readers will find this book wonderfully satisfying and hard to put down.” –SLJ

“Snyder infuses her novel with a touch of magical realism (and, of course, time travel), and many readers will wonder what the grown-ups in their lives were like as kids. Filled with historical facts that weave seamlessly with the narrative, this is a heartwarming story about knowing, and truly understanding, your family.” –Booklist

EEEEEP!

 

And then this happened…

January 21st, 2014

It’s the new year of the trees!!!

January 19th, 2014

 

This week we celebrated Tu B’Shevat.

So here in Atlanta, we got dirty…

Here’s a snapshot, and a silly little ditty to go with it.

Trees, trees, glorious trees,
Full of raccoons and beetles and bees,
Full of red robins and woodpeckers too,
And if you’ve a tree house, perhaps full of YOU!

It isn’t just meant for the bark and the leaves,
The roots and the branches that wave in the breeze.
Tu B’shevat means you should stop for a minute,
In front of a tree, and think of what’s IN IT!

 

What you want to think happens to your books…

January 15th, 2014

There are good reviews and bad reviews.  Not every book can be a bestseller or award winner.

But we don’t write for reviews. We write for kids, readers…

And when you see a picture like this, how can you help but feel gloriously happy?

A big birthday…

January 5th, 2014

So… I just realized I have exactly one week left in my thirties.  One last little week.

This means, of course, that I’ve actually just finished living my fortieth year. Wow. Forty years seems like a lot.  But the last decade has flown, and it has been, without a doubt, my favorite.

On January 12, it will have been exactly ten years since the day I got hitched. Shortly after that, we moved to Atlanta.  A year later, Mose was born, and then Lew.  Somewhere in there I published my first book, and then another 13. It’s more than I would have dared ask for or expect.

There have been some hard, sad moments. I’m older. I can feel it in my bones, and see it in the mirror.  I have RA and crowns on a few teeth. A few gray hairs. I don’t take exotic trips abroad anymore or close down the bars. But I’m glad to be forty. No part of me is scared of the number.

At the same time, I think back to what I thought of FORTY as a kid, and I’m pretty sure I thought that forty was boring and wrinkly.  I don’t feel boring and wrinkly. Though I wouldn’t object to an exotic trip abroad.

But tonight, for the first time, Mose asked me to help him pick a book to read to himself, and it felt truly momentous.  Like a gift he was giving me.  I’ve spent this decade building books and people, and now the two are coming together, and I don’t know why, but… it’s a big deal to me.  Magical, in fact.  Like I could see the last decade of my life right there in front of my face.

All this to say… whatever happens in this next decade, I feel very very very very  lucky to be living my particular life. It’s good.

Thank you, everyone, for being part of it.  Nobody constructs their own world. It’s made up of tiny bricks from other people. I’m grateful.