I have the great pleasure of sharing a fantastic book with you today - ANY WHICH WALL by Laurel Snyder. This is probably one of my favorite mid-grade reads (right up there with The Penderwicks). It is perfect for a lazy summer day or vacation and perfectly targeted to it's mid-grade audience. It will send their imagination to fantastic places.
I recently spoke with Laurel about the creation of this great read...
Q. Congratulations on the release of your latest mid-grade novel ANY WHICH WALL! Tell us a bit about how this story came to be.
A. Oh, wow. It's a crazy (not very romantic or muse-y) tale. Basically, my husband lost his job, and we found ourselves suddenly without any healthcare. I'd left work the year before, to have my older son, and was pregnant with #2, so we also had no income. One day, as I was searching my couch for change, I had a thought and called my agent.
I said, "I need money! I need enough money to buy 8 months of healthcare!" I was petrified I'd have to deliver the baby at the ER or something.
She wasn't sure we could pull it off, because the first book hadn't come out yet, but she was willing to try and write the proposal with me. So she said, "Is there a book you want to write next?"
Any Which Wall was what followed. We scrambled to write a chapter or two, and she managed to sell it. I will always always owe my agent and editor a great debt for that.
Q. You have a considerable publishing history and education as well - can you share? What was your journey to publication in the children's book world?
A. It's a weird one, because I had attended this amazing MFA program in poetry, and had friends getting book deals, but I had no clue what I was doing with kidlit. I had some sense of what I was supposed to do generally, but a lot to learn about the community and protocol in the world of children's publishing.
Basically, I wrote a slew (a slew!) of books, and sent them out. They were rejected, and I put them away for a long time. Then I took them out, revised them, and tried again. In the intervening years, the market had changed quite a lot, and the "unpublishable" books had somehow become publishable (Thank you, Kate Dicamillo and Jeanne Birdsall!). Both my first picture book and my first novel were pulled from slush! Though I admit I did some heavy revising (on spec) with the novel.
Q. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a great review of ANY WHICH WALL making comparisons with classics by authors E. Nesbit in the late 1800s and Edward Eager in the mid 1900s. I know Mr. Eager's books were a strong influence for you - tell us about this and how they relate to your writing today.
A. Well, I have to confess that most of the books I love are very old. I'm not up on the new books, though I'm trying to catch up now. But for me there's a great appeal to books that blend magic and real-life-kids, humor and emotion. I don't like when things polarize. I don't like how a lot of books now get pushed to an extreme. They seem (sometimes) like they have to choose between funny or sad, magical or "realistic". I think older books tend to be all of these things... I think one amazing thing about childhood is that kids experience everything all at once. So I tend to look back to older books for my craft lessons. Some of my favorite new authors are doing amzing things though. Ellen Potter and Victoria Forrester and Rebecca Stead...
Did I answer your question? Hmm... Specifically, I'm interested in the episodic quality of Eager and Nesbit, and that the kids in their books aren't battling for their lives, or the fate of the universe...
Q. I must admit, I think ANY WHICH WALL is one of the most perfect mid-grade summer reads for this age group ever, it's perfectly targeted. And I especially loved the smart-aleck narrator (just enough - not over the top like some other mid-grades). What's been the response to the book so far?
A. People seem quietly excited, I think. I get great emails from people. But I don't know. I think I get too caught up in paying attention to reviews and Amazon ranking I'm trying to push away from that. Really, what we all want is a long career, right? It doesn't have to be a meteoric rise. I want to write books kids will like, books that will stay on the library shelves a long long time. That's the goal. I'm trying not to think short-term right now. It's hard. And as for reviews, I've been thinking a lot lately about how an author's job is not to please everyone. Who wants to please everyone? Has any really amazing book ever pleased everyone? Art doesn't do that.
Q. And finally - I look forward to reading whatever you come up with next. Any hints?
A. Ugh. I'm in the middle of a particularly painful revision. I'm murdering ALL my darlings and it's awful. Sometimes revising feels like surgery. I'm excited about the book, though. It's called Penny Dreadful, and it's about a bored little girl (Penny) who moves to a tiny town in Tennessee, from "The City." Oh, and I have a picture book coming out next fall, called "Baxter the Kosher Pig." I'm in love with Baxter. The art is incredible, though the artist is still hush hush...
Q. Sounds fantastic - I can't wait! Thanks so much and here's to more happy writing (and happier revisions)!
A. You too! Thanks so much, e!