The Michael Snyder File:
by C.J. Darlington
Michael Snyder Interview
stories arrive on the doorstep of my imagination as embryonic ideas
or interesting scenarios or peculiar characters, sometimes just a
snippet of dialog. Only after I invite them in, feed them, clothe
them, bake them cookies, and rub their noses in the messes they make,
do they mature into actual stories."
Michael Snyder lives in Spring Hill, Tennessee, with is lovely wife and four children. He studied music in college and played guitar professionally for many years. His first novel, My Name is Russell Fink, released in 2008, and he hopes the world is a slightly better place as a result. His second novel Return Policy has recently hit shelves.
C.J.: Tell us a little bit about your musical career. How did you get started and why did music interest you?
Michael: My musical aspirations go back further than my memory. As a kid, I would put 45’s on my plastic phonograph, perch oversized sunglasses on the bridge of my tiny nose, then wield a couple of Tinkertoys (or maybe Lincoln Logs) to use as drumsticks. In my fertile imagination I alternated between pretending to be the lead singer, lead guitar player, and drummer for every band from the Beatles to KISS to Earth, Wind, & Fire to Steely Dan. After suffering through a decade of piano lessons I finally got my hands on an electric guitar. My first “band” used to practice in a coal bin (literally) and scare small children on Halloween (not on purpose). Eventually, I got pretty good, but never great. My penchant for playing in bands lasted through all nine years of college.
Do you still play music at all or are your creative juices spent after writing?
My wife and I lead worship for preschool and elementary school kids at church. For a while I was furnishing Bic lighters to the kids so they could show their full appreciation. But the fire marshal eventually told me to cut it out. A few kids take pity on me and use that nifty iPhone app, but it’s not the same.
I find it interesting that you didn’t start writing until later in life. Did you think about writing at all as a kid, or was it something that came to you as something you wanted to do in a flash of inspiration?
Actually, it was some of both. I’ve always been compelled to create in one way or another. Music was a great outlet, but ultimately not the right fit. I always wanted to draw but was pretty terrible at it. I do remember my days as a paperboy, spending hours conjuring scenarios and characters as I walked my route. But I never thought to write any of it down until around 2002 when I turned to my wife in the van and said, “I think I might try my hand at writing fiction.” Her encouragement started that day and hasn’t relented since. She’s pretty amazing…and amazingly pretty too.
How has your musical training impacted your writing?
I’m sure it has helped, although I cannot point to any particular examples. My degree is in composition and arranging, but my actual talents have always leaned more toward the composing part than the arranging. And it appears this tendency carried over to literature as well.
I love coming up with characters and oddball situations. However, arranging them into actual plots continues to mystify me. The good news is that if I follow my characters around long enough, the plot takes care of itself.
Do you listen to music as your write? Why or why not? If you do, what
are some of your favorite bands/songs?
It’s funny, when I first began writing, the only two albums I could listen to while writing were Ballads & Blues by Miles Davis and Ten Cent Wings by Jonatha Brooke. (And yes, I still refer to them as “albums.”) Eventually I added Coltrane and Keith Jarrett to the mix, as well as the rest of the Jonathan Brooke catalog. Now I can listen to almost anything while I write. A constant mainstay over the years has been Over The Rhine. And for some reason lately, I’ve been binging on Wilco and Ryan Adams.
a lot of humor in your novels. Is that something that just happens
without your trying,
or do you have to consciously include it in
As far as I can tell, the humor in my stories happens organically. I’ve long held the belief that one of the least funny things on earth is when someone tries to be funny. Unfortunately, I came to this realization the hard way!
Writing funny does require discipline. But it’s the same discipline as writing music or writing conflict into our stories. They all thrive on tension and repose. The trick is to convey the emotion without resorting to clichés or making it sound cheesy or melodramatic. It’s about honing your sensibilities and sticking with it until the writing works.
I also believe that humor has less to do with being funny than just tuning your antennae. Strictly speaking, I don’t really create humor. I just try to recognize it when it shows up, then write it down before it gets away.
talk about Return Policy. After the success of My Name
is Russell Fink,
did you find it
challenging to write this next story, or
was it already written?
As much as I love writing…and I do love it…I find every story equally challenging.
I’m one of those oddballs that finds the blank page less daunting than that manuscript piling up in the desk drawer. The key for me is to find characters I love. And I have to love them enough to follow them around for a year or more!
I really envy those writers who are able to juggle numerous fully formed plots in their head. My stories arrive on the doorstep of my imagination as embryonic ideas or interesting scenarios or peculiar characters, sometimes just a snippet of dialog. Only after I invite them in, feed them, clothe them, bake them cookies, and rub their noses in the messes they make, do they mature into actual stories.
What was the hardest part about writing Return
Striking the right balance between the three point-of-view characters.
The story unfolds via three distinct first-person narratives. Since two of the narrators were male, I had to make sure their voices remained distinct. This proved especially difficult with Shaq, an educated homeless man with a knack for co-opting the biographies of everyone around him.
After that it was about finding balance between the narrators, allowing
them to have their say and preventing any one of them from taking over
the story. This was much easier in the first half of the book. But once
their lives began to intertwine, it became quite a juggling act.
How does your faith impact your writing?
I hope it’s seamless. Although I believe that Jesus is exactly who he says he is, I don’t consider myself a “Christian writer” any more than I’m a Christian husband, Christian father, Christian guitar player, Christian coffee drinker, or Christian napper. As much as I want my writing to bring glory to God, it’s never a conscious thought when I’m composing.
I believe the gospel is true…and I write stories.
I’m not trying to insinuate that those two truths are mutually exclusive.
Actually, I believe they’re connected in ways that I could never
fully articulate. So I’m content to be a believer and do my writing.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
My acceptance speech for the Pulitzer. Or maybe the Booker Award. I’m not that picky.
Is it ever
a struggle to balance your day job and writing? How do you manage?
Writing 10:00 pm to 1:00
am has to wear on you a little after a
while. Or doesn’t it?
Nah, my day job pays the mortgage. So I have to make sure I’m able to give 100% there. As well, I work hard to guard my family time. The key to making all this work is my lovely wife who indulges my spiritual gift of napping. Most nights after I put the kids to bed, I lay down for a thirty-minute nap. (And I usually take longer ones on weekends.) This usually works pretty well. But I have been known to fall asleep at my desk. Some nights you just have to surrender to your limitations and go to bed.
Do you ever
find it challenging to head to your keyboard every day? What do you
do when the words don’t
seem to come?
Ouch. This one hits a little close to the bone. For starters, I never have trouble getting to the keyboard. It’s what happens after I get there that can be problematic.
As much as I hate to admit it, I have finally experienced a bout of writer’s block. I used to think this was a myth, that real writers just wrote their way through it. So I’m now busy amending my theory, since I’d rather admit I was wrong than have to admit I’m not a real writer.
What do you
know now that you wish you’d known when you first started
I can’t think of a single thing.
Since I was already in my thirties before I started writing stories down, I didn’t come to the process with romantic notions of “getting discovered” or selling millions of books. (I’d already put away those childish things in my band days.) I instinctively knew it would be a lot of work, that the learning curve would be steep and unending, that I would need to leave my ego at the door and show up every day grateful and ready to learn, that the writing is the reward.
Not that I don’t forget those things sometimes. But usually all I have to do is read the previous day’s work to renew my humility.
to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
Just a big, heartfelt Thank You to TitleTrakk for inviting me over to play. And thank you readers (both current and potential) for your part in allowing me to do what I love. It really means more than you know.
Who is Michael Snyder?
To quote the flustered front desk clerk from This Is Spinal Tap (aka, the guy who played Bentley on The Jeffersons…he was the British neighbor who would come down and walk on George Jefferson’s back)…
“I’m just as God
made me, sir!”
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
1- Like Russell Fink, my body wreaks havoc on watch batteries, often causing the second-hand on wristwatches to run backward.
2- I was in a KISS video.
When you’re not writing,
what do you enjoy doing?
Playing with my kids, napping, and/or anything that involves a ball.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Carrot juice with a twist of lime, banana, two cups of coffee with cream and some organic concoction called Agave nectar. (On the days we don’t do carrot juice, we “enjoy” kale shakes).
Man, I miss donuts.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
3- cold air
next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
A grande Café Misto with one-and-a-half packets of that brown natural sugar. But what I’d rather have is a Chai Latte.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
Sitting down to make a “Goals For Life” list!
When was the last time you cried?
Not sure this counts as crying, but I did get choked up reading one of my stories in Chicago. My last “big cry” was when my big brother passed away last year. That still doesn’t seem real.
Three words that best describe you:
Empathetic, Sincere, Smelly
currently in your CD player/iPod?
I’m all over the place on this one…
Last iTunes purchase: Margot And The Nuclear So & So’s sophomore effort.
Most frequently played: the entire Wilco catalog
As I’m typing this sentence? John Wayne Gacy, Jr. by Sufjan Stevens.
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.