The Three Rs: Carrie Snyder

November 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

Carrie Snyder was born in Hamilton, and grew up in Ohio, Nicaragua, and Southern Ontario. Her first book, Hair Hat, was nominated for the Danuta Gleed award for Short Fiction. Her novel-in-stories The Juliet Stories is a finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s literary award for fiction.She lives in Waterloo, Ontario, with her husband and four children. She blogs as Obscure CanLit Mama.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

I knew I wanted to write books almost as soon as I learned how to read books (age four). I loved disappearing into those other worlds and characters—and it came just as easily to create other worlds and characters to disappear into. I was seven when I discovered that the youngest published author in The Guinness Book of World Records was a four-year-old poet, and I was quite upset to be already too late. In high school, I remember considering myself quite deliberately as a writer—or more precisely as someone working toward becoming a writer. I aimed myself at that goal with real intention, even while understanding that it wasn’t something I could guarantee, that in order for it to come true I would need to convince other people, and people of influence, to believe that I was a writer too. I was more than willing to work hard to become the writer I wanted to be. I just loved doing it. Still do.

What does your day look like while you’re writing a book?

The answer to this question really depends on what stage I’m at. If I’m doing research, you may find me at the library staring at old newspapers or listening to recorded voices. If I’m in the early intense stages of writing, I try to bury myself completely for hours and preferably days at a time, surfacing only to tend to the needs of my family. This is a difficult and tense stage, and I find it hard to move between the imaginary world and the real world. I often feel like I’m cheating both worlds, and do experience guilt about not giving my kids my full attention. If I’m editing or rewriting, I can dip in and out more easily. Basically, you’ll find me in my little office at my desk from 9am until 3pm or sometimes 4pm most weekdays, with a break for lunch.

Do you type or write?

I type on a computer. I have since the age of 12. My handwriting (which is a printed scrawl) is indecipherable, even to me.

What do you read while you’re writing?

I rarely read here in my office during working hours. I read at night before falling asleep. I read anything and everything, really. Occasionally I will pull a familiar book off the shelf to give me inspiration or guidance while I’m inside a project. Mavis Gallant is a writer I read when looking for clues to the craft. Miriam Toews is another—her tone is uniquely compassionate, heart-rending, yet funny, and even though I can’t do what she does, I’m inspired by what she does.

What have you read recently that you really loved?

I read and loved Dear Life, by Alice Munro (and also reviewed it for the National Post). I knew it would be perfect, and it was. I just finished Out of Grief, Singing, by Charlene Diehl, which I recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about the process of grief, and how to be with people who are grieving an unthinkable loss. With much pleasure, I read all through James Herriot’s four collections of vet stories this fall, and tried to unpack their seemingly simple charm. I’m currently reading Lorna Crozier’s The Book of Marvels for my poetry book club, which is filled with tiny gems on small subjects: the extraordinary within the ordinary.

What are your all-time favourites?

L.M. Montgomery: her Avonlea stories, and her Emily of New Moon series

Alice Munro: Dance of the Happy Shades, Who Do You Think You Are?, The View from Castle Rock, Something I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You, and on and on

American Short Story Masterpieces, edited by Raymond Carver, 1989

Mavis Gallant: the Linnet Muir stories, and The Moslem Wife, a best-of collection edited by Mordecai Richler

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, age 13 3/4, by Sue Townsend

Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White

You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?

This is an impossible question to answer because the two are so intrinsically linked for me. I read and I want to write and respond. I write and I want to read and open myself further. But I would choose writing if I were forced to make a decision. It would be an issue of sanity, frankly. I can’t seem to exist without self-reflection, without a concrete way to interpret and rearrange and place my experiences.

What’s your third R, and why?

Music. Playing piano and singing and writing songs and improvising is part of who I am too. Sometimes it’s the only expression that seems to answer whatever creative impulse I’m yearning to explore. I think it’s the improvisational element that draws me in. I’m not a real musician, so I don’t put the same pressure on myself to create perfect and beautiful work through the piano, I just let go and find interior rhythms and melodies and chords, and kind of fall through them to somewhere meditative and other-worldly.

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