Moon: Think of someone you really respect. How would they describe Lucy Snyder?
Lucy: I respect author Nalo Hopkinson, and here's what she said about me in the introduction to my collection Sparks and Shadows.
(At Clarion) Lucy often looked serious; either unhappy or angry, it was difficult to tell which. Until she smiled, and you could see the friendly, sweet person that she really was. When writer Samuel R. Delany heard her responses to an autobiographical writing exercise that he had set us, he beamed and said, “I’m half in love with you myself, just from hearing that description.
He was right. Lucy was easy to like. Then you’d go back to your room and read the story she’d turned in for that week, and find yourself wondering whether you could manage to stay awake all night so that you could check under your bed every five minutes for the boogie man. And the funny thing about it? Lucy was and has remained a sweet, gentle soul. It’s just that you don’t always see the impishness in that grin of hers for what it is right away. "
Moon: For a lot of writers going to Clarion is a dream. What was your experience there like?
Lucy: Clarion was intense, but it was great to spend six weeks with like-minded people. I found support there that just didn't exist in my regular life, and Clarion inspired me to change my living circumstances so that I did get into a supportive situation later.
It helped that I went to Clarion while I was in graduate school -- the folks who weren't in school I think found the workshop most exhausting. I really liked everyone in my class -- we didn't have the drama that has reportedly afflicted other Clarion groups. Some students I think did arrive with a competitive mindset -- academia conditions you to want to be "best" in a class -- but they shelved that attitude pretty quickly. Trying to compete with other people at Clarion is completely counterproductive.
I learned a whole lot at Clarion -- most of it good. The good was learning to plot properly, learning how to pare down description to sharp essentials, learning the rudiments of writing as a business. The bad was coming away thinking I shouldn't try to write humor.
I did feel a bit overwhelmed right after I graduated -- I think most people do. There's a lot to process, and it's easy to be a bit paralyzed thinking everything you write has to be Grade-A+ stuff that will appeal to top markets. And getting past that is part of the learning process.
Moon: What drew you to want to be a writer?
Lucy: Reading is what led me to want to be a writer. When I was nine or ten, I was usually sitting in the back of class with a science fiction or fantasy paperback under my desk so the teacher couldn't see me reading. If it was a really good book, I would get completely engrossed in it. I remember thinking that if I could write something that cool, something that would make other people feel the way I was feeling, well, that would be the best job in the world.
Moon: What were some of your favorite books and authors as a kid? How has your tastes changed now?
Lucy: When I was a kid, authors like Madeline L'Engle and Anne McCaffrey were my favorites. My tastes have mainly changed in that I read a lot of horror and dark fantasy authors now.
Moon: What are some of the challenges you've faced working in the paranormal genre? Have you written in other genres as well?
Lucy: I write in many different genres: science fiction, fantasy, horror, humor, mainstream fiction, poetry, etc. But when you come down to it, I think of stories simply as stories. I don't think too much about genre until after a story is finished and ready to go to market.
Moon: Where do you get the inspirations for your stories? What have been some of the greatest research hurdles?
Lucy: Inspiration is everywhere, if you're looking for it. There's a lot of "what if?" potential in the world. I do tend to write about the things I find myself thinking about a lot -- things that amuse, frighten or annoy me, for instance. Particularly vivid dreams frequently find their way into my stories as well.
I find research to be fun. I have a Master's degree in journalism, and a big part of that degree was learning how to do fast, accurate research on any of a variety of subjects. I do so much research through electronic databases I find myself momentarily stymied if I visit an old library that isn't electronic and has old-style card catalogs. I have that moment of "Riiight ... how do these work, again?" But I do remember.
I'm surely not the biggest research junkie out there, though; if I were, I'd have gone for the PhD ;-)
Moon: Is writing your full time job, or does Lucy Snyder have an alter ego?
Lucy: Writing's certainly a full-time job in itself, but I also work a 40-hour-a-week computing support job for a local university, and I'm also taking college classes.
Moon: Sounds like you have a full plate. What do you do when you need a break from it all?
Lucy: I find that chocolate and long walks help when I'm feeling overwhelmed :) Mainly, though, if one project is giving me fits I go work on something else. The advantage to having lots on my plate is I don't get bored.
Moon: True enough. Speaking of projects, tell us about some of the things you've written.
Lucy: Well, I've had two books out this year. The first, which came out in May, is a 356-page limited-edition trade paperback entitled Sparks and Shadows. It's published by HW Press and contains a mix of short fiction and poetry. There's romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror ... it's got something for everyone.
My second book came out earlier this month from CGP. It's entitled Installing Linux on a Dead Badger (and Other Oddities) and it's a collection of my cyberzombie humor. It's still pretty cross-genre, but is of course in a geekier vein than Sparks. And a bit shorter: it's 110 pages long with illustrations by DE Christman and Malcolm McClinton.
Moon: So what future projects can we look forward to seeing?
Lucy: Well, I've got a dark urban fantasy novel entitled Spellbent that's started to make the rounds, and I've also got a poetry chapbook under consideration at a couple of places.
Story-wise, I have a piece in the upcoming Two Cranes Press book A Field Guide to Surreal Botany. I'll also have a story in Aoife's Kiss next March. My poetry will be in the November 30th update of Raven Electrick and in the Spring 2008 issue of Greatest Uncommon Denominator. I'll also have poetry in an upcoming issue of Weird Tales.
Moon: So out of the short stories, poetry, and novels you write, what format do you prefer?
Lucy: view different writing forms as different tools for storytelling. Some stories need 100,000 words to be told properly; others are only sustainable for the length of a short story. And there are some ideas that won't quite gel into a linear narrative to work as short fiction, but they work just dandy as poems.
So, I don't really have a favorite form, but I think my natural strengths as a writer probably lie in poetry and novels. However, I've intentionally focused on short fiction to try to improve my craft as a writer and build areas I felt I've been weak. The short story is a demanding form, and short fiction is hard to sell; fiction collections are even harder to sell.
I have many goals as an author, but the big one is that I want to be a well-rounded writer. Part of that is I just want to be able to do lots of different things as a writer. But I have a more practical reason. There are writers who've been successful doing one or two things really, really well, but what happens when the market shifts? I don't want to get stuck.
Cross-training works for writers just as well as it works for athletes. For instance, my work in poetry has helped my micro-writing in fiction, and my work in short fiction has vastly improved my narrative poetry. My work in short stories has helped me get a grip on plotting and pacing for my novels in progress. And my work in journalism has not only given me research skills but also an awareness of what makes a compelling story.
Moon: So, for those of us that struggle with short fiction writing do you have any tips or advise you could share of short story writing, or even writing in general if you'd like.
Lucy: If you want to write short stories, you should be reading good short stories, first and foremost. If you don't have the money for a magazine subscription, there are a lot of sites like Strange Horizons that offer good short fiction for free.
I think that beginning writers who've mainly been reading novels often try to bite off too much when they sit down to write a short story, and in first drafts they spend too much time on description extraneous to the plot. Plots drive short stories, but the characters should be driving the plot: what does your main character want? What are they prepared to do to achieve what they want? How will the process of failing or succeeding change them? You really have to boil the fat out of a short story; it needs to be lean and to the point. In a poem, every word matters, but in a short story, every sentence should matter in terms of driving the plot or building character.
Moon: Great advice. It was a blast talking to you today, thanks so much for taking the time to be with us. Before we open to questions or comments from Dreamtime's readers, what lessons did you take away from Clarion that you'd like to share with everyone?
Lucy: Every time I think of Clarion, I think of Gay Haldeman telling us "Keep the receipt!" Which is a very important and fundamental bit of tax advice for U.S. writers once you start making money at writing -- keep the receipt for books you buy for research or reviews, keep the receipt for your hotel room at conventions, etc.
Other than that, there were a lot of lessons I learned at Clarion that I've internalized to the extent that it's hard to tease them out from everything else. The main thing, though, is that if you want to be a writer, you have to be prepared to work very hard.
Artwork by Deena Warner!
This debut collection of seventeen short stories, seven poems and four humor essays from Lucy A. Snyder will appeal to any reader of the dark fantastic. By turns touching, chilling, surreal, wryly satiric, seductive, macabre and laugh-out-loud funny, this book will take you from adventures in the farthest reaches of outer space to the darkest shadows beneath the surface of modern America.
"(Lucy's) sense of justice comes across strongly in her writing. Some of her characters are the very embodiment of 'I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this any more!' Lucy also doesn't forget for a minute that bad things can happen to good people. Lucy can write a poem about a one-horse twin. She can make Girl Guide songs kinky without changing a word. But, not content with leaving it at that, she can spin off from the songs into a surreal futuristic feminine fantasy with a James Bond bravura. I'm pleased to welcome you, via this collection, into her brain. It's a bacchanalia in there. And I must tell you; you may never find your way out again."
— Nalo Hopkinson, from her introduction
"Lucy Snyder's writings are a sampler of fine candies: alternately dark, textured, and deliciously erotic. With a unique blend of science fiction, horror, commentary, and poetry, she serves up whimsy, angst, and intelligence, while leaving an aftertaste of happiness."
— Matthew Warner, author of Eyes Everywhere
"Lucy Snyder's Sparks and Shadows is everything you could want in a short story collection. Elegant, beautiful prose, deep emotional writing and powerful stories. Do yourself a favor and grab this one!"
— — James A. Moore, author of Blood Red and Serenity Falls
Installing Linux on a Dead Badger
This book contains a dozen tales to amuse any fan of technology humor or science fictional dark comedy. Many of the stories are what Green Man Review has dubbed "cyberzombie humor"; the title story is one of the most popular features ever to appear at the acclaimed science fiction magazine Strange Horizons.
The satiric stories are accompanied by 14 black-and-white illustrations from artists Malcolm McClinton and DE Christman. You can see DE's work for the book at his gallery.
Teen Linux gang mayhem. Trolls gone wild. A vampire's guide to management. Your corporate network and the forces of darkness. And much more ....
"It was apparent from the first time I read these stories that Snyder had a gift for using horror to write satire. (She) creates some of the funniest zombies ever."
— Green Man Review