Bigger Than a Bread Box: Interview with Laurel Snyder

I’ve been enjoying Laurel Snyder’s books for quite awhile now, and I can hardly wait to get my hands on copies of each of them as soon they hit the store shelves.  Today I am incredibly delighted that Laurel took time out of her busy home life with her young kids and allowed me to interview her about her newest book, Bigger Than a Bread Box.  And we will be giving away a copy of the book today as well.  Huzzah!

Here is the description of Bigger Than a Bread Box from her publisher:

“Twelve-year-old Rebecca is struggling with her parents’ separation, as well as a sudden move from her hometown of Baltimore to her Gran’s house in Georgia.  It is there that she discovers a magic bread box in the attic with the power to grant any wish–so long as it fits in the box.  Is it too good to be true?  While it makes life away from home a little easier, it’s not too long before she realizes it can’t give her what she truly needs–her family back together again.  And you have to be careful what you wish for.  Rebecca is forced to decide not just where, but who she really wants to be.”

Welcome to From the Mixed-Up Files,  Laurel!  First of all, Bigger Than a Breadbox is about family and separation, loneliness, theft, friendship and major consequence.  What inspired you to write about all of this in one book?

To begin with, I only meant Bigger than a Bread Box to be about magic and theft.  The initial idea was a book about a kid who found a magical wishing box, that gave her anything she asked for, so long as the thing she wanted could fit inside the box. I was interested in the limits of magic, as I usually am.  But this time I wanted to write a book where the kid figured out that magic could only move things around. It couldn’t create anything. I wondered what a kid would do when faced with that ethical dilemma. I wanted magic to be constrained by the rules of the real world.

But then,  almost immediately,  the divorce element crept into the book.  Something about the limits of magic must have triggered it. Or maybe it was that Rebecca, the main character, was just the right age to be disappointed in things– to see magic (or family) in a critical way. To attempt to understand the world around her.

In any case, that thread rose to the surface of the book, and I found myself writing what felt like a memoir, about my parents’ divorce when I was little. It was CRAZY.  I would weep while writing.  Nothing like that had ever happened to me before.  I found myself digging out old photos, calling my parents with questions about those years in our family.  It was really hard. I was revisiting the hardest chapter of my childhood.

Well, I’ve heard of some people weeping while reading your book, too.  But weeping in a good way.  *Elissa dabs her eyes with a hankie*  I’m sure they are grateful you took the time to write something semi-autobiographical.

I think it’s a little funny that it didn’t happen sooner, that it took me 4 books to write about myself. I’ve heard it said that everyone’s first novel is autobiographical. Mine wasn’t at all.

How interesting!  But back to the story…I have to ask.  Why a bread box?

Well, the short answer is that I like thrift stores.  I like old objects, and have owned several bread boxes over the years.  Some of them are really quite beautiful.  And there’s something mysterious about them.  Darkness within. Old stamped tin or carved wood.

Also, I liked the idea of a magical device that’s manmade.  Lots are (wardrobes for instance) but usually magical objects in books are ANCIENT, which implies that once-upon-a-time magic was everywhere.  I like the idea that this magic can’t be older than around 1930.   I like to imagine that magic is everywhere now too.

But the main thing is that I needed this magic to be defined by space, by a space of a specific size. I wanted the wishing to be limited in that way.  And a breadbox seemed an obvious choice for that. Because, after all, it can’t be “bigger than a bread box.”

Yes, I love the bread box in this story.  I also love the characters, and the settings.  You made the writing seem so effortless.  But was it easy to write?

In some ways it was. I didn’t have to think very much about creating a fully fleshed out character, and that was new.  And the outline jumped into place pretty quickly.  But trying to balance Rebecca’s view of the world was hard. The book is in first person, and an angry 12 year old first person voice can be INTENSE. I didn’t want to turn her parents into villains, even if she was angry at them.  I wanted her to see them as human beings. I wanted her to learn to see them as human beings as the book moved along.  But I also didn’t want her to become too introspective and thoughtful.  Sometimes, thoughtful child narrators feel phony to me.

Also, this is a lonely book.  Rebecca is pretty much alone for most of the book.  It was hard to figure out how to let her be lonely, but make the book move along, and still be fun.

Which is one thing about the book that I adored, by the way.  I liked that her school mates and even her own parents were in the background most of the time.  

Speaking of parents (and autobiographical fiction), have yours read this book?

Yes, they have. That was really important to me. I always run things by people if I’ve “borrowed” from their lives.  My mom loved it, which surprised me a little.  My dad said, “It’s a very good book, but I thought you said it was fiction?”  I was petrified while they were reading. I felt like a little girl again, waiting for my parents to get mad at me.  They didn’t, thank goodness.

And we’re glad they loved it, too.   It wouldn’t have been the same book without the parents’ story. But seagulls and a Bruce Springsteen song also played a prominent role.  Why did you decide to use them in the story?

Oh, they’re just home to me. They’re mine.  I’ve been landlocked ever since I left Baltimore–in Tennessee first, and then Iowa, now Atlanta. I miss the water so much.  Seagulls are a symbol for me, of home.  An urban, ugly, but watery symbol.  And I guess I feel the same way about Springsteen. He’s a little dirty, and a little lost, but truly an American experience of my youth.

And that scene in the book where Rebecca recalls dancing to the song with her parents? That’s a memory. Nearly a photograph.  When my dad read the book, he said, “Hungry Heart, Laurel? I thought you said it was fiction…”.

Well, thank you for sharing those bits of yourself with us, and for stopping by From the Mixed-Up Files!  We’ll let you get back to those adorable kids.

Readers, please leave a comment below and let us know what you’d wish for if you had a magic bread box.  One commenter will be chosen tomorrow (September 22, 2011) to receive a copy of Laurel’s book, Bigger Than a Bread Box.

And, also, don’t forget to enter your group of 8-12-year-olds here for a chance to win one of eight full-fledged Skype visits with a middle-grade author.  You have until October 3rd to do so.

Elissa Cruz is bigger than a breadbox, which is a good thing, since she can’t imagine what it must feel like to be crammed into one of those.  However, her brain is crammed full of all sorts of stories, and those stories are just waiting for the magic word to let them out.  You can read all about them and other things she makes up on her writing blog at elissacruz.blogspot.com. You can also find her behind the scenes of #MGlitchat, a weekly Twitter chat about the craft of writing middle-grade books.

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