Michael Snyder has spent the bulk of his professional career in sales, has fallen in love, and continues to struggle with the balance between art and vocation. He's never investigated a murder, much less that of an allegedly clairvoyant dog.
1. Father of four…you really nailed the description of contractions and the look of a new dad! Please share with us how you came to be such a gem of a wordsmith with your images! They are so quirky yet powerful!
First off, thank you…for the nice compliment AND for asking me to come over to your blog and hang out for a bit. It’s nice here. Good smell, nice curtains. I like it.
If I remember correctly (and I may not!), I think my original description of Geri’s contractions were WAY over the top. My wife has a way of reining me in on those kinds of things (she was the one that had the actual contractions after all).
As to the use of imagery, all I can say is, I absolutely love a good metaphor or simile. There have been times where I’ll lose forty-five minutes of valuable writing time slaving over one line of one description (that will invariably end up getting cut later and replaced with something better that just pops into my head). It’s that Mark Twainian dilemma of finding that exact right word. But oftentimes those persnickety just-right words barricade themselves in a cave somewhere. You can either ignore them for a while and hope you catch them peeking out when you return. Or you can wait on them, smoke them out, or go in after them.
2. Your work bounces from poignant and painfully truthful to hilarious to frustrating…a real roller coaster for the emotions. WHY did you choose to end the book like you did? Trying to portray life’s reality or leaving an opening for a sequel?
Thanks again. My life’s goal was to be a musician (backup plan was either standup comedian or professional napper). So I think all that time spent listening, studying, and playing music taught me the artistic value of tension and release.
The only rule of writing I adhere to (on purpose anyway) is ‘conflict on every page.’ And if you think about it, there’s a pretty wide palette of conflicts to choose from. They don’t all have to be big or loud or scary to impact the story. So then it becomes (like music) all about layering and texturing and weaving to turn the dozens of little conflicts into a story. At some point, it becomes this weird circular process…using conflict to dispense truth…using the truth to create conflict…wash, rinse repeat.
Oh yeah…the ending? I really, really, really didn’t want to HAVE to do a sequel. Not that there’s anything wrong with sequels, not at all. It’s just that I invest so much in these characters, throwing everything I can think of at them, that frankly I need a break from them. And I KNOW they need a break from me. Before I started writing, the characters in my head just sat in beanbag chairs all day, sipping cream soda, munching on Fig Newtons, and watching Seinfeld reruns. So trust me when I say they’re better off without me in the future.
And in reality, I don’t really feel like I chose the ending. I’m not sure it chose me either. I think it just sort of showed up one day. And we were both too tired to argue about it.
3. Have you always been a storyteller at heart? How long have you been writing? What is your “day job” until you become a rich and famous novelist?
By day, I work as a manufacturer’s representative in the commercial foodservice industry. I began writing five years ago, I think. Maybe it was six.
I’m not sure I’m a real storyteller yet. Or at least I know I have a LONG way to go. But my imagination has always worked overtime. And my personality has this weird dichotomy—I love entertaining people, but I’m terribly introverted at the same time. This particular dysfunction manifests itself in a lot of observational humor, self-deprecation, and pseudo-intellectual conversations that make me feel important at the time but really just remind me later that I talk too much. So as you can imagine, writing is a great way to keep my foot out of my mouth. It gives me options—I can delete my foot from my mouth altogether, or at least make it a bit more tasty in the next draft.
4. Was your own search for God’s grace and forgiveness so painful in real life, or is Russell’s search a conglomerate of all that you have observed in your day to day walk with God?
That’s another great question. The pain in my own spiritual journey is mostly self-inflicted. I get lazy and self-absorbed and find myself paying attention to all the wrong things.
In God’s case, it’s pretty obvious where He’s coming from. But we mortals (the writers and our characters) are in dire need of His grace and His forgiveness all day every day. That conflict not only makes for great story fodder, but creates this redemptive two-way street where not only do we use our journey to inform our stories, but the opposite can (and should) be true as well. Sort of working out our salvation in Word documents.
I’m pretty sure Russell’s pilgrimage is a conglomerate—some personal, some observed, some probably invented for the sake of the story. I’ve sort of been cursed with this rampant sense of empathy. Put another way, I’m kind of a sissy about conflict in real life, so I’m always on the lookout for ways to solve it before tempers flare. To do that, you need to know where people (characters) are coming from. So I think I’ve been accidentally practicing this stuff for decades.
5. What would you say to someone who is at the point Russell reached crying out for answers he liked or he wanted to fight? Words of encouragement or insight from your own experience?
Hmm…that’s a toughie. I think it would depend on the person and the circumstance really. I am an encourager by nature, so I’m sure I would lean more in that direction. I sometimes wish I had the courage of Gramps (from the story), a guy who would take spiritual matters into his own hands, violently if need be. That was a stark passage to write and I really worried about the plausibility of him using ‘whatever means necessary’ to usher people into the kingdom.
The good news is that we’re not really responsible for the results, just acting upon the call He gives us. So…ideally I would pray for wisdom and guidance, then (but only because God likes me sooooo much) I would begin dispensing truth and grace and maybe even a dash of brimstone to keep things interesting.
But again, that’s ‘ideally’. The reality is that I would probably pray that God use somebody else for the heavy lifting so I could join my boys in the loft for some cream soda and cookies.
6. You boldly question a lot about the reality of our faith and what it is grounded in. You set the fake dad against the reality of the grandfather’s changed life. I would guess you have a very real relationship with your Savior. Can you share some of your testimony?
I know it’s juvenile and gooberish, but I’ve always coveted one of those dramatic, overly-romanticized conversion stories. Something involving razor blades and cursing would be nice. But my testimony is boring. And boring can be really dangerous when it comes to spiritual things. I do have a very real relationship with Jesus. I wish it were even better. But when it’s not, it’s my fault. Thankfully, He’s patient and kind and has a great sense of humor.
But I grew up in a Christian home, made a profession of faith when I was nine, and tried to be a good boy and stay out of trouble. Like I alluded to before, all that safe living can breed complacency and pride and all sorts of other festering issues. So I think writing stories about the neurotic people in my head is a way of exploring more dangerous circumstances without actually having to, um, inhale, if you get my meaning…dude…
7. I marked a passage on page 299 as the “point” of the novel: “My father, the writers of the four gospels, the apostle Paul, and dozens of preachers have convinced me that Jesus is exactly who he said he was. I’m not always comfortable with it, but it’s part of me. I get that. It’s like a subscription that won’t run out, no matter how many renewal notices I ignore.” Russell develops a lot more before the end of the book, but did I “get the point?”
That is definitely a pivotal moment in the story. For Russell, and hopefully for the reader as well (if they’re paying attention…and we hope they are!). I’m not sure I can distill it down to a single point, or one that sort of trumps all others. But you hit on two themes that emerged during the writing that became rather dear to me—one, that believing Jesus is who He says He is really is THE point; and two, that we really can’t outrun God or His redemptive purposes.
8. Final question: Do you own a basset hound or do you now intend to? Will you name him Sonny?
Funny you should ask. I had a basset hound as a kid. She had a single litter of fourteen (yes, 14!) puppies. We even made the front page of the local paper (okay, the photographer got it in his head that the actual doggies were more interesting than the kid holding one end of the string that we used to daisy-chain the squirming puppies together for the photo op—so only a few fingers of my right hand survived the hatchet job, otherwise known as cropping…but anyway…).
Currently, we have the dumbest dog in the neighborhood. A chocolate lab named Hershey. But according to my daughter, we’re going to get a basset hound soon and name him Sonny.
(Cue the sappy music here.)
And really, she has her heart set on this. So if you, dear reader, could somehow find it in your heart to buy, let’s say forty copies each of my book, then you can help my sweet daughter realize her dream. Come on, whadda ya say?
Seriously, thank you so much Kim for having me here. You ask great questions, which made this a lot of fun for me.