Author Interview with Natalie Lloyd
***I’m beyond excited to have Natalie Lloyd, author of the much talked about middle grade novel, A Snicker of Magic, here visiting SfCT today. She’s as enchanting in person as her book and it’s such a treat to feature her! Enjoy! She is magic!***
A Snicker of Magic is your first book and it’s already charmed kids and adults alike. It’s currently voted #1 on this Goodreads 2015 Newbery prediction list and received this stellar review in the New York Times. Was this success foreseen in your childhood daydreams? When and how did you decide to become a writer?
Since I’ve been old enough to daydream, I’ve wanted to be a writer. But actually being a novelist definitely seemed like the kind of dream that was too good to ever come true. I still can’t believe I get to do this. I’m grateful anyone would take the time to read Snicker and overwhelmed (in a good way) by the creative ways readers have taken the book into their hearts.
I always tell students that I became a writer because I love to read. Reading was a fun escape for me that brought so much joy. But books also helped me find courage and find my voice. When I was in elementary school, I started writing short stories and poems. I’m so lucky that my parents and teachers encouraged me to keep writing. Writing gave me room to unpack my heart, to wonder and daydream in a new way. Then (and now!), I was shy about sharing my work with anyone. But I enjoyed that part of it too; I liked the thought that something I’d written could give someone a little burst of joy.
When I graduated from college, I think I believed *any* kind of writing would scrape the creative longing in my heart. I studied Journalism in college and wrote non-fiction after that. I worked at a church for a bit writing curriculum. I worked at a small publisher writing press releases. I’m grateful for all those opportunities. But writing fiction was always my first love. This sounds cheesy, but I finally realized life was too short not to at least try to share my fiction. Middle-grade novels have long been my favorite, so I’m not surprised I like writing from a young character’s perspective. I like writing hopeful, geeky characters who are brave enough to wear their hearts on their sleeves. And I like vibrant, playful language. I think both of those elements make writing middle grade fiction so creatively satisfying. Plus, I vividly remember my middle-school years. I remember the awkwardness and anxiety, and I remember the way wonder seemed to flutter at the edge of every situation.
Sometimes young readers ask me if I believe in magic. In some ways, I do. I believe love is better than magic. Or maybe I should say love is the best magic. And I believe in the kind of magic that enables you to crawl inside a book and live there for a few hundred pages. I know how to tuck memories into books like bookmarks. I know what it’s like to find courage in a story, and then press that courage against my heart, permanently, once the story is finished. Reading is an amazing magic that I’ve felt and love. And sometimes, every now and then, writing feels like magic, too.
The inspiration behind A Snicker of Magic came from one spectacular evening of seeing the Avett Brothers perform in concert. What about that experience gave you what you needed to weld together the wonderful world of Felicity Pickle and Midnight Gulch? (Bonus question: Do you have a favorite song? Mine is “January Wedding”)
I love meeting other Avett fans! And “January Wedding;” my word. My favorite lyric is: “I was sick with heartache, and she was sick like Audrey Hepburn.” The Avetts have been my favorite band for years, and I was thrilled when I finally got to see them live. As soon as the lights dimmed and the first lick of a banjo singed the air, I felt chill bumps ripple up and down my arms. The music started, and people began dancing in the aisles. They were dancing with each other. They were raising their hands and spinning in circles. People screamed out beautiful, meaningful lyrics. And it was a sweet thing to see; people who were so different, who believed different things, with so many different backgrounds, all coming together under this magical banner of music. I told my brother it felt more like a magic show than a concert, which is where an early seed for A Snicker of Magic was planted.
It wasn’t until later that I realized I’d also written Snicker because I missed my grandparents. They’ve all passed away now, but I was so close to them. My grandfather played a guitar and a banjo. Whenever my brother plays those instruments now, it’s never just music I hear. I hear sunlight and summer days and cowboy boots tapping the porch. And I remember how happy I felt whenever I was around them; what it felt like to be totally, unconditionally loved. One of my grandmothers was a talented quilter. I remember stitching together a quilt with her (she called it a “cobblestone” quilt). Then we looked through old black and white pictures, ate oatmeal cakes, and watched Double Dare. My other granny loved poetry. For Christmas one year, she gave me a stack of her favorite poetry books. She left notes in the margins about why she liked some of them, and I remember thinking it was like she’d pressed memories in the book for me to find.
Ultimately, I wrote A Snicker of Magic because I was homesick for people I love and miss. In the story, Felicity gets to experience what it’s like to hear the word “home” and think of people, not just a place. I felt that way while I was writing.
Oh! My favorite Avett Brothers song is “Swept Away.” And my heart breaks (in a good way) anytime I hear, “If it’s the Beaches.”
In A Snicker of Magic (and in life!), magic happens if we will it and believe in it. In my opinion, you have willed magic into being by writing this story. Can you share some of the responses you’ve received from kids reading your book?
Thank you so much! When a young reader tells me they actually finished the book and enjoyed it, I’m thrilled. I know readers have so much competing for their time and attention. I’m amazed they’d take the time to read Snicker, and that teachers are bringing it into their classrooms.
Several students have shown me their word collecting notebooks. One reader sent me a poem she wrote from Felicity’s perspective. A girl told me that she asked her teacher to draw Oliver’s bird tattoo on her wrist during a spelling bee, and it gave her courage. I was doing a Q&A via Skype last week, and a student said, “I don’t have a question. I just wanted to say thank you because the story gave me confidence.” That’s the sweetest thing to hear. Felicity (my main character) and I both have this in common: we’re quite shy, and fearful about many situations. And we love words, but we both know what it’s like to be afraid to share those words. I love when readers leave Midnight Gulch excited to share their voice. When they’re encouraged by the fact that their words are so important.
One of the sweetest surprises that came out of this process has to do with The Beedle. In A Snicker of Magic, The Beedle is an anonymous do-gooder who has been doing nice things all over town for 50+ years. Readers have really connected with that character. A class I met at a library presentation in Ohio told me they had a Beedle in their classroom who leaves sweet notes around the room and new books in the classroom library. When their teacher took a group photo, someone whispered in my ear, “I’m the Beedle.” Another reader emailed to tell me she was The Beedle in her hometown one weekend, and sent me pictures of some of the sweet things she did. I heard from a teacher in California that the Beedle came to her classroom this week, leaving notes and a quarter on each student’s desk so they could buy suckers. I shouldn’t be surprised young readers connect to that character; kids are kind and creative and have a way of looking for the best in a person. But I am absolutely floored by it. I love those stories so much.
If you were to submit an ice cream flavor recommendation to Dr. Zook’s Ice Cream Factory, what would the flavor be?
Fun question! I think Dr. Zook’s needs an “ice cream” for dogs. Dogs can’t have dairy, of course, so it would have to be some sort of funky concoction that looked like ice cream but was super healthy for K-9’s. I’d call it Biscuit’s Peanut Butter Banana Smash. My flavor would probably be Natalie’s Neon Strawberry-Pistachio Surprise. And it would make your smile glow in the dark for a few hours after you finish eating it.
What books did you read as a child that have stayed with you and influenced who you are today?
So many! The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is one of my forever-favorite books. The Narnia series is so special to me. I’m a big fan of Roald Dahl, especially The Witches. And I still have the entire Anne of Green Gables series in a special place on my bookshelf. I love that series so much that my parents saved up and took my family on a road trip to Prince Edward Island when I was in college. I also adored The Babysitters’ Club. That series made me a voracious reader.
What books are currently on your TBR pile?
Some books on my TBR mountain include: Amber Turner’s Circa Now, Aaron Starmer’s The Riverman, and Jess Keating’s How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied. I’m also so lucky to have read an early copy of Mike Curato’s picture book Little Elliot in the Big City. It’s a dreamy, beautiful book about friendship (and how just one true friendship can make you feel at home in an intimidating place). I can’t wait to share it with people I love. What about your TBR pile?
RDZ: I haven’t read any of those yet! They all look awesome! A few days ago I finished Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful book. Up next is Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell and The Turtle of Omar by Naomi Shihab Nye.
When you close your eyes and imagine the most fantastical, spindiddly library, what does that dream library look like?
My mind always goes to a fairytale place, like the library in Beauty and the Beast. I imagine rolling ladders and spiral staircases. I imagine a library where shelves hide secret rooms … with even more books to discover. The library would have painted murals of my favorite scenes in books. And a few dogs who live in the library, of course, and cuddle beside patrons while they read. And window seats where you can hide away on a rainy day.
Really though, I think any library is magical. I love small-town libraries with creaky doors and cracked windows. And I like big-city libraries with mile-high shelves and worn-out books. I think library cards are as precious as passports.
You and I are going to be neighbors soon! I’m moving to your hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee in June. Is there any magic I should be aware of that lives in those city streets?
There’s so much magic in this city! You’ll see golden dance steps embedded into the sidewalks downtown. You’ll find quirky, delightful treats at places like Milk & Honey, Clumpies, and Rembrandts (I also think the Banana Bread French Toast at Food Works is magical). One of my favorite magical spots is the carousel in Coolidge Park. It’s truly a work of art.
And not everybody will agree with me, but I’m a total nerd for Rock City. I have a yearly pass. It’s so fun; especially around the holidays. They open it at night and string it with thousands of lights. You’ll feel like you’re surrounded by stars.
If you had Felicity Pickle’s sight of words hanging in the air, what words are hovering over you this very moment?
Pioneer is actually my word for this year. I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but my sister and I always pick a word to embrace for the year. We usually don’t know it on January 1 … we wait and watch for the *right* word. A word that seems to echo in books, conversations, just random places. This year my word is pioneer. As I said, I’m quite shy and fearful (like Felicity Pickle). But I love the idea of bravely stepping into new places, and new adventures. My friend Kristen just made me this funky little art out of old typewriter keys:
She dug through a barrel in an antique store trying to find the letters she wanted. She said it was so exciting, to have ink up to her elbows. Like she was covered in stories. I love that image.
How can the lovely people reading this interview keep follow all things Natalie Lloyd in internetland?
I have a blog (currently functioning as my website) here: http://natalielloyd.blogspot.com
And I love to tweet pictures of my dog, Biscuit: twitter.com/_natalielloyd
And I also have an author page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Natalie-Lloyd/488497067936134
Thank you for taking time to chat about all things writing, books, and magic!
Thanks so much for inviting me over to your blog, Rebecca! I can’t wait to have coffee with you! Welcome to Chattanooga!