Sunday, April 4, 2010

Stabbed in Stanzas Feature Poet: Lucy A. Snyder

Interview conducted by Karen L. Newman

Lucy A. Snyder is the author of Spellbent, the first of a trilogy of novels to be published by Del Rey Books. Her literary honors include a Black Quill Award for her collection Sparks and Shadows, a Bram Stoker Award for her poetry collection, Chimeric Machines, and four honorable mentions in various issues of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.

KLN: You have a BS in biology from Angelo State University and an MA in journalism from Indiana University. Why did you change professions?
LAS: I wanted to read the moment I found out what books were, and I wanted to write the moment I began to read. Once I started reading science books, I also wanted to become a scientist. That held until my first year of graduate school. I went to Indiana University to pursue a Master's degree in environmental science, but I was dissatisfied with both the program and the apparent career options I'd have after I graduated.
My second semester I took a science writing course and did really well. The professor told me, "Well, why don't you transfer over to the Journalism School? We'd love to have you here!" It was no barrier, apparently, that I hadn't taken a single journalism class as an undergraduate. So I switched programs with the intention of becoming a science writer ... but then I got a part-time job as a computer lab monitor, and all my coworkers were learning HTML and putting together Web pages, and I got hooked on that.
The early years of the Web were tremendously exciting. After I graduated I got a job doing both science writing and web editing for BioTech Resources at Indiana University, and continued working as a web designer until the .com bust. By then I was well beyond returning to science as either practitioner or reporter, but of course I kept on writing.

KLN: You have interest in computer science and have used that in your humorous collection, Installing Linux on a Dead Badger, a wonderful change from the apocalyptic tales. Any plans for future stories using the internet? Why or why not?
LAS: The risk with any technology-focused fiction is having it seem out-of-date just a few years down the road. I'm pleased that people are still enjoying ILDB considering I wrote the first story six years ago, which is a tremendously long time in Internet years. But I probably will return to the characters in Installing Linux on a Dead Badger.

KLN: You’ve taught bassoon. Why did you select that instrument? Do you play any others? Do you use music in your writing? If so, how?
LAS: I used to play both bassoon and saxophone, and started playing both in my early teens (I played string bass in elementary school but couldn't continue with it). I tried the bassoon because the complexity and rarity of the instrument appealed me and the band needed another player; I picked the saxophone because I liked the sound of the instrument. But I haven't touched a bassoon since I was in undergrad. The problem with bassoons is that lousy ones cost $2,000. Good ones cost $20,000 and sometimes more, and my family wasn't wealthy. The end of my sophomore year I was on music scholarship, playing in several ensembles and in the symphonic band and giving lessons to a couple of junior high school students ... and I was completely overwhelmed. I couldn't keep up with that and my lab work and everything else. I asked myself if I'd rather play music (knowing that I probably couldn't become a professional) or write. How often do you see bassoons jamming with the local band down at the bar?
I decided I'd rather write, and so I quit band, lost my scholarship, and had to turn in my bassoon. I haven't really ever regretted the decision (I did have other scholarships, so my quitting wasn't a financial aid crisis). I listen to a lot of music when I write, but I haven't written about music or musicians. I can't tell you why that is, because for ten years my every waking thought was consumed by music.

KLN: You’ve held a variety of different jobs in your life. One that interested me the most was snake wrangler. How did you become involved in that? Please describe that experience.
LAS: Ha! It wasn't my official job description; I was a weekend attendant at the San Angelo Nature Center. It was the first job I ever had, and I'd gone in for my interview with references and all that, but the Junior League lady who ran the place asked me only one question: "Are you afraid of snakes?" She hired me on the spot when she learned that I'd had a pet snake when I was a kid and wasn't at all afraid of them. I also wrangled turtles and frogs and fish in the job, but I did clean a lot of snake habitats. And that part of the job became my gold standard for gauging the relative unpleasantness of a given chore: "Is this worse than chiseling dried snake poo out of the bottom of an aquarium?" My story "Darwin's Children", which is in my collection Sparks and Shadows, is largely based on my experiences in the nature center.

KLN: Why did you select to write your novels in the fantasy genre instead of science fiction, as would be expected with someone of your science background?
LAS: I do still write about a lot of science fictional concepts in my fantasy novels. My fiction is largely cross-genre, and fantasy -- especially urban fantasy -- has plenty of room for genre crossing. I can put a scientist in an urban fantasy, have her continue to behave like an everyday scientist, and readers will accept her. But if I put a soucouyant in a science fiction novel, well, it's stopped being science fiction, hasn't it? Or it will have stopped being SF for a lot of science fiction readers. With urban fantasy you can include elements of mystery, horror, suspense, romance, erotica, science fiction, epic fantasy -- pretty much whatever you want, depending on the world you've built.

KLN: You’ve written prose, form, and free verse poetry. Which is your favorite and why?
LAS: I mostly write in free verse, but pulling off a decent form poem -- say, a sestina or a sonnet -- is really satisfying. I sweated over my sestina "Flyboy", and when I sold it to Strange Horizons I ran into my husband's office yelling "Booyah!" and demanded a fist-bump. He was a bit startled; I generally just email him if I sell something. The trouble with the really fiddly poetic forms is that a lot of readers (and some editors) aren't familiar with them, don't know why they're a challenge to write, and so they only judge your work by its paint job and not by what's under the hood.

KLN: You mentor students at Seton Hill University. What are the most common mistakes upcoming writers make and what’s your advice for correcting them?
LAS: The most common mistake I see is people not reading enough. But correcting this is pretty easy: read more. If you aspire to become a pro science fiction writer and you boast that you’ve read everything by Scalzi and Gibson and Clarke ... you're not reading enough. Read fiction outside your genre of choice. Read classic literature. Read creative nonfiction. Read poetry.

KLN: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I appreciate your time. Is there anything additional you’d like to share with our readers?
LAS: Thank you for your interest! The only thing I have to add is that my second novel, Shotgun Sorceress, will be out in late October 2010.

--Karen L. Newman
(The Black Glove wants to thank Lucy for her time and efforts, and wish her a huge congrats on the Stoker win for her poetry collection--which is reviewed below. Visit Lucy at her official website for more news on future releases.)