Thursday, October 11, 2012

Interview with Carrie Snyder, author of The Juliet Stories

I have a very special guest today. Carrie Snyder is a local author who I recently saw read from her newest book The Juliet Stories at Word On the Street (Kitchener). The book since then has been nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction. Congratulations, Carrie! I asked Carrie if she'd agree to an interview, and lucky for us, she said yes. Read below to find out more about her.

Welcome to the blog, Carrie, and thank you for agreeing to an interview here! To start us off, please tell us a little bit about yourself and the books you've written. 
I've published two books. Hair Hat came out in 2004 with Penguin Canada. It's a collection of linked stories, each one revolving around a character I called "the hair hat man," a stranger who wears his hair in the shape of a hat. The Juliet Stories was published in March of this year by House of Anansi. The first section is set in Managua, Nicaragua in 1984 during the contra war. The main character, Juliet, is ten years old, and the daughter of peace activists who have moved the family to Managua to protest against American involvement in the war. The second half of the book sees the family moving to Canada and going through a series of changes.

Since we both live in the same city, I have to ask...what shows up in your writing (if anything) that is influenced by the people and places around you? Are there any specific people/places around town that have been important factors in your growth as a writer?

I often write about places that I know. Many of the settings in both books include places familiar to me, or just slightly removed from places I've known or lived in. I lived for several years near Ayr, Ontario, and the rural settings in both books recall that area. One story in The Juliet Stories is set right on my own street (but for the sake of privacy, I won't say which street that is, here in Waterloo.) A story in Hair Hat is set on the University of Waterloo's campus.

Your first book involves a character with hair shaped like a hat. I always wondered how you came up with this idea, and how the illustration on the cover came about.

The cover for Hair Hat was illustrated by a Canadian graphic artist named Chester Brown, and that was arranged by my publisher at the time. The hair hat man was a character that came out of real life -- maybe! I was a graduate student at the University of Toronto, living in downtown Toronto, near campus, when I was walking home from school one day, and thought I saw through the window of a coffee shop, a man with hat-shaped hair. It was rainy and I didn't get a good look, but the image stayed with me -- the possibility that it had been real. I wrote a song about it, first. Then a poem. Eventually, several years later, I wrote the first of the Hair Hat stories. They all just seemed to come, invited by that image and character. I think I wanted to figure out who he might be.

What inspired you to write your newest book, The Juliet Stories?

My own childhood experiences were similar to Juliet's. My parents were peace activists, Americans, who moved our family to Managua, Nicaragua to protest against American involvement in the contra war. So the time period and the setting and the whole milieu was very familiar to me. I invented the characters and the plot, however. My own family didn't experience the same kind of drama that Juliet's family does.

What was your favourite scene/story/aspect of the book to write?

My favourite story in the whole book is in the second section, called "Juliet Wears Black." It's a party story, and a love story, and the whole time I was writing it, I felt like I was just following Juliet around, watching her, listening in on her conversations, experiencing it with her. It was a very strange and wonderful writing experience. It took a lot of work to get to that point, however -- it was one of the last stories in the book that I wrote, and I really knew my characters well by then.

Who is the most interesting character you've ever written?

I think for sheer uniqueness, the hair hat man is perhaps the most interesting. That said, I love Juliet. She's an adventurous, curious, open-minded, questioning soul, and I admire her willingness to go places emotionally.

Can you share a few lines with us from The Juliet Stories?

Here are the opening lines of "Juliet Wears Black":

Juliet wear black.
She accessorizes with a draped orange silk scarf and orange feathered earrings, but her choice, puchased at a thrift store, is no accident. She does not think she is being angry or rebellious. But her mother thinks so. Her mother says, Ah, wedding as funeral. I see. Kissing Juliet twice over, on each cheek, as if she's become European rather than merely re-located to the West Coast.

What is your favourite book of all time?

Impossible to answer. Too many favourites!

What is the best thing that happened to you this year (without mentioning your book in any shape or form)?

I got through a running injury in the winter that had me unable to run for a whole month. Being able to run again has been bliss. I just completed the 25km Run for the Toad trail run to celebrate. Okay, being nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction is awfully sweet too.

Is there anything else you would like to share with my readers?

Thanks for inviting me to share with you about my book.

Thanks for sharing with us today! You can find out more about Carrie and The Juliet Stories below.

About The Juliet Stories:

Shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award in Fiction (2012)

Juliet Friesen is ten years old when her family moves to Nicaragua. It is 1984, the height of Nicaragua's post-revolutionary war, and the peace-activist Friesens have come to protest American involvement. In the midst of this tumult, Juliet's family lives outside of the boundaries of ordinary life. They've escaped, and the ordinary rules don't apply. Threat is pervasive, danger is real, but the extremity of the situation also produces a kind of euphoria, protecting Juliet's family from its own cracks and conflicts.
When Juliet's younger brother becomes sick with cancer, their adventure ends abruptly. The Friesens return to Canada only to find that their lives beyond Nicaragua have become the war zone. One by one, they drift from each other, and Juliet grows to adulthood, pulled between her desire to live a free life like the one she remembers in Nicaragua, and her desire to build for her own children a life more settled than her parents could provide.
With laser-sharp prose and breathtaking insight, these stories herald Carrie Snyder as one of Canada's most prodigiously talented writers.

You can add it to your Goodreads list or buy it through a retailer like Chapters or Amazon.

About the author:

Carrie Snyder was born in Hamilton, and grew up in Ohio, Nicaragua, and Southern Ontario. Her first book, Hair Hat, was nominated for the Danuta Gleed Award for short fiction. Her second book, The Juliet Stories, has just been nomianted for the 2012 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction. She lives in Waterloo, Ontario with her husband and four children, and she blogs as Obscure CanLit Mama.

Follow Carrie on her blog or through Twitter (@carrieasnyder).

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