Today the immensely talented Natalie Lloyd is at The Hiding Spot to talk about her debut MG novel, A Snicker of Magic! I adored this book about young Felicity Pickle, a word collector who travels the country with her mother and little sister in their van (the Pickled Jalapeno) before landing in the small town of Midnight Gulch. Midnight Gulch used to be full of magic, but things have changed in the years following a fateful fallout between talented brothers. But Felicity is still convinced there's a snicker of magic left in Midnight Gulch and she hopes her mother's wandering heart will finally feel at peace here so Felicity won't have to leave the people she's come to love behind. Don't miss my review of A Snicker of Magic here, then check out the interview below and, at the end, enter for a chance to win a finished copy of the novel!
A SNICKER OF MAGIC is rife with scenes and characters that seem to shimmer into existence, lingering in the reader’s consciousness. There wasn’t one character that seemed secondary or flat, each had a distinct personality and it almost felt like each had their own story to tell… Your writing feels very full and like your characters are out living their lives somewhere in a real-life Midnight Gulch somewhere. Can you speak a little bit about your writing process and your character development?
Thanks so much for such a wonderful compliment! Characters are my favorite part of a story. Even if I’ve collected all sorts of ideas for a story, I can only start when I have the right voice. A Snicker of Magic began with a storm of gorgeous music. Based off some of the lyrics in the Beatles song “Across the Universe,” I began thinking about what it would be like to see words as tangible things. And then I wondered what a character would be like if she had that ability, if she could see words floating, slithering, and sliding through the air. I opened the idea-file on my computer and typed: Felicity Pickle; Poem Collector. I didn’t think I would do anything with that idea for a while, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Felicity. One day I opened a new document and typed: “We watched Mama drive away in the Pickled Jalapeno …” and knew I had to write that character. Felicity’s voice pulled me into the story from the beginning. I loved the vulnerable, open-hearted way she approached the world. I liked the measured hope I heard in her voice, and her sensitivity to people. It takes time for me to know my characters though. In the first few drafts, I feel like I’m meeting them. In later drafts, thanks in part to incredible feedback from my editor, I was able to understand their hearts more and figure out the journey they were on. As far as process, I remember watching a YouTube clip of Kathi Appelt saying, “Type like your fingers are on fire.” That advice stuck with me, and it’s what I tried to do initially. I typed the first draft in a fury, just to get it out so I’d have a first draft to work with. But then it took several revisions for me to find the heart of the story.
I feel certain that Jonah, Felicity’s newfound best friend with a heart of gold and a giving spirit (who just happens to be in a wheelchair) is going to be a reader favorite. It’s easy to understand why Felicity so quickly comes to love this singular young man. Did Jonah’s character, as readers know him in the published novel, exist in your early versions of the story?
Jonah existed from the beginning. Initially, I thought “The Beedle” would be more of a word-guru, kind of a nod to the Venerable Bede. But I “saw” Jonah the same time Felicity saw Jonah, and I knew from that moment that word-magic isn’t what he would bring to the story. He had his own magic. It took a few drafts for me to realize how Jonah and Felicity complement each other; both in terms of personality and the magic they have. But Jonah existed from the beginning. And from the beginning, he was the Beedle, plotting anonymous good deeds for the citizens of Midnight Gulch.
Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Alternately, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write?
I had to recalibrate most scenes, or the sequence of events as a whole, at some point or other. My rough drafts are really rough. But there was one scene, in particular, that was pure fun for me to write. It’s my favorite scene in the book; when Felicity is with her aunt, uncle, mom, and sister at Snapdragon Pond. It’s like it was on the edge of my heart, just waiting to be written. I wrote it in a day, and it didn’t change much through the revision process. I think every writer gets one or two scenes like that; days when the words flow and you get caught up in the magic of it all. If only every day could feel that way!
Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication?
The original title was There’s Magic in Midnight Gulch. But after talking with the team at Scholastic, we thought A Snicker of Magic was a better reflection of the story. Jonah tells Felicity only “a snicker of magic” is left in Midnight Gulch; a snicker meaning his word for “a little bit”. Through the course of the novel, I feel like Felicity realizes a “snicker” of anything – courage, hope, love, friendship – can bloom into something bigger than she ever imagined. I feel like that’s been the title all along now.
What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing?
When I first graduated from college, I worked at a church in teen outreach. I planned lots of events for students, and my favorite part of that job was helping create an environment where everybody felt like they belonged. I’m quite shy, and I know how it feels to be on the fringe and not know anybody. I like for people to feel connected; to know that they matter. In some ways, I feel like I try to get my characters to that kind of place, too. I love writing characters who are brave enough to wear their hearts on their sleeve ... and therefore feel a bit left out, a bit self-conscious. I like for them to realize they matter, that they’re already capable of magic.
A job at a doctor’s office also influenced my writing, though I didn’t realize it for a long time. I applied to answer phones and sort files, but the office manager thought I’d be great with patients. So I ended up going into rooms before the doctor to update charts and make sure films were displayed correctly. These patients were all battling cancer; and they all had such gusto for living that the room felt charged with their courage and hope. It was a job I took just to make extra money while I was writing. But it made me so conscious of time, of how none of us really knows the amount of days we have, or the amount of words we get to say. I remember thinking about that experience when I decided to pursue publication. I only have a certain amount of days, so why not try to be published? Why let fear win the day when every day matters so much? Within my writing, I think there’s always at least one character who is genuinely passionate about living life to the fullest. You know that saying, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been”? I’m smitten with characters who embrace that philosophy. In this story it was Ramblin’ Rose. Most people would have thought she was past her prime, too old to pursue her dreams. Instead of listening to them, she embroidered red roses on her cowboy boots and decided it was time to sing. She ran at her dreams. I’d like to be more like that.
If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why? If Felicity plucked your favorite word from the air, what would it look like?
I love this question! My favorite words change, but there are two I’m certain Felicity would see. This first is the word “love,” and it would be as small and easily missed as a looped piece of silver thread shimmering over my heart - barely a whisper that binds everything together. Another word I adore is firefly. I like the pairing so much; fire that represents a caustic energy (or is it destruction?) with wings that represent freedom (or recklessness?). I remember catching fireflies with my cousin when I was little. I remember breezy twilights and the way fireflies prickled against my skin, just tiny stars poised for flight on the back of my hand. I remember summer nights when they flooded the woods behind my house with flickering light. I thought they were dazzling. There’s a lyric in the song “Firefly” by Small Town Poets that I’ve always adored: “Fragile wings bring little messages of light.”
My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality?
I love that books are your escape. I know that feeling. One of my most favorite escapes is my room on a rainy day, with my dog beside me and a book in my lap. And any time I’m with my family (including my dog), my anxieties fade for a bit, and I feel like my heart has a place to rest. Love is the best magic, I think.
Find out more about Natalie and her books here!
Follow her on Twitter here!
Check out my review of A Snicker of Magic here!
Giveaway will close April 25, 2014. Prize provided to Scholastic. Open to US mailing addresses only per publisher.