Friday, 5 July 2013
Author Interview & Book Spotlight: Snicker Snag by Drew Toop
Drew Toop is a writer and amateur filmmaker currently living abroad in Asia . Previous efforts include Goodbye, Night Market, Goodbye, a documentary about the Shida Night Market in Taipei , Taiwan , and filming and editing for Graci in the Kitchen, a regular web series about food hosted by a lively Korean-Kiwi. Snicker Snag is his first novel.
Do you plan everything or just let the story flow?
When I first began writing, I was under the impression that most successful writers outlined everything in their novels before even committing to the first word. After getting more experience, I've come to realize that if one plans out everything in painstaking detail, he isn't very likely to write an interesting story. There has to be room for surprises – and, honestly, even our best ideas are not as fully realized as we may think. Paper reveals that quickly.
These days, I start out with a general idea – Who is the main character? What does he want? Who are the other characters? What do they want? – and maybe a few ideas for a particular thread or direction in which I’d like to take everything, or perhaps a feeling I want to evoke, but there really isn't a lot of extensive planning in the way one would plan a movie. Writing for me is a lot like exploration of a dark continent; I want to find a few monsters, get lost occasionally, and even have to backtrack or cross an item off from my itinerary. Not only is the experience more satisfying for the writer, it will also make something much more enjoyable for the reader.
Do your characters ever want to take over the story?
I think a writer hasn't really got a story yet if his characters haven’t already attempted to do this.
What is your favourite food?
Whatever is on my plate.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I’m neither anymore, considering how different my schedule is from day to day, though when I was still in school I was an inveterate night owl. Nowadays, I need more sunlight and interaction with actual humans to keep myself in a good mood. Like most writers, however, I’ve noticed that my best writing times are always when the rest of the world is still asleep. There’s nothing nicer than sitting in a café where the only other person there is standing behind the register.
Where do you dream of travelling to and why?
I am always moving. I am a bit like a hermit crab whose shell is too small – I outgrow each of my new homes sooner or later and have to take up a new one, or I’ll slowly become unhappy. I’m in Asia now, but I imagine that in the near future I’ll be elsewhere. It doesn’t really matter where, as long as it’s different.
Do distant places feature in your books?
Distance is relative. My novel takes place in my hometown, which at the moment is many thousands of miles away from my current location. To many of your UK readers, the town featured in “Snicker Snag” might seem very remote or strange. When people think of Washington State , they often imagine rain-soaked forests where the sun never shines; no doubt this is what Stephanie Meyer had in mind when she picked a random Washington town from the atlas to set her own novel in. Outsiders don’t realize, though, that a lot of the surrounding country is actually grasslands or even desert, which of course is what you’ll find around Yakima . For readers who have never been there, I think it will be an interesting view into a side of the state that remains largely unknown.
Do you listen to music while writing?
I do, but I can’t listen to anything too compelling or too chaotic, as it begins to make demands on my attention and affect the flow of my writing. The kind of blandly inoffensive stuff coffee shops pour into their patron’s ears is ideal in this case.
Could you tell us a bit about your latest release?
“Snicker Snag” is the product of many years of work. I wrote the first version between the ages of 17 and 19 (please don’t let that scare you away), and the final version came about in my twenties. I began it as a laugh, with no plan and no outline, and it somehow blossomed into something much larger than the idea that inspired it (see the blurb below). In retrospect, I think I realized I had something special in my hands, as no matter what other, more “important” things were occupying me throughout those early years, I kept returning to Richard and his story – a compliment I can’t pay a lot of other stuff I was writing at the time.
I wonder sometimes how people are going to take it. The first half of the book is devilishly funny, and it seems to hook people right away. The second half is told by the same character, but in a different mode of thinking, so to speak; much more introspective and sincere than the amused detachment we find in the previous chapters. I would tell people to just keep reading and let Richard take you down the route he thinks is best, even if you don’t think it’s what you want. I promise you will be rewarded for it.
What have you learned about writing and publishing since you first started?
For writing, I would say that the old advice of “just write” proves itself true time and again to me. As for publishing, where to begin?
For one thing, if you are planning on going the indie route, as I did, then be prepared for a lot of unforeseen obstacles. As just one example of this, for all the research I did into the process, and all the blogs that are out there to help new authors figure out the process, not once did I ever see it mentioned that Amazon occasionally hands out a broken link. Now, this is not a major issue perhaps, but when one is generating enthusiasm on his Facebook page, or placing his hopes on a certain release date, only to find out that his product page is inaccessible, it can really mess things up.
Also, no matter how many of your friends read the manuscript, or how many times you read each line out loud, there will still be typos you missed.
Is there anything you would do differently?
I would sit on my ass and write more! Nothing was ever as important to me as my book, yet I kept on treating other things as if they were. If you really are a writer, then you write; if you do not write, you are not a writer!
Who, or what, if anything has influenced your writing?
Gah. Everything I've ever read has influenced my writing, and that probably goes for every other writer as well. Stuff I've actually, consciously attempted to imitate? Kurt Vonnegut was a big deal for me in high school, and I think it was his voice that motivated me to do a lot of the more experimental, unusual stuff that appears in “Snicker Snag.” The early modernists have been a regular part of my reading for many years, and their stamp can be found on my manuscript as well. Richard also affects a faux-Proustian tone in his speech at times, so I can’t get by without giving him a nod.
Lately, I've been interested in Decadence and Aestheticism, for the fact that I am interested in a lot of the things they were interested in, though at the time of writing Snicker Snag I hadn't read enough of them to make an imitation. Really, though, even with the literary homage and cheeky parody that appear in the novel, I still strove to create something that was new, and different, and distinct.
Anything you would say to those just starting out in the craft?
In case I haven’t made this clear already, you really need to sit thee down and write. Reading about writing is not writing. Thinking or dreaming about writing is not writing. Writing is writing. And I am definitely not the first to say this. The flip-side is that you do not have to be Amanda Hocking and write 8,000 words a day. Sometimes you will sit for three hours only to discover that your manuscript is only a paragraph longer. This is normal.
Secondly, alcohol, cannabis and all manner of other mind-altering substances do not help you write more interesting material. If you think you need them to be a great writer, maybe you just aren't an interesting person.
What are three words that describe you?
Cogito ergo sum?
What's your favourite book or who is your favourite writer?
My favorite book is what I am reading at the moment. My favorite writer is a young woman named Desiree Pebeahsy. I wish she would write again.
Blurb of your latest release or coming soon book
For Snicker Snag:
“Somewhere on the wrong side of the millennium, 13-year old pathological liar Richard “Dick” Fidget longs to follow in the footsteps of his long-lost brother and run away from home. Things aren't so simple, however, and with high school just around the corner, Richard finds himself fighting back against an arrogant guidance counselor, witless classmates, and two insane parents who threaten to tear what’s left of his family apart.
And that’s all before his brother comes back with a story to tell.
Hilarious, tragic, and bound to be controversial, this page-turning look at love, memory and desire is guaranteed to be unlike any reading experience you've had before. But as things grow stranger and Richard grows terrified of what his past might reveal, you may find yourself wondering how much of what he says is the truth…”
List of previous books if any.
Nil. “Snicker Snag” is a first for me. Do look for a short story/poetry collection to be released over the summer, however.
Any websites/places readers can find you on the web.
Yes. The first is my blog: www.snickersnag.wordpress.com
The second is my Amazon author’s page, where you can also find a link to my book:
by Drew Toop
“You’re lying again.”
My counselor put his pen and pad down and shot me another one of his patented I’m-not-very-happy-with-you-at-the-moment looks.
“No I’m not. I’m only telling stories.”
“So you see now why we might have a problem.”
It was a subtle psychological tell that my middle school guidance counselor chose to employ the royal we, as if to somehow force me to share in his difficulty understanding even the simplest of concepts. I stayed silent for the moment, looking at him through the corner of my eye. Without having any tangible proof, I suspected him of being the sort who decorates his home with scented candles and rocks with words like “aspiration” and “childhood” etched onto their surfaces. Indeed, the round, red countenance that peered down at me from behind his flipbook was written all over with a vacant gaiety that suggested – shall we say? – an inverted spirit. Clearly we had nothing in common and I was under no obligation to take him seriously.
The fat homosexual plucked another pistachio from the bulk-sized Costco bucket rested on top of his desk and cracked it open with one hand, the same hand that plopped it into his mouth as he spoke. “I admire your ability for circular logic,” he said with a little elfin laughter. Some pistachio dust lodged itself around the rim of his wind pipe and he began a hacking cough that punctuated his giggling and turned it into something horrible, like a harpsichord crashing down a flight of stairs.
“I guess what I’m trying to (cough) say is that you have a problem with the (cough) truth (cough), Mr. Fidget.”
I winced when he pronounced my surname. It was with the same, typical incompetence of any semi-illiterate on public payroll: too much emphasis on the second syllable, complete with a silent ‘t’ – Feezh-ay! – like he was a first-year French student. In truth the better (and more accurate) approach would be to simply pronounce it like the unexceptional English appellation that it is:
(n.) 1. a slight movement due to discomfort, nervousness, or impatience
(v.) 1. to move slightly in discomfort, nervousness, or impatience;
2. to brush or hit lightly
Et. 1674 E.M.E. fidge to fidget; O.N. fikja to be nervous
It was the same name emblazoned in red at the top of the file my counselor now retrieved from his cabinet: Fidget, R. (The ‘R’ stands for Richard, which I think you will agree is an excellent title for such a distinguished personage as myself.) My counselor flipped through the pages and bundles of papers stuffed inside, almost too much to be contained between those wings of flimsy manila. I watched him as he paused over parts and certain passages, wondering what it was that arrested his interest as he skimmed through their contents.
“What is it you’re looking at?” I asked, “I have a right to know what’s in that file, you know.”
He stopped and looked up at me, “What do you think is in here?”
“Fidget, Richard,” I said, “Tall for his age (13), with hair somewhere between the colors of brown and blond (though slightly more on the brown side), eyes somewhere between the colors of green and blue (though slightly more on the blue side) and a shit-eating grin. Interests: action movies and clever ellipses. Once lied on a book report about Sarah, Plain and Tall, mainly about how much of the book he had actually read. Sexually, he is robustly heterosexual and in possession of healthy appetites.”
He put the file down, “Bravo. But no. The real purpose of this little liaison is to discuss your Career Day test results.”
“Oh yes, those,” I said, “You may dispose of them.”
“Career Day isn’t about forcing you into something you don’t want, Richard. It’s about opening you up to some new possibilities. Didn’t you look at your suggestion sheet?”
“I did look at it. It said I should be a mountaineer.”
My counselor frowned, “Alright, smarty pants. What is it you’d like to do?”
What I really wanted to do was to be a writer. To tell him or not to tell him? (That’s Shakespeare for you, dear reader.) I looked at the framed diploma of Randall Soros hanging on the wall. That certainly didn’t sound like the name of a person to whom I would reveal my deepest secrets. Actually, the real attraction of writing is that it grants free reign over a universe of one’s own design. Unlike the real world, whose banality we cannot escape however much we desire, a writer can depart at once from passages that no longer excite him. For example, were I writing a story and I became bored, I could simply change gears and begin a detailed description of something else. Say, boners.
Boners, one of the various colloquial terms for the erection of a human penis, are a hard subject. Though they certainly can vary in measurements of length and girth, the majority of them are approximately 5.8 inches (that's 13.5 centimeters for all you foreigners) from base to tip upon achieving full tumescence. Their main purpose is to probe the dark and mysterious region known as the vagina. My boner is approximately 6.3 inches in length. I am ahead of my age group in this respect, and thus it becomes clear that the label of ‘gifted’ which was branded upon my forehead at so early an age does not apply merely to mental faculties. Randall Soros’s boner, though I assure you that I speak from the perspective of an omniscient narrator and not from ‘first hand’ experience (as it were), is a paltry 4.5 inches long.
This is real life, however, so such digressions are impossible.
“Refusing to answer the question does not help your case,” my counselor said.
He added, “You know, omission is itself a form of dishonesty.”
“I tell stories. I like to make them up for gullible people,” I said, “Don’t call me a liar. I just like to make people believe things that aren’t true.”
“You still haven’t answered my question,” he tapped his pen against the desk.
“Okay. Do you know what I really want to do?” I asked the ceiling, “I want to run away. Now is that something your little career test would ever be able to calculate?”
The tapping stopped, “What, exactly, do you mean by ‘run away’?”
I began counting the tiles above my head, “It means what it sounds like it means. I want to run away and not be in this place anymore. Call it my unrealistic escapist fantasy, if you need to label it.”
I thought I could actually hear the crackling of his brain cells firing as he sat there, stunned, for a moment’s time.
“This is very serious, Richard,” he said, trying to add a certain gravity to his words, though in the end he only managed to affect an icy condescension, “Do you know how many children are reported missing each year in this state alone?”
“I don’t know, do you?”
He paused. The seconds clicked by on his Felix the Cat clock.
“Well, it’s supposed to be a lot.”
I realized that behind Randall Soros’s furrowed brow was a brain currently imagining a slightly older me picking up tricks along I-90 and huffing spray paint from the inside of a crumpled paper bag. Such is what people like my counselor think will happen to a body should he not acquire a high school diploma and the invaluable life skills it no doubt imparts upon its holder.
“Well then, tell me, why do you want to run away, Richard?” Instead of trying to scare me this time, he changed tack and assumed a syrupy sweetness in his voice, coupled with a womanly fluttering of his eyelashes, as if he wanted to say, ‘You can tell me anything in the world, little friend.’ I noticed he picked his pad up again and clicked his pen open. To tell him or not to tell him?
“I want to be like Huckleberry Finn or something like that, I guess. I just want to get in adventures and not have to get ready for high school or college or stuff like that. Who do you think you are, anyway? My therapist?”
Mr. Soros cleared his throat, “So now it becomes crystal clear. You want to be like your brother and run away. Richard, do you think that’s a good way to solve your problems?”
Books and Tales will be closing in January 2018.