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Interview: February 12, 2014

What do you get when all of the magic leaves a town, except for a tiny bit? A snicker of magic, of course! And that’s what runs through Midnight Gulch, a small southern village that used to be known for its enchanted residents like the Brothers Threadbare --- whose music made clouds change shapes and inspired the whole community to dance in the streets --- but now has just the smallest snicker of magic left. Debut author Natalie Lloyd delves into this fascinating town in A SNICKER OF MAGIC, where Felicity Pickle --- a 6th grader who sees words wherever she goes --- tries to bring Midnight Gulch back to its original glory and hopes that her wandering family can finally settle down. In this interview, Natalie tells us about her inspiration for A SNICKER OF MAGIC, the real people who inspired her characters and her favorite pair of cowboy boots.

Kidsreads:What was your inspiration for A SNICKER OF MAGIC? Was there a particular moment when you thought I know what I’m going to write about!?

Natalie Lloyd: The inspiration for A SNICKER OF MAGIC came from so many places. Writing this book felt like a patchwork process for me; I stitched together ideas, a few memories, lots of what-if’s and some of the characters I couldn’t stop thinking about to make a story. One of my big aha! moments happened at a concert. A few years ago, I got to hear my favorite band, The Avett Brothers, play live. I was especially inspired by how their music connected people. It’s like everybody forgot about what made them sad, or lonely or different from one another and just …danced. The atmosphere was full of joy, and people were so happy. It felt more like a magic show than a concert. I didn’t start writing the book until several months later, but their music helped me find my way to Midnight Gulch.

KRC: You said at a Scholastic reading in Philadelphia that part of the reason you wrote A SNICKER OF MAGIC is because you missed your grandparents. How did your grandparents influence the book?

NL: For a long time, I thought A SNICKER OF MAGIC was only inspired by music. But when I was revising the novel, I realized I’d written it because I was homesick for people I love and miss (my grandparents, especially). Whenever I hear the word “home” I always think of my family and friends as much as I think of a physical place. Without even realizing it initially, I wove quite a few memories with my grandparents into the story. For example, my grandfather played a guitar and a banjo. And I loved to listen to him play. Whenever I hear those two instruments now, I never just hear music. I remember some of the fun memories I have with him. And even though I feel sad at first, because miss him so much … the sad always blurs into joy. Music and memories are both very powerful things in Midnight Gulch.

KRC: The main character in A SNICKER OF MAGIC, Felicity, literally sees words wherever she goes.  How did you come up with this idea?

NL: My favorite Beatles song is “Across the Universe.” There’s a line in that song about words “slithering” and “slipping” through the air, and into the atmosphere. I thought it would be so cool if words really looked that way. I thought: What words would I see? And what would my favorite words look like? What would my name look like? And then I thought about what kind of character would be able to see words like that. Somehow, all the daydreaming and what-ifs helped me dream up Felicity Pickle. The first time I ever saw Felicity (in my imagination), she was standing in front of her school with her little sister, Frannie Jo. They were watching their mom drive away in the family’s dumpy old van. Words were spinning off the tires. More words were swirling around Frannie Jo’s ponytail. It was so fun to think about, and write about. Daydreaming, and asking “what if” helped me get to that place.

KRC:Felicity and her family move from place to place until they arrive in a very small, magical town in Tennessee called Midnight Gulch. Did you move a lot when you were a kid? Did you ever live somewhere that was similar to Midnight Gulch?

NL: I actually lived in the same small town until I moved away for college! And I certainly added some of my favorite aspects of small town life to Felicity’s story. My hometown is also in the mountains of east Tennessee, and it’s a lovely place. But I think Midnight Gulch is most like my town because it’s full of kind, quirky people who care about each other. Not everything about living in a small town is great, of course. But Felicity experiences some of the best parts.

Even though we don’t have moving around in common, Felicity and I both know what it’s like to be lonely. I think everybody knows that feeling --- regardless of where they live, or how many places they’ve called home. Writing Felicity’s friendship with Jonah was so special for me because I know how wonderful it feels to find one true friend when you’re lonely. Suddenly, you feel like you can survive anything.

KRC:I loved how Dr. Zook’s ice cream factory played such a large role in Midnight Gulch. Did you have fun coming up with all of the flavors? If you could try just one flavor of Dr. Zook’s, what would it be?

NL: I had a blast coming up with ice cream flavors! I’m only sad that I can’t justify eating ice cream as “research” now that the book is finished. If I went to Dr. Zook’s Creamery right now, I might try a bite of Aunt Cleo’s favorite flavor, Chocolate Chip Pork Rind. But only so I can say that I’ve tried it. Like Felicity, I’m pretty sure that flavor wouldn’t settle well. I definitely want to try Day’s Chocolate Orange Switcheroo. And Marsh-Mallory Mocha Delight. And Blackberry Sunrise, definitely.

KRC:You have a dog named Biscuit, just like the dog in A SNICKER OF MAGIC! Are any of the other characters inspired by actual people (or animals!)?

NL: I’m so glad you asked about Biscuit! I put my dog in the story so it would feel more personal to me. And sometimes I get so excited about writing something new that I give up on what I’m writing mid-draft. I thought if I could picture Biscuit scampering through the scenes, I’d stick with it. It worked! Aunt Cleo, one of my favorite characters in the novel, reminds me of my Granny. And my mom’s best friend, Jewell, is a hair stylist. So I named Midnight Gulch’s favorite stylist and premier mechanic in her honor. There’s also a minor character in the story named Virgil. My grandfather’s name was Virgil. So it’s probably no surprise Virgil’s words are some of my favorites that Felicity sees:

            Survivor

            Safe Harbor

            Sweetheart

            Anchor

            Those were Virgil’s words. They clung to his arms. And I could tell - by his strong shoulders and bold words, and by the twinkle in his eye - that he was a man who’d been dearly loved.”- P.183

KRC: After writing this book where words pop up for Felicity everywhere, did you find yourself thinking about words the same way when you were talking to people or thinking about places? Or did you “leave this at your writing desk?”

NL: I love this question! I got to meet all sorts of wonderful booksellers at a party recently, and the first thing someone said to me was, “What words do you see floating around my head?” I wish I could see words the way Felicity does! Because I love to write, I’m always thinking about how I would describe situations. But I still like to imagine the words Felicity might see in a situation, too. I love how sensitive she is to the world around her. I think that’s a beautiful way to live.

KRC: A SNICKER OF MAGIC is your first novel --- congratulations! What did it feel like to find out you were going to be published?

NL: Thank you! Middle school was the era when I fell head-over-boot-heels in love with books. That’s also when I realized how much I liked to write. Even back then, I remember reading my favorite books and hoping I could write novels someday, too. When I found out Scholastic was going to publish my book, it felt even better than I ever imagined that dream-come-true would feel. I cried. A lot. And then I started laughing, because I was so happy. Shortly after my agent told me the news, my editor called to welcome me (and Felicity!) to Scholastic. I was a bit too worked up and emotional to answer the phone, so I let her message go to voicemail. I’ve listened to that message so many times now. I still can’t believe I get to work with Scholastic.

KRC: I read somewhere that you love to wear cowboy boots. Do you have a favorite pair? If so, tell us about them.

NL: I wear my cowboy boots a lot. They’re so broken in that they’re as comfy as sneakers now. I even wear them when I travel. My boots are dark brown and a little bit scrunched with age, but I think the scrunches give them character. They have a rounded toe and swirly thread-embroidery on the sides. I was browsing in a swanky store one day and saw a pair of boots with red roses embroidered on the sides --- just like the boots Ramblin’ Rose wears in A SNICKER OF MAGIC. I don’t know if I’m brave enough to wear boots that bold, though.

KRC:Did you write when you were a kid? If so, what kinds of things did you write?

NL: I liked to write poems when I was a kid. Sometimes I wrote them just for fun, and sometimes I wrote them and gave them to my parents. 4-H was really popular at my school too, and I loved being 4-H secretary so I could write the minutes to our class meetings. 4-H had all sorts of fun writing contests, and I had fun participating in those. I wrote for school newspapers and I wrote stories for my family and my grandparents. Eventually, I realized writing fiction is my favorite kind of writing. Really, I think that’s the most exciting thing about being a young writer. You get to write whatever you want, just because you love it. You don’t have to show it to anybody, unless you want to.

KRC:What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

NL: I was nuts about The Chronicles of Narnia, The Babysitters Club and the Anne of Green Gables series. I was a fan of Roald Dahl’s books, especially THE WITCHES. And I’m a big fan of Judy Blume, too. (My favorite book she’s written is BLUBBER). Some more of my favorites were: BUNNICULA, WAYSIDE SCHOOL IS FALLING DOWN, THE FAIRY REBEL, THE WESTING GAME, THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.

KRC: Are you working on another book, now? If so, can you tell as anything about it?

NL:I am working on a new book now and I’m so excited about it! Since it’s still in its early stages, I can’t talk too much about it just yet. I’m having a great time getting to know a new cast of characters though. I can’t wait for readers to meet them!