Southern women have been known to say, “Pretty is as pretty does.” 

When it comes to Southerner Michael Snyder, however, this would probably be better paraphrased as “Funny is as funny does.”  The Tennessee-based novelist and father of four, who was once a professional musician, understands the art of subtle comedy which has everything to do with good characters.

In Snyder’s debut novel, My Name Is Russell Fink, he introduced us to hypochondriac Russell Fink, who believes his dog is clairvoyant—but only when drunk.  So Russell, who has become rather desperate in his search for direction, pumps the canine with liquor whenever possible.  In Snyder’s recently-released second book, Return Policy, he serves up three new characters— equally distinct and comical, though more heart-wrenching. 

Willy Feneran’s career as a novelist is long dead.  But a far bigger problem for Willy is that he can’t get rid of his blasted espresso maker.  Ozena Webb is a customer service rep—a very good one—who spends all of her spare time with her mentally handicapped son.  And then there’s Shaq, the homeless guy who can’t remember who he is, much less why he is.

As the stories of these three down-and-outers intersect, we’re given a glimpse into what despair can be like.  Then we’re offered a vision of audacious hope, sprung to life, when least expected.  The book bears the same “lad lit” style of My Name Is Russell Fink, with equally quirky characters and the classic postmodern disconnect that characterizes Generation X.  But here, Snyder goes for a little more depth.  And, in the process, he connects with his readers in a very real way.

Not surprisingly, Snyder is a bit of a quirky guy himself. 

“We’re just not very good grown-ups” he said, when asked why he and his wife chose to adopt their fourth son, an African-American.  “We were sitting in church and they said that there were 18 boys who needed to be adopted. If they’re male and dark-skinned, apparently, there’s almost a zero percent chance they’ll get adopted.  It touched us.”

It’s the tragic-comedy of true life that characterizes Snyder’s writing, and makes it so compelling.  He recently spoke with Crosswalk.com about what it all means, how it all began, and what he hopes to accomplish with his books. ...

This isn’t your average, everyday “Christian” novel. But neither was Russell Fink, your first book.
I tried to write a Christian novel at one time, but it was awful. I hope no one ever sees it.  It had the obligatory conversation and it was very standard CBA (Christian Booksellers Association), but I wasn’t enjoying it. … My editor, Andy Meisenheimer, is incredibly cool. When I sent him my second novel, I had the phrase, “Darn well” in there.  He said, “If you said “darn” and you meant “damn,” we have a problem.  He would rather not have any conversion scenes in the book.  He’s about art and good literature. 

I love your characters. Do you just naturally write good characters, or do you go and hunt for them, because you understand, as all good writers do, that they’re the foundation of good writing?
I call what I write “neurotica.”  My characters usually deal with some sort of quirk or problem.  There are a lot of writing rules that I either don’t know or ignore.  I gave them all neuroses, some more than others.  I can’t start writing these stories until I figure out who they are.