Gregory Galloway’s first novel, As Simple as Snow, recently won an Alex Award as one of 10 adult books of interest to teen readers. This may seem an incongruous choice as the story contains hints of suicide, insinuations of bad behavior by grown ups, and inappropriate adolescent sexual activity. But the novel’s grounding in the psychological life of teenagers makes it a wise selection. The plot, told by an unnamed boy narrator from an unremarkable small town, concerns the mysterious disappearance of a Goth girl named Anna. The high school girl is into mixtapes, paintings, poetry, and seems intellectually precocious. The book begins with Anna compiling the obituaries of all the local citizens and ends without one ever really knowing what happened to the girl who dressed in black. Galloway hauntingly unfolds the drama with tantalizing clues and obscure references to classic subversive music, literature and, art that no adolescent would be acquainted with—like Bix Beiderbecke, H.P.Lovecraft, and Arshille Gorky—or would they? Galloway has been meeting with school kids to promote the book. He said the teenagers frequently argue this very point of whether Anna knows too much.
“It’s funny, I just came back from a visit with a class in the Hamptons and the first thing they did was jump on the music. One kid said, ‘How could this girl know that much?’ and another one responded that her father worked in a record store, and the debate took off from there. The important thing for me was that they all saw and identified themselves with the people in the novel. They argued about the characters’ reality because they found them to be real people.”
Galloway’s plain, Midwestern accent that reveals his Iowa roots. The author grew up in the Hawkeye state and graduated from the prestigious University of Iowa Writers Workshop with MFAs in both fiction and poetry. He was deeply interested in music while in high school in Keokuk and earned money working in a downtown Iowa City record store as a college student.
Perhaps that’s why the idea of mixtapes is so central to the novel. “I have personally been attracted to mixtapes ever since I was a teen and have used them in romantic and nonromantic ways. In the book the mixtapes tell a story within a story to the person who knows the songs. The tapes tell interconnecting, conflicting, or confounding messages. They express character, and allow the innocent narrator to be introduced to new ideas. Anna makes them into art objects and not only takes care picking out the songs, she dresses up the jackets and makes them into pictorial art objects that he can ponder.”
Galloway used the song selections to provide clues to the reader and add insight into the enigmatic mind of the cryptic Goth girl. She literally disappears halfway through the novel. The rest of the narrative concerns the boy’s search for what happened to her via the clues she left behind. The answer to the mystery is, as the book’s title suggests, “as simple as snow,” which implies it really isn’t very simple at all. One is left as lost as the narrator, but like him, enriched by the experience.
“I heard afterwards that some of the Hampton kids where going to challenge me about the ending,” Galloway said. “But something happened before that discussion developed. One high school student piped up with, ‘How do you know what happened. That’s only your opinion. What you think happened may not be what really happened.’ That blew me away because he was so right.” Galloway knows that one can never really trust an author’s intentions. Besides, these teens are not the only ones to express such opinions. The book has a website (www.assimpleassnow.com) where one can ask the writer for more clues. The author said he has been involved with some very lucid readers who have emailed him with ideas. “One woman used quotes from my book that proved Anna never really existed except in the mind of the narrator. Another girl wrote that she figured out the novel, but said she was not going to tell me. She was going to write the sequel instead.”
Galloway is not sure how long he will keep up the website dialogue. It’s been a year since the hardcover edition came out. However, the book was just released in paperback and, for now, As Simple as Snow is still a live document and the conversations continue. The website also contains links to download Anna’s mixes, including the cover art, and other treats.
“I didn’t know how the book would end when I started it. I didn’t even know it was going to be a novel. I just came up with the phrase, ‘as simple as snow’”, Galloway said. As a poet and fiction writer the author said he often just jots down thoughts and sometimes they develop. Other times they find their way in the wastebasket. This time it led to his conception of the two main characters, who discuss this phrase about 100 pages into the book. From there he went backwards and wrote the beginning and created the characters. Then he took it forward. “I don’t want to make it sound mystical, but I never planned on Anna disappearing. Things just happened organically,” Galloway said. His novel flows with a naturalness that never seems forced, like a gentle snowfall that turns into a serious accumulation of flakes. It’s only after it’s over that one realizes how deep and serious things are.