New podcast!

A few months ago, writer Jude Brewer took a train from Portland, Oregon, up to Tacoma, Washington, where he promptly descended into my basement and set up sound equipment.

artworks_coverSoon, writer and actor James A. Gilletti arrived with coffee and donuts (and a bottle of handcrafted booze), and then poet and publisher Christina Butcher joined us, and together, we got down to business: Jude had come to record episodes of his Storytellers Telling Stories podcast.

Christina’s powerful, moving poetry aired as episode 14 about a month ago, and James’s noir radio-play-style detective story aired as episode 17 last week. And today, my episode, “Barefoot in the Guadalupe,” went live.

Longtime readers might dimly recall my story, which appeared several years ago in Red Dirt Review. (The magazine is defunct now and the website is gone, but it seems you can still order a copy of the print edition my story appears in, if you’re interested.) The story involves a tangle of emotions (more an abstract polygon than a classic love triangle) as protagonist Mark wrestles with the conflicted versions of love that he holds for his wife, Sharon; his long-dead girlfriend, Keaton; and his transforming and transformative best friend, Tommy — and with the secrets Mark keeps from Sharon and Tommy.

Jude and crew did a fantastic job with the background music and the sound effects for this story — and best of all, the editing does wonders for the story’s pace. (Thanks for making me sound good, Jude!) I hope you enjoy hearing the story as much as I enjoyed recording it, and if you like the podcast, subscribe to it for free!

Also, while I have your attention, dear readers, please join me in congratulating podcast runner Jude Brewer on winning the Retreat West Flash Fiction Prize for 2017! (I literally just learned about this while writing this post — Jude is having a wonderful day today!)

 

New publication

I’ve been so focused on longform fiction and on getting together my new book of stories (forthcoming from Blue Cactus Press!) that it’s been a while since I published any new short fiction.

Until today.

Detail from the story photo (by Sebastien Gabriel)
Detail from the story photo (by Sebastien Gabriel)

I’m proud to say that one of my favorite online magazines, Drunk Monkeys, has published my story “This Is What We’ve Waited For.”

I’ve long been a fan of Drunk Monkeys, not only for their literature but also for their culture pieces (their film reviews are particularly cool), but it’s the literature that brings me back every month. Not long ago, for example, they featured the amazing Ally Malinenko (HUGE FAN!),

In this current issue, I get to share digital space with Matt Weatherbee, Monica Boothe, Mark Trechock, King Grossman, Catherine Weiss, Shannon Hardwick, Scott Koertner, and featured writer Tom Ward, among other great essayists, poets, and artists. So go check out the whole issue, and make sure you leave nice comments on the stuff you like!

Just watch out for those monkeys — I hear they’re a little tipsy.

Write in the Harbor and researching for fiction

This coming November, I’ll be leading an afternoon workshop on how to research for historical fiction as part of the Write in the Harbor conference, hosted by Tacoma Community College’s Gig Harbor campus in Washington’s Puget Sound.

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Longtime fans and friends will know that I’ve written about researching for fiction and have led similar workshops in the past. My session is on November 3, during the pre-conference , and will offer a rundown of my guidelines for researching. And while I do focus on historical fiction, the guidelines are easily applicable to any form of fiction. But I’m also introducing some practical exercises in the workshop, and we’ll do a little writing while we’re at it. Most importantly, I’m hoping we’ll all have a bit of fun!

The gist, for anyone interested in registering, is this: As with most fiction, selling a story to a reader relies on precise, believable details, and these are especially important when some of those details are historical fact. But our primary goal in fiction should always be to tell a compelling story, and research can often sidetrack us or weigh down our story with too many details. So, based on my experience writing historical fiction, I’ll be discussing process-related advice such as when to reach out to experts in a story’s subject matter, what are our most important resources in researching for fiction, why writers should sometimes ignore the research and just get creative, and when to stop researching and just write.

We’ll also learn practical fact-finding and writing exercises like letting geography guide our narrative, putting period-appropriate objects to in our characters’ hands to give them something to do in our stories, using important period-appropriate language to add realism to our storytelling, and weaving all these historical details seamlessly into our narrative.

Through these guidelines and exercises, folks who register for my workshop will learn how to quickly find precise, effective historical details that will lend stories authenticity and then — most importantly — get writers back to their writing!

ja-jance_200-133x150Of course, I’m not the only show in town. The conference — both the Friday pre-conference and the Saturday main conference — has a lot to offer area writers! A keynote from mystery and horror novelist J.A. Jance; workshops on poetry, character development, scene work, genre writing, memoir, publishing, and literary business plans; an on-site bookstore; and more!

So I hope folks in the Puget Sound area — or in the Pacific Northwest in general, because the Puget Sound is reachable by car or transit from just about anywhere in the region — will come out and enjoy the conference. And I hope you’ll spread the word, too.

Storytellers Telling Stories podcast

I am profoundly excited to announce that I’ll be joining a new podcast series, hosted by author Jude Brewer, called Storytellers Telling Stories. The series will consist of writers sharing their work and their craft in a new version of the oldest tradition: oral storytelling.

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You can check out the teaser trailer online now.

I’d be excited to join this series anyway, especially since I’m a fan of Jude’s work in general and am honored he invited me to come aboard. But the lineup he has in place for season one includes some of my favorite writers and dearest friends: Jason Arias, David Ciminello, Sean Davis, Daniel Elder, Zach Ellis, Jenny Forrester, DeAngelo Gillispie, Kate Gray, Rios de la Luz, Gina Ochsner, Kate Ristau, Domi J Shoemaker, Davis Slater, and Reema Zaman.

My own appearance on the podcast is scheduled for later (likely early next year), but the series launches Oct. 3, and you can already subscribe for free via your favorite podcast website or app, including iTunes, PlayerFM, Stitcher, Google Play, or any other podcast apps you might prefer.

Buy Hagridden and help fight hate

 

In the past month, Americans have seen our darkest underbelly — our racists, our hate groups — crawl out from under their rocks and take to the streets to incite and commit violence and, in some cases, to commit murder and terrorism. Really, this has been bubbling up like some foul odor from our boggier subcultures for at least a few years now, if not longer, but it’s been especially visible in recent weeks. It’s been an ugly thing to confront, as a nation, but the uglier truth is that these people have always been here. For years, for decades. They’re just feeling braver these days, so it’s up to all of us to remind them that they were hiding under rocks all this time for a reason.

Some of us are issuing those reminders with our bodies, taking to the streets to peacefully outnumber the hate groups. Others are donating money to organizations that fight these hate groups in the courts. Others are putting their words to work. I’m trying to do all three, but right now, the latter two options are more readily available to me, so I am using my work as an author to help support the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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One of the primary missions of the Southern Poverty Law Center is to fight back against white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, the KKK, and other hate groups, which is why I’m a member. But their work is getting larger and so I am trying to give them a little more funding, which is why I have decided to donate all my proceeds from Hagridden for the month of September to the SPLC. All my royalties, all my profits from the books I sell at readings, everything.

Featured Image -- 19531Every time you buy a copy of Hagridden — for yourself or as a gift, or both — I’ll donate the profit from that sale to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

That’s not going to be a lot, honestly — we writers don’t make much — but how much that amount winds up being depends mostly on you all. So if you already have a copy, buy one for a friend, or ask your local library to put a copy on the shelf, or tell other people about it so they can buy a copy. Write a review on Goodreads or Amazon and share it on social media so other people can find the book.

Or — and I mean this — skip the book and just donate directly to the SPLC. I’m not worried about how many books I sell in September because I’m not keeping any of that money anyway; I’m only interested in directing money to the SPLC, so if you would prefer to donate to them directly, please do!

We’re not in September yet, but I’m starting the fundraising early (if you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I technically started this on August 19, which is Hagridden‘s birthday). I will continue this fundraising offer through the whole month of September. In fact, on October 3, I will be a featured reader at the 3rd Annual Creative Colloquy Crawl here in Tacoma, Washington (see my Events page for details), so I’ll stretch this out an extra few days and donate my sales from that event, too.

Of course, this work will carry on long past a one-month fundraiser. We all need to be out there doing as much as we are able to stand up to hate, speak out against racism, and condemn violence unequivocally. So whatever you do, dear readers, please keep doing that.

Thoughts from a white writer on our responsibilities as writers

I write historical fiction, and my approach is largely realistic. I also grew up in the South and set most of my fiction there, and for the time being, most of what I write about is set during some of the most difficult and painful eras in our nation’s short history: the Civil War and Reconstruction. That means I wind up writing about people and attitudes that we would find appalling today.

Or, that we should find appalling, but as we’ve seen in the past several days (if not in the past several years), there are still people in this country who espouse racist and white-supremacist views.

Equally bad, there are people in this country who are not themselves overtly racist or white-supremacist, but who serve as apologists for the people who are or else just ignore the racism and white-terrorist movements that exist in this country. And that willingness to excuse or ignore the worst of us is itself a kind of racism, a kind of white privilege if not white supremacism.

The book I’m writing now has been in the works for years, and I keep struggling to finish it because, to do my job as a writer, I have to present even the villains of my story as fully rounded human beings, but I keep discovering that the people I’m writing about are present in our world today and presenting those people in the round can too easily slip into excusing them, apologizing for them, condoning them.

I want to say this here clearly and unequivocally: I do not excuse, apologize for, or condone in any way any attitudes of racial supremacy. I do not agree with — and, when I can, I actively stand up to — Nazis, white supremacists, anti-Semites, or any other group of people united by hate. And I stand up to anyone who excuses or tries to explain away those groups.

I stand with every marginalized group in this nation. African-Americans, Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans, Latino- and Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, gay Americans, trans Americans, women. As a cishet white male, I am among the people this nation was literally designed to cater to, and because of that, it is all the more important that I stand up against oppression, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and any other form of collective hatred and prejudice we encounter. And I stand with everyone willing to stand up against those hateful attitudes.

Which is why I have taken so long writing this current book. Every day, I am reminded of the ways in which we have hurt our fellow Americans throughout this nation’s history, and while I want to be careful to present our history through my fiction in the clearest, most honest light I can, I also want to be careful to avoid glorifying the harm we’ve done each other in the past.

And that’s not easy.

Just last night on Facebook, I shared with excitement the news that I had found newspaper items contemporary to the period I’m writing about — the mid- to late-19th century. Shortly after I posted that, I found a Civil War-era editorial advocating secession and war with the federal government in the name of maintaining and advancing the enslavement of human beings. And, aside from a few grammatical quirks of the time, the rhetoric in that editorial was indistinguishable from the rhetoric we are hearing from racists and Nazis and white supremacists today. It was indistinguishable from rhetoric we hear even from some of our so-called leaders.

And that’s horrifying.

So I struggle to write through that.

But I am reminded of a story by Jorge Luis Borges, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.” [SPOILER ALERT!] In that story, Borges describes a man who wants to write, from scratch, a contemporary version of Cervantes’s classic Don Quixote. The story Menard eventually produces is utterly identical in every way to Cervantes’s original. Same setting, same characters, same words — the entire text is a verbatim reconstruction of the original text. There is no difference whatsoever between the Menard version and the Cervantes version. And yet, Borges describes, Menard’s version is celebrated as a brilliant commentary on the modern age, on how contemporary readers reflect on an age centuries earlier. It is the SAME text, yet people embrace in a completely different way.

I view historical fiction in the same way. Even when we recreate with perfect authenticity the earlier era we write about, we are still commenting on our current perspective on that era. Our attitudes now come into play; and if ours don’t, the attitudes of our readers will.

So I write on, as honestly as I can, even when my characters horrify and appall me. Because we are living through much of this now, again, and this past pain and growth is worth revisiting as we experience similar pain and growth today. The passive racists and violent white supremacists I write about are no more horrifying than the violent white supremacists we saw in Charlottesville or the passive racists who excuse or ignore them today. Our sins today are, if anything, worse than our sins 150 years ago, because today, we are supposed to know better. Many of us do know better, but clearly, not enough of us do. So perhaps, through my fiction, one reader might also come to know better. And maybe, through writing as mindfully and compassionately as I can, I might come to know better, too. Because make no mistake: as long as I, a cishet white male, continue to benefit from the society we’ve created here in the United States, I will always have plenty left to learn.

And so I write on. Always learning.

Keep learning, dear readers. Keep questioning your privilege, whatever it might be, and keep fighting to ensure that everyone else can experience the same privilege. Keep fighting for equality until there is no such thing as “privilege.”

And keep writing that truth.

Writing amid our looming apocalypse

Writer/publisher Michael J Seidlinger is having a fascinating conversation on Facebook about the last book we’ll read before the end of the world. It’s a worthy conversation, throwing into bright light the things we value most about the books we read.

I don’t have an easy answer, really. If the world ended tomorrow, I’d probably finish my earthly existence standing in my home library, staring at my bookshelves, still trying to decide.

But I remember Tom Franklin‘s comment about why he wrote his second novel, Smonk: “It was the book I most wanted to read, so I had to write it.” So I’m thinking instead about the books I need to write before the world ends.

Or more to the point, WHY I still need to write them. Like, if the world really is going to end — whether it’s “the world as we know it” or a more literal destruction of the planet — who would want (or be left) to read the books I’m writing?

But I’m still writing them.

Yet if I’m not trying to speak to future generations, what use is all this effort? I can’t even claim that I’m writing for myself, because if the world does end, I won’t be around to enjoy my own work either.

That means the value of telling these stories is more immediate: the value is now, in the telling.

There’s a long-running academic-workshop axiom that writing isn’t — and shouldn’t be — therapeutic. The value of your art, so the thinking goes, does not lie in the effect it evokes in you but in the effect it evokes in others, in what the work contributes to the world. And I do think that consideration is worthwhile. I think it’s profoundly useful to consider what value our art might hold for others; else, why publish the work?

But diarists and therapists alike will tell you that the act of writing — especially the act of writing honestly, a full and frank expression of our own experiences and deepest thoughts — can hold tremendous value for our own mental and emotional well-being. It’s almost a meditative act, examining our reflection on the page, looking for insight.

And I think that because the best literature holds a mirror to the human experience and seeks insight into our most intimate experiences, this therapeutic effect would result just as readily from fiction or poetry or memoir as it does from journaling.

So I’ve been thinking about this question today. And I realize that my reason for writing these books in the first place — after Tom Franklin, they are the books I most want to read right now — is the same reason I will still want to write them even if the world goes up in flames.

Which reminds me now of one of my favorite Jorge Luis Borges stories, “The Secret Miracle.”

[SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t read this story.]

Borges’s story describes a struggling Jewish playwright in the 1940s who is arrested by Nazis and sentenced to die by firing squad. As he sits in his cell, awaiting his execution, he obsesses over his impending death for a while before his thoughts shift to his current, unfinished play, which he suddenly feels desperate to complete. None of his other plays have brought him success, and now that he is facing death, he wants to finish this play, and finish it properly, so he will have left some kind of literary legacy in the world. But his execution is only days away, and on the morning of his execution, he prays that God will allow him more time to finish his work. Then the guard gives the order to open fire.

Then time stops.

He had asked God for an entire year in which to finish his work; His omnipotence had granted him the time. For his sake, God projected a secret miracle: German lead would kill him, at the determined hour, but in his mind a year would elapse between the command to fire and its execution. From perplexity he passed to stupor, from stupor to resignation, from resignation to sudden gratitude.

He disposed of no document but his own memory; the mastering of each hexameter as he added it, had imposed upon him a kind of fortunate discipline not imagined by those amateurs who forget their vague, ephemeral, paragraphs. He did not work for posterity, nor even for God, of whose literary preferences he possessed scant knowledge. Meticulous, unmoving, secretive, he wove his lofty invisible labyrinth in time.

And so the playwright works, frozen in time, entirely in his own mind. This play he had wanted to finish as his legacy will never be published, will not be his legacy. No one will ever know it even existed, because the moment he finishes his play, the Nazi riflefire will finish him. But he writes it anyway, standing trapped in time for a full year, working solely in his head, and for that opportunity — not to secure his reputation but simply to tell the story he most wanted to tell, even if only to himself — he feels sudden gratitude.

So should we all work, right up to the end.

Hashtag Hagridden

I’m not on Instagram, which is weird considering how much I like taking and sharing photos. (Remember when I used to keep a Photo Blog here on this website?) But a lot of folks seem to love it, and some of those folks — lo and behold — also dig my novel, Hagridden. Okay, sure, one of them is my brother, but still.

So I thought I’d share some of the Hagridden-related Instagram posts here. They’re all from cool accounts that you should follow. And if you know of any others I’ve missed — or any posts about my other books — let me know in the comments!

A random reader

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You know how sometimes you start reading a book and for some unknown reason, you just can't read it? 🚫 ••••••••••••••••••••• Well, I started Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen on the plane ride back from Portland and I kept trying and trying and it wasn't working out. It's weird though because I was actually enjoying it! 😕 •••••••••••••••••••••• So instead of struggling, I decided to switch to a random book I just picked up from the bookstore's shelf. Well, to be completely honest, I grabbed it solely because the title begins with Hagrid….aka Harry Potter is life. ⚡️ •••••••••••••••••••••• Oh, and my nail polish is actually the same color as my green bracelet but you can't tell and it makes me sad 😢 <— that was random lol •••••••••••••••••••••• #books #bookstagram #bibliophile #bookworm #booklover #bookish #bookme #booknerd #read #reading #becauseofreading #totalbooknerd #Hagridden #SamuelSnoekBrown #ColumbusPress #independentpublishing #chroniclesofabookworm #fiction #darkreads #thriller #igreads #igreader #HarryPotter #Hagrid #Potterhead #HarryPotterForever

A post shared by Megan🌲🌧📚🌻 (@chroniclesofabookworm) on

I hear the “Harry Potter” question a lot, which is great, because actually, I love those books and the character of Hagrid! So it’s pretty cool that this reader stumbled across my novel at random while traveling. After reading her story of how she stumbled across Hagridden, I did worry that my novel wasn’t going to be AT ALL what she was hoping for, but all is well: ChroniclesofaBookworm links from her Instagram to her Goodreads account, and spoiler alert, she liked the book! (Phew!) 🙂


In the house that Jon built

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#handmade #hagridden #book #novel

A post shared by Jon Snoek (@snoekems) on

This miniature version of Hagridden — which, yes, my brother made from scratch — appears in his scale-model of the cabin from the Evil Dead films. He even put it on the bookshelf there! I wonder how Ash would handle a Rougarou?

I knew these photos existed; I did not know, until recently, that my brother was on Instagram. (Y’all should seriously check out the posts of his AT-ST Walker costume he made from boxes and restaurant to-go containers! It’s genius.)


Journey to the End of the Night

Okay, this one isn’t much of a surprise, either. I didn’t know til recently that this account existed, but it turns out, it’s connected with Hagridden‘s publisher and the EPIC book release party/scavenger hunt/game of tag/film festival/bayou-themed cocktail party that was the Columbus Journey to the End of the Night.

So of course they would post a pic of my book. Come to find out, they also posted some pics of me.


A fellow novelist

It was awesome! Come to find out, this is the account of a young man named T. Edward Redd, an artist and self-publishing author and, at the time, a student in my friend Brianna Pike’s creative writing class. He even blogged about our chat between Bri’s class and my public reading that evening at Ivy Tech. (I hope your trip to England was cool, Edward!)


BONUS! I also discovered a few posts from my pal Ryan Werner from back when my first chapbook, Box Cutters, was still new.

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Cousins. #sunnyoutside #samsnoekbrown #stabbedintheD

A post shared by Ryan Werner (@yeahwerner) on

I wonder how many other Box Cutters posts are out there? I tried searching the #boxcutters hashtag but, gang, trust me, just don’t. (I tried the #sunnyoutside hashtag, too, but I haven’t yet seen any posts related to that chapbook’s publisher.)

I also searched for hashtags related to my most recent chapbook, Where There Is Ruin, and the handful of results there are charming! None of my book, though.

Any of you folks on Instagram? I kind of want to join just so I can follow . . . well, everyone! But I have enough trouble keeping up on Facebook and this blog (and I’m terrible about staying on top of Twitter!), so I worry that Instagram would become one more social media presence I’ll end up letting slide. (Did y’all know that I once had a Pinterest account? I think you can guess how that turned out.)

Still, it was fun to discover these ‘Grammers — seriously, I find the site dangerously, time-consumingly fascinating and beautiful — and see a different way people have been sharing the books they love.

Local Book Review: Hagridden by Samuel Snoek-Brown

So, I’m just going to leave this here, alongside my thanks for writer and poet Christina Butcher for this thoughtful review (and a plug for my chapbooks, too!).

Blue Cactus Press

How often do you pick up a book from one of your favorite authors and hope and wish and pray it’s as good as the last? I do it every time, but truth be told, only about half the books I read live up to my expectations. Lucky for me, Samuel Snoek-Brown’s Hagridden did, in fact, live up to my expectations as I read it while camping in wilds of Utah.

Hagridden is a historical fiction novel and it’s set in the U.S. South as the Civil War came to a close. It follows two women who’re struggling to survive in the bayou and rebuilt their lives with the little (humanity) they’ve got left. The book reads very much like a Cormac McCarthy novel, both in tone and content, but it’s much easier to palate during the gritty moments (read: less depressing and less descriptive of gore … most of…

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Part 2 – Mark Russell, writer of DC Comics’ Flintstones and Prez – Book Club Discussion

A few weeks back, I shared a blog post from Tacoma’s Stargazer Comics Toys & Games about my friend Mark Russell‘s visit and discussion at Stargazer’s monthly book club. We were discussing, of course, the first trade volume of Mark’s brilliant Flintstones series from DC Comics, and, with Mark’s permission, the owners taped the conversation and have been posting the entire transcript on their blog. The reblog a few weeks ago was Part 1 of that transcript; this is Part 2. (Part 3 is still on its way!) And if you haven’t read The Flintstones yet, SPOILER ALERT! and get yourself to your local comic book shop and grab the first trade volume!

Stargazer Comics, Toys & Games

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– This picks up immediately after Part 1, which can be found here:
https://stargazercomics.wordpress.com/2017/04/27/part-1-mark-russell-writer-of-dc-comics-flintstones-and-prez-book-club-discussion/

ST: It seems that, unless people are forced outside of their comfort zone of taking orders and asking about fries, most people don’t actively try to use their “computer.”

MR: Well yeah, we numb them. They’re so exhausted, dealing with these mundane, uninteresting questions… when they go home, they don’t want to deal with the world.

They associate the world with boredom and hardship….

ST: YEP!

[roaring laughter]

ST: So we’ve touched on this a little bit, but in the Flintstones, there’s a lot of critique of Western society, American society…

Generally, what are your thoughts on our modern society? On the citizenry of this country? Stratification of power…

What do you think about where we are right now?

MR: What I hope we’re seeing is the last gasp of the entrenchment of these…

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