>tapping into wisdom: meet cheryl snell


Let me introduce you to Cheryl Snell. The above is a portrait of Cheryl, as her sister Janet sees her. Cool, huh. I became interested in Cheryl’s work by way of her poetry. After she hooked me with her poetry, I became aware of her book, Shiva’s Arms. The wait for the book to come out was worth it.  Direct from its own website:

When Alice marries Ramesh, she is plunged into a battle of wills with her mother-in-law. Namesake of a god, Amma reigns over Alice’s household until a family secret is revealed that costs the old woman everything. Now it is up to Alice to heal the rift, as Shiva’s Arms evolves into an exploration on cultural identity, the power of reconciliation, and the meaning of home.

Interesting, isn’t it! Cheryl will be stopping by today to comment and will provide us with a link to her facebook site where we will learn more about Cheryl and her novel, but for those of you without a facebook connection, here is a little more about the book and Cheryl:

Q: This book draws from some personal experience. How do you negotiate with those in your real life when portions of them appear in your work?

A: Deny, deny, deny. Everyone knows an Amma, an Alice, a Ram. Maybe they recognize themselves out of a guilty conscience! Seriously though, if a person thinks they see a bit of themselves floating around my pages, I tell them about the nature of fiction.

My book went through so many changes, the details I drew from life were more often objects than people or actual events. But it is funny when people go from “you’d better not talk about that!” to “let me tell you exactly the way that happened,” isn’t it?

Q: I was especially drawn into the story because of the mixed cultures. I had been married to a man from Germany and my Irishness at times didn’t blend with his culture. I admire the way you’ve addressed these issues in the book and yet allowed each character to maintain their own identity. What were your resources when it came time to draw upon such wisdom?

A: I drew on my life experience for that. My husband and I were in our early thirties when we met, and had no interest in merging or changing one another to conform to family expectations. We felt too old and set in our ways! Of course, my characters needed more conflict and I had to complicate their lives. It was from my perch as an observer that I was able to witness the way other families coped with culture clash, divided loyalties, and the momentous act of immigration. The tug between family and self interest, belonging and perceived rootlessness, has been a real eye opener for me.

Q: As a child I read books which helped guide me in the Lessons in Life. I also read as an escape from reality, so I was drawn to stories from faraway places, books with adventure and exploration. Your book addresses all of this for me. What are you drawn to when you read and what are you reading now?

A: My tastes are fickle and promiscuous. Eclectic, maybe. I trust the opinion of my body when I read. Does the hair on the back of my neck stand up? Do I get goose bumps? Does the top of my head want to blow off? I like literary fiction and contemporary poetry. I want to learn how other people think about situations I will never experience.

On my nightstand right now are Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift, Roth’s Dying Animal, and a particularly luminous poetry collection entitled Making Good Use of August.

 (edited in to display a big surprised grin by yours truly! )

Q:Shifting focus, as a writer, how do you balance the time you spend writing with the rest of your life? Do you at times feel slightly removed from what is going on in your day when you have a story in your head you are trying to write down?

A:Removed and cranky! I feel that way while I’m physically creating a piece, too, even if it’s going well. I’m in a race with my energy level to finish.

When I was younger, I thought I needed ideal circumstances – a long chunk of uninterrupted time, a sufficient accompaniment of coffee, the right chair, soft or bright enough light – to get any real writing done. Now I’m not so fussy. I read once that Joyce Carol Oates writes in her head while she’s doing housework. I can dig it.

Q:What do you do when you suffer from writer’s block?

A: Switch genres, and if that doesn’t work, learn something foreign.

Q: I know you are a poet (and I admire your poetry!)- what nutures you more? Writing poetry or prose? How do the two blend together when you write?

A: Poetry is my first love. I came to it very un-romantically, though. I started to write it in earnest after I suffered back-to-back neurological incidents, way back when. Brain surgery left me with aphasia and the practice of choosing the exact word helped with that. Good medicine!

The poetry flows into the fiction. It’s in the image and sound, the rhythm of the sentences, the silences between them.

Q: I’ve been following your blog tour for some weeks and noticed you’ve been waiting to be asked: What is your true subject?

A: In all my work, the past is present, and the future is, too. Outside or within the mortal there is always the immortal. That conflation is my true subject.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share at this time?

A: I’d like to thank you for your time and generosity and kindness.


About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit. website: https://toomuchaugust.wordpress.com

25 responses to “>tapping into wisdom: meet cheryl snell

  1. >Wonderful interview! I want more. I look forward to the facebook link. Thank you so much.

  2. >Hello, Kass! Your wish is my command– http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cheryl-Snell/44443962991?ref=tsSherry, thanks so much for having me today, and for asking the penetrating questions!

  3. >i like what you said about "everyone knows an amma". in reading the book, i felt exactly that way. the ways in which alice dealt with (or didn't) her mother-in-law gave me pause. i reconsidered my own interactions with some of the ammas in my own life. and i also thought about how i might unknowingly be an amma challenge to others in my life.

  4. >Amma really earns her keep as the namesake of a god, doesn't she? Believers say that Lord Shiva's footfalls can be felt across entire continents, and the same could be said of Amma/Shiva's. But she really thinks she's defending her traditions against the interloper, and she's convinced she's in the right.She probably never heard the quote, "Be kind to all you meet for everyone is fighting a great battle."

  5. >OMG! I have in my hands at this moment (at work, but taking a mini-break) Memento Mori by the Snell sisters. I love this kind of coincidence, and I love this chance to learn more! Wow!

  6. >Hi, Kathleen! Well, I got a little chill just then. I should introduce you to my sister Janet- a lot of her work can be found on the blog we keep together, Scattered Light. It's at http://www.snellsisters.blogspot.comOur collaborations are of her art and my poetry, and recently I've started making videos of the same. Very different from my Indian – inspired fiction.

  7. >my interest in videos with a blend of poetry and art has spiked largely due to the work the snell sisters have been sharing online. this is something i'd like to learn more of. cheryl, there is a trailer of your book on your shiva's arms website. how did that come about?

  8. >When our very old computer burnt out and my husband brought home this lovely laptop, I found the Windows Movie Maker program in it. I looked up some YouTube tutorials and, although I am a technological nincompoop, I tried it out.After the trailer,I made a vid with Janet's linocuts and Billie Holiday's music for Nanette Rayman Rivera's memoir, and it got lots of hits. Then I started to set my poems to Janet's art, and accompany them with my own reading and lately, my own piano playing.I wasn't going to try to publish these, but the editor for Sea Stories asked for one and it's on their site now. That one doesn't have Janet's art though.

  9. >I will check out your blog, and add it to my blogroll, like Sherry's!

  10. >Much obliged, Kathleen. I'm happy we ran into one another here!

  11. >cheryl, one of these days i'll be trying that moviemaker- your video poems are wonderful.hi kathleen- i love the way one thing leads to another and that this blog has led you to cheryl's blog. inspiration begats inspiration. cheryl, one of the other dynamics i was drawn to in shiva's arms was that of the son born to parents of mixed cultures. care to talk some more about that?

  12. >While Ram is a symbol of assimilation, Sam stands in for the push-back against his father's choices, and lets himself be tugged into Amma's traditionalism. This type of rebellion-the Oedipus vs Saturn kind of thing – is present also in Hindu myths.And of course in our era the pull between modern and reactionary is fierce. I thought it would be interesting to dramatize that.

  13. >on your facebook page we discussed the contrast between brother and sister's moving away from traditional roles. the sister's path away from family cultural and traditions was harder than it was for her brother. i find this to be true in the family i was once married into as well.

  14. >Amma's burning evidence her daughter's existence for bringing the family the "shame" of individuating is not far-fetched in some quarters, and that's pitiful. It happens to the young men as well. The family invests in the future of a particular son and he is expected to fulfill that role forever. When my husband got his first teaching job, his family presented him with a fiance he'd never met. Don't you have anything better to do with your time, he said. Lucky for me.

  15. >Hi Cheryl! Some interesting topics discussed, I have heard the question "Who is that about?" so often, and I get tired of saying "it's not an autobiography." Always love your poems, and i'll be sure to let you know when I've read Shiva's Arms. Fascinating interview!

  16. >Brent, it's so nice of you to stop by! Do you think folks believe us when we say our books are not autobiographical? Once I wrote a sad little poem with an 'I' narrator, and another poet very earnestly asked after my mental health. What to do?Thanks for your kind words about my poems.

  17. >OK, I wrote about sisters today, reading the same books in the shop where I work, so I also wrote about the Snell Sisters, and suggested that readers come here!!

  18. >I enjoyed that! Rocking coincidii.

  19. >Hey Cheryl,Yeah, that's the truly annoying part to me. I don't think they do believe us! Which is too bad because one response I hate to get is "Are you alright?" How about I like that piece (or even don't?) I guess on the plus side, it does mean they're connecting with the work on some level!

  20. >Hi Cheryl,Just a note to tell everyone what a beautifully written book Shiva's Arms is. Love Alice and the development of her character.bestxon.

  21. >Nice interview, and cool pic! I'll go over to the Facebook link…. You have a German ex Sherry, & I have a German mother. There may be some parallel experiences there!

  22. penjandrum

    >After reading your interview and comments I've bought a copy from Amazon. Not many left in stock there now. :)I'm looking forward to sending everyone out to collect pinecones and settling down in front of a nice warm fire with the dog,cats, and book.Penny

  23. >Is this book available in large print? It seems like it would be a great addition to our Outreach Dept.

  24. >hi brent,nice to meet you here! i related to your comments because i've had a few people "wish me well" after they've read some of my poems (!) cheryl's poetry invites me in and takes me places that i find nourishing. same with her novel.hi kathleen,i'm late to thanking you for commenting and pointing your readers to cheryl's interview. i'm off to read about your sisters post. and here is my pointing figure, directing everyone to your blog.hi nanette,nice to have you here! you pointed out another quality about the book i enjoyed- watching alice develop throughout the book. the saying about people never change and i like how shiva's arms share the development of a character as she grows and learns about life.hi rose,i bet we do have some common experiences, then! i love my german former-laws and they love my irish-german kids. my kids and i often discuss what they've inherited from their father's german upbringing. one of these days you and i will have to sit down and talk. hi penny-that is great! i envy you with the pinecone gatherers and that warm fire. hope to see and read about it in your blog soon!hi rox-i'll check into that with cheryl and her publisher. i'm interested in knowing more about the outreach program you are involved in. tell me more!

  25. >Hello everyone,Is this party still going on? Why, you troupers!Thanks again for making this blog stop special for me, Sherry. I appreciate all your effort on my behalf.Rox, I emailed my publisher with your question. A large print edition is not yet available, but Shana Johnson (the publisher) asks that you email her at shana@writerslairbooks.com, if you'd like to talk about it.Thanks again, everyone!Cheryl

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