Chemeketa instructor writes his first novel
By Willadean Wright Photo By Brad Bakke
Sam Snoek-Brown, who teaches writing at Chemeketa’s Yamhill campus, acts on his passion.
He says, “I’ve always been eager to share the things I learn, and the thing I’ve learned best is writing.”
Even though his novel, Hagridden, is now in print, it didn’t happen overnight.
“The first draft took me two weeks; I wrote it during National Novel Writing Month in November 2009,” he says. “I first had the idea in spring 2005, almost exactly a decade ago, and I spent four years kicking around ideas and taking notes.”
That was just the beginning.
He says that he spent another few years researching and revising his initial draft, including taking a trip to Louisiana that was funded by Literary Arts, which granted Snoek-Brown an Oregon Literary Fellowship for the book in 2013.
“That summer I did one more revision and started sending the book around,” he says. “And from there, it took a little more than a year to find a publisher and another 10 months or so to go to press.”
For Snoek-Brown, theory was important but the practical application of that theory was even more vital.
“I hear a lot of students complain that they dislike writing, or that they think they’re no good at writing. And that’s fine. I don’t think anyone has to love writing,” he says.
“You can make writing worthwhile if you work to make it yours.”
Snoek-Brown’s family moved from Oregon to Texas when he was a toddler. He has profound memories of both states.
“I grew up looking at my parents’ slideshows,” he says of his early memories of his home state. “It was beautiful – so wet, cool, and green. Also, I liked Oregon’s history of ecological stewardship.
“These things called to me when I was growing up in Texas.”
These early memories helped to draw him back, years later.
“Oregon always felt like Shangri-La to me, this magical place I had known in a dream once and always wanted to get back to,” he says.
His eventual return home took him first to the United Arab Emirates, where he and his wife worked for three years.
“We began planning to head back to the States, but this was at the peak of the recession and jobs were scarce,” he says. “We realized that we stood no chance of finding work until we’d already moved back to the States.
“We eventually realized a kind of freedom in that: Since we would have to find work wherever we moved to, we were free to move wherever we wanted.”
He calls the move to Oregon has “been one of the best decisions we ever made together.”
Snoek-Brown earned a bachelor of arts degree from Schreiner University, a master’s degree at Texas A&M, and a Ph.D at the University of North Texas.
“I was an English major all the way, bachelor through Ph,D,” he says.
His interest in writing began in earnest at Schreiner University when he two other students decided to resurrect the then-defunct student newspaper, The Mountaineer.
“It was me, a photographer, and a friend who saved the newspaper,” he says. “She had brought me on board to help as a writer, but since it was just the two of us actually writing and laying out the thing, I got the title of assistant editor.
“The next semester, the editor went to London to study abroad, and I took over as editor. By then, the newspaper staff had expanded, we had a journalism class, and we wound up restructuring the paper.
“It was an exciting time.”
Snoek-Brown returned to Oregon in 2011 and began teaching a variety of writing and literature classes at Chemeketa’s Yamhill campus in the fall.
Aubrey Jarvis, one of Snoek-Brown’s former students and the current president of the Writing Club, says, “As an instructor, he made learning easy to apply to real-world situations and fun to learn.
“For example, I took a research class … and we wrote papers through the lens of pop culture. We were able to use the topics he taught us and apply them in relevant, creative outlet.
“To this day it was one of my favorite classes. … It is so incredibly evident that he loves the subject he teaches.”
Snoek-Brown says, “I’m certainly amazed at what my students bring me. It’s one of my favorite things about teaching. One of my main goals as a teacher is to get students to realize that they’re already better writers than they think they are.”
His advice to those who want to write?
“Treat the craft of writing seriously,” he says. “Use the skills you learn in class, own the words you use, take yourself seriously as a writer, and you’ll be amazed at what you can manage on the page.”
Changing hats from instructor to novelist Snoek-Brown’s novel, Hagridden, was published last year. It focuses on two women who are alone in the bayou and try to survive after everyone they know has left or died in the war.
Emily Hitchcock is a publicist for Columbia Press Books, which published the novel.
“Sam is a fantastic author and an all-around interesting human being,” she says. “It was the best book I read in 2014.”
Snoek-Brown says, “Hagridden is the latest literary historical novel set in the Louisiana bayou during the Civil War. It’s not about the war itself, though, at least not in the sense of battlefields and politics. It’s more about the people war leaves behind.
“As a writer, I’m much more interested in internal conflict than external conflict, and the Civil War was America’s internal conflict.”
Snoek-Brown says that he was a Civil War nerd as a kid, “so I love stories related to that time period.”
Brad Pauguette, the Columbus Press publisher, is a Snoek-Brown fan.
“Sam’s a great human being,” he says. “Not only can he write a fine book. He’s committed to the art of writing, and he’s concerned for his local and global community.
“He’s also a great resource for younger writers on how to balance the dynamics of publishing as an industry with the inherent desire for self-expression and artistic integrity.”
Snoek-Brown says, “I have a couple of chapbooks out on the market right now, also a full-length story cycle – a collection of short stories all linked together in some way – under consideration with a publisher.
“In the meantime, I’m trying to work on my next novel.”