Ever wonder how authors get those great ideas for their novels?
“Boredom,” says Maria V. Snyder, author of 15 novels, including “Poison Study,” a fantasy book just selected for the 2018 “One Book, One Community” (OBOC) program.
OBOC is a community-wide reading program that includes more than 40 public libraries in Cumberland, Dauphin, Perry and York counties, along with individual colleges and specialty libraries.
This is OBOC’s 15th year, and Snyder’s “Poison Study” joins the ranks of such past esteemed selections as “The Kite Runner” (2006), “The Help” (2011) and “The Orphan Train” (2015).
OBOC launched in Seattle in 1998 and has been adopted by other cities like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia (to name a few). The idea is to promote a book that will engage readers in a common discussion.
Participants in the 2018 program will read during the month of January and then attend free programs and discussion groups in February. This marks the first year that a local author’s book has been selected for OBOC in central PA.
Snyder, a Lancaster resident, began writing while working as an environmental meteorologist at a consulting firm.
“In my line of work, summers were our down time,” she said. “I was always a big reader and a creative person. So, out of boredom during slow times at work, I started jotting down ideas for short stories. I’ll admit they were what I’d call, ‘cheesy sci-fi.’”
She took one of her pieces to a Philadelphia writer’s conference and submitted it for critique.
“I struggled in high school with grammar and essays, and, if my submission had not received the mark that it did—a 7 out of 10—I would’ve given up, thinking I didn’t have what it takes to become a writer,” she said.
Snyder took time off from her job as a meteorologist to have children. In the meantime, she sat on the board of the Elizabethtown Public Library as a member of the programming committee. One of her program ideas was to offer writing classes at the library.
She had to overcome two hurdles. First, the library didn’t have a room for the planned six-week course, and, secondly, she couldn’t find anyone interested in teaching. Snyder called Elizabethtown College, hoping to rent a classroom. Interestingly enough, the college also wanted to introduce an evening creative writing course, but could not find an instructor. So, she volunteered to teach the classes.
“In 1997, I began writing my first novel, “Poison Study,” she said. “I attended a monthly critique group and submitted one chapter at a time for review. I couldn’t find an agent or publisher—no one was interested. I didn’t want to go back to work as meteorologist, and I liked teaching, so I decided to go back to school and get my MA in creative writing from Seton Hill University.”
Snyder put in her application for Seton Hill, a liberal arts college located in Greensburg, Pa. She also sent out query letters to write nonfiction in Harrisburg Magazine while she searched for an agent for her middle-grade novel, “Storm Watcher.”
“Crickets—I heard nothing from anyone,” she said.
But then, in October 2003, she received the call that every aspiring author dreams about.
“When I answered the phone, I was confused at first because the lady had a British accent, and I thought she wanted to talk to my husband—he worked for an international company,” she said. “But she was from the U.K. office of Harlequin, and she wanted to publish ‘Poison Study.’”
They loved her novel and wanted another. A few days later, an agent called about “Storm Watcher” and offered to take her on as a client. That same month, Harrisburg Magazine invited her to a meeting to discuss her articles. And she received an acceptance letter from Seton Hill to attend graduate school.
“They say someday your ship will come in,” she said. “Well, that month, a whole flotilla arrived!”
Snyder’s been busy writing and teaching ever since.
“Poison Study,” published in 2005, has become part of a New York Times bestselling series. Originally geared toward adults, the book has a garnered a strong young adult following. She has penned several additional award-winning series. Her novels have been translated into 17 languages, are sold in 24 countries and have even received a movie rights option.
“Though that never went anywhere,” she said.
Snyder also teaches creative writing and mentors at Seton Hill’s low-residency (non-campus) MFA program. She facilitates various workshops and speaks at schools and libraries. She loves to travel and uses her jaunts as an opportunity to gather story ideas and write articles about her experiences.
She hopes that her selection in OBOC will give her more notice locally.
She especially would like more schools to become aware of her middle-grade series, “Storm Watcher,” which allowed her to put her knowledge of weather and meteorology to use. The series includes a fact-filled appendix and focuses on a young boy who is fascinated by the weather, though he has a severe weather phobia.
“I’m a rock star in Australia,” she said. “But it’s rare for me to meet someone who’s heard of me as an author within my own community.”
With “Poison Study” as the official selection of the 2018 “One Book, One Community” program, that’s now about to change.
Learn more about “One Book, One Community” at www.oboc.org.