Wednesday, March 6, 2019

#23 Inside the Emotion of Fiction's "There Is No Other Way to Worship Them" by Samuel Snoek-Brown

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***Samuel Snoek-Brown’s There Is No Other Way To Worship Them is the twenty-third in a never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece. 

Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? There Is No Other Way to Worship Them. This was always the title of this story collection.  It comes from “Mujeres Divinas,” a ranchera song by Vicente Fernández that I was listening to as I wrote one of the stories in the collection, and the theme of that song became one of the unifying factors in pulling all the stories together.

Fiction genre?  Ex science fiction, short story, fantasy novella, romance, drama, crime, plays, flash fiction, historical, comedy,  etc.  And how many pages long? So much of my fiction lives in the blurry gray borders between genres and I struggle with naming what I write. This book includes historical fiction, magical realism, realistic fiction, regionalism, with moments of horror, moments of suspense, moments of a kind of anti-romance, moments of comedy. 
Structurally, the 214-page collection is a story cycle, but I typically think of story cycles as either literally cyclic, each story turning into the next, or as a tangle of myriad interconnections between all the stories. This collection of nine stories is more a cycle-of-cycles: each three-story set is intimately connected, but all three sets also overlap thematically or geographically or narratively. So I’ve been calling the book a “braided collection.”

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no.   If yes, what publisher and what publication date? Blue Cactus Press published this book in October 2018. (It’s still a newborn!)

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? With a story collection, that’s a tricky question. The oldest story in the book began in fall 1994, but I kept working it over and over for years and didn’t arrive at a final draft of that story until 2015. 

The youngest story in the book I wrote specifically to tie together some of the other stories, so I drafted it with the collection in mind and finished it in fall 2017, just a few months before I signed a contract with Blue Cactus Press. In term of when I first conceived of the stories as a collective whole? Three of the stories began life as a chapbook something like eight years ago, but the chapbook never really went anywhere and in the process of trying to rework the smaller collection, I began adding stories in early 2017 and the book took shape about six months later.

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work?  And please describe in detail.  And can you please include a photo? I was all over the map with this book -- literally. I began drafting the oldest story in the collection during a work break in the back room of an Italian restaurant where I was a pizza chef in the Texas Hill Country.

 Other stories I wrote in college dorm rooms or during graduate workshops, both also in Texas. A couple I wrote at my writing desk in our flat in Abu Dhabi when I lived overseas, and a couple others I wrote in my armchair in the tiny living room of our tiny apartment in Portland, Oregon. The first story in the book I wrote in the book in my study at the back of our first house in Portland, and the most recent story I wrote in my current study in our home in Tacoma, Washington.

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? I don’t usually follow any one writing routine. In my academic career, my schedule is always fluctuating, and while I prefer to write at night (I am NOT a morning person), I often teach morning classes and can’t stay up as late as I’d like to. So I’ve learned over the years to write whenever and wherever I have the time. (I’m answering these questions in my office at Pierce College, knocking out a response or two between meetings with students. I also have timelines and maps for my current novel-in-progress here so I can write when I have the time.) 

I do, however, usually write to music. Sometimes I just choose a random playlist for mood or listen to music from the same decade as my story. Often, though, I’ll construct elaborate soundtracks of thematically and tonally appropriately songs arranged to follow character development or plot. A lot of my fiction is even informed by or inspired by music. For the stories in this book, I sometimes simply listened for mood, but for the most border-oriented stories, I listened to a lot of Mexican music, from traditional ballads to ranchera music (whence the title comes) to Tejano. And for some of the more contemporary Texas stories, I put on Texas musicians from Toadies and Slobberbone to Robert Earl Keen and Townes Van Zandt.

What is the summary of your fiction work? I always find it difficult to summarize a collection of stories. It’s a collection of stories set on and around the Texas-Mexico border and wrestled with the boundaries, real and imagined, that we created in our lives. 

But that makes for poor small-talk, so instead I like to tell people about the 150-year-old pothead giant tortoise in the book, or the matriarchal lineage of witches who heal some men and curse others, or the guy who falls in love with a kitchen knife. My publisher, who is better at this than I am, describes the book as “a mesmerizing collection of short stories set in Mexico and Texas woven together with themes of violence, mysticism and failures in the pursuit of love.”

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? In this story, "The Penitent Go to Texas" the main character, Val, is struggling with the haunting memory of a former girlfriend, a woman he fears might have come back into his life following a traumatic experience with her decades ago, in Val’s young adulthood. Alternating seeking out this former girlfriend and trying to avoid her, and wracked by these unexpected memories, Val is questioning his religious faith but also is seeing his relationship with his wife with a renewed appreciation.

Please include excerpt and include page numbers as reference.  The excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer. Val woke in the night to the yowl of a cat in the street. In a rush he jogged to the toilet to piss. When he returned, he ran a hand among the sheets then slipped into them. He stared at the window gauzed in thin curtains for a long time, listening and thinking of nothing at all. Then he rolled onto his side and watched his wife in the blue light from the street lamp through the curtains. He mouthed her name, Gwen, but he didn’t want to wake her -- he mouthed it only to name her, like Adam in the Garden: Here is my wife.

He lay on his back and tried to recall more details of that other woman from all those years ago. Not the woman he’d seen in the streets but the younger Cecily, the first woman he’d ever been with. Yet no distinct features occurred to him. Even the color of her hair had left him; he thought it might have been a darkish blonde, but it could just as easily have been bronze or even auburn. He never had known the color of her eyes. He arranged his memories of that night until he recalled at last the pendulous weight of each breast as he uncupped them from her bra. For a few moments, he enjoyed the hazy reminiscence of her warm and soft in that trailer. But then he recollected what had happened after, and he let the memories go. Turned in the blankets and studied his wife instead.

Gwen breathed in the indigo dark. He extended an arm with his finger outheld to stroke her cheek but thought better of it. She seemed a hologram made from the blue night’s light, and he worried that if he touched her she would shimmer and dissolve. He thought of what it was like when he kissed her, the press of her lips beneath his mustache and the sweet scent of her breath. He closed his eyes and pictured the curve of her hip where it met her thigh, the place he liked to hold when they made love. When he opened his eyes, he watched her as one watches a plane receding in the sky, waiting for the moment it becomes too small and disappears. But his wife remained as she was, breathing steadily on. What luck he’d had. He held his breath and stilled his body, then he slipped his fingers into her curled hand. She stirred and lolled her head but did not wake. He exhaled, and closed his eyes again, and slept.


At breakfast he told his wife the story, his eyes on his eggs as they went cold. He left out the part about seeing the man in the shed, told her only about Cecily crying after him in the dark as he ran.

Gwen said, That’s a hell of a tale.

That’s one way to put it.

You ever see her again?

Val thought for several minutes, the images of the woman in the H-E-B, at the garden shop. Other times he’d seen a woman driving a car in town, and he’d turned away down a side road just in case it was her. All these detours in his life the past months. He didn’t tell Gwen any of this.

I heard stories about her, he said. That she’d taken to driving past my house in the night until I finally went off to Amarillo for work. Heard later she’d got pregnant again by God knows who.

But not by you.

Hell no, not by me.

Gwen covered his hand with hers and said, I kind of worried that’s why you were telling me the story.

Val said, Well. He moved his gaze from his plate to the table but not to her. No, that ain’t it at all. But I have been thinking. The thing I wonder sometimes is if that girl was onto something. Sometimes I worry I did wrong running out on her, like I might have got onto God's bad side for it.

God’s got no bad side that I know of. No good side either. He just is.

I don't know. Just seems I been feeling more religious lately, thinking about that girl. You ever feel maybe we need more religion in our life?

Val, let me tell you about religion. You can have all the trappings and the ceremonies and the mumbo jumbo you want. You can read prayers out a book or dance in the aisles or just do like the Amish, sit and stare at each other for a hour or so. You can have priests and popes or no preachers at all. I believe myself a Christian, but I’ll tell you, I think every religion there is boils down to this: It’s about security, about having a purpose in life, a reason to wake up in the morning. It’s about knowing the world’s the way it’s supposed to be and that if something goes wrong with that, someone’ll be there to help you through it. And darling, you are my religion.


From “The Penitent Go to Texas,” 154-156, 173-175

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you?  And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? Around the time I was working on this this iteration of the story, a reader and friend casually remarked that I didn’t have many love stories. All the romances in my fiction at that time were damaged, people suffering from near-misses or abusive love. 
That kind of conflict can make for compelling story, but I decided I wanted to write something like a genuine kind of love. So I gave Val a wife and named her Gwen, a play on Guinevere, from which we get the name Jennifer, which is my own amazing wife’s name. Val is his own man and Gwen is a very different sort of woman than my wife, but the love Val holds for Gwen is very much based on my relationship with my wife. Those quiet moments in the dark, the need for a reassuring touch, the supportive conversations at the dinner table -- these are all drawn from life. And they’re some of my favorite passages I’ve ever written.

Other works you have published? An historical novel, Hagridden (Columbus Press, 2014, and two chapbooks: Box Cutters (sunnyoutside press 2013, sold out) and Where There Is Ruin (Red Bird Chapbooks 2016,

Samuel Snoek-Brown teaches and writes in the Pacific Northwest. He’s the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden and the flash-fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin. He also works as a production editor for Jersey Devil Press, and he lives online at He’s the recipient of a 2013 Oregon Literary Fellowship and has been shortlisted in the Faulkner-Wisdom competition, twice for short fiction and once for his novella. He was also a finalist in the 2013 story South Million Writers Award.


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