Thursday, July 1, 2010

Author Interview: Cheryl Snell

Here are some questions I asked Cheryl Snell author of Shiva's Arms

Where are you from?
Alberta, Canada, eh.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I published a poem in an excellent journal whose rep dwarfed my previous publications

What inspired you to write your first book?
Inspiration didn’t enter in. I had published about 65 poems and a few stories in lit journals and the logical next step was to put together a collection of poetry.

Do you have a specific writing style?
I write in a lyric narrative style. A critic/professor recently said I was an American surrealist. I like that.

How did you come up with the title, Shiva’s Arms?
It came to me when I was at McDonald’s with my Mom one day. It had all the elements I needed, incorporating the Hindu god of creation AND destruction, comparing that entity to Amma (who did plenty of C&D herself). All the god’s arms reminded me of Amma’s push-pull with Alice.

Is there a message in Shiva’s Arms that you want readers to grasp?
Much of literature focuses on the idea of Home, and I thought it would be interesting, in this book, to take a culture clash, complicate it, and see how the characters worked out a way to see one another as individuals as well as family.

How much of Shiva’s Arms is realistic?
The basis for the story is drawn from my life (American girl marries Hindu boy) but the characters are fictional. Details are drawn from South Indian culture, researched and fact-checked. Like Emily Dickinson, I want to put “real toads in my imaginary garden”.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The action in the story certainly could have happened to me, if I had married a more traditional guy. In our social circle, there are plenty of attitudes similar to those I write about, and I’ve witnessed the results in real life, from my place as observer.

Did you learn anything from writing Shiva’s Arms and what was it?
Aside from learning how to shape a long narrative and control my characters, I learned that societal memes do perpetuate. Traditions in old cultures will continue to be passed down, and change will only come slowly. But the Christian ideal of reconciliation has great power.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in Shiva’s Arms?
No. After many drafts and remodels, I’m quite satisfied.

What books have most influenced your life most?
Looking at my library of a thousand or so volumes, my eye goes straight to Shakespeare’s plays and Flaubert’s Sentimental Education.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Alice Munro, for her wisdom.

What book are you reading now?
I like to read several at once: Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift, and Roth’s Dying Animal are right on top of the pile on my bedside table.

What are your current projects?
Another volume of short stories, another book of poetry with art by my sister, and a new novel. Working on several types of writing at the same time prevents writer’s block!

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
My father liked to write and I followed suit, writing little poems and stories for family birthdays and celebrations.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Knowing when a piece is finally finished. For awhile afterward, the characters still seem to want attention, one last try for another effect or plot point. Overworking a piece can leave it blurred, all the spontaneity drained. You have to know when to quit.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?
“Killing your darlings” in order to make it new.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Standard advice: write every day, and read more than you write. Workshops are good, or at least a fresh pair of eyes to look at your work. “Write what you know” may be good advice, but I’d rather learn something new well enough to be able to write about it.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I’d like to thank them for reading my work. It’s the highest compliment for any writer.

Thank you!!!
It was my pleasure.

**If you would like to win a copy of Cheryl's book Shiva's Arms leave a comment or question for her and your email address. I will notify the winner by email and they will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. Giveaway ends 7/8**


  1. Thanks for that, Allison! I'm ready for you, Readers---ask me anything!

  2. Hi Cheryl,

    Just wanted to let you know I think your book, Shiva's Arms is a wonderfully written book and i found learning about Indian culture fascinating.

    My question is this: Did you know the ending before you started writing?

  3. Hi Nanette,

    No. I chipped away at it like a sculptor chips away at all the marble that isn't the statue, until the statue is revealed.

    I wanted to use an image that had already been woven throughout the story, building meaning. I needed a symbol that was both cultural and particular to the Sambashivan family, and this one fit exactly. When I saw it on the page, it gave me goose bumps--the litmus test!

  4. Hi Cheryl,

    Very poetic way of describing - until the statue is revealed.

    Is one of the arms of Shiva creation?


  5. The drum in his upper right hand symbolizes creation, Nanette.

  6. Cheryl, I didn't know you were originally from Canada...learned something new! Enjoyed the interview:)

  7. Thanks, Shae! The Canadian connection is kind of a footnote - my parents emigrated when I was 7 months old.
    Read any good books lately? ;D

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