Face of the Valley: Sarah Snider draws inspiration from her life, and New Kensington, for first novel

Sarah Snider didn’t put her own name on her first book, “The Metamorphosis of Becca.”

“Because I was chicken,” said Snider, 61, of Allegheny Township. “It’s a very vulnerable thing to put a book out into the world.”

Friends and colleagues who read the book before its February publication had given her positive feedback. But in the months since, good reviews from general readers gave her confidence the necessary boost. Now, “I’m very comfortable with my name being attached to it,” she said.

Snider released her novel on Amazon as “Jocelyn Kraemer.” It honors the name given to the child she lost in a miscarriage; the last name honors her grandmother, Virginia Kraemer.

She began work on the story right after leaving her job as executive director of New Kensington’s redevelopment authority in November 2020, which she had started in January 2018. She previously helped create the “Corridor of Innovation” on the city’s Fifth Avenue, a zone of economic revitalization and precursor to the opening of The Corner, Penn State New Kensington’s innovation center and coworking space.

Snider said she retired to focus on family and writing. She and her husband, Penn State New Kensington Chancellor Kevin Snider, have been married 36 years and have two sons.

“I really wanted to write fiction. I’d been too busy,” she said. “It’s challenging to learn both the craft of fiction versus technical writing, storytelling versus applying for funds for a project. I had no idea what was actually involved in publishing the book.

“I feel like I jumped into a whole new world.”

A native of Berkeley, Calif., Snider and her husband met as undergraduates at San Francisco State University. They both went to American University in Washington, DC, for graduate school. They lived in Terre Haute, Ind., for 13 years before coming to the Alle-Kiski Valley in 2008 when Kevin Snider became chancellor.

“We love it here,” she said.

Before the redevelopment authority, Snider worked for about 25 years in health policy, education, access and innovation, work that included economic and community development.

The fictional world Snider created in “The Metamorphosis of Becca” draws heavily on her own life, the work she’s done, the people she’s met and New Kensington.

“I wanted to write about some deep themes that are important to me, but through a story that is entertaining, easy to read and leaves people feeling hopeful,” she said.

The title character, Becca Clarke, is in remission from cancer. Snider had in mind two people, one a mentor and the other a colleague, who each died from cancer.

The story is set in Marston, a small Rust Belt town outside Pittsburgh similar to New Kensington. The name is a nod to comic book writer William Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman, who, like her main character, is a strong woman fighting for something.

“There are subtle references to Wonder Woman throughout the book that may or may not be noticeable,” she said.

Like Snider has, Becca participates in a triathlon, which serves as a metaphor for cycling through the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Another thread in the story is revitalization, renewal and rebirth, for both Becca and Marston.

Snider said Becca is not her, but “all the characters have something of me in them.”

Snider struggled with what genre the book fits into—romance, women’s fiction, sports fiction. “This book really, truly is taking your pick,” she said.

Snider is working on a second book in the Marston series, which she hopes to publish early next year, and is outlining a second separate series of books.

She’s not wanting to put out books too quickly. “I still have too much to learn and want to learn,” she said.

With Becca’s story concluded, the next Marston book will focus on a minor character from the first while set in the same place. Marston’s revitalization will be an arc over the entire series.

“There’s been a lot of learning,” Snider said. “Hopefully, the book is good and people will like it. I hope my best work is yet to come.”

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, brittmeyer@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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