Pictures w/ Jen Snyder: Photographer Extraordinaire


At some point most families opt for the FAMILY PHOTO.  You know, the Christmas picture, the Beach picture, the School picture, the Visiting Grandparents picture.  Whatever.  If you are like me,  it has been waaaay toooo long since you’ve had a family photo.  In fact, I can’t even remember how long.  Enter: Jen from

This whole thing had to be done, but I was nervous about keeping four kids focused and my husband home from work and trying to get everyone ready before the perfect light was gone.  Instead, the whole experience was informal and even, dare I say it, fun.  The beauty is in the story of the photo, the story that Jen created without a single word. As a writer, that boggles my mind.  Forget Flash Fiction, the photographer’s task is a story with zero syllables.  Well, look at the picture.  She’s an artist, drawing on symmetry and color, different lenses and filters.   But, when you are in front of the camera you don’t think of any of those things.  You are just laughing because she’s so funny.











So, this made me wonder if I could tell a story with pictures.  Obviously, though, I would need a COUPLE words.  I’m a writer.  Here goes:

A boy dreams of reaching the stars.  And, also sending a soaring stink bug 70 feet in the air.  His father helps him, because this is a loving story.

DSCN0443        Then  CONFLICT.


Strong protagonist

That’s okay.  This story just needs a STRONG FEMALE PROTAGONIST.  And then, you have VICTORY.                 Victory


Finally, set up for the sequel.End


And, that is how I would write a picture story (or, an afternoon at the Woosley House).




P.S. The stink bug was not harmed in the shooting of the rockets.  Which just goes to show you that cockroaches and stinkbugs will inherit the earth.



It turns out that I’m a traditional person.  I like traditions.  I believe repetition of key actions or stories holds a family, church, school class, and social group together.  Maybe I only feel this way because I’m kind of bad at communicating and traditions already have attached meaning.  Whatever.

When I was growing up we lived near an Army base because that’s where my mom worked.  My grandmother lived all the way in California.  When we each (I’m the third of 5 girls) turned five years old, my grandmother would buy us a plane ticket from Maryland to Illinois and she would meet us there.  We would spend a week meeting all of the Illinois relatives and then she’d put us back on the plane to Maryland.  It was a tradition before we started kindergarten.

We’ve kept this tradition in my own family — well, not the Illinois part — the part where the pre-K child gets to take a trip to somewhere new, somewhere exciting.  A chance to spend one-on-one time with my little buddy who has been with me from the grocery store to the library to the post office.  The little being who has requested to use public bathrooms wherever we’ve gone and sung the Team Umizoomi refrain in dizzying numbers.  Together my child and I have learned the alphabet, how to flush and wash, how to snap the pants and coordinate socks to shirt.  Swim lessons and skating lessons, dance recitals and Christmas musicals.  We’ve done it together, but now my little one is getting on the bus without me.  Full day kindergarten means that the teacher is going to see my child more often that me.  And get the breakfasted, clothed angel.  In return, I get the tired crankmonster off the big yellow bus.  So, it’s a celebration of getting to this point and it’s realizing that I’m not going to be the most important teacher in my child’s life anymore.

Don’t let me come off as parent of the year or anything, though.  It’s a selfish motivation too.  A chance to travel and see new things with my child.  Watch her become energized at the world around, and I get to be a co-traveler.  Just look at the pictures.  This tradition was no hardship.

When Diana turned five, I took her to Istanbul, Turkey to visit my friend Serra.  It was amazing.  We went to the Sultan’s palace, to the Grand Bazaar, to the Blue Mosque.  Truly a unique life experience.

When Chance turned five, Mike took him to New York City.  They saw the Blue Man Group, went to the Statue of Liberty, and ate dim sun with our friend Con Way.  They had a great boys’ trip.

It’s Evelyn and Sylvia’s turn.  Mike and I took them to Washington D.C.  DSCN0318

We went through the sculpture garden, to the American Indian Museum, on to the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of American History.


We went to the White House, but President Obama was busy so we hopped in a cab to the Helix Hotel.


We were hungry and this was the girls’ trip, so we let them pick restaurants.  Dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant (Evelyn picked it).  Eat with your hands!  Dessert at Caribou Coffee (Syliva picked that.)


The next day we walked around the National Zoo and then took the metro home.


We got back and the twins couldn’t tell Izzy about their trip fast enough, the words kept spilling out.  It was a good weekend.


What traditions does your family/social group observe?  What do you see as the role of tradition in changing American culture?




I’ve just updated my Stories Tab because I’ve had some wonderful news lately.  I’ve had short stories accepted by Bewildering Stories, by Abyss and Apex Magazine, and my story “Tamaki and the Fox” — set in the same Post-Firestorm world as my novel — has been named as a finalist in the Baltimore Science Fiction Society Amateur Contest 2013.  I just submitted a story to a magazine that might be the first chapter of a sequel to my novel.

Then, today, I received the e-mail that knocked me out.  An agent wants to read my full manuscript.  I’m not even putting that in all caps because I can’t quite believe it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I realize this is a baby step.  But, I’ve NEVER GOTTEN HERE BEFORE.  And, I’m so thankful.   Seriously, this feels like a miracle to me, like God gave me a wink (and some super-duper readers to help me).

My friend Amber gave me a book titled one thousand gifts by Ann Voskamp.  It’s been changing my life.  Normally I’m a fast reader, but this is taking me months to read because I’m trying to grow through her words, to look with fresh eyes on my daily life.  If you haven’t read this book, I challenge you to do it.

I don’t need fresh eyes to be thankful for this request for my novel.  To be thankful to my critique group and my friends who spend time reading my drafts.  To Isabel who catches caterpillars with my twins so that I can send off more query letters.  To my husband who goes to work every day so I can write — especially through the years that nothing happened.

I don’t know that this is it, but I’m thankful to experience this joy and hope.




Those Crazy Germans…

Part of being a convincing actor or writer is understanding not only character motivation, but WHERE that character is coming from — both internally and externally.  It may not seem like much, but these details can make your art authentic in a way that glibly using stereotypes never will.  For example, my mother gave me a glass pickle as a Christmas ornament.  There was a note card attached with a story about how Germans all have a pickle ornament and hide it on their Christmas tree every year.  More than just a family tradition, this was a NATIONAL TRADITION.  Only problem?  None of my German au pairs had heard of this.  None of my German friends.  Not even the weird guy at my post office who occasionally speaks German to me.  Myth #1 DEBUNKED.  Here’s some real differences as outlined by my friend Isabel Florian.

Izzy is uniquely qualified to comment on differences because she is fluent in both languages, has attended college in both countries, and has created a life in both places, switching back and forth at will.

    Izzy blog pic

We first met “Aunt Izzy” when she worked as an au pair for us in 2009.  Since that year she has been back twice for extended visits.  Here are her every day observations:

I grew up in a small town in the far south-west of Germany. It’s only a 10min drive to France and my dad drives to Switzerland everyday for work. So I grew up knowing that  things work differently in other countries. However, knowing that and actually experiencing it are “two different pairs of shoes” as we would say in German.

I hope you will all enjoy reading this, no matter if you are German or American. I might have exaggerated a little sometimes, but be assured that I don’t want to offend anyone with this. I love them both – Germany and the US!!

  1. 1.    Birthdays: Let’s say it is Wednesday and next Tuesday is gonna be your birthday. You’re at work, the gym, the mall or where ever you like to spend time and you run into a friend. Here is what you think if you are….

….American: “Oh cool, I haven’t seen that dude in a while!! Maybe I should invite him to my birthday party this weekend? Celebrating on my actual birthday would’ve been nice for a change. But this weekend was just so much more convenient and who even cares if it’s a little early?! As if something could happen – haha!! Look at that, he remembered that it’s only a few days until my birthday and congratulated me. I’ll totally invite him to the party, it’ll be a blast!!”

….German: “Oh cool, I haven’t seen that dude in a while!! Wait, I think he knows that it’s gonna be my birthday soon. Don’t wish me a happy birthday!! DON’T!!!! It is not my birthday yet!! Something terrible will probably happen if you do!!!! Aaaaah!! Oh, good thing he remembered to make sure to ask first if it already was my birthday. I’ll invite him to my birthday party in two weeks. This weekend would’ve been so much better, but there’s no way I’ll ever celebrate before the actual day!!”

2. Chips (and BBQs): No matter if Lays or Chio, they come in all kinds of flavors and are an all time favorite in both the US and Germany. Yet they’re treated very differently….

 America: “We’re gonna have a BBQ later. Ribs, Hot Dogs, Cheeseburgers – can’t wait!! Let’s check what we got here – potatoes…, lettuce….screw that. Oh yeah and chips. That’s perfect for a BBQ (and lunch)!! I gotta remember to go to the store though  tomorrow to get something for movie night…. maybe popcorn? Or nachos?”

Germany: “We’re gonna have a BBQ later. Steak, all those different sausages and grilled feta cheese – can’t wait!! Let’s check what we got here – nothing but chips. Not like they’re gonna help me with a BBQ!! At least that’s perfect for movie night. But now I better go to the store and get some potatoes and lettuce so I can fix some salads for the BBQ (and lunch)!!”

3. Staying/Leaving: You’re at the movies and just saw a really good film. Or you’re at a restaurant and just had a great dinner. Different location, same reaction. If you are…


….German you will stay in your seat. The thing was great. Why get up and leave right away? Then it’ll be over. It’s been great, so you should totally keep sitting for a while and savor it. What’s the rush anyways?!

….American you will get out of your seat. Immediately. The thing was great. But it’s over now so what’s the point of staying anyways?! It’s not like anything else will happen.

4. Bumping into people: You’re at the grocery store and you’re concentrating on picking out one of the thousands of tooth paste flavors. (You’re wondering why there are so many different flavors, a total of 5 would be more than enough for you.) But anyways, you’re standing there thinking about nothing but toothpaste when a random stranger, bumps into you. As….


….an American YOU say sorry even though the other person ran into you. (They’ll probably apologize, too.)

….a German you stare at them until THEY apologize. (And if they don’t you mutter something under your breath about how rude people are nowadays – just loud enough so you can be sure the person who ran into you can hear you. A glare always helps, too.)


5. Silverware: No hot meal without the help of fork, knife and spoon. Right?! If you are….


….German you don’t really need the spoon. Well, except for soup maybe. But other than that there is no food you can’t and won’t eat without a fork and a knife.

Pizza, salad, mashed potatoes,… you can and have eaten all of them with a fork and a knife. Ever since you we’re a kid. And you will keep doing it!! Why else would silverware even have been invented?!

….American you don’t really need the knife. Well, except to cut meat maybe. But other than that you can eat every food with only a fork or a spoon. What the heck – if you’re not at a restaurant you can just put your meat on the fork and take bites of it (at least if you’re under 16). What’s the big deal?! You’ve done that ever since you we’re a kid and you’ll keep doing it. Why did God give you ten fingers anyways?!?

6. Socks: Everybody wears them, no one really thinks about them. But….


….if you are German there is absolutely no way that you would ever pull your socks any higher then to the top of your shoes. If you know nothing else about fashion – for you that is the ultimate fashion faux-pas. Socks should never be seen!! (Except maybe you’re older than 35. Then apparently something seems to change and for some weird reason you decide that it’s okay to wear socks with sandals.)

….if you are American (especially if you’re a guy) you pull up your socks as high as you possibly can. It doesn’t matter that you’re wearing shorts and that it’s summer and 100F/37C outside – you pull those socks all the way up to your knees. That’s how they were made and that’s how you wear them. (But under no circumstance you would ever wear them with sandals!!)


7. Summer heat: It is summer and it’s hot. Could there be a better place to spend time than the pool, the lake or the beach? If you are…


….American your air-conditioned house is a where you feel best in the heat. But you can’t stay inside all day long, so you pack everything up and go swimming. If you’re a girl and younger than 16 you’ll probably wear a one-piece. Maybe even a swim shirt, also if you’re a boy. That way you don’t even need sunscreen. You swim for a little while but when it’s going towards the late afternoon you can’t wait to get back to the coolness of your air-conditioned house.

….German you got up early in the morning to close all the windows so the nights coolness won’t be pushed away by the outside heat. You decide to go swimming. On the way there you stop by the store to get something but you try to get out of there as fast as you can, because you’re just too cold with the air-conditioning running. At the pool you’ll probably where a bikini, no matter how old you are. If you’re an adult and you try to get a nice tan it’s totally okay to sunbathe topless. Swim shirts? Only surfers wear those. You stay as long as you can. At home it’s hot too and here there’s at least the water where you can cool down.

Do you agree with Izzy’s observations?  Comment below and let us know.