Sarah Snider didn’t put her own name on her first book, “Becca’s Makeover.”
“Because I was a chicken,” said Snider, 61, of Allegheny Township. “It’s a very vulnerable thing to put a book out in the world.”
Friends and colleagues who read the book before its publication in February gave it positive feedback. But in the months that followed, good reviews from general readers gave him the boost of confidence he needed. Now, “I’m very comfortable with my name attached to it,” she said.
Snider published her novel on Amazon under the name “Jocelyn Kraemer”. It honors the name given to the child she lost in a miscarriage; the surname honors her grandmother, Virginia Kraemer.
She began working on the story just after leaving her position as executive director of the New Kensington Redevelopment Authority in November 2020, which she started in January 2018. She had previously helped create the “Corridor of Innovation” on the city’s Fifth Avenue, an area of economic revitalization and a 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 for 36 years and have two sons.
“I really wanted to write fiction. I had been too busy,” she said. “It’s difficult to learn both the craft of fiction versus technical writing, storytelling versus asking for funds for a project. I had no idea what was actually involved in publishing the book.
“I feel like I’ve jumped into a whole new world.”
Originally from Berkeley, Calif., Snider and her husband met when they were students at San Francisco State University. They both went to American University in Washington, DC for graduate school. They lived in Terre Haute, Indiana, for 13 years before coming to the Alle-Kiski Valley in 2008 when Kevin Snider became chancellor.
“We love this place,” she said.
Prior to the Redevelopment Authority, Snider worked for approximately 25 years in health policy, education, access and innovation, work that included economic and community development.
The fictional world Snider created in “Becca’s Makeover” draws heavily from her own life, the work she’s done, the people she’s met, and New Kensington.
“I wanted to write about deep themes that are important to me, but through a story that is entertaining, easy to read, and gives people hope,” she said.
The main character, Becca Clarke, is in remission from cancer. Snider had two people in mind, one a mentor and the other a colleague, each of whom had died of cancer.
The story is set in Marston, a small Rust Belt town outside of 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 Wonder Woman references throughout the book that may or may not be noticeable,” she said.
Like Snider, Becca participates in a triathlon, which serves as a metaphor for going through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Another common thread in the story is revitalization, renewal and rebirth, for both Becca and Marston.
Snider said that Becca was not her, but “all the characters have something of me in them”.
Snider struggled with the genre the book fits into – romance, women’s fiction, sports fiction. “This book is really, really up to you,” she said.
Snider is working on a second book in the Marston series, which she hopes to publish early next year, and outlines a separate second series of books.
She doesn’t want to take the books out too quickly. “I still have too much to learn and I want to learn,” she said.
With Becca’s story complete, Marston’s next book will focus on a minor character from the first while still taking place in the same location. Marston’s revitalization will be a series-wide arc.
“There’s been a lot of learning,” Snider said. “I hope the book is good and people like it. I hope my best work is yet to come.