Interview with Tui Snider!
Welcome, Tui Snider to Words from the Heart, I am so excited to talk with you today about your writing and photography.
Could you tell us about how you began? Which came first, photography or writing?
Thank you so much for having me, Linda! :) I look forward to meeting your readers here via your blog.
In reply to your question, I’d say writing definitely came first. When I was 9-years-old, my big sister told me about Anne Frank’s diary, and I found Anne’s life story so compelling that I started a diary of my own.
That first diary fizzled out pretty quickly, but in my teens I discovered another inspiring diarist, Anais Nin. Once again I started a diary, only this time I called it a journal because I thought it sounded more sophisticated! In any case, I began writing for 30 minutes before work and another 30 minutes before bed every single day. Except for a few lapses here and there, I’ve kept it up ever since.
Aside from the anything I publish, writing in my journal remains a special refuge. It’s a safe place to express my feelings and figure life out when it’s confusing. In fact, writing has become such a part of my routine that I’m cranky and out of sorts if I miss a few days!
Expressing myself creatively through photography came later. I always enjoyed taking photos, but when I was in my mid-twenties I had someone in my life who belittled me to the point of tears when I dared to suggest that I’d like to have a photography exhibit one day. I felt so ashamed after that verbal attack that I put aside any creative ambitions towards photography.
In 2011, I started posting photos on Instagram after my step-daughter said it would be a fun way to stay in touch. As someone who writes for a living, I quickly discovered that photography gives me a much-needed break from my chattering mind. It’s very meditative for me.
So I started posting some rather artsy and abstract photos in addition to more straight forward shots. I wasn’t expecting other people to enjoy the photos. I was posting them for my own satisfaction.
Much to my surprise, however, I was fairly bombarded with positive feedback. One woman asked permission to use my images on silk scarves she creates, while a man wanted to use my photos as album covers for mix CDs he was giving as gifts. Still another person wrote to say that my photos were “little poems” and made him see more beauty in the world. I even started getting messages from professional photographers asking me where I showed my work.
Me, show my work? They had to be kidding! But the encouragement continued: A poet named Morgan Dragonwillow asked if she could use my photos for her book project. I still remember how amazing it felt thumbing through the pages of Wild Woman Waking for the first time. I suddenly realized that my photos were actually saying something. It was very exciting!
Next, the City of Plano invited me for a photo walk. They put me up in a fancy hotel and chauffeured me around so I could take photos of their town. In turn, they use my photos in their promotional material both online and off.
Finally, and perhaps most exciting of all: In August of this year I’m having my very first photography exhibit! I know it’s rude to gloat, but a part of me is happily thumbing her nose at that critic who made me cry and feel so terrible about myself for daring to call myself a photographer all those years ago.
What an interesting journey! So, what do you write about?
Oh, gosh… Over the years, I’ve written poetry, prose, short stories, essays and lyrics, but my first paid gigs were for travel magazines. Currently, I specialize in writing about offbeat and overlooked places, essays on the creative process, cemetery symbolism, theater/hotel/food reviews and haunted lore. I absolutely love researching those topics as well as sharing what I’ve learned through presentations at libraries and conferences.
Tells us about the books you’ve published?
At the moment, I have three books in print: Unexpected Texas: A travel guide to offbeat and overlooked places in north Texas. Paranormal Texas: A travel guide to haunted places that you can actually visit here in north Texas. The Lynching of the Santa Claus Bank Robber: A strange-but-true tale of a greedy Santa who came to a bad end here during a time when Texas was experiencing five to six bank robberies per day.
Do you plan to write more books?
Oh, yes! I can’t seem to stop now… I used to worry that I’d run out of book ideas, but I have more than I can keep up with at the moment. My main book projects right now include: Messages from the Dead: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbols, The Great Texas Airship Mystery of 1897: What on Earth were they Thinking?, and an as-yet unnamed project that is a book of essays meant to encourage people to take the leap and have fun creating. Whichever one makes it to the finish line first will be the next one published!
Sounds fascinating! Why did you decide to write about the paranormal?
Like so many other writing topics, I just bumbled into it! Aside from writing about any unusual experiences I had in my personal journal, I didn’t start writing about the paranormal publicly until a few years ago.
While researching quirky road trip destinations for my first book, Unexpected Texas, I discovered that Texans love ghost stories. Nearly every town I visited had a haunted restaurant or hotel, it seemed. Since haunted lore didn’t really fit in with the theme of that book, I decided to create a travel guide to haunted places, and that’s how Paranormal Texas was born.
Researching Paranormal Texas gave me an excuse to go ghost hunting, attend graveyard séances, interview psychics, and generally indulge my lifelong fascination with haunted places and paranormal activity. It has been so much fun!
What was the strangest thing that ever happened to you as you worked?
I’ve had a lot of strange things happen! But the strangest experiences I had while researching haunted places occurred in Mineral Wells, Texas. That town is chock full of paranormal goodness; I’ve seen things, I’ve heard things and I even caught an EVP there.
But the strangest thing I experienced in Mineral Wells happened while I was waiting for a paranormal research team to set up their equipment in an abandoned hotel. I saw a glowing white ball of energy - about the size of a baseball - float through the air from left to right… and then just disappear! I have no idea what that white ball was, but I have been wanting to go back to Mineral Wells for another investigation there ever since. (Check out my blog post: Ghost Hunting in Mineral Wells for more about haunted happenings in Mineral Wells.)
Spooky! We chatted back during a show you hosted on spirits in photography. What is your most exciting photograph?
I visit a lot of paranormal hot spots, and I always hope to catch a spirit on film. So far, however, I have only had two photographs that, to me, seemed to catch anything anomalous. Of these, the most exciting is definitely the one I took in 2005.
While attending a lively tea party in a historic Victorian home in the seaport village of Port Townsend, Washington, I caught a mysterious apparition with my Canon point and shoot digital camera.
I wasn’t thinking about the paranormal; I merely wanted to see how well my new camera performed in low-light situations. In fact, I didn't even notice the anomalous photo until a week or so later, when I finally downloaded the strange image onto my computer.
Some people claim to see a woman in a bridal gown. Others claim to see the face of a flapper-era woman. All I know for sure is that the photo still gives me a little shiver when I look at it! No other photos taken at the party show anything weird. No one present was smoking, and I did not turn on the flash at all that day.
What impression does the photo give to you?
No sure what the readers will see, but when I blew it up, I could see the figure of a woman in what looked like Victorian style dress.
When did you first connect with the spirit world?
Y’know, I think we all come into this world with a strong connection, but it gets drilled out of as we go along. That said, the first time I remember truly feeling aware of other realms was around age 10 or 11, when I wandered off to climb a pine tree during a family picnic. As I gazed out over the woods, I gradually became aware of something large moving through the forest below. I knew that bear, cougars and deer lived in that area, so this was scary!
Much to my surprise, however, the living creature turned out to be the wind. Yes, the wind!
It’s very hard to explain without being too long-winded (pardon the pun!) but this little gust of wind actually zoomed up the tree and stopped in front of me. It was transparent, but it was slightly different than the rest of the air.
I didn’t hear any words, but I could feel that the air was surprised to see me. The next feeling I got was a sense of amusement and then a light tousling, as if it were patting me on the head.
When I got back to the picnic, I asked my family all sorts of questions along the lines of, “Is it possible to see the air?” but their answers simply weren’t satisfying! I suppose you could say I have been on a quest ever since to experience and understand the unexplainable.
Amazing! Glad you have never stopped questioning.
You’re currently working on a field guide to cemetery symbols. What made you decide to write this?
I often visit historic graveyards for book research. Ironically, something about visiting a historical figure’s grave helps to bring their story to life to me in a way that nothing else quite does.
I started wondering what the different symbols meant on the various headstones. What’s the meaning behind a hand holding a rose, for instance, the initials “HTWSSTKS” or an obelisk at a gravesite?
I searched for a field guide to cemetery symbols, but never quite found the book I wanted, so I decided to create one of my own! The more I research the topic of funerary art and graveyard symbols the more fascinating it becomes. I’ve amassed so much research on the subject. Hopefully, it will be published this fall.
Oh, I hope so, too. I look forward to reading it. So, where have you found the most interesting graves?
This is a tough one! Generally speaking, any graveyard that’s at least 100-years-old is bound to be interesting. More modern graveyards often have so many restrictions on the types of monuments allowed that there is not as much to see.
My favorite graveyards feel more like sculpture gardens than graveyards. Puerto Rico’s gorgeous Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery is filled with incredible marble statues, for instance, while London’s Highgate Cemetery offers grand old trees and Victorian monuments. I was also thrilled to explore the Zoroastrian section of London’s Brookwood Cemetery because it showcases a slew of symbols I was not familiar with! (To see a few photos I took at these cemeteries, visit my Facebook author page. Please give my page a ‘like’ while you’re there!)
But grand statuary aside, what really interests me in a grave is the story it tells. Monroe, Louisiana is a small town, but the story behind Annie Saunder’s grave would make a good movie, in my opinion! (To check it out, visit Historic Cemetery Symbols: Disgraced Widow’s Revenge)
Going back to creativity of all kinds, who inspires you the most?
Thanks to all the books I own and all the folks I’m able to connect with online, I’m inspired by many people, living and dead, near and far. However, in my immediate circle of friends, I’d have to say that Teal Gray is the most inspiring person I know.
No matter what is going on around her, Teal stays focused on the positive side. I find it inspiring how she’s not afraid to dream big - and she invites me to do so, too. (In fact, thanks to Teal’s encouragement, I’ve gotten back into writing and recording songs. I hope to release a CD by the end of the summer!)
Last summer, Teal invited me to cohost her online radio shows and to be the VP for Teal Gray Worldwide, the umbrella organization for all the many different creative projects she has going. She is so articulate and poised on-air and off. Working (and playing!) with Teal is a wonderful learning experience for me.
Speaking of inspiration, what advice do you have for readers who aspire to become writers?
Oh, goodness! I have lots of advice, because I’ve made so many mistakes along the way. One thing I’d say is to go ahead and call yourself a writer. If you write, then you’re a writer. That’s that! You don’t have to earn the title in some grand manner.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with the readers?
I lead a weekly writing chat on Twitter at 8pm Eastern time. It’s called #StoryDam chat and all writers are welcome. It’s a very positive and supportive group. I invite you and your readers to join us!
If you’re curious to learn more about #StoryDam, just visit that tag on Twitter, or drop by our website at StoryDam.com.
Also, if any of your readers would like to connect or stay in touch with me, I invite them to drop by my website: TuiSnider.com and sign up for my weekly newsletter.
Thank you so much for having me here today, Linda. This was fun! :)