Sweet Briar College sophomore Erin Snyder is among the winners of One Teen Story’s 2018 Teen Writing Contest. Her short story, “Escape from Vienna,” shares first place with one other piece in the 18- to 19-year-old category.
“This is a remarkable way for Erin to launch her literary career, and we’re delighted to have a student recognized for producing work of this quality,” said novelist John Gregory Brown, director of the creative writing program at Sweet Briar.
One Teen Story is an offshoot of One Story, a prestigious literary publication. Once a month, each journal publishes a single story that is mailed out to subscribers as a bound pamphlet.
Brown points out that Snyder is following in the footsteps of his wife — professor of English and creative writing at Sweet Briar and Director of the Center for Creativity, Design, and the Arts Carrie Brown, an award-winning author of eight books — whose story “A Splendid Life” was published by One Story in 2009. It’s an honor each author can attain only once.
This is the second time Snyder has participated in a writing contest, but it’s her first real prize. “The only other competition was for my local horse magazine, The Equiery,” says the biology and English and creative writing double major from Jefferson, Md. “My story was published, but I think everyone who entered was published, so I don’t know if that really counts for winning a contest before!”
And yes: this one, too, has to do with horses. More specifically, it’s about the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and the human and equine occupants’ escape during World War II, told from the point of view of Tobias, a young rider in training. “In the deepening twilight of the train car, I wrapped my arms around the weary stallion’s neck and inhaled the comforting scent of warm horseflesh, letting the momentary silence fill me with a peace I hadn’t known in years,” part of it reads.
Snyder says she was inspired by real life and fiction alike — her love of the Lipizzaner horse and her admiration for the people who saved them during World War II, as well as Disney’s “Miracle of the White Stallions” and Elizabeth Lett’s book “The Perfect Horse,” which she used to research events for her story.
“I was lucky enough to see the dancing white stallions perform both on tour when they came to Maryland and at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna,” Snyder adds. “Seeing their quadrille and airs above the ground inspired me to start dressage, which is the main style of riding I do at home.”
While Sweet Briar’s is a hunter/jumper program, it was Snyder’s love of riding that helped draw her to the Central Virginia campus, which boasts a 130-acre riding center and 18 miles of trails. “I’ve been riding horses since I was five years old, and I wasn’t about to let going away to school stop me from doing my favorite sport,” she says.
In addition, the biology program “looked fabulous,” she says, with “a ton of interesting courses.”
But number one was the College’s creative writing program: “I can distinctly remember scrolling through the list of creative writing classes on my way to visit campus and wondering how on earth I was going to choose which classes to take because there were so many interesting ones!”
Animals have always played a big part in Snyder’s writing — starting with tiny insects when she was just in elementary school.
“I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember,” she recalls. “In first grade, my twin sister and I made up a series of stories titled ‘Ant City’ about the massive colony of ants that lived in the playground. I haven’t stopped concocting stories since.”
Snyder originally wrote “Escape from Vienna” for a writing workshop with Carrie focused on research and the creative writing process. Carrie encouraged her to submit the story to the Teen Writing Contest at the end of fall semester. Snyder says she’s come a long way in her skills since enrolling at Sweet Briar — thanks to her professors’ expertise and support.
“I’ve learned so much about the craft of writing from Carrie and John Gregory Brown!” she says. “In class with them, I’ve worked a lot on establishing a sense of place, showing versus telling and developing a strong voice for my characters.”
Before coming to Sweet Briar, Snyder had only taken one creative writing class. “Everything I was writing was based on the bits of craft I’d gleaned from reading published fiction authors,” she explains. Getting to workshop her stories with her professors and classmates has been invaluable, she adds.
“Erin has enormous natural talent, and she’s meanwhile discovered the key to good writing,” Carrie says. “It’s all about revision. Erin worked on multiple drafts of the story, and her success now is a reflection of that effort. Once students start to love revising, their work improves exponentially.”
It’s hard to believe there is much time for Snyder to do anything else, but she’s a Sweet Briar student, after all. A member of the IHSA team, Snyder also participates in Sweet Tones, Paint ‘n’ Patches, Eta Sigma Phi and the Riding Council. She’s also performed in three theater productions.
More food for stories — and likely more contest wins.