Interview with Katie Snyder, Ph.D. - Runner Up in the Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, March 12, 2023
I'm thrilled to chat with Katie Snyder about her award-winning essay, "What to Expect When You’re Expecting Breast Cancer: Anatomy of One Procedure." Check it out and come back and join us for a lively interview!

Katie's bio:

Katie Snyder is a retired psychologist—up for an adventure since her college days as one of the first (pioneering) female undergraduates at Yale. During 40 years in private practice she collaborated with MDs, so when she got breast cancer, understanding her medical care—and explaining it—was less of a stretch for her than it would be for most cancer patients.

“What to Expect When You’re Expecting Breast Cancer: Anatomy of One Procedure,” her first publication, is an excerpt from What to Expect When You’re Expecting Breast Cancer, a humorous treatment information book she expects to publish.

She lives in California with her cat, golden retriever, and husband, the graphic design student who created the custom art for her dissertation in 1981. Before cancer their adventures included gorilla treks and safaris. Now Katie’s adventures include learning with her dog how to compete in agility—both of them for the first time. When she’s not running around with her dog, she’s baking up a storm and writing nonfiction picture books about safari animals for her grandchildren. (Portfolio:

She is a Lifetime Member of the American Psychological Association and an active member of the Yale Women Writers’ Group, Jericho Writers, SCBWI, and the Women’s National Book Association, which awarded her third place in the 2022 Effie Lee Morris contest (nonfiction category).

---- Interview by Angela Mackintosh

WOW: Welcome, Katie, and congratulations on your first publication! Writing about medical issues can be hard, but you wrote about having a biopsy procedure in such detail that even though I've never had one, I felt like I was witnessing it. What do you hope readers will take away from your essay, "What to Expect When You're Expecting Breast Cancer: Anatomy of One Procedure"?

Katie: First, thanks for this interview. I’m so pleased you liked my essay. I am trying to accomplish two things with this essay and all my essays: 1) for the breast cancer patient: demystify the procedure, and make it less scary by showing a patient can joke about it. 2) for the patient’s friends and family: show exactly what she is going through—and make it less scary by showing a patient can joke about it. Since 1 in 8 women in the US will be diagnosed with breast cancer, every woman will eventually know someone who is undergoing treatment.

WOW: One element that stands out is your humor, despite the serious topic. You mentioned that this essay is an excerpt from a humorous treatment information book. Could you tell us more about your project?

Katie: During 17 months of cancer treatment, I needed to keep family and friends informed. But I didn’t want to repeat myself a dozen times a day, so I started sending out email updates with granular first-hand descriptions—as comprehensive as possible to answer any question anyone could possibly dream up. I’ve collected them into a book-length manuscript, complete with prologue. I want everyone newly diagnosed, plus anyone who loves her, to read it! (Hey, any agents out there? Editors?)

WOW: It sounds like a much needed book! How do you infuse humor into your writing?

Katie: As for infusing humor into the writing (infusion: perfect word for chemotherapy humor): I realized immediately that some of the graphic details would be hard to read. Humor softens the horror. Sometimes my funny bone was broken, and I couldn’t infuse any humor into the email until the next day. Waiting to click “Send” allowed me to get some distance from it; laughing at it made me feel better. Specifically, humor (at least my humor) requires a lack of filter. You know all those secret thoughts you’d never say out loud because…well…I don’t know why, really. Just say them out loud. They’ll be funny.

WOW: It's a great tip to share your secret thoughts, and we are so glad you did. You won third place in the 2022 Effie Lee Morris contest, nonfiction category—congratulations! I'd love to hear more about your winning piece, and if you have any tips for entering contests.

Katie: It was the first contest I entered. Their word count limit was 2,500, so I just pulled two of my emails, cemented them together, no pruning needed, and submitted the chimera. (The original Greek chimera was part lion, part goat, and part dragon.) My beta readers tell me that my voice and humor are consistent throughout, so joining them together isn’t as weird as it sounds. But I’m a newbie at all this, so what do I know?

However, I discovered WOW! via Reedsy’s contest list, so I’d say that’s a great resource. Read the list, find a likely contest in your genre, polish something you think is a good match for them, and prune to fit.

WOW: Reedsy is a great resource. Your bio mentions that you're writing nonfiction picture books about safari animals, and you've been on gorilla treks and safaris. That sounds fascinating! What was your most memorable sighting?

Katie: Ohhh I love to talk about this. There are so many it’s hard to choose one. But it’s not really a “sighting” that excites me; it’s observing animal behavior in situ. For example, I watched a mother hyena try unsuccessfully to get her very young cub to nap. I captured all her efforts in photos, and wrote a story around them for a picture book. Alas, I have been told several times that photo-illustrated picture books are not in vogue. If I want it published, I’ll have to find an agent or imprint willing to have an illustrator turn the photos into art.

Proximity makes animal encounters memorable, too: On a short walk in Botswana, I found myself just a couple of feet away from a female bushbuck. We solemnly regarded each other for several breathtaking minutes without moving, until she moseyed off. I felt like Alice through the Looking Glass when the fawn forgot to be afraid of her. (Good thing the bushbuck wasn’t a lion.) My best day, also in Botswana, involved being surrounded by elephants, with the whole herd passing so close by they could have touched me with their trunks. I could smell them, too. The old matriarch stared me right in the eye. They’re dangerous, so I held my breath until she passed safely by.

Africa is so amazing I don’t think it would be possible to take any bad photos. I have some great photos of safari animals on my website:

WOW: Those are great stories, and I encourage readers to visit your site for your gorgeous photos!

You're a member of a number of writing groups. What advice do you have for writers who are looking for a group to join?

Katie: To find a group, talk to everyone. I’m a Yale alumna, and the first thing I did once I started writing was join the Yale Women’s Writers Group. I found a beta swap partner there. Another alumna advised me to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I found a picture book beta swap partner through that. I found the Women’s National Book Association through my dog sitter. I’ll take help anywhere I can get it!

WOW: Writing groups are great for finding critique partners in your genre. What's the best writing tip, or tips, you've ever received?

Katie: 1. Cut 10% of anything you ever write.

2. Don’t try to write like someone else!

“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell. My blessing season this in thee.”

WOW: Great advice! Thanks for joining us today, Katie, and wishing you the best of luck in all your writing projects.

Find out more about WOW's flash fiction and creative nonfiction contests here:


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