The answer is simple: words are my life. I can't imagine doing anything that doesn't encompass writing. I express myself better through the written word than through oral communication. However, I do quite a bit of that, too, as a writing instructor and frequent guest speaker at book fairs and writing conferences. When I experience something, I want to write it down and share it with whoever will read it. That's why I do my Observations of an Earth Mage blog, and why I wrote the book of the same title. When I am out in nature, I experience such an array of emotions when I see a mountain, a tide pool, a bear, a rattlesnake, an exquisite flower. It doesn't matter how grand or how small, natures touches me, and I want to share that with people who perhaps have never had such an experience. The same goes for my imagination: I dream up wild story ideas from things I experience, and then I can't wait to turn those ideas into stories. My latest book, my Short Story Collection, Volume I, has five of these wild ideas turned into stories; it also contains an autobiographical story about my being struck by lightning twenty-two years ago. I wrote that one because people always are asking me about it.
Goodness Smoky, you are even more multi-faceted than I knew. Can you tell us about your background? When did these things become dear to you?
When I was a child, my father took us on grand adventures all across the country. We didn't have much money, but we always spent weeks and weeks traveling from National Park to National Park and to visit my relatives on the East Coast. From Dad, I learned my deep appreciation of nature. On the Choptank Shores, my latest novel (formerly release as Redeeming Grace), is set at my aunt and uncle's peach orchard on the eastern shore of Maryland. The Cabin, my most popular book, is set in the mountains of Virginia where my father grew up. These trips were precious to me. I remember as a tiny child, I'd pack my suitcase weeks and weeks before we'd leave on our trips.Of course, it would get unpacked as the days went by, and I had to pull out clothes to wear. But after laundry day, it would be packed and ready to go again.
Do you feel your background helped with your career?
Absolutely. As I said, the setting for most of my books came from my travels. The same for my short stories. Leap, which is the short story collection (and for which I received a Pushcart Prize nomination in 2003), is set in my favorite eastern national park: Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Wow...a big congrats on such an awesome nomination, Smoky.
But it goes further than that. It took me seventeen years, yeah...seventeen to get my bachelor's degree because I kept switching my major. Everything was so interesting to me. I joke around that I majored in everything but physics, and that's probably not far from the truth. My curiosity is what made me a sought-after feature writer for newspaper and magazine. It also is what makes my fiction good: curiosity makes writers tick. I have something I call wonderlust. I define wonderlust as a feeling that makes you say, "I wonder what's over there? I wonder what would happen if?" A writer without wonderlust won't last long in this profession.
I understand you do reviews for newspapers and magazines, as well as books. How did you get started on this interesting path?
Just to clarify, I don't do these any longer. The only book reviews I do now are for my Smoky Talks Books, one of four blogs I write. But yes, I used to write book reviews for Sage Woman and Pan Gaia magazines. Then, I became the book reviewer for the Champaign, Illinois newspaper, the News-Gazette. I quit doing the magazines when Pan Gaia ceased publication, and Sage Woman when the magazine changed its focus and I no longer wanted to be associated with it. I'm quite happy now simply reviewing for my blog.
And I was so honored to be featured on your Smoky Talks Books. Tell us which is easier or more enjoyable to review?
I prefer to review good fiction with strong characters and an interesting plot. But to be clear, this is also now the only fiction I review. I quit reviewing books I did not like on my blog when one author got very snippy with me because she didn't care for the review. My opinion is, if you don't want my opinion, don't ask me to review your book. Now, I simply tell authors that if they don't see their book reviewed, it means that I could not write a glowing review about it, and therefore chose not to write about it. There are too many great books out there for me to waste my time on bad ones. I've loved every book I've reviewed that was published by Fisher King Press, for example.
It is true, if you want to be in this business, you have to have 'tough skin' sometimes. Hopefully, each person will turn it into a positive opportunity to grow and become better at the skill. Now tell our readers about your newest projects.
I'm very busy right now. I'm more than halfway through my third novel, The Storyteller's Bracelet.
Gosh, that sounds intriguing already.
I also have a fourth novel, The Madam of Bodie, in the works.
Another great title, Smoky.
I'm also working on some new short stories. Some story ideas I have just aren't suitable for novels; they are complete in far fewer words. That's why I like writing short stories-you write until you are done, and then you stop. No word counts to worry about.
Can you explain the type of research you did?
For On the Choptank Shores, most of my research involved going through my old photo albums, looking at pictures of my aunt and uncle's orchard, to remind myself of the setting description. I did have to do one bit of research at the library that was fun to figure out what type undergarments a woman wore in the 1920's. There were no bras; they wore bust confiners!
For The Cabin, I had to do considerably more. It is partially set during the Civil War era. The cabin in the title is a stop on the Underground Railroad. I had to do a lot of research about it to make the novel believable. It's fun when you learn something new while writing your books.
I've had to do a lot of research for The Storyteller's Bracelet,as the tale largely takes place at one of the Indian schools our federal government forced Native Americans to attend in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Some were decent places, but some were terrible. The one in my story falls into the latter category.
Many authors say they have a niche or setting to stir those creative juices. Do you, and if so, would you please give us a peek inside?
If you're talking about where I do my writing, yes, I have a wonderful niche-and that's a perfect word for it. My husband and I live in a rare patch of green in Southern California, just outside Los Angeles. We live in the hills on the southern side of the San Gabriel Valley in a forest of scrub oak, California buckeye, and avocado trees. Our cottage is tiny-only 800 square feet, plus a ramshackle porch that is tacked onto the back. It is there I do my writing. I have it decorated with artwork by fiends, Mexican bark paintings, and tiny treasures I collect. My windows look out over the valley and to the San Gabriel and San Bernadino Mountains beyond. It is a place of rare and exquisite beauty. Mule deer, ground squirrels, and coyotes frequently trot through our back yard. Recently, a large male bob cat has been hanging out, chatting with my little Siamese cat, Po. I can't tell if the bobcats looks at Po as a potential mate or a potential meal. Either way, my cats are always kept indoors.
I'm not a bit surprised to hear your 'niche' is decorated by nature; it fits you. On another subject, what was the craziest thing you've ever done when it came to a storyline?
Don't know that I have a crazy storyline, but when I was writing my short story, Good-Bye, Emily Dickinson, which is included in the short story collection, I considered having the main character, who is a mentally ill, homeless woman, carry around a doll. So, I bought a Big Lots version of a Cabbage Patch doll and toted her around to gauge people's reactions to an adult woman holding and talking to a doll. You know what was crazy? Not my carrying the doll...the fact, no one noticed! In these days of Blue Tooth and hands-free cell phones, it's nothing to see people 'talking to themselves'. You can't tell the normal ones from the crazies.
How funny-but I love your idea to get 'into character', after all, it is the characters that make us love the books. What are a few of your favorite books?
Wow, I read so much...my favorite book of all time is Death With Interruptions, by the Portuguese Nobel Prize winning author, Jose Saramago. He's very tough to read, because he never uses quotation marks and very rarely uses commas, but he is brilliant. Death With Interruptions is, in my opinion, his finest book. I loved Susan Vreeland's The Forest Lover, a fictionalized account of the life of Emily Carr, a Canadian artist whose favorite subject matter was the totem poles of the British Colombian native people. I loved Margaret George's Helen of Troy. Most recently, Malcolm R. Campbell's Sarabande had an incredible effect on me. Full disclosure: Sarabande was published by my own publisher, Vanilla Heart, but it would have touched me anyway.
As I mentioned earlier, you interviewed me recently on your blog. May I ask how your method of choice?
Often times, I interview authors whose books I reviewed, like Patricia Damery and Elizabeth Clark-Stern. Some authors I've found and friended on Facebook or Twitter, like you, Jeannie. Some contact me directly.
As an author and reviewer, what advice would you give others aspiring to follow in your footsteps?
I have three standard things I tell aspiring writers. First, study your craft. People tend to think they can just decide to write a book and sit down to write one. But writing a book is an art, just like playing the piano and painting a masterpiece are art forms. Second, get your book professionally edited. I've seen so many books full of errors because writers had their Aunt Frieda or their next-door neighbor do it. Editors know what a good manuscript looks like. They can find mistakes you probably didn't even know were mistakes. Don't skimp on this step. Third, don't give up just because your book isn't accepted at first. Publishing a book is like running into a wall at full speed. When you hit that wall, you knock yourself out and bloody your nose in the process. If you pick yourself up, wipe off the blood, and say, "Gee, that felt good. I think I'll do it again", you'll eventually knock the wall down. The same goes for getting your book published.
I love your visual, and we both know it isn't an overnight process.
Please tell us, what do you do in your 'spare' time?
My husband and I are nature lovers-we grew up in the 1960's-1970's and are still hippies at heart. This is a time when living where we live is such a blessing. We can wake up in the morning and ask each other, "Where do you want to go today-the ocean, the desert, or the mountains?" We hike, we picnic, we sit by a mountain stream or lake and write poetry, or draw, or read. We also both mediate, so we do that at home and when we are in a place of exquisite natural beauty. We adore camping and are packing to go to the Sierras for a few days as I write your interview.
We are also animal lovers and our dog and three cats keep us occupied. We have four kids between us; Scott has two, and I have two. My son Steve lives in Chicago with his beautiful wife Lindsay, but the other three are here in Southern California. My daughter Robin is a talented actress, model, and college student. His daughter, Janie is a jazz vocalist with a voice that starts at the bottom of her toes and will shiver and shake you like no one else. How such a big voice comes out of that tiny body is beyond me. Finally, Scott's son, Christopher, is a grad student working on his second master's degree. We have smart, talented, creative kids.
Sounds like to me, your children followed directly in their parent's footsteps.
Please tell our audience where they can find your work or books.
I will list the links to all my pages. Through these links, you can friend me on Facebook and Twitter (and please do!), read my blogs on my Wordpress page, find me on Goodreads, and purchase my books in print or eBook versions on Amazon, Smashwords, and All Romance.
Here is a collage of Smoky Zeidel's books and links. You're missing out if you don't check her out!
Website and Blog: http://www.smokyzeidel.wordpress.com/
Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com.smoky.zeidel.writes/
Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/mUvipC
Goodreads Author Page: http://bit.ly/pGXAXq
Smashwords Author Page: http://bit.ly/qan6Nx
All Romance Author Page: http://bit.ly/p6pR9O