An Interview with Author Smoky Trudeau Zeidel

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August 21st, 2011

It has been my great fortune to meet Smoky Trudeau Zeidel online through mutual friends. She is a beautiful writer who has become an inspiration to me. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Smoky for my blog in celebration of her latest release On the Choptank Shores. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

On the Choptank Shores is a re-release. Can you tell us about its original publication and how it came to have new life as your latest release?

 The book’s original title was Redeeming Grace. It’s a romantic suspense novel, but because of the title, people assumed it was a Christian Book. It isn’t. In fact, the book is rather critical of patriarchal religion. Because of the misleading title, the book simply didn’t sell as well as both my publisher and I would have liked.

 Why the title change for this release?

 Because both the publisher (Kimberlee Williams of Vanilla Heart Publishing) and I both really believe in this book. It received fabulous reviews when it was originally released. For example, Malcolm Campbell of Campbell Editorial wrote that the book is “a beautiful and inspiring novel that portrays without rancor the hell of  that old time religion en route to the heaven of unfettered love and trust.” Vila Spiderhawk, author of the Forest Song trilogy, wrote that the book “drew me in so that I felt Grace’s emotions and found my breath catching in anticipation of the next segment.” 

But the book is so much more than that. On the Choptank Shores is a love story. The love between a young wife (Grace) and her decidedly middle-aged husband (Otto), and the love of a big sister for her abused baby sister (Miriam). It is the story of the love for an aging, grief-stricken father (Luther) who is spiraling into a dark world of insanity, and the love of a kind and benevolent God whom Grace knows must exist, despite the crazed ravings of her father, who paints a picture of a vengeful, angry God as he spouts biblical verse to defend his abuse of both Grace and little Miriam. It is a story of the land on which they live, and the power of Mother Nature. Most of all, it is a story of love conquering all.

Tell us about writing normal day in the world of Smoky Zeidel.

I like to get us very early, before my husband and daughter are stirring, before even the sun has peeked over the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains across the valley from where I live. I feed my three cats and dog as the coffee is brewing. I do some simple yoga stretches, then take my French press into my studio, which is a tiny porch-like room slapped haphazardly onto the back of our cottage. (And I do mean haphazardly! The room is barely six feet wide, and has a two-inch slope in the floor. I’ve had to be very creative, leveling my desk and keeping my chair from rolling downhill when I write!) I check my email, attend to any business I have for the day, like answering interview questions like I’m doing here, or posting blog posts on my own blogs (there are four of them). Then, I pull up whatever project I’m working on and write. I always set a little timer on my computer for 45 minutes. When it goes off, I get up and stretch, do shoulder rolls, touch my toes a few times, get a drink of water. Then, back to my desk, set the timer again, and back to work. I write as long as I feel fresh and the ideas are rolling, usually until about noon or one o’clock. Then, I stop and turn to the editing projects that are my bread and butter.

What is your favorite thing about being a writer?

That I am able to do what I love. Words are my life: not just my writing, but my job as a freelance editor as well. I love helping aspiring writers turn their manuscripts into something that is lovely and fit to publish. Of course, I’m not always successful at that. Some people simply cannot write, and the best editor in the world can’t fix that.

I also love being able to tell people I’m a writer. They look skeptical at first, and say, “Have you published anything?” When I rattle off my list of publications, I love watching that skepticism turn to awe.

What is the hardest thing for you to write?

Hmm, that’s a tough question. I’ve written everything from nonfiction to graphic sex scenes. I’d have a tough time writing a computer instruction manual, I guess. I’m techno-challenged. Any other writing comes pretty naturally to me.

I do have a hard time writing the first scene of a book or short story. I learned a long time ago to just sit and start writing. Once I’ve reached “The End” I usually know where I need and want the story to start. I can then go back and write the opening scene.

How do you feel about the massive changes in the publishing industry? (The recent closure of Borders, the rise e-books, etc.) How do you think it will affect the next generation of writers?

I have mixed feelings. I remember feeling so outraged that Borders and Barnes and Noble put so many independent book stores out of business. Now, Amazon has put Borders out of business. Karma? I don’t really think so.

I hated eBooks at first, and swore I would never buy a Kindle or other eBook reader. I hated that my publisher put my precious books—my babies—into eBook form. I was, quite frankly, a book snob.

But then, my best friend got a Kindle. I took one look at it and cried, “I want one!” My husband got me one for Christmas last year, and it took about five minutes to fall absolutely, totally in love with it. I love being able to adjust the size of the print, for example. Too many books have print that is hard for middle-aged eyes like mine to read. And I love being able to carry so many books with me when I travel. Now, with few exceptions, I prefer reading on my Kindle to reading a print book.

But, I still love print books. I like the feel and smell of the paper; I love holding my own books in my hands, the pride I feel of bringing that book into existence. I can’t wait until On the Choptank Shores is released in print.

The only problem I see with the rise of eBooks is that anyone can publish a book these days and sell it on Amazon. Some of the books I’ve downloaded, or people have sent me to review on my Smoky Talks Books blog, are simply awful. Just because you can publish a book doesn’t mean you should. I’ve had to instill a policy of not reviewing self-published books, because there is so much crap out there.

People don’t seem to understand that writing is an art, like painting, or playing the cello. Leonardo DaVinci didn’t paint the Mona Lisa without studying the human form for many years. Yo-Yo Ma took cello lessons as a child; he didn’t sit down at a cello and immediately play a perfect rendition of Beethoven’s “Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major.” Writers, like DaVinci and Ma, have to study their craft, too. 

Where can readers find you on the Web?

The best place to start is at my home page, which can be found at: http://smokyzeidel.wordpress.com/

That’s where you’ll find “Smoky Talks…”, my blog about my writing life. From there, you can link to my other blogs: “Smoky Talks Books”, where I do book reviews, “Smoky Talks Authors”, which is author interviews, and, finally, “Observations of an Earth Mage,” which is my blog about my experiences with the natural world.

 You can also find me at Goodreads, on my Amazon author page, and on Facebook—look up Author Smoky Trudeau Zeidel, and “like” my page there!

 Could you share an excerpt with my blog readers?

 I’d be happy to:

 [Luther] was mucking out the stalls when Grace found him in the barn.

“You will never, ever, hit Miriam again, or lock her in that frightful closet, do you hear me, Papa?” she said, never raising her voice yet nonetheless unnerving Luther with her cold tone.

Luther put down his shovel and picked up a pitchfork. “‘Whom the Lord loveth he correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.’” He tossed a forkful of straw into the stall. “‘He that spareth his rod hateth his…’”

Stop it, Papa. I’ve heard the speech before, and I’m tired of it. There is no excuse—none, do you hear me?—for beating Miriam until she’s a bloody mess.”

Luther continued pitching straw to the horses, not bothering to look up at his daughter. “ ‘Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths.’”

Grace yanked the pitchfork out of his hands and sent it flying across the barn. “What have you taught Miriam other than to be afraid of you?” She spat the words at Luther as though they were bits of rotten meat in her mouth.

“What I am teaching her is to respect the authority of her father, something you attempt to thwart at every opportunity.” Wiping a trickle of sweat from his brow, Luther brushed past his daughter and headed for the barn door.

Who does she think she is, talking to me like that? His mind raced, a jumble of thoughts pounding him as unmercifully as floodwaters pound a dam. She is my daughter. I am the head of this household. I am the authority. I make the rules. I enforce God’s laws. I am the authority. I… am… the… authority…

He stopped cold in his tracks. Shaking with anger, he turned back to face Grace. The dam burst, unleashing a rage he had never known.

“Perhaps the problem here is that I spared you a few too many whippings for your own good, you impudent wretch,” Luther roared, lunging toward his daughter.

The first blow to her face sent her reeling backwards, and she hit the side of the stall with such force the horses reared up in fear. Luther grabbed her by the wrists, yanked her to him and struck her again. The awareness that Miriam had come into the barn and was now standing in the doorway, screaming, enraged him even more, and he raised his arm again.

This time, it was Luther who went reeling. A force stronger than his own grabbed his upraised arm, jerked it painfully behind him, then slammed him into the wall. His spectacles slid from their perch and shattered, piercing his left cheek with shards of broken glass.

“Take your filthy, pious hands off of my wife.”

“She’s not your wife. She’s my daughter. And if beating her is the only way to knock sense into her, that’s my right and holy duty.” Luther winced, as Otto tightened his grip and gave his arm a sharp twist.

“She’s not my wife at the moment.” Otto leaned heavily into Luther, his breath hot in Luther’s ear. “But she will be by sundown, if she’ll have me that soon. I came here today to ask for your consent, but I’ve reconsidered that idea. You’re not fit to ask. And judging from what I’m seeing here, I don’t think there’s any question she’ll come with me right now, do you, brother Luther?”

 “Take your hands off of me. Grace will not consider going anywhere with you without my blessing.”

“Oh yes I will.” Grace struggled unsteadily to her feet; Otto loosened his hold on Luther to assist her. “I’ve already consented to be his wife. Furthermore,” she glared at Luther, the red handprint on her cheek glowing like a flame, “we’re taking Miriam with us. That’s what I came out here to tell you—you will never lay one hand on her again because she’s coming with me, with us.” She turned her attention to the sobbing child, pulling her into the protection of her arms.

“Fine. Go on then,” he snarled, picking a shard of broken glass from his cheek and hurling it to the barn floor. “You’re no daughter of mine; you’re the spawn of Satan himself. But Miriam stays, you hear me? Miriam stays right here where she belongs.”

He redirected his verbal barrage toward Otto. “Mark my words, Otto, you’ll regret this some day. ‘A foolish woman is clamorous: she is simple, and knoweth nothing. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death.’ That’s from Proverbs, Chapter Fi…”

“‘A gracious woman retaineth honour: and strong men retain riches.’ I can quote scripture too, Luther.” Otto helped Grace to her feet, never taking his eyes off Luther. “Go pack a bag, and one for Miriam, too, Grace.”

“Not the little one. Miriam stays.” Luther made a lunge toward Miriam, but Otto was quicker, stepping between Luther and his daughters.

“I don’t think you want to do that, Luther.” Otto slammed him against the wall a second time. “Go on Grace. I’ll be right behind you.”

Luther watched as Grace shepherded Miriam out of the barn, murmuring soft words he couldn’t quite make out as they disappeared into the bright sunshine.

“Don’t you move from that spot until we are packed and away from here, do you understand me, Luther?” Luther nodded, understanding the implied threat in Otto’s words. “Good. We’ll be out of you way shortly. Good day, brother Luther.”

Ten minutes later, Luther heard the pickup truck doors slam, then the crank of the engine. He stood in the barn door and watched until the truck disappeared down the dusty road.

They hadn’t even said goodbye.

Please note, since this interview was conducted, On the Choptank Shores print edition has been released. You can find it at Amazon at http://amzn.to/r7LBt4.

Smoky Trudeau Zeidel is the author of two novels: On the Choptank Shores and The Cabin; short stories, and two nonfiction books especially for writers: Front-Word, Back-Word, Insight Out and Left Brain, Write Brain, 366 Writing Prompts and Exercises; and a photo/essay collection about the beauty of the natural world, Observations of an Earth Mage, all from Vanilla Heart PublishingShe has published short stories and poetry in literary journals such as CALYX and online e-zines such as The Foundling Review, and was a 2003 Pushcart Prize nominee. She was the lead editor for Vanilla Heart Publishing’s 2010 Nature’s Gifts anthology.

 Finally succumbing to her bohemian spirit and need to live near the mountains and the ocean, Smoky moved to Southern California in 2008, where she lives with her husband and daughter in a ramshackle cottage in the woods overlooking the San Gabriel Valley and the San Gabriel Mountains beyond. An ardent outdoorswoman with a deep reverence for nature, when she isn’t writing, she spends her time hiking in the mountains, camping in the Sierras, splashing in tide pools, and fighting the urge to speak in haiku.

6 Responses to “An Interview with Author Smoky Trudeau Zeidel”

  1. As a guy who dislikes alarm clocks, I would go nuts writing with a time going, one that was ready to go off any second and startle the crap out of me while I’m immersed in a scene. On the other hand, if it works, it works–and it does ensure that writing is actually happening.

    Malcolm

  2. Beth says:

    Malcolm, I have to agree with you. I tried writing in the morning and my brain just doesn’t function that well before lunch! I know many people who will say it is the best time to write, but it just doesn’t work for me.

  3. The more I read about Smoky the more I like her. Great interview and review Beth!

  4. Smoky Zeidel says:

    I set the timer mostly because of physical problems with my arms and shoulders and back. If I don’t get up and stretch every so often, I wouldn’t be able to get up at all!

    And Doreen, what a nice thing to say. Thank you!

  5. Smoky Zeidel says:

    And Beth, thank you so much for being my gracious hostess today!

  6. Very interesting interview. I tend to stay focused and lose all track of time when I am writing too. Imagine that is not unusual. My “timer” is our little pug who decides when I’ve been at it too long and insists on lap time.

    Congratulations Smokey on your many successes and Beth on your new book!


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