Today I have the great honor of interviewing fellow author and friend, Smoky Trudeau Zeidel. Smoky is the author of three novels: The Storyteller’s Bracelet, The Cabin, and On the Choptank Shores; a collection of short stories, and two nonfiction works: Smoky’s Writer’s Workshop Combo Set and Observations of an Earth Mage, a photo/essay collection about her relationship with natural, all from Vanilla Heart Publishing.
Her short story, “Breakfast at the Laundromat,” was nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize. She has published short stories and poetry in literary journals such as CALYX and online e-zines such as The Foundling Review.
A native of Illinois, Smoky succumbed to her bohemian spirit and need to live near the mountains and the ocean and moved to Southern California in 2008, where she lives with her husband Scott and an assortment of animals, both domestic and wild, in a ramshackle cottage in the woods overlooking the San Gabriel Valley and Mountains beyond. An ardent outdoorswoman with a deep reverence for nature, when she isn’t writing, she spends her time hiking with Scott and their little dog Tufa in the mountains or desert, camping in the Sierras, splashing in tide pools, and fighting the urge to speak in haiku.
When you were a little girl, what did you want to “be” when you grew up?
That depended on what day of the week it was, or what I was reading at the time, or what I was studying in school! I wanted to be a mommy, a nurse, a writer, an astronaut (although I was told little girls didn’t want to be astronauts—this was right after John Glenn went into space), a teacher, and a national park ranger. I wanted to be Peggy Fleming and glide across the ice wearing a silk handkerchief dress; I wanted to be Barbara Streisand and sing like an angel. I wanted to be Shirley Temple and tap dance across the silver screen, and I wanted to be a mad scientist and blow up things in my lab. I wanted to be a Cherokee Indian, or maybe a Navajo. I wanted to be a zookeeper, a veterinarian, a marine biologist, and the first woman to reach the North Pole. I guess that’s why I became a writer. I can do all these things in my imagination, and turn them into stories.
At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to become a published author?
I guess it was about fourth grade, however old that would make me. I read Harriet the Spy, and started carrying a little notebook around with me, taking notes about what my siblings and neighbors were doing. My mom put a stop to my spy activities pretty quickly, but I soon picked up my first real diary—one with a lock and key—and have been writing ever since. I guess having someone publish a novel I’d written was a fantasy of mine from those early spy days, but that desire grew stronger once I started writing professionally as a feature writer for my hometown newspaper. I enjoyed writing features, but what I really wanted to write was a novel. So I did, and the rest is history.
You’ve been described as “eccentric” or “quirky”…. Give us a definition or a tiny example of your quirkiness.
Hmmm, I’m quirky in so many ways. I dress like it’s still the 1970s, long peasant skirts and blouses. I went skinny dipping in an icy High Sierra creek a few weeks ago, not caring if hikers strolled by (they didn’t). I name our garden plants and trees, as well as the lizards that live under our deck and in our poppy patch. I once named a tomato hornworm Spike. I talk to the trees—my grandmother oak tree in particular—as well as to the snakes and birds and deer I encounter when I walk around my hill or hike in the mountains. And they talk back to me; I can understand the language of the trees and the rocks, and some of the animals. I’d rather camp in our tiny tent than stay at a 5-star hotel. My stepson Christopher calls me a hippie, and I think that describes me pretty well.
You are called the Earth Mage … how did you acquire this title?
From my blog, actually. I often write about nature and about earth spirituality, and I drew a huge blog following from these posts. Managing editor Kimberlee Williams at Vanilla Heart Publishing, who publishes all my books, suggested I do a book based on these blog posts. Observations of an Earth Mage was the result. A friend of mine called me a Earth sage one time, and I really liked that. Only I decided to change it to Earth Mage—meaning one who knows earth magic. Not magic as in “abbra cadabbra” sort of stuff. Rather, I’m someone who can see the magic in nature. I mean, I look up at the ancient grandmother oak tree that towers above my house, and I look at the tiny acorns she drops this time of year, and I think, “Wow … this fabulous tree came from a tiny acorn just like this.” If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.
You have experienced a remarkable, life-altering event… beyond the “normal” life-changing events that we all have. You were actually struck by lightning and survived. I am sure my blog readers haven’t heard your story, so please share your story with us.
I wish I could in an interview, but the story is long and complex. I can’t do it justice in just a few sentences. In a nutshell: On July 11, 1989, a bolt of lightning struck me in the neck as I was walking from my suburban Chicago home to my car. I was clinically dead; if not for the fast thinking of a witness, I wouldn’t be here today. I’ve had more than 20 surgeries since that time to correct damage received from the lightning, and I have peripheral neuropathy in my arm, a heart condition, and other health issues that continue to plague me 22 years later. But I try to make the best of my life, going on despite living in constant chronic pain. I figure I’m going to hurt if I moan and groan and lie in bed all day, and I’m going to hurt if I put a smile on my face and try to live a normal life. If I’m going to hurt either way, I choose option B.
People can read the entire harrowing tale by downloading my short bio “In a Flash” from Amazon for Kindle, Barnes & Noble for Nook, or Smashwords for any other eBook format. It’s just 99 cents, and it really is a compelling story.
I can’t imagine the many ways in which that experience changed you and shaped you, but can you tell us a few things that come to mind?
Well, the most obvious thing is that I was studying to be a therapist, but since I was so badly injured I was unable to complete graduate school, I took up writing professionally. I had an understanding editor at the newspaper who knew he could get kick-ass stories from me when I felt well enough, so he’d let me take a pass on assignments when I was feeling sick or in the hospital.
The lightning also has made me more in tune with the natural world and the spirit world. I think it opened my eyes to see the possible where before I’d seen the impossible. For example, my dad came to visit me a few days before he died to say goodbye to me. He didn’t literally, physically visit me—I’m in Los Angeles and he was in an assisted care facility in Indianapolis. On top of that, he had dementia from multiple strokes. But he came and spent a day at my side, and I knew he was saying goodbye to me. I was very grateful I got that opportunity.
How many books have you written? How many are currently published? What can readers expect to see from you in the near future?
I’ve written three novels: The Storyteller’s Bracelet, The Cabin, and On the Choptank Shores (formerly titled Redeeming Grace). I’ve also written a short story collection, creatively titled Short Story Collection Vol. 1. I’ve written three nonfiction books: Observations of an Earth Mage, which I’ve briefly spoken about already, and two books about writing. Those books were combined last year into my Smoky’s Writer’s Workshop Combo Set. So I guess that’s a total of eight books, if you count each of the two writing books separately and as the combo.
As for the near future, I’m currently about a third of the way into my fourth novel, The Madam of Bodie. A real, honest-to-g*ddess Western, set in the California gold mining town of Bodie, which at the time of the Gold Rush was considered “the baddest town in the West.” And it was! I’m also collaborating with my husband on a photo/essay/poetry/story collection called Trails. Another short story collection is in the works—this one, variations on one theme—and finally, a sequel to The Storyteller’s Bracelet, called The Storyteller’s Daughter.
What are some of your favorite books/authors?
There are so many, it’s hard to know where to begin! I love the Portuguese author Jose Saramago, particularly his Death With Interruptions. I love anything by Willa Cather or Eudora Welty. I like to read books about nature; some of my favorites have been Walking With Bears by Terry DeBruyn (how could he not be a bear biologist with a name like DeBruyn?) and Silent Thunder by Katy Payne, which is about African elephants. My husband and I enjoy reading poetry, particularly anything by Billy Collins or Mary Oliver.
To whom would you say that your writing style is similar?
I think I’ll leave that for my fans and my critics and reviewers to decide. I write like me, in my own voice.
What are the top three things on your bucket list?
1. Learn to speak Spanish! I live in Los Angeles, for pete’s sake. Everyone here speaks Spanish.
2. Visit Machu Picchu in Peru, preferably hiking there along the Aztec Trail from Cuzco
3. Visit Italy with my husband, and attend mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome (and I’m not Christian, let alone Catholic!).
If you were told you could only have one more meal and then you’d never taste food again, what would that meal be?
My husband is a gourmet chef; we’re real foodies, so this would be somewhat of a disaster! But I’d have to say Scott’s eggplant parmesan, tomato salad with arugula pesto, fresh peaches from our peach tree, and his egg custard pie for desert. Then, I’d want seconds.
Congratulations on your Pushcart Prize nomination! Tell us a little about the book that has been nominated.
It’s a short story called “Breakfast at the Laundromat.” It’s the somewhat autobiographical story of a lost soul and a free spirit who find each other in, of all places, their neighborhood laundromat. I’m crazy about this story; I had so much fun writing it. I’m glad Vanilla Heart Publishing thought it worthy of a nomination—the Pushcarts are a big deal, and just being nominated is an honor.
Where can readers find you on the internet and where can they purchase your books?
I’m all over the Internet these days; if people can’t find me, they aren’t looking very hard! But seriously, here are the links to my pages and places my books can be found:
Website and Blogs: www.SmokyZeidel.wordpress.com
Facebook Fan Page: www.Facebook.com.Smoky.Zeidel.Writes
Pinterest Smoky Zeidel
Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/RXJ0XO
Amazon Author Page:
Goodreads Author Page: http://bit.ly/pGXAXq
Smashwords Author Page: http://bit.ly/qan6Nx
All Romance Author Page: http://bit.ly/p6pR9O
I’d sure like it if readers would stop by and subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter and Pinterest, and become a fan on Facebook and Goodreads. If you’re on all these places, great! If you’re only on one or two, that’s fine, too.
I appreciate your time conducting this interview, Susan. Thank you very much for having me today.