Welcome to the one hundred and eighty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with historical, romance, paranormal novelist Smoky Trudeau Zeidel. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Smoky. Lovely to finally chat with you after your guest blogging for me, and interviewing me. 🙂 Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Smoky: I’ve wanted to be a writer since the fourth grade, when I first read the book Harriet the Spy. I went so far then as to start carrying a little notebook around, taking notes about everything I saw, just as Harriet did in the book. Of course, my friends weren’t too keen on my doing this, so I gave it up after a while. But I continued to write poems and little stories, and I’ve kept a diary or journal ever since that time.
Morgen: I don’t know if I should be but I’m surprised how many interviewees recently have wanted to write since they were little. I didn’t have a clue til I stumbled on creative writing classes in my late 30s. 🙂
Smoky: A life-altering event changed me and allowed me to become a writer. I was a graduate student, studying to become a clinical social worker, when I took a direct hit in the neck by a bolt of lightning.
Smoky: I survived, but my body was physically changed forever. It was then I found an ad in my hometown newspaper; they were looking for freelance feature writers. I applied and was immediately hired. It was a perfect job, because I could work when I felt well enough to work, and refuse assignments if one of my health issues flared up. I wrote features for several years, but fiction was always my passion. When I sold my first short story to a literary magazine, I quit writing features and began devoting all my time to writing fiction.
Morgen: The only non-fiction I write is about writing so to me it still feels like fiction. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Smoky: On the Choptank Shores, my most recent novel release, is historical / romantic suspense. My other novel, The Cabin, is historical / paranormal romance. I don’t think “genre” when I write. I tell the story I have to tell, and later figure out what genre or genres it fits.
Morgen: Me too, although sometimes I wonder if some of what I write has a genre. 🙂 What have you had published to-date?
Smoky: In addition to the two novels, I have a short story collection that was recently released both in eBook and print, Short Story Collection Vol. 1 has five short stories that are fiction, and my autobiographical account of being struck by lightning, my short story, “In a Flash.” It’s a wonderful collection of stories, some serious—“Good-bye, Emily Dickinson” deals with the themes of mental illness and homelessness, for example; and some light—“Breakfast at the Laundromat” is a delightful story of finding love in unexpected places.
Morgen: Short stories are my first love and why I’m doing the eBook route… traditional routes for shorts seem to be diminishing. 😦 You’re certainly prolific…
Smoky: My book Observations of an Earth Mage is a collection of prose a poetry reflections on the natural world. My goal in assembling this collection was to get people to go outside and take a hike! Appreciating the natural world is good for the body and soul.
Finally, I’ve written two books on writing, which my publisher just combined into one book, Smoky’s Writer’s Workshop Combo Set. The first book is the fiction writing workshop I developed and taught for many years at community colleges throughout the Midwest. The second book is writing prompts and exercises, one for each day of the year. Together, they make a fine book for writers and want-to-be writers both.
All my books are published by Vanilla Heart Publishing.
Morgen: How funny, I’ve just eBooked a 365-day exercise book… great minds think alike (I didn’t pinch your idea, honestly!). Have you ever seen a member of the public (whom you don’t know!) reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Smoky: I’m not sure this is an unusual location, but a few years back, I attended a writer’s conference in suburban Chicago, where in addition to being a member of several panel discussions, I had the opportunity to sell books. At the lunch break, I looked at what people were reading as they munched their sandwiches. More people were reading my books than any other book available for sale that day by other authors. That felt good.
Morgen: I bet. I think deep down that’s what we all want. I’d rather have loads of people downloading my free individual short stories and enjoy them than put them up at even 49c and sell one or two. We’d all like to make a living but if no-one reads what we write, then it may as well sit in a drawer. Of course it’s getting people to know that they’re available… how much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Smoky: I spend what averages out to be about two hours a day on marketing myself and my works. I’m active on Facebook and Twitter, write four different blogs on my Website, and do a lot of guest posts and interviews on other people’s blogs. It’s fun; I actually enjoy it.
Morgen: Four blogs! Wow. One is certainly enough for me. 🙂
Smoky: I also try to do at least one book fair or writers conference each year, although the past couple years I’ve not been successful with that because of health issues. But I’ve already got one book fair lined up for 2012, where I’ll be one of the featured speakers, so I’m looking forward to that.
Morgen: 🙂 Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Smoky: I was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2003, but did not win. I don’t think my success as a writer has been tarnished by not winning a prize, though. I built my reputation by writing good books, helping others write good books, and good marketing practices.
Morgen: Oh but the Pushcart is huge! Even being nominated is a great thing for your CV. 🙂 But yes seriously, it’s all about the writer when all said and done. Are all your books available as eBooks? What was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Smoky: Yes, my books are available both in print and in eBook editions. I am blessed that I have a really good publisher; she makes all Vanilla Heart books available in every imaginable format. I know the company sells more eBooks than print books these days, but then again, every publisher will tell you the same thing: eBooks have outsold print books for several years now. I read both print and eBooks. I adore my Kindle, especially for traveling, but I also love the feel of a book in my hand, turning pages, smelling the paper.
Morgen: Me too and a lot of people are saying that. Paper books for home, electronic for travel. 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?
Smoky: Right now I’m working on two different novels. The Storyteller’s Bracelet is a story of love and loss, and finding family. It’s set both in the 1930s, at an Indian School out east (a shameful part of American history, I might add—Indian children being forcibly taken from their families and tribes so they could be “Americanized” in the Indian schools), and in the early 2000s, when a woman goes on an adventure to learn the meaning behind strange pictographs on a bracelet she inherits from her mother. I love the story that is evolving. When this one is done, I’ll finish my other WIP, titled The Madame of Bodie. It’s a story about a reformed prostitute’s desperate search for acceptance in the Wild West, back in the days of the California gold rush.
Morgen: My goodness, you don’t make life easy for yourself… but very interesting by the sound of it. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Smoky: I don’t believe that every time a writer finds it difficult to sit down and write it is necessarily writer’s block. I prefer to think of these times as gathering times. You can’t write all the time—you need to be able to go out and collect new material for writing your stories. You can’t do that glued to your computer. So when I find the words won’t flow, I go hiking in the mountains, or out in the desert, or go explore the tide pools at the ocean. I find if I spend these gathering times in places of exquisite beauty and wonder, the words return.
Morgen: Being in a very landlocked county, I’d be inspired by the sea. 🙂 A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Smoky: I don’t know why anyone would dread that question. I get my inspiration, as I just said, from nature, but I also get it from people I meet or have known in the past, from places I visit, and from dreams that I dream. Inspiration can be found in everything you see and experience. You just have to recognize it when you see it.
Morgen: You do. It’s amazing what I notice these days… always on the lookout (and listen out when people nearby are speaking). Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Smoky: I have a general idea for what a story should be before I begin writing it. But I don’t create a formal outline I feel I must stick with no matter what. I think doing that stifles your characters; a writer needs to accept that sometimes, a character will take over to tell their story, and it may not be exactly what the writer had in mind. I love it when my characters do this. It makes my stories ring much truer.
Morgen: And I love it when the characters take over. 🙂 You write short stories, apart from the word count, what do you see as the differences between them and novels and why do you think they’re so difficult to get published?
Smoky: Short stories are plot driven; they have only a main plot and no sub-plots. They’re great when you have a good idea, but an idea that simply doesn’t warrant trying to expand into a 60,000+ word story. I think a lot of people have trouble publishing novels because they’re padding ideas that shouldn’t be padded. They’d do better to delete all the crap and sell them as shorts. As for being difficult to publish: I didn’t realize they were. Every short story I’ve ever written was published.
Morgen: Bravo. 🙂 There does seem a better market in the US. Magazines here are stopping short stories and flash fiction is almost non-existent… in print anyway. A real shame, but then the internet’s worked wonders for us writers. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Smoky: Usually, that’s my best friend. Kat is a freelance editor, as am I, and I trust her to not only edit my work before I send it to my publisher, but to offer honest feedback on what works and what doesn’t in my books.
Morgen: I have one of those. A ‘Kat’ by the name of Rachel. 🙂 I have a writing group too, they’re great but then that’s more time limited. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Smoky: Definitely computer. I type much faster than I write, and sometimes when the ideas are flowing, I can barely keep up with my fingers flying across the keyboard. I’d never keep up if I was trying to put the ideas down on paper!
Morgen: I realise every other Monday evening when I have to write for the exercises I set that my handwriting is so slow. I should allow everyone to bring they’re computers. 🙂 Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Smoky: My husband is a classical guitarist, and he is often practicing in another room of our house as I write. It’s beautiful music, so I enjoy having it in the background. But I couldn’t work in a coffee shop or listen to music with lyrics. I’d find all the words people were speaking or singers were singing distracting. Once when I was trying to listen to vocal music, I found I was typing what was being sung! I haven’t listened to vocal music while writing ever since that experience.
Morgen: Classical all the way here too. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Smoky: I don’t know that I consciously have a preference between first and third person, but all my short stories are in first person, while my novels are third person. I don’t know why; they just worked out that way. And while I’ve experimented around with second person, I don’t like it. Few writers do; when was the last time you read a novel written in second person? The last I recall is Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights Big City. That was back in the late 1980s, and I hated that book!
Morgen: I have it, have been wading through it (and it’s not very long) and normally love second person but it’s not doing anything for me. I’ll persevere though… eventually. Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Smoky: I haven’t used them to date; my novels have not warranted their use. I think they’re fine if the author knows what he or she is doing in writing them. I’ve found that sometimes the prologue is really nothing more than the first chapter. That’s not what a prologue is supposed to do. A prologue is supposed to foreshadow what is to come in a book, not simply be another chapter.
Morgen: A lot of people have said that. I have one such book… it’s Chapter 1, no prologue, no Chapter 1. At the moment it’s a prologue but I think it’ll go back to being Chapter 1 although it does foreshadow… we shall see. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Smoky: As a former writing instructor, and as a writer who has written successful books about writing, I’ve got three pieces of advice:
Yes, I do. 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. Yo-Yo Ma didn’t sit down at the cello one day and decide to play, and produce exquisite music. Picasso didn’t decide one day to paint and produce The Guitarist. They studied their craft. Writers need to do that, too.
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 edit for them, even though neither had a bit of editing experience. Editors know things your aunt and your neighbor don’t know about 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. I used to tell my students, 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. But if you pick yourself up, wipe the blood from your face, and say, “Gee, that felt good! I think I’ll do it again!” you’ll eventually knock that wall down. The same goes for getting your book published. If you’ve studied your craft and had your book professionally edited, and if, of course, your story is any good, you will find a publisher.
Morgen: I love that image, no wonder so many writers write about writers! What do you like to read?Any authors you could recommend?
Smoky: My favorite book of all time is Death With Interruptions, by the Portuguese Nobel Prize-winning author Jose Saramago. He was a brilliant man. Difficult to read, but worth the time to do so. Other favorite books of the past year include Malcolm R. Campbell’s fantasy adventure novel, Sarabande; Patricia Damery’s Snakes, and Ramey Channell’s wondrous novella, Sweet Music on Moonlight Ridge. I’d recommend any of those books.
Morgen: Thank you, new ones on me. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Smoky: My husband and I spend as much of our free time as possible hiking, camping, exploring the oceans and deserts and mountains near our home in Southern California. We live in a place where we are fortunate to be able to reach any of these destinations within a couple of hours, at the most, after leaving home.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Smoky: I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads … all the social networking sites where an author can market her book. Here is a list of my most popular links: Website and Blog, Facebook Fan Page, Amazon Author Page, Goodreads Author Page, Smashwords Author Page, All Romance Author Page and Twitter.
I would be delighted if your readers would stop by and subscribe to my wordpress blog, like my Facebook page, and friend me on Twitter!
Morgen: Yes folks, please do. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Smoky: For me, I think the future is very bright. I’ve adapted to the way writing is nowadays: an author must be willing to market themselves and their books, and to be “out there” on the blogosphere. Writers who are timid, who hide behind their computers and hope their books will magically sell themselves, are in for a big disappointment. It’s an electronic day and age, and you have to keep up with the times.
Morgen: We do, and hopefully enjoy it in the process. Thanks very much Smoky. I then invited Smoky to provide an extract of her writing and this is an excerpt from her short story, “Breakfast at the Laundromat”, from her Short Story Collection, Vol. 1.
He picked his way among the clouds of suds that had escaped from the washer and returned to his chair. He assumed she was right behind him, but when he turned he saw her bending over the piles of suds and scooping them up in her arms as if they were piles of autumn leaves. Using her backside to push open the door to the parking lot, she stepped out of the laundry and let the suds fly in the breeze. She slipped back inside, once again marched over to the washer, again scooped up a pile of suds, and again sent them sailing outside. By her fourth trip to the parking lot all that was left of the suds clouds on the laundromat floor was a tiny ribbon of water inching its way toward the floor drain, and the clouds themselves whirled through the air above a shiny new Lexus convertible and a rusty green pickup truck in the parking lot. She whirled and danced among the suds clouds until they drifted off toward the street.
He stared. Enchanted. He’d been married to his ex-wife for more than twenty-five years, and never had he seen her dance in a parking lot. Or wear green flip-flops, for that matter. “Carefree abandon” was not a term that would come to anyone’s mind when describing his ex. He had assumed all women were that way once they grew up, settled down, had kids. Yet here was this exquisite, middle-aged woman, dancing with soap suds in the parking lot of the laundromat.
Smoky Trudeau Zeidel is the author of two novels, On the Choptank Shores and The Cabin; a recently-released collection of stories,Short Story Collection Vol. 1; and two nonfiction books on writing which have recently been combined into one book, Smoky’s Writer’s Workshop Combo Set. She is the author of Observations of an Earth Mage, a collection of prose, poetry, and photographs celebrating the natural world. All her books are published by Vanilla Heart Publishing.
Smoky lives in California with her husband Scott (a college music professor and classical guitarist), her daughter (a college student and actress), and a menagerie of animals, both domestic and wild, in a ramshackle cottage in the woods overlooking the San Gabriel Valley and Mountains beyond. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time hiking in the mountains and deserts, splashing in tide pools, and resisting the urge to speak in haiku.
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