Today the Dames are pleased to have author Smoky Trudeau Zeidel join us. Welcome, Smoky! Tell us about your latest release, On the Choptank Shores.

The tragic deaths of her mother and two younger siblings have left Grace Harmon responsible for raising her sister Miriam and protecting her from their abusive father, Luther, a zealot preacher with a penchant for speaking in Biblical verse who is on a downward spiral toward insanity. Otto Singer charms Grace with his gentle courtship and devotion to his brother, Henry. But after their marriage, Otto is unable to share with Grace the terrible secret he has kept more than twenty years. Otto believes he is responsible for a tragic accident that claimed the life of a young woman and left Henry severely brain damaged.

Luther’s insane ravings and increasingly violent behavior force Grace to question and reassess the patriarchal religious beliefs of her childhood. Then tragedy strikes just when Otto’s secret is uncovered, unleashing demons that threaten to destroy the entire family.

On the Choptank Shores is actually the re-release of my first novel, Redeeming Grace. My publisher and I decided people got the wrong idea about what the book was about because of the original title—they felt it was a Christian book, and it most definitely is not. It is actually quite critical of patriarchal religion. Grace eventually finds solace in the feminine side of the Creator, something my readers have embraced once the title was changed. Just goes to show how careful an author has to be when choosing a title for their book; I sold more copies of On the Choptank Shores in the first month after we re-released it with the new name than I did in the four years it had the original title!

Oh, I always struggle with the titles for my books. It’s almost as hard choosing the correct title as it is writing the book. As well as being a fiction author, you’re also a free-lance editor and you recently released a book on writing, Smoky’s Writer’s Workshop Combo Set. We’d love to hear about that one, too.

For seven years, I taught fiction writing workshops at community colleges in the Midwest. Students often came up to me and said, “You should take these lessons you teach us and turn them into a book.” My publisher (Vanilla Heart Publishing) thought that was an excellent idea, and Front-Word, Back-Word, Insight Out: Lessons on Writing the Novel Lurking Inside You From Start to Finish was born.

Several years later, Vanilla Heart suggested I write another book for writers. Left Brained, Write Brained: 366 Writing Prompts and Exercises to Free Your Creative Spirit, Awaken Your Muse, and Challenge Your Skills Every Day of the Year is a year’s worth of fun and educational prompts that will stimulate your creativity and improve your writing skills.

Recently, Vanilla Heart had the brilliant ideas of offering both books in one, combined volume. Smoky’s Writer’s Workshop Combo Set will teach you how to write a novel and provide you with a daily writing prompt to get you warmed up and your creative juices flowing. For anyone who has ever dreamed of writing The Great American Novel, or just wants to brush up on their writing skills,   Smoky’s Writer’s Workshop Combo Set is the place to begin.

Sounds like a book every author can use at one time or another. The daily writing prompts alone are priceless. Can you share little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

I’m actually working on two novels at the present time. The first one is a work called The Storyteller’s Bracelet. It’s an historical novel that is largely set in one of the Eastern Indian Schools, where so many American Indian children and youth were sent in the late 1800s–mid 1900s in order to make them more “white.” It was a shameful thing, the American government did, forcing youth to give up their language, their culture. But there is a love story in the book; it isn’t all the horrors of the Indian Schools. There is joy, there is beauty, and there is happiness.

The second book I’m working on is called The Madam of Bodie. It takes place in Bodie, California, the “biggest, baddest town in the wild west”—and those aren’t my words; that’s what the town was known as. This book, too, is an historical novel with a love story inside, but it’s more of a tragedy than my other books have been.

I’m also working on my second short story collection. My first one, Short Story Collection, Vol. 1, was published just a month after On the Choptank Shores.

You’re a very busy woman! How long have you been writing?

Professionally, since the early 1990s. While I was recovering from being on the wrong end of a lightning bolt (you can read about that in my true short story, “In a Flash,” which is in my Short Story Collection, Vol. 1), I started writing feature articles for my local newspaper. It was a perfect job for me: I could take assignments when I felt well enough to write, and turn them down when I didn’t.

But fiction was always my great love. After nearly a decade of feature writing, I started writing short stories and began work on my first novel. The rest, as they say, is history. I’m very blessed in that every short story and every novel I’ve written has been published.

Like you, I got my true start writing when I was facing a health challenge; a diagnosis of MS. Funny how wonderful things can come out of misfortune. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

Inspiration comes from so many places. My novel, The Cabin, is an historical fantasy that was inspired by a story in my family’s history (you can read about it on my blog here: http://smokyzeidel.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/the-cabin-backstory-part-ii-a-paranormal-event/). The setting for On the Choptank Shores is my uncle’s peach orchard, one of my favorite childhood stomping grounds. The Storyteller’s Bracelet was inspired by a piece of Navajo jewelry my sister gave me; and The Madam of Bodie was inspired by my visiting Bodie on my honeymoon (It is now a ghost town, and is a California state park).

It’s my short stories that tend to be inspired by stranger things. One time, a line just came into my mind: “Technically, he supposed, he hadn’t really killed Carlotta.” I could not get that line out of my mind for the life of me! What’s a writer to do? Write a story around it, of course! That one turned into my short story, Lesser Offenses.

I love hearing how other writers are inspired by everything from the ordinary to the bizarre to the often downright strange occurrences in their lives. You just never know where inspiration is going to come from. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you could or should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?

Jose Saramago and Mark Twain are my favorite authors of all time. But you have to be in the right mood to read either of them: Saramago, because he is difficult to read (although well worth the effort); Twain, because, well, he’s Twain! Other than that, I don’t have favorite authors so much as favorite books I’ve read. This past year, Malcolm R. Campbell’s Sarabande, Melinda Clayton’s Appalachian Justice, Patricia Damery’s Snakes, and Debra Brenegan’s Shame the Devil have been among my favorite reads.

Mark Twain is one of my favorites too but it’s been a while since I read any of his books. I have several on my Kindle so maybe next week while I’m on vacation, I’ll open one up. What is a typical writing day like for you? Do you have any habits or established routines that work best?

I normally spend an hour or two online, promoting my work. Then, I’ll write for a couple of hours, or until my muse wants to take a rest. The afternoons I spend editing other people’s work—it’s my “day job.” If I don’t have an editing project, I might work some more on my novels, or I might work on an art project. I do sculpture from driftwood, glass beads, and other found objects. I find doing visual art soothing, and it makes me a better writer, I believe.

Speaking of promoting your work, what do you think works best?  Any tips for other authors?

The most important thing to realize is these days, the Internet is the place to do most of your marketing. Bookstores are closing their doors at an alarming rate; who would have thought five years ago Borders would shut down? So having a Web presence is crucial to authors. Ideally, you’ll have this before you publish your book, whether you have a traditional publisher, as I have, or if you self-publish. By Web presence I mean you have a Website, a blog or two (I actually have four, although one is currently not active), an active Facebook and Twitter presence, and you follow book blogs. The book tours of yesterday, where authors go from town to town and bookstore to bookstore promoting their books, is nearly a thing of the past. Now, you go from blog to blog, talking about your writing, your books, your self. Emphasis on “self” there; people aren’t going to want to read your books if they don’t feel they have a connection to you, the author. Talk mostly about yourself and a little bit about your books. There’s nothing more tiresome than an author who tweets nothing but “Buy my book, buy my book!”

Heh, I beat you on the blogs, I have five…well, four that are public and one that my sister Christy and I set up so that we could work on a book about our great-aunt Bessie’s life, Whistling Woman. Since the book is finished, I can probably delete the blog but every time I think about actually doing it, it feels like I’m cutting off the inspiration for that book, our Aunt Bessie. Since she’s in the top five of my list of people who influenced my writing, I don’t want to do that. Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?

That’s a really good question, and one I don’t believe I’ve been asked before. And yet I’m not sure I have a satisfactory answer for it. I’ve always been an avid reader; I’ve always loved books. I’ve kept diaries or journals most of my life, and even as a child I knew that someday I’d like to write a book. I think my accident that left me so badly injured is what really influenced me, because I wasn’t able to work at anything else. My body was broken; I was in and out of the hospital constantly, but my mind worked just fine. Writing made me feel whole, feel useful.

I completely understand that. Since I was diagnosed with MS there have been days when writing was the only thing that kept me going. Tell us about how you met, in your words from your bio, your “husband and soul mate, Scott.”

Believe it or not, I met my soul mate online, at eHarmony! We met shortly after I moved to California with my daughter, who wanted to pursue an acting career (easier to do in LA than in Central Illinois, where I lived before!). Robin told me I needed to start dating again—I’d been divorced from her dad for several years at that point. She actually signed me up for eHarmony. The funny thing is, Scott’s daughter, Janie, signed him up, too! We never would have met if our daughters hadn’t been determined that we each needed to find someone with whom to spend our lives. I dated a few other men before I met Scott, but about five minutes into our first date, I knew there was no one else on the planet more perfect for me than he is. He, too, is an artist—a classical guitarist and college music professor. We love all the same activities, we read the same books, we share the same thoughts. He’s amazing. And he thinks I’m amazing, too.

Wow, I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone who met their soul mate through eHarmony. That’s wonderful! And it’s even more wonderful that your daughters had a hand in it.  Tell us a little bit about where you live.

We live in a tiny cottage in the hills that make up the southern rim of the San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles. Our neighborhood is a rare patch of green in the desert: our hill is blanketed with enormous grandmother scrub oak trees, California buckeyes, Western sycamores, and wild fruit trees. I look out my studio windows at the steeply sloping hillside, covered with ivy at ground level, and the canopy of towering grandmother scrub oak trees overhead. If I shift my line of vision to the left, I look across the valley at the San Gabriel Mountains and Mt. Baldy, the third highest peak in Southern California. When I need a break, Scott and I will take a walk around the neighborhood, where we often encounter our “neighbors”—mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, red-shouldered hawks, ravens, spotted ground squirrels, and lizards and snakes of various sizes and sorts. It is a magical place to live, which makes it a magical place to work.

Sounds like my kind of place; peaceful, surrounded by the wonders of nature, and gorgeous! What do you consider the single, most satisfying aspect of being a writer?

Meeting so many wonderful people. I’ve met people through the research I do for my stories. I meet other authors. I meet readers, who tell me how much they enjoy my storytelling. While holding my books in my hands for the first time is magical, and having someone say, “hey, I’ve read your work!” is a thrill, meeting people, making friends, even if it is online and not in person, is the single most wonderful thing about writing. I am blessed to have so many friends, blessed to be liked, even loved, by people I’ve met both in person and on the Internet. It really is quite remarkable.

I would love it if people friended me on my author page on Facebook, friended me at Goodreads, followed me on Twitter, and signed up to receive my blogs. Here are the links to all the places you can find me on the Internet:

 Website and Blogs:                 www.SmokyZeidel.wordpress.com

Facebook Fan Page:               www.Facebook.com.Smoky.Zeidel.Writes

Twitter                                           @SmokyZeidel

Amazon Author Page:         http://amzn.to/mUvjpC

Goodreads Author Page:   http://bit.ly/pGXAXq 

Thanks so much for joining us, Smoky. It’s been a pleasure and I hope you’ll come back to visit often!