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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Welcome Author Smoky Zeidel

The Story Behind  On the Choptank Shores

People often ask me where I get the ideas for my books and short stories. Usually, there is a small kernel of truth behind them.

My short story, Good-bye Emily Dickinson was inspired by a woman I knew once who wrote copious amounts of very bad poetry in spiral notebooks. In my story, Leap, I used some of the bizarre stories my son used to tell my about his former stepmother—like the fact she buttered her bread before she put it in the toaster—to create the main character. Truth is, every story in my Short Story Collection, Vol. 1 came to me as the result of something I saw, heard, or experienced.

The same with my novels. Since On the Choptank Shores is my latest release, I’d like to share the story of how the book came into existence.

When I was a child, back in the late 1950s and 1960s, my family took wonderful trips out East to visit the relatives. One of my favorite places to visit was my Aunt Flossie and Uncle Otto’s peach orchard, set on the beautiful shores of the Choptank River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

My siblings and I would spend hours swimming in the salty water (the Choptank flows from the Chesapeake Bay, and is thus a salt-water river), trying to avoid the jelly fish; jumping in the sand pit at the edge of my uncle’s property (something we weren’t supposed to do, as my uncle feared the sand pit would collapse and swallow one of us kids whole); and raiding my aunt’s incredible garden. We gobbled down handfuls of boysenberries, grapes, and yellow pear tomatoes. To this day, I don’t see how we could eat so much from her garden and yet never seem to make a dent in what was growing.

These were my favorite aunt and uncle. I wanted to be just like Aunt Flossie, who could grow such wonderful produce on land that was nearly pure sand. I wanted to have a basement pantry lined with jars and jars of brightly colored home-canned peaches and boysenberry sauce and green beans. I wanted the simple life she lived decades before it became fashionable to pretend to live simply.

My uncle was a wonderful, loving man, who never had any problem getting down on the floor and rough-housing with us kids. This wouldn’t be unusual, except my uncle was quite old at the time: My aunt was fifteen years older than my mother; Uncle Otto was twenty years older than my aunt. He was well into his seventies when I was a little kid.

My aunt and uncle are long gone now, of course. But I was left with a precious gift from them: during their courtship, they had sent love letters to one another, and my mother gave the box of letters to me one day.

As I sat and read them, I thought to myself, I have to turn their love story into a book. So, I sat down and started writing a book with the intention of doing exactly that.

But as most fiction writers know, our characters often decide the story we want to tell is not the story they want to tell, and that’s exactly what happened to me. On the Choptank Shores took on a life of its own. Oh, my aunt and uncle’s personalities remained the same. Otto was twenty years older than Grace (as I called her, in honor of a different aunt of mine, a sister ofAunt Flossie and my mom, who had died very young). Windy Hill, the peach orchard in my book, was indeed the name of their orchard. But the similarities stop there.

In 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.

Nothing like that ever happened in my family. Although my grandpa was a preacher and a stern and strict man, he also was a kind and loving one. But my aunt loved to read books, and often spoke of writing one herself someday. Perhaps, in On the Choptank Shores, my characters were telling me that this was the story Aunt Flossie wanted to tell. I like to think she was watching over me, proud of me, as I wrote it.

On the Choptank Shores was originally published under the title, Redeeming Grace. But people got the idea it was a Christian book, or a religious book of some sort, and it isn’t. While the book definitely closely examines how biblical text, taken out of context, has been used throughout history to justify subjugation of women, that is not the main idea behind the story. The book is a story of love, 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.

So, my publisher decided to change tactics: give the book a fresh, new title and cover, and market it aggressively as romantic suspense, for that is exactly the right description. As soon as we did that, the book began to sell.

I’m very proud of this book. I wish my aunt was around to read it. She would have loved knowing I became an author.

I would love to hear from people interested in learning more about me. You can find me all over the Internet, but the best places to start looking are these:

My Website and Blog:                        www.SmokyZeidel.wordpress.com
Facebook:                                www.facebook.com/Smoky.Zeidel.Writes
Twitter:                                   @ SmokyZeidel

In addition, you can purchase my books at Amazon, Smashwords, and some at All Romance Books. Here are the links to my author pages on these buy sites:

Amazon:                                  http://amzn.to/mUvjpC
Smashwords:                           http://bit.ly/qan6Nx
AllRomance:                            http://bit.ly/p6pR9O

All my books are available in eBook format; On the Choptank Shores and The Cabin (my other novel, of which I am equally proud and which also stems from a family story), and my photo/essay collection, Observations of an Earth Mage, are available in print. My Short Story Collection, Vol. 1 is currently available in eBook format; its print edition is due out any day now. Finally, my Writer’s Workshop Combo Set, which is both my books specifically for fiction writers, is currently in eBook format with the print edition slated for release in early November.


Smoky said...

Brynna, thanks so much for hosting me. I'm sorry I'm late thanking you; I was out of town, and got injured, and have barely been on the computer because I have an arm in a sling and typing is difficult. I will blast this out, belatedly, on Twitter and Facebook. Again, thank you so much!

Anne K. Albert said...

What a heartwarming tale of your aunt and uncle, as well as their being the inspiration for "On the Choptank Shores".

Thank you for sharing, Smoky, and thanks to Brynna for featuring you!

Sun Singer said...

Those wonderful vacations, including sneaking into the sandpit, really came through well in the book. One never knows what experiences will one day turn into part of a novel.


Marilyn said...

Oh, Smoky, this took me back to my childhood. Visiting my mother's parents in W. TX. didn't provide me with rivers and lakes, but scrawny mesquite trees to put a tree house in, and a pet cemetery where we buried dead tarantulas.
As soon as I get my Kindle, this is on the "to buy" list.....

Melinda said...

Loved reading about the inspiration for On the Choptank Shores, Smoky. As you know, I loved the book!

Chelle Cordero said...

Many people misunderstand the beginner writer's instruction to write what you know. This post explains beautifully how writing what you know can turn into a wonderful fiction.

charmainegordon author said...

Another wonderful interview by Brynna with an interesting author, Smoky Zeidel. Your book becomes a must-read after reading the backstory. Thank you both.