Monday, March 12, 2012

TBR welcomes Smoky Zeidel

TBR: Welcome to TBR, Smoky. Will you share a little bit about yourself?
Smoky: First, thank you for having me here today. I taught fiction writing and creativity workshops at community colleges and other venues in the Midwest for many years before packing up my daughter, dog, two cats, and guinea pig and moving to California, where the climate is much more conducive to creative work, and the men are, too. (I met my husband and soul mate, Scott, shortly after I moved here.)
Scott and live with a menagerie of animals, both domestic and wild, in a ramshackle cottage in the woods overlooking the San Gabriel Valley and Mountains beyond. When I’m not writing, we like to spend our time hiking in the mountains and deserts, splashing in tide pools, and resisting the urge to speak in haiku.
People tell me that, metaphorically speaking, I’m the salmon who swims downstream, not up. When the invitation says “black tie,” I’m much more likely to show up in tie-dye. If there’s a tree, I’ll climb it. A rock, I’ll scramble up  it. A creek, I’ll splash in it.  When the neighborhood coyotes howl, I tend to howl back.  My husband calls me “eccentric,” but I prefer the term “quirky.” But then I’m  a writer and an artist. What else would you expect?

TBR: Tell us about The Cabin and where it's available.
Smoky: My books are all available on Amazon and on Smashwords. Links to my pages on both sites are listed at the end of this post.

The Cabin is my historical fantasy, based on a true story from my family’s history, which I’ll talk about a little further into this interview.

In the book, James-Cyrus Hoffmann has just inherited his grandfather's farm, and with it a mysterious cabin deep in the woods on Hoffmann mountain; a cabin he has dreamed about since childhood. When James-Cyrus enters the cabin, he is vaulted back through time to the Civil War era, where he meets Elizabeth, the brave young woman who lives in the cabin, and Malachi, a runaway slave. James-Cyrus realizes his dreams of the cabin were visions of the past, and that Elizabeth is his great-great aunt a woman who vanished without a trace from the family tree. He also learns of his ancestors pivotal role in the lives of runaway slaves who were offered a safe haven at the cabin, a station on the underground railroad.
Cora Spellmacher, James-Cyrus's elderly friend and neighbor, begins to unravel the secret of how he is able to make his fantastic leaps back and forth through time. In doing so, Cora begins to hope a tragic wrong from her own past can be righted, and that she can regain something precious that was lost to her many years earlier.
James-Cyrus realizes Elizabeth and Malachi are in terrible danger. With Cora's help, he undertakes a daring plan of rescue that promises to rewrite his family history and change all of their lives forever.

TBR: Please tantalize us with a story blurb or excerpt.
Smoky: I’m happy to:

Bright whorls of light flashed through Corrine’s mind. Her head hurt terribly, and she was burning up with fever. She was in the forest. Why was she sleeping in the forest? It was nighttime, and she could feel the sky ablaze with the light of a thousand stars.
“Corrine, Corrine…”
She was in a dream, that was it. A dream that smelled of damp earth and decayed leaves; a dream where she was sitting by the creek, looking for  looking for what?
“Corrine, Corrine …”
“I’m here, Grandmother.”
“Corrine  open your eyes!”
She opened them. Standing before her was her old Indian grandmother, glowing like foxfire. Trembling, she bowed her head to the ancient apparition. “Am I dead, then, too?”
The Grandmother chuckled. “No, my child. You are not dead. But you have stumbled upon the ancient fairy magic, and your life has been forevermore changed.”
“William, my children …”
“What has become of them I cannot say,” the Grandmother said.
“Cannot, or will not? Do you not know?”
“Alas, it is not within my power to speak of things that have transpired,” the Grandmother replied. “I cannot tell you what has happened. This you must learn for yourself. But this I can say to you: Believe what you see.”
“But I don’t understand, Grandmother! Everything is wrong; everything is changed!” Corrine felt a tear slide down her cheek.
“Everything has changed,” the Grandmother agreed. “And changed forevermore. But listen to my words, grandchild of my heart, and remember. What was torn asunder must be reunited; only then will this grave wrong be righted.”
“Remember what? Grandmother, you’re speaking in riddles, and I don’t understand!”
The foxfire began to flicker and fade. “What was torn asunder must be reunited; only then will this grave wrong be righted.”
“Grandmother, don’t leave me. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Grandmother!”
“Remember, Corrine. What was torn asunder must be reunited …”
She was gone.

TBR: What inspired you to write about the theme?
Smoky:  The Cabin, as I mentioned earlier, was inspired by a story from my family’s history. My triple-great granddaddy came to this country in the late 1700s. He settled in Virginia and built a cabin there to call home. Eventually, he took a wife, with whom he had several children. When his wife died, he wed her sister, and had several more children. In all, triple-great granddaddy and his two wives bore fourteen children. The youngest was a girl—I don’t remember her name. What I do know is that, in the early 1860s, during the Civil War, this young woman of about 20 years of age bore a child, a boy named Erasmus, out of wedlock. Then, she and her child vanished from our family tree. No one seems to be able to figure out what happened to her, or her child.
Fast forward more than a hundred years, to more or less present day. One of my father’s second cousins got into our family genealogy in a big way. Our family name, Houff, is unusual in that it was misspelled when the original Houff, triple-great granddaddy Benjamin, came to the States (it had originally been spelled with an “a”, Hauff). Because of this error, all the Houffs in the United States are descendants of Benjamin, and thus related.
My dad’s cousin traveled a great deal on business, and he always made a point of looking up the name “Houff” in the phone book whenever he landed in a new city. One year, he traveled to the Pacific Northwest, where he found numerous Houffs in the phone book. Excited, he made a few phone calls, and eventually found one who agreed to meet him face-to-face.
Both my dad’s cousin and the Northwestern Houff were more than surprised when they met face to face. Benjamin was Germanic, and he and all his descendants we knew of were white. The Pacific Northwestern Houff was black, and he told the cousin that all the Houffs he knew were black (and, apparently, not into tracing family history). So the question arose: where did a black branch of the family come from, since all Houffs are descendants of the white Benjamin?
My father’s cousin and his newly-found relative were not able to figure out an answer, and to my knowledge, no one to this day has definitively figured it out.
When I heard this story, my fiction writer’s mind immediately leapt to the young woman who so mysteriously vanished from our family tree during the Civil War. A young woman having a child out of wedlock in the 1860s would have been a pariah under the best of circumstances, but what if that child had a black father? Living in a Southern state like Virginia, the young woman would have been in serious trouble. Her only chance of being able to raise her child would be if she somehow went north, some place where a child of mixed race would have a fighting chance for a normal upbringing.
My thought is that this is where the black branch of my family came from. But however nice a story that is, it’s not exciting. I’m sure my ancestor wasn’t the only young woman with child who had to move to another state in order to raise her child without scandal.
But what if … ? That’s every fiction writer’s big question, isn’t it? What if she didn’t simply slip away in the night and travel north? What if something more sinister was going on? What if the baby’s father was in mortal danger? What if Elizabeth (as I named her in my book) was also in danger? The what ifs … went on and on.
And thus, The Cabin was born

TBR: How do you develop your characters?
Smoky: I don’t. My characters develop themselves. I start out with a rough idea of what each character is like, but since I let my stories evolve as I write them, rather than sticking to an outline, the characters often surprise me, doing things I’d never expect. It works well, until I get a character who refuses to stay in the role I had envisioned for them. That’s what is happening in my current work in progress, The Storyteller’s Bracelet. I have a character whom I thought was going to be a B-list character, but she’s plowed her way into the A-List. The story’s now taken off in an entire new direction, a direction I’m very happy with.

TBR: Do you have a favorite quote you’d like to share?
Smoky: “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”~Cicero.

TBR: Tease us with one little thing about your fictional world that makes it different from others.
Smoky: In The Cabin, it’s fairy stones. Fairy stones are real stones that naturally form in the shape of a cross, some of which are quite perfect. They’re found in only a very few locations around the world, one of which is Virginia. Most people who have read the book have told me they didn’t think the stones were real, until they did a Google search and learned otherwise. I have several of them; they hung like talismans on a hook by my desk to inspire me while I wrote the book.

TBR: What's next for you?
Smoky: My novel, The Storyteller’s Bracelet. My publisher is going to be so happy to finally get this manuscript in her hands! I’m more than a little overdue in getting it to her.

TBR: Any other published works?
Smoky: My other novel is titled On the Choptank Shores, and is a romantic suspense novel, set on Maryland’s Eastern Shore during the 1920s. I have a short story collection, Short Story Collection, Vol. 1. Not a very original title, but hey, it is what it is. Smoky’s Writers’s Workshop Combo contains both my books about writing previously published, and which together make a great learn-to-write workshop. Finally, my collection of essays, poems, prose, and photography, Observations of an Earth Mage, is my heartfelt ode to Mother Earth.

TBR: Where can readers find you on the web?
Smoky:  These days, I’m all over the place. Here are links to my most popular sites. I hope you will stop by and like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, and friend me on Goodreads.

Website and Blogs:       
Facebook Fan Page:    
Twitter                                     @SmokyZeidel
Amazon Author Page:              
Goodreads Author Page:
Smashwords Author Page:
All Romance Author Page:

TBR: Smoky is giving away a coupon code for a free Smashwords download for one of my novels—either The Cabin or On the Choptank Shores—winner’s choice. Books from Smashwords can be downloaded in pdf or just about every eBook format. She'll pick a winner next week and announce the winner here.

Thanks for visiting TBR, Smoky. All the best to you.


  1. Welcome to TBR, Smoky. I love the Cicero quote, but would add music too. :)

  2. Thank you for having me. And yes, I would agree about the music.

  3. This was a very interesting interview. The premise for this story, by itself, is very intriguing. But to have the fiction and excitement stem from a family tree mystery heaps a load of excitement into things.

    Wish you the best of success with this and other publications.

  4. What an interview,excerpt,and Smoky the woman and author. Thanks, TBR, for bringing all this to my fingertips today.


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