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Hi, Saundra. Welcome to the Writers4Higher family!
1. Tell me about yourself, Your books, your life, your inspiration:
I am a writer, born and bred in Tallahassee, Florida. With five generations on my dad’s side—in the Woodville/St. Marks area, and seven on my mom’s—Cody and Monticello . . . white sand, red clay and blue/green water permeate my sense of being. I am also a professional storyteller—a traveler with a rate card for hire. I tell the legends and stories of Florida, of my family and the world. Always, Mother Earth is the star.
I was a shy child—the one you never saw on the playground after school. That’s because I went straight home to grab a book and slid into my favorite place under the old oak tree with my cat. Dreaming about trees, animals, and faraway places consumed me then and it still does. I was a ‘creative’ from the time I began to talk, so when I learned to read and write, it was a given words were going to be my thing. My mother, who named me after an author, gave me full access to her library and bought horse books for me to read that I still have. A discussion about how I diverted from that life would clutter this page. Let’s just say that I eventually found my way back to the path and it feels good. Now, let us examine the journey I took to rediscover that illusive trail.
After divorce, I returned to Florida State to finish my neglected studies, attending with both of my daughters and walking the aisle with one. When I graduated, it was to embrace a not-for-profit service career. I used my writing skills at work, and fiddled around with stories, but due to lack of self-confidence, refused to identify myself as a writer. It took repeatedly trying to fit into jobs that were not right for me, nearly losing my mind and practically everything I had including my health, before I allowed the creative part of me to achieve its rightful place. I found it again during the years I lived on Alligator Point on the Gulf of Mexico, and took great joy in writing about that wonderland of nature’s artistic pleasure.
Still, I was desperately afraid to step out into a sinkhole with no bottom in sight. By that time, my association with the Tallahassee Democrat had netted me the opportunity write a chapter in the environmental anthology, Between Two Rivers, Stories from the Red Hills to the Gulf, edited by Susan Cerulean, Janisse Ray and Laura Newton. That experience brought me into contact with other environmental writers. From that point forward I began to think of myself as a writer—a frame of mind that eventually set me free.
Still, I clung to the safety of home until two triggers conspired to shoot me out of my quasi-safety zone: someone clear-cut a stand of virgin long-leaf pine in Wakulla County on public lands--one day it was there, the next, gone. Then, while I was living on the coast and playing with an egret named Snow, Hurricane Dennis showed me it was time to leave.
Concerned by the rapid loss of Florida’s native ecology, I decided storytelling in the oral tradition would be my sword. For a time, I saw myself as an environmental Joan of Arc, but no longer. Today I find my ardor tempered by a drop or two of wisdom. Interactive communication is the key to true change.
I moved to Jonesborough, TN and entered the East Tennessee State University masters in storytelling program. It was an intense experience filled with creativity, performance and the expectation of academic excellence. After graduation, I signed a contract with McFarland Publishers to do Southern Appalachian Storytellers: Interviews with Sixteen Keepers of the Oral Tradition for their Appalachian Studies division, index, and all. It was published in 2011.
Once on the track, I couldn’t stop, nor did I try. The result is Danger in Blackwater Swamp, formerly Swamp Woman, begun long ago in a different life. As the story evolved, my passion and love of place spoke through the characters. They became as real to me as my own family, and then evinced opinions not necessarily my own. When the characters decided they had expressed themselves fully and were ready to release me, I specifically looked for a North Florida publisher with a naturalist bent. Southern Yellow Pine Publishing found me; I liked what they were doing and signed on. Danger in Blackwater Swamp releases May 31, 2013.
2. Where do you see your writing taking you in the future?
I have discovered in myself a sweet blend of the spoken and written word that I find delicious, thus my future revolves around stories; it is my intention to enter the university lecture circuit as a writer, and a storyteller.
As for future projects, there are many. Three children’s books await a publisher. A time-travel historical fiction, working title Red-tail Hawk, will involve some of the characters featured in Danger in Blackwater Swamp. I’ve written enough short stories to generate a collection for publication and performance, and then there is performance poetry.
3. How do you use your talents/time to help others?
As the president of the Jonesborough Storytellers Guild and a member of the National Storytelling Network, I promote the art of storytelling through mentoring and community service. In addition to our weekly concerts at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, the guild performs concerts at a facility for those with brain injuries, the Veterans Administration Hospital, and for local service groups. Recently, we purchased a cataloging computer for our local library after getting almost 4,000 storytelling resource books donated to their shelves! As such, my community work is reaching out to others so that they may find and explore their own stories and learn to tell them, and to provide pleasant/stimulating entertainment to those who want or need it.
Would you like to find Saundra?
Check out the links to this talented author:
Books by Saundra Kelley:
Danger in Blackwater Swamp, Southern Yellow Pine Publishing 2013 www.syppublishing.com
Southern Appalachian Storytellers: Interviews with Sixteen Keepers of the Oral Tradition, McFarland Publishers, 2011. www.mcfarlandpublishers.com
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Fiction with a Southern Twist