Hi Smoky. Welcome to Writers4Higher
Tell me about yourself.
I grew up on the flat plains of Illinois, and lived there the first fifty years of my life. As a child, my father took my family on grand explores every summer to places of exquisite beauty: Great Smoky Mountains, Mammoth Cave, and Shenandoah National Parks to the east, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, and the other great National Parks to the west. Those grand adventures instilled in me a deep appreciation for our natural world and fed my bohemian spirit.
When I was fifty, I sold my house and most of my belongings, packed up my eighteen-year-old daughter, my dog, two cats, and guinea pig, and moved to Southern California. Most people just buy a sports car when they have a midlife crisis. I moved to a place I’d never been without so much as an apartment rented. But it worked out okay. I met my husband Scott a few months after relocating, and with him, I am able to continue the grand explore of our beautiful land my father started with me all those years ago.
I authored eight books before discovering my previous publisher was stealing most of my royalties. While I quickly got my rights back, that experience sent me into a deep depression. I couldn’t even think about writing for almost two years afterward. But I used that time to explore other art forms; I painted, did fiber art, messed around with clay. Eventually, the need to express myself with my words conquered my malaise, and I signed a contract with the fledgling and very fine indie publisher, Thomas-Jacob Publishing, LLC. They recently re-released my third novel, The Storyteller’s Bracelet, and my first poetry collection, Sometimes I Think I Am Like Water.
I taught writing and creativity workshops at various junior colleges and other venues across the Midwest before my move to California, and have twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Personal trivia includes the fact I must be part cat, because I’ve already survived a bullet missing me by mere inches when I was a toddler in the crib, my house flooding, another house catching fire, a tornado, and the biggest one of all, being struck by lightning. (At the time I was the most severely injured person to survive a direct lightning strike, anywhere in the world.) That’s five lives, I figure, so I have four to go!
Where do you see your writing taking you in the future?
I have several projects in the works right now. First on the docket is completing my fourth novel, The Madam of Bodie. It’s set in the California gold rush town of Bodie, in the Eastern Sierra, once considered “the biggest, baddest town in the West.” While the title character runs one of the town’s brothels—they were common in the West—it also deals with the hardships of mining, and the racism, especially toward the Chinese, that ran rampant through the West.
I have written a trio of short stories, collectively called Sun Song Stories, available only on Kindle, which serve as an introduction to the characters in The Storyteller’s Bracelet, Otter and Sun Song. I’ve had such positive feedback on these I am planning on doing an entire short story collection.
Sun Song and Otter are such a part of me, I can’t help but think they are going to be the characters that finally get me to write a sequel to one of my novels. While my earlier novels are open-ended enough to leave room for sequels, I have never had any desire to write one. But with The Storyteller’s Bracelet, I feel Sun Song and Otter have much more to say. I intend to listen, once I’ve finished the Bodie book.
And then there’s my passion for poetry. I am so proud of Sometimes I Think I Am Like Water, and I have gotten such good feedback on it. There probably will be more poetry in my future. It doesn’t sell well, but a writer is compelled to write what a writer is compelled to write.
How do you use your talents/time to help others?
I give in concrete and tangible ways. My daughter works for a wonderful organization called End Malaria Now, and I donate money to their cause, and help her research and come up with fundraising opportunities. I donate to crisis relief funds, like those set up after the recent Nepal Earthquakes. One of my now out-of-print books from my previous publisher was a book on writing. I recently donated the last of my stash of these to a women’s prison project in the hopes it would inspire incarcerated women to write their stories.
But it’s the less tangible ways of giving that mean the most to me. My publisher only publishes books that deal with issues that are troubling about humankind, books that make you think. I jokingly tell them the company tag line should be “Books That Make You Squirm.” That’s important to me, as a writer. I want my words to make people stop and think. For example, The Storyteller’s Bracelet deals with a dark time in American history, when children of the First Peoples were forced to attend Indian Schools. They were ripped from their homes, their tribes, and forced to give up their native language and customs and adopt those of the European Americans, people I call the Others in the novel. It was a shameful thing our nation did, and something that is glossed over in history books, if it is mentioned at all. My book is meant to educate people about the injustices done to the First Peoples, and hopefully instill some compassion for them and what they have lost.
I like to refer to my poetry as being “accessible poetry.” It amazes me how many people are downright afraid of poems! They think all poetry is ambiguous, big-worded nonsense—and, admittedly, some of it is. But there is a big world of poets who write poems that are easy to read, easy to absorb, and beautiful, like music, in their sentiments. My hope, with Sometimes I Think I Am Like Water, is to show people poetry is as enjoyable to read as prose, and to teach them something about nature at the same time. We tend to want to protect that which we know and love. If I can encourage even a single person to get outdoors and explore our beautiful world because of my writing, I will feel very successful indeed.
Where to find Smoky:
Thank you, Smoky!
Fiction author and blogmaster