Smoky Zeidel and ‘The Storyteller’s Bracelet’

Smoky and Tufa

Today I’m happy to welcome back author Smoky Trudeau Zeidel (On the Choptank Shores, The Cabin). Her new novel, The Storyteller’s Bracelet (out this month from Vanilla Heart Publishing) is a historical romance set in the late 1800s during the period when the U. S. Government forced Indian youths into boarding schools where they would learn the “American way of life.” (See my preview of the book here.)

Malcolm: What is a storyteller’s bracelet, and what gave you the idea of using one as the centerpiece in your story about two young Indians from the southwest?

Smoky: A storyteller’s bracelet is a silver bracelet engraved with pictographs that tell some sort of story. My sister Bonnie gave me one as a gift about five years ago. I knew immediately I wanted to create a story about such a bracelet.

Malcolm: While the culture of Otter and Sun Song appears to influenced by the ways of the Tewa and Diné, your protagonists’ tribe isn’t identified in the novel. What led to your decision not to use a specific Indian nation for their background?

Smoky: You’re right about the Tewa and Diné/Navajo, but there also are Hopi influences in the story. I decided not to identify a specific tribe because I’m not Indian, and I didn’t want readers to presume that I am. I did not want to presume to know how a member of a specific tribe would act in any particular situation. Plus, I wanted to be able to pull aspects of different tribal lore into my story, especially when it came to telling the creation stories, because the different stories are beautiful. Also, by not identifying a particular tribe, I was able to bend the stories just a bit to fit the novel. I wouldn’t have felt right doing that if I had identified a particular tribe.

Malcolm: Like many young Indians, Otter and Sun Song were sent away to a white-run Indian school where the intent was to remove the students’ Indian language, beliefs, and culture and replace English, Christianity, and white clothing styles and laborer skills. Most of us didn’t hear about this in our high school history classes. It must have been difficult to place your characters into such an environment. How did you cope with this during the writing process?

Smoky’s Bracelet

Smoky: No, we didn’t hear about the Indian Schools in our history classes, just as we didn’t hear about the Japanese Interment camps. History often has overlooked the ugly things our culture has done, and these are just two examples of that. It was hard to place Sun Song and Otter in the school, but it was crucial to the plot. I also wanted to bring some awareness of what our government did to all the Indian Nations by ripping children and young people away from their tribes, their families, their culture. It was a shameful thing to do. Most of the time, when I was writing particularly tense scenes at the school, I raged at my computer. I felt really angry, even ashamed to have white skin. I guess, in a way, The Storyteller’s Bracelet is an apology to indigenous people everywhere for the way my birth tribe–white people of European descent–treated them.

Malcolm: The Storyteller’s Bracelet has a touch of magical realism in it, as does your earlier novel The Cabin. In both novels, the magic is a natural outgrowth of the places and the characters’ beliefs. Do you often wonder if such magic exists in “real life,” or do you approach it more as a viable storytelling technique?

Smoky: It is, of course, a viable storytelling technique, and is an integral part of the plot of The Storyteller’s Bracelet, as it was in my earlier novel, The Cabin. But yes, I do believe such magic exists in real life, at least for those of us who know how to tap into it. I’ve experienced it firsthand on several occasions. Does my body physically move from one plane to another in a different place and time, like in my books? No–at least, I don’t think so. But I have traveled to a cave in a faraway mountain range to converse with a Spirit Bear, and I have found myself transported to an island on a raft that is pushed by a great gray whale, with whom I also converse. Is it magic? Or is it imagination? I’m not sure there’s a difference.

Malcolm: Otter and Sun Song are in touch with their environment and treat wild creatures and special places there with respect.  This reminded me of your own approach to nature as you wrote about it in Observations of an Earth Mage. Did your own view of the natural world help you tell Otter’s and Sun Song’s story or did you have to “step away” from your own views to allow your characters’ views to be truly their own?

Smoky: No, I didn’t have to step away. Sun Song and Otter are like my own children–I created them, gave birth to them. It was critical to me that they shared my belief that we are all one with nature, neither above nor below every living creature, whether it be the smallest of insects or the powerful mountain lion or brown bear. We are nature. All of us. Intentionally harming any living thing is like harming a family member, for we are all the same, we are all one, to Mother Nature.

Malcolm: As a historical romance, The Storyteller’s Bracelet focuses on the feelings between Otter and Sun Song as well as the forbidden and dangerous feelings between Otter and the white girl Wendy whom he meets in the town where the Indian school is located. However, since these relationships unfold on a much broader canvas than the classic love triangle, were the two women a planned part of the plot from the outset or were you simply “following your characters” as you wrote when Wendy appeared on the scene?

Smoky: The two women were always in the planned plot, but they ended up being much feistier that I ever imagined. Sun Song, for example, in my initial story idea had a much smaller role than she ended up with. I ended up following her, because she made it clear this was to be her story as much as Otter’s. My planned original ending is nothing like how the actual novel turned out. Following Sun Song’s lead, I was able to work my way to these characters’ true story. And both I and the publisher, Kimberlee Williams of Vanilla Heart Publishing, think this story is much, much better than the one I originally planned.

Malcolm: Thank you, Smoky.

Where to find Smoky on the Internet

Website and Blogs

Author fan page on Facebook

Twitter

Amazon book listing

Briefly Noted: “The Storyteller’s Bracelet’ by Smoky Trudeau Zeidel

Available for pre-order on Amazon, “The Storyteller’s Bracelet” is a new historical romance from Smoky Trudeau Zeidel (“On the Choptank Shores,” “The Cabin”) with a June 22, 2012 release date from Vanilla Heart Publishing. Smoky will stop by Malcolm’s Round Table to discuss her book later this month. Meanwhile, you can learn more about Smoky in her interview with Shelly Bryant here.

Publisher’s Description: It is the late 1800s, and the U.S. Government has mandated native tribes send their youth to Indian schools where they are stripped of their native heritage by the people they think of as The Others. Otter and Sun Song are deeply in love, but when they are sent East to school, Otter, renamed Gideon, tries to adapt, where Sun Song does not, enduring brutal attacks from the school headmaster because of her refusal to so much as speak. Gideon, thinking Sun Song has spurned him, turns for comfort to Wendy Thatcher, the daughter of a wealthy school patron, beginning a forbidden affair of the heart.

But the Spirits have different plans for Gideon and Sun Song. They speak to Gideon through his magical storyteller’s bracelet, showing him both his past and his future. You are both child and mother of The Original People, Sun Song is told. When it is right, you will be safe once more. Will Gideon become Otter once again and return to Sun Song and his tribal roots, or attempt to remain with Wendy, with whom he can have no future?

Comment: Smoky and I share the same publisher, so in my view, it would be improper for me to review The Storyteller’s Bracelet. Yet, as I read an advance copy to prepare for our upcoming discussion, I couldn’t help but notice the great care Smoky has taken with her approach to the culture, beliefs and thoughts of her dual protagonists Otter and Sun Song. Since the title character in my novel Sarabande has an Indian heritage, I wrestled with the problem of accurately telling a story from an Indian’s point of view.  Smoky’s words ring true. What an absolutely wonderful book. This should be grabbed up as a classic.

Malcolm

contemporary fantasy for your Kindle

Allowing your story to happen

“Leopards break into the temple and drink to the dregs what is in the sacrificial pitchers; this is repeated over and over again; finally it can be calculated in advance, and it becomes a part of the ceremony.” – Franz Kafka, from his Zürau aphorisms

When I first read Kafka’s temple ritual aphorism in high school, I was enchanted with logic. I believed that including the leopards either suggested that the ritual was meaningless and/or that the leaders were simply lazy and expedient. In high school, we were taught to plan, outline and research our fiction and nonfiction in advance to ensure that we said what we meant. Stray leopards in our prose might suggest otherwise.

Over the years, intuition and a love of apparent chaos have replaced logic in my life–and in my writing–as the primary inspiration behind what I’m doing and saying. Now, when I see Kafka’s aphorism, my thought is that the leopards had, in fact, been missing from the ceremony from day one.

Had the temple leaders maintained security and vigilance, the leopards couldn’t have gotten into ritual. The same is true, I think, for writing. Too much logic and too much planning can keep out the very things your story needs. Needless to say, if you allow something to enter and decide it really doesn’t help the story, you can edit it back out.

Author  Diana Gabaldon once mentioned during a research discussion on a writers’ forum that while doing research about ABC she would inadvertently stumble across XYZ. Once she investigated XYZ, it turned out to be vital to the plot and theme of her book even though she had never considered it before. Was her discovery magic, synchronicity, a butterfly-effect phenomenon, or an example of her subconscious mind “knowing” the material was there and leading her to it?

I’m not sure. And really, I’m less likely to stumble over the leopards trying to get into the temple if I don’t worry about how they found the temple or managed to appear at the proper time.  So, I leave my work open to chance. In his book Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, Mark David Gerson suggests that the stories we tell are already out there (don’t worry about where), just waiting for us to listen. If we don’t listen, we won’t hear them or, perhaps, if we do hear them, we’ll censor out the leopards because they weren’t included in the original plan.

Over the years, I’ve come to think that events and ideas that seemingly come out of nowhere are often the most meaningful. And, they can send our lives and our stories off on the most surprising pathways. In her post How an African Intruder Taught Me a Lesson on Magic and Writing, author Smoky Trudeau Zeidel wrote about a guineafowl that wandered into her neighborhood. She named the bird Gertie. Its appearance there was probably just as unlikely as a leopard in the local temple.

“All sorts of Gerties have popped up in my Work In Progress (WIP), The Storyteller’s Bracelet. Not guineafowl, these Gerties, but surprises that seem to have materialized out of nowhere,” she said. (She and I were content to label the appearance of a Gertie of any kind as magic.) Her view is that “when magic enters your life, be it through an unexpected visitor from another continent or through your words, it is best to go with it.”

I agree. Going with it is part of allowing your story to happen.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism and contemporary fantasy novels, including “Sarabande.”

Author’s ‘In a Flash’ Recounts Being Struck by Lightning

In July 1989, Chicago Tribune headlines brought readers the first chapter of the saga of a young woman who was struck by lightning:

  • 3 INJURED BY BOLT OF LIGHTNING
  • 2 HIT BY LIGHTNING SHOW IMPROVEMENT; MOM IS STILL IN CRITICAL CONDITION
  • LIGHTNING VICTIM ON THE REBOUND

Today, my guest is author Smoky Trudeau Zeidel whose new Kindle story In a Flash recounts the lightning strike, the immediate aftermath and the twenty two years of pain and suffering that followed.

Malcolm: In the story, you say that you didn’t know you were struck by lightning until you woke up in the hospital. Did you believe them when they told you what happened or did it sound too farfetched?

Smoky: It was confusing at first, because I had no memory of the event, but I was in such a fog from the morphine I guess I would have believed anything they told me. I couldn’t speak, because I was on a respirator, so I was in no position to question them. I guess I realized how seriously injured I was when I saw that all my siblings—who lived as far away as Georgia to the east and Washington to the west—had gathered at my bedside.

Malcolm: Do you see the incident as random bad luck that could have happened to anyone or as something that was meant to be? That is, was it destiny?

Smoky: Both. I believe it was random luck—I was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don’t believe God was out to get me, as one misguided person wrote me in a letter shortly afterward. However, I believe that random luck can force a person to confront their destiny if they’ve been on the wrong path, and that happened to me. I came to that realization when I met a Native American teacher at a lecture on native healing. Somehow, the story of my being touched by lightning came up. He urged me to explore and study shamanism. “With many indigenous peoples, their shamans are people who have been touched by the Thunder People,” he told me.  You were struck by lightning—touched by the Thunder People.  You are being called for something.” I take that charge seriously.

Malcolm: Since the story got into the newspapers, did you go for a while constantly being hounded by reporters for the latest update? If so, did you ever get tired of all the attention? Did people on the street recognize you from a picture in the paper and say, “hey, there goes that lady who do struck by lightning?”

Smoky: I did get hounded by the press, especially once they found out the following spring that I was pregnant. One exuberant reporter asked to be present at my first ultrasound so they could report that on the news! At that point, I had to ask the press to please back off and give me my privacy. I promised the reporter I’d call him before any other reporter after the baby was born, and I did that. News spread quickly; when I was discharged from the hospital there were reporters from every major news station in Chicago filming me leaving the hospital with Robin!

Even years afterward, I would get calls to make comments on stories about people being hit by lightning. Eventually, the bruhaha settled down, but it took years.

Fortunately, people on the street didn’t seem to notice me that much. You know how it is—when you see someone out of context you might think they look familiar, but not be able to place who they are. Medical personnel, however, all seemed to know my story.

Malcolm: When reporters and others asked “what was it like,” were they disappointed when you told them the lightning caused short-term memory loss and that you didn’t really know what it was like? That is, were they hoping for a dramatic story?

Smoky: I don’t think anyone was disappointed. Plenty of witnesses saw the event, so the press got the lurid details from then. And because I had so many serious issues that developed as a result of the event, they got fresh story material on a pretty regular basis. It did get tiring after a while.

Malcolm: Do you do anything every year on the anniversary of the lightning strike?

Smoky: When I still lived in the Chicago area, I would take donuts or cupcakes to the paramedics at the firehouse—the team that saved my life initially, and who continued to save me every time I had a health crisis and had to call them. But once I moved away, I stopped doing anything like that. Now, I just stop at 10:21 on July 11 for a moment and give thanks for my life and the blessings I’ve had since that day.

Malcolm: What was it about the lightning strike and its aftermath that made you decide to change you career plans from social work to writing?

Smoky: I was so seriously injured I could no longer attend graduate school. Nor could I hold any kind of full-time job. Who would hire a person who was in the hospital for a week every month? But as broken as my body was, my mind was just fine, blessed be. Writing gave me an outlet to do something worthwhile, something that mattered. I started out as a freelance feature writing for my community’s newspaper. I had a great editor, a guy who was familiar with my story. He gave me stories when I felt well enough to work, and let me be when I was not. It was perfect for me. I gradually expanded to working for other newspapers, and doing magazine stories. But my lifelong dream had been to write a book. Once my first book, Redeeming Grace, was published, I retired from feature writing an focused all my attention on creative writing.

Malcolm: And, the story continues. Your recent knee surgery ended up being more difficult than the doctors expected. What’s their latest prognosis on the long-term viability and functionality of the replacement knee?

Smoky: It’s finally doing better. I have to wear a splint for eight hours a day that is helping loosen the stiff muscles and tendons—a splint I have affectionately named Gizmo Sally. It’s working quite well, and I now have hopes the knee will be working almost normally in another few months.

Malcolm: During your recovery, you met an energy healer who, in the process of helping you deal with the pain, led you to discover Bear, your totem animal. Does Bear still appear to you in dreams and meditations or as an aspect of your intuition when you have important decisions to make?

Smoky: Absolutely! Bear still is a constant presence in my life. People who walk with Bear tend to be introspective, to have inner strength. I would not be alive today if Bear did not share her inner strength with me. I live in almost constant pain, and sometimes that pain reaches almost unbearable levels. But what is in the center of the word un-BEAR-able? Bear herself! Letting me know that even though I hurt, she is with me.

Bear also introduced me to Snake—Rattlesnake, to be more specific. Snake energy tends to awaken in women in the midlife, and appears as a burst of creative energy—awakening kundalini. Bear taught me I could not rid myself of my pain, but that I could use that pain to do wonderful things. When Bear awakened Snake, my creative, artistic side really blossomed. I branched out from writing and began expressing my creativity in a variety of ways. I now consider myself not only a writer, but a visual artist as well.

I have both Bear and Rattlesnake tattooed on my arm as a constant reminder that, no matter what life throws me, I walk side by side with powerful protection. Seeing them on my arm also reminds me to slow down, to focus (Bear energy) on channeling my pain into more useful, creative outcomes (Snake energy).

I believe, ultimately, this was my gift from the Thunder People—Bear and Rattlesnake as my companions in life, keeping me strong, keeping my creative energy, my kundalini energy, flowing. Sometimes, it is hard to live up to this gift. Sometimes, I just want to lie in bed and moan and groan and scream, “Why me?” But ultimately, Bear and Rattlesnake won’t let me do it, at least not for long. I’m a better person because of them, and that is something I will never take for granted.

Malcolm: Than you for stopping by Malcolm’s Round Table, Smoky. Readers will find my review of In a Flash here.

Excerpt from In a Flash

Forty thousand amps of raw electrical power tore through my body and into Bob, who was still holding my hand. The force of the lightning was so great that we were literally catapulted out of our shoes and tossed twenty feet through the air like rag dolls. Hit by the wall of intense heat created by the blast, Steven tumbled over backward. Bob’s plastic key ring melted into his hand. I ended up face-down in a pool of blood, my pierced earrings blasted out of my earlobes like miniature missiles, my gold and opal necklace vaporized into my chest skin. To all outward appearances, we were dead.

Smoky is also the author of “The Cabin” and “Observations of an Earth Mage.” Malcolm is the author of “The Sun Singer” and “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.”

Book Review: ‘In a Flash’

Mark Twain once wrote that “thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.”

Smoky Trudeau Zeidel’s “In a Flash” describes the kind of work lightning does when the “lightning rod” it selects is the umbrella in a young woman’s hand.

The woman died. That was to be expected. But not for long.

Lightning struck Smoky Trudeau Zeidel twenty two years ago on an overcast day in a Chicago suburb. Life since then has not been easy: the number of trips to the hospital, the number of surgeries and the number of days and nights in pain are sufficient evidence of that.

This is a well-told story about courage, strength and the work lightning does. Surprisingly, it’s also a story about counting one’s blessings. One can only read it and weep, and then experience a lingering euphoria for the challenges a person can endure.

You May Also Like

Other short stories recently released on Kindle by Vanilla Heart Publishing include:

A Little Protection by Victoria Howard – Handsome Matt Hemmings meets scientist Alexa McAllistair at a conference on nuclear energy in Rome…and against his professional judgment, he is smitten. The vulnerable – and beautiful – scientist arouses his protective instincts, and the desire to kiss her senseless. And it’s more than evident that she feels the same way about him.

Paco’s Visions by Robert Hays – Paco has visions, and his most recent vision helps him believe in the power of love. For a twelve year old boy, it is a big revelation. He and his sister, Rosa, live with Mama Jan, in a rich man’s mansion on Sanibel Island. Will his vision become their reality?

Scarlet’s Tears by Angela Kay Austin – When you lose everything you love, how are you supposed to believe it won’t happen again? The knife at her throat didn’t frighten Scarlet Anderson.  In fact, it was a relief.  Finally, she didn’t have to worry any longer about living another empty day.  She’d be reunited with the ones she loved. Joshua Davis had faced a lot of challenges in his life, his faith and the love of his family had seen him through his latest battles.  But, no person could help him, now.  How had he managed to fall in love with someone who’d stopped loving herself?  And what was he supposed to do?

Kindle Edition

Review: ‘Good-Bye, Emily Dickinson’

Good-Bye, Emily DickinsonGood-Bye, Emily Dickinson by Smoky Trudeau Zeidel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

She’s homeless and she believes she’s Emily Dickinson’s daughter. She observes the world, writes poems wherever she parks her shopping cart of notebooks and other treasures. She ponders the fate of great artists who didn’t get any respect until after they were dead. But, she’s patient (though some say she should be a patient until she gets her mind right).

Smoky Trudeau Zeidel (“The Cabin” 2008) tells a story that’s born in a respected teacher’s English class and played out on the hot streets between the church, the Sinclair service station and the underpass. She—real or imagined daughter of the long-gone Emily—truly understands that “the mere sense of living is joy enough.”

View all my reviews