Smoky Zeidel's Blog
April 27, 2015
The other day I wrote about techniques I use when writing about nature. It’s important to use all your senses, not just your sense of sight, because nature is more than a still photograph. Think how different grass smells on a sunny day versus right after a spring rain. Close your eyes and imagine the smell of a dark, humid forest and compare that to the way a meadow of wildflowers smells.
One of the most important senses we use in writing about nature is the sense of touch. How does the wind...
April 21, 2015
Yosemite Nat’l Park
One of the things I’m best known for as a writer is my ability to transport people to wild and beautiful places through my words. Nature writing comes naturally to me, because all my life, I have spent every spare moment I can outdoors.
It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself a nature writer or not. If you write, you write setting descriptions, and chances are, at some point in time or another, you’ll be writing about a rural setting, or a thunderstorm, or...
April 17, 2015
As those of you who have known me over the years know well, and those of you who are just meeting me will soon learn, I’m a nature nut. There is a reason I’m known as the Earth Mage. I’m never happier than when I’m walking in nature, be it up in the mountains of LA, the desert, or the seaside. I’d rather splash in a tide pool than a swimming pool any day of the week; I prefer a dirt manicure to red enamel nails. Sitting in my back yard, surrounded by the ancient scrub oaks, Scott’s hanging vegetable garden, and listening to the songbirds sing, ravens croak, and woodpeckers knock is my idea of a perfect day.
A halcyon picture, yes? Nature can indeed be this way—beautiful and pacific. But nature is also violent and seemingly cruel. Once, we witnessed a baby ground squirrel having seizures beneath our deck. Mercifully, it soon died. We’ve also witnessed our neighborhood hawks carrying off baby squirrels to feed to their own chicks in the nest. It’s heart wrenching, even to a person like myself who understands nature’s food chain and the circle of life.
And then, there are the hummingbirds, Mother Nature’s flying jewels. They are a total enigma to me. I love and hate, laugh at and cry over, our hummingbirds on almost a daily basis, because they are as beautiful as a sunset, but as nasty as a case of poison oak.
I am something of a crazed maniac about hummingbirds. Until we bought a six-port hummingbird feeder that held more hummer food, I would get up before sunrise so I could ensure there was plenty of sugar water out for the tiny birds, because some of them would start showing up at the feeder when first light had barely hit our yard.
Scott thought this behavior a bit … let’s say obsessive. But there was a very good reason for my bizarre, obsessive behavior: I am afraid of hummingbirds.
Yes, the Earth Mage—the woman who walks with Bear at her side, who isn’t afraid of Rattlesnake or Coyote or Bobcat, is terrified of a two-inch long bird.
Before you label me daft, let me tell you what it was like when we first began feeding our hummingbirds. If I accidentally let the feeder run dry, when I’d step out the back door, I would immediately be surrounded by a cloud of hummingbirds—Anna’s hummingbirds, Allen’s hummingbirds, Rufous hummingbirds—all furious at me for allowing their feeder to stand empty for, like, two minutes. They would fuss at me mightily, and get right up in my face while doing it. I’m not talking two or three or six hummingbirds, either. I’m talking like twenty. Or maybe a hundred. I couldn’t count, because I’d be too busy trying to swat them away, but the little buggers are faster than imitation syrup running down a stack of pancakes.
Have you ever watched hummingbirds fighting one another? They swordfight in mid-air with those long, pointy bills of theirs. With the humming sound their wings make, they reminded me of tiny Jedi knights fighting the Emperor’s army in Star Wars with their light sabers. They try to stab one another. They do stab one another. It looks painful. I’m sure it is painful.
Which is why I fear hummingbirds. I have no desire to have to try to explain to an EMT or emergency room doctor why I was being admitted with a helmet of hummingbirds stuck to my skull. And in my ears. And, perhaps, my eyes. A pair of glasses seems poor protection from an army of angry hummingbirds.
My character Sun Song (The Storyteller’s Bracelet) has a theory about hummingbirds. Here is the beginning of the story she tells:
Long ago, Spider Woman did indeed create Raven and Hummingbird equal in size. But Hummingbird was Spider Woman’s favorite, and She bestowed on him all the glorious colors of the desert in bloom, while She made Raven black as night. While Hummingbird was given sweet nectar for food, Raven was made to hunt and eat bugs and mice.
Raven was jealous that Spider Woman favored Hummingbird in this way. Raven started raiding Hummingbird’s nest, eating Hummingbird’s eggs and offspring, hoping to rid the desert of his enemy and gain the favor of the Creator.
But Hummingbird was sly. He hid his nest deep in the mesquite and creosote bush, where Raven could not find it. He prayed to Spider Woman to make him small and fast, and give him the ability to fly backward, so Raven could no longer catch him. Spider Woman took pity on Hummingbird, and in seven generations, Hummingbird became so small Raven no longer bothered with him. She also bestowed on Hummingbird a fierce and fighting spirit in order to defend himself not only from Raven, but others who would do him harm.
The rest of the story is available on Amazon, for Kindle only. Don’t have a Kindle? You can download a free Kindle reader from Amazon as well. Directions for downloading are on the story page.
Do you have a story about hummingbirds? I’d love to hear it!
April 15, 2015
Today, I celebrate.
Twenty-two months ago almost to the day, the eight books I toiled so long and hard to birth went off the market, victims of an unscrupulous publisher who thought nothing of helping herself to my hard-earned royalties (and the royalties of at least thirteen other authors). A publisher who promised the moon and delivered a toxic waste dump.
It knocked the wind out of me, to say the least. More accurately, it sent me spiraling into a deep depression. I couldn’t write; I couldn’t even think about writing. I couldn’t look at my books because they had the publisher’s logo on them. I deleted my long-running blog, a blog that had hundreds of followers and had even won a WordPress Freshly Pressed award. I could barely even read books and blog posts written by other writers, because every written word was a reminder of what I had lost.
Losing your livelihood, losing your passion, is a lot like a death. You go through those stages: shock/disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance/hope. My old publisher acted like I was her best friend, so of course there was shock and disbelief when I discovered she had stolen from me. Denial: I spent days gathering statements from Amazon, from Smashwords, adding and re-adding book totals, figuring what I should have been paid, certain there was a mistake somewhere (there wasn’t). Bargaining? I might have skipped that step, for who would I bargain with? The publisher showed no remorse, offered no apologies, offered no additional royalty payments to make things right.
Guilt? How could I not feel guilt? Surely it was my fault for falling into the trap of an unethical company. Not only that, I had assisted a beloved niece and a favorite former student of mine get publishing contracts; what had I done to them? And that made me angry. Hurt me, fine. I can take it. Hurt people I love, and that’s another story.
So, yes, I became depressed. I told everyone, friends, fans, and family alike, I would never write again. I took those twenty-two months to undergo some major surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, and to explore other means of artistic expression. Fiber arts? How about crocheting three afghans, twenty-six hats, fourteen pairs of glovelets, a teddy bear, and who knows what else? I took up needle felting. Tired of fiber, I took up painting.
More importantly, I realized that, once a wordsmith, always a wordsmith. The itch to write came back, growing into a physical need to put words to paper.
A need to get my words back out in the world.
Today I step out of twenty-two months of darkness and back into the light. Today, I am no longer an artist with no art to show for her years of blood, sweat, and tears. Today my third novel, The Storyteller’s Bracelet, is available once more, thanks to a wonderful new publisher, Thomas-Jacob Publishing, LLC. A publisher with morals, with ethics, who believes in me as I, once again, believe in myself.
Today, I celebrate a rebirth of Smoky the author. I’m back, and I’m not going anywhere again until I take my dying breath.
April 7, 2015
Smoky Zeidel is a novelist and poet, whose love of the natural world is thematic in all she writes. She taught writing and creativity workshops for many years at venues throughout the Midwest before succumbing to her bohemian urges and moving to Southern California. Her work has earned her two nominations for the prestigious Pushcart Prize.
Smoky lives in a ramshackle cottage in the hills outside Los Angeles with her husband Scott and a plethora of animals, both domestic and wild.
After breaking with her former publisher, Smoky took all her books off the market and went on an 18-month sabbatical from writing, during which time she pursued her love for fiber arts, sculpture, and painting. But words are in her soul; she signed a new publishing contract with Thomas-Jacob Publishing, LLC, and her novel, The Storyteller’s Bracelet, is being released April 15, 2015.
September 29, 2013
*You can go to Smoky's website to learn more about what an Earth Mage is. ;~)
The Bite of the Rattler:
One Woman’s Path to Healing Through Snake Medicine
By Smoky Zeidel
It’s little wonder Snake medicine bit me as an adult. I’ve always had a love affair with snakes, starting when I was a small child. It wasn’t my own experiences with them that began this affair.
Today I was the guest blogger on the fabulous Mare Cromwell's For the Earth Blog. My topic? The Bite of the Rattler: One Woman's Path to Healing Through Snake Medicine. Please stop by Mare's blog and say hello!
September 24, 2013
It’s been three months since I posted a blog. Three months of living in hell.
I refuse to live in hell any longer. Time for Smoky to do a Demeter and return from the Underworld, to tell my story and get on with living, and breathing, and creating.
This hell began when I severed my relationship with my publisher in June. I discovered the publisher had not only lied to me on multiple occasions, they also had blatantly breached our contracts, and paid me only a tiny fraction of the royalties due me over the course of our relationship. I have the statements from Amazon and Smashwords to prove this; it isn’t just the statement of a disgruntled author who doesn’t think she’s earning what is due. I earned it. I just never received it from the publisher.
I wasn’t the only author to leave the company this summer. In fact, the majority of the publisher’s authors abandoned ship shortly after I did, realizing, at last, that they, too, had been cheated and scammed. One of them, S.R. Claridge, wrote a fabulous blog post about exactly what went on at the publisher. You can read that here, if you want to know more of the dirty details.
Many of these fine authors have set up their own publishing ventures and gotten their books back “out there” once again. I have not done so. I’m so exhausted from all that goes into writing and promoting books. I did this for seven years. I don’t know if I want to do it anymore.
Unfortunately, that means my beautiful novels, my book about writing, and my essay collections on nature are no longer available. That hurts. For so many years, my identity was tied into those books. Who was Smoky, if she wasn’t Smoky the Author?
As many of you know, I have rather fragile health as a result of being struck by lightning 24 years ago. The stress and trauma of breaking with my publisher over the summer made me physically ill, as stress and trauma do. (My body perceives any stress as a physical assault, like the lightning was a physical assault. Having been hurt so terribly, it’s an automatic reaction to stress, one I have had to learn to live with over the years.) It has taken me these three months to build my strength back up, to try to figure out what to do, where to go, from here.
Will I republish my books, maybe self-publish them? Heaven knows, I won’t ever trust another traditional publisher. But I don’t have the energy to self-publish, at least, not now. So let’s just say that perhaps, in the future, I’ll re-release the books. And perhaps I will not.
Will I write another book? I’ve got a work in progress, The Madam of Bodie. I know the story I want to tell. And, I have a sequel in mind to my last novel, The Storyteller’s Bracelet. Just a rough outline, but the idea is there and growing. So will I write them?
Again … perhaps, and perhaps not. I don’t know if I have the stomach for it anymore.
But that doesn’t mean I’m going to sit on my couch eating bonbons. I’ve got way too much creative energy pent up inside me to do nothing. So I’m using the time I once used to write to pursue other creative endeavors. I’ve started crocheting again, after having abandoned it nearly 30 years ago. I assumed I couldn’t crochet anymore because of the peripheral neuropathy I suffer as a result of the lightning. Turns out moving the hook doesn’t affect the neuropathy at all. As a result, I’ve turned out two beautiful lap afghans, a dozen hats, a slew of potholders, and several pairs of glovelettes to give as gifts to those near and dear to me.
I’ve collected bits and pieces on hikes and camping trips—beautiful, bark-stripped sticks, bones, and other odds and ends, which I’m turning into a wall sculpture. It will be beautiful.
And, I’m returning to my musical roots. Scott is a classical and baroque guitarist as well as a music professor; it was only a matter of time before he got a musical instrument back into my hands. I had 12 years of piano lessons and 10 of flute while I was growing up; music is in my blood as much as nature is in my blood. This past Sunday, Scott took me to the Folk Music Center in Claremont, CA, and bought me a gorgeous mountain dulcimer, made in my beloved Great Smoky Mountains—an instrument I have long yearned to learn how to play.
Working with the wool when I crochet, or the leather bits and bone and wood when I’m creating a piece of wall art, and now, playing music, has healed me. I feel healthy and strong once again. Something I taught back in the day, when I taught creativity workshops, and which I wrote about in my writing book, is that creativity is a living organism, like the human body is a living organism. Both require nourishment. Yes, you could feed your body only carrots, which are healthy. But you wouldn’t stay healthy very long if you ate only carrots! Your creative nature is the same as your body: it requires feeding. I fed mine only words for many years, and when the words hit the wall when I realized my publisher had cheated me, I got very sick. Now, I’m feeding it a more balanced diet of fiber work, sculpting, and music.
And, apparently, words as well. I wrote this, didn’t I?
June 25, 2013
He came to us as Phineas, a scrawny little 8-month-old tabby cat with a propensity for sucking his paw like a baby sucks his thumb. We promptly renamed him Beetlejuice, a big name into which he immediately expanded. A big name requires a big personality, a big heart. Beetlejuice never let us down in that department.
No matter what changes took place in my household—and there were many—Beetle took them all in stride. Daughter leaving home, an agonizing divorce, a cross-country move, the addition and subtraction of other cats, dogs, and guinea pigs, whatever the change, Beetlejuice weathered the storm with a remarkably good nature and a paw suck. When I met and married Scott, no one was happier than my Bee. He seemed to have an almost conspiratorial connection with Scott, a “we’ve got to stick together since we’re the only two men in a household of girls” type of attitude.
But even his sweet disposition and tasty paw couldn’t get him over his battle with diabetes. We never could quite get his blood sugar regulated, and while he seemed to do pretty well the first few weeks on insulin, it was a short-lived grace period. The past few days, he was vomiting several times a day, and had no energy at all. He slept, ate, and vomited, and little else. His hair began falling out in chunks.
Beetlejuice died this morning. He took with him a piece of my heart that I don’t think will ever belong to any other creature. The last words I spoke to him were, “Come back as a mountain lion, Bee.”
I want to thank all of you who have supported me, and Beetlejuice, over this past few months as we tried to cope, as we tried to give Beetlejuice some quality of life. We gave it our best shot, Bee and I. Sometimes, your best shot isn’t enough.
If a cat has nine lives, may Bee comes back as a mountain lion eight times over. And if a cat has but one life, I shall take comfort in the certainty there is no diabetes in kitty heaven.
Tagged: Beetlejuice, feline diabetes, kitty heaven
June 18, 2013
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could …
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by…
~ Robert Frost
With beauty before me I walk. With beauty above me I walk. With beauty around me I walk. It’s a lovely philosophy, isn’t it? And during my recent Beauty Way Guest Blogger Series, I’ve shared thought-provoking, heartfelt posts written by brilliant, gifted artists about how the Beauty Way affects their daily lives and their art.
You know what happened as I read these beautiful posts? I realized that, in the most important aspect of my creative life—my fiction writing—I haven’t been following my own version of the Beauty Way. I’ve not been true to myself and my gut instincts. And that’s been making me very depressed, unhappy, and, at times, physically ill.
A few days ago, as I read back through the series of Beauty Way posts, I made a decision. I am no longer going to let issues that were troubling me affect my art, my storytelling. After several long talks with Scott, I took an enormous leap of faith (in myself) and severed my relationship with my publisher. This means my books are now temporarily out of print.
I love Robert Frost’s poem, quoted above. I think it’s a perfect illustration of the Beauty Way. The poet is faced with a problem of sorts—a fork in the road, the option of going one way or another. This is how I felt during the weeks leading up to my split with my publisher. Staying the course would have been the easy path, the comfortable path, because it would have been the familiar path. but there was also the promise of greater beauty (and more peace) in veering off the path I’d been on so many years and setting off on the road less traveled, the road where I control my own destiny. [Today I will walk out, today everything negative will leave me.]
A tremendous burden has been lifted from my shoulders. [I will have a light body, I will be happy forever, nothing will hinder me.]
Now, I’m looking forward to being able to write fiction again. [My words will be beautiful.] I can finish my Work in Progress without worrying about giving up control over what the final product looks like and how it is distributed. It’s been more than a year since I felt excited about writing fiction, and I’ve missed that passion, that excitement. I’m not back to that point yet, but I can feel a creative restlessness growing inside me.
One of these mornings, I’m going to awaken and my characters are going to be begging to come out and walk with me, and talk with me, to let their stories be known. [Through the returning seasons, may I walk. On the trail marked with pollen may I walk. With dew above my feet, may I walk.] I’m here, waiting for them, listening for signs they are ready to speak, for as an author, listening is an integral part of my job description. Listening, and then translating what I hear into words pleasing to the eye and ear and soothing to the soul. I give voice to my characters’ tales. I am my characters’ mouthpiece.
I am a storyteller. And I walk in beauty.
Tagged: beauty way, Being True to Yourself, Following Your Heart, gut instincts, leap of faith, Publishing, writing
June 16, 2013
Father’s Day is a day I really miss my dad. He died on November 29, 2009, just a few days after I wrote the following, which was posted on my old blog at Xanga. Today, I woke up thinking about my father, his love for all things wild, his love for me and for my children. So Daddy, wherever you are, this is for you.
My Dad, the Sea Hares, and Me
My father was a man of many passions. He was a minister for 65 years; he loved his God. He loved Lionel trains and always had elaborate train layouts wherever he and my mother lived. And he loved nature. It was he who every year loaded up our car with every bit of camping gear known to humankind and set off across the country to show his four children the world. It is he who gifted me with wanderlust and wonderlust, that compunction to answer questions like, “I wonder what’s over there/down that road/under that rock/what that is?
My father, who had a series of strokes last year, now spends his days in a wheelchair, sleeping. When he is awake, he rarely recognizes my sisters or mother when they visit him. Would he recognize me if I were there? He probably would not. He is in Indianapolis; I am in Los Angeles. I feel guilty, not being there, not trying to reach the father that once was, the man who loved to hike and camp and run Lionel trains in the basement on Saturday evenings.
When I miss my dad I head outdoors. The smell of mountain air or the salt breeze off the ocean is like a massage for my psyche, caressing my raw emotions, easing the tension, restoring a sense of balance.
This time, we headed south, to the beaches of Orange County and a state park called Crystal Cove. A picnic on the beach and a hike back through the chaparral, I hoped, would soothe my anxiety about my dad and quiet other demons pulling me six directions at once.
Crystal Cove’s ocean front sits high atop a bluff overlooking the Pacific. At high tide, the sea licks hungrily at the sheer rock face, devouring the beach in its entirety in places. I feel like that sometimes, like my responsibilities—both real and imagined—are eroding my emotional base and threatening to wash me away.
At low tide, however, the water blanketing the beaches recedes, revealing the hidden wonders of Crystal Cove: the tide pools.
Shell litter at Crystal Cove
Photo by Smoky Zeidel
The first pool is littered with shells in a palette of colors Monet and Van Gogh would envy. Here we encounter tiny opaleye perch, darting in and out of clumps of pink coralline algae. These are the first fish I’ve seen in tidepools. Clumps of tiny diadumes cling to the rock edge. These tiny anemones live in colonies, unlike their larger green sea anemone cousins, which are solitary.
Diadumes and Turban Snails
Photo by Smoky Zeidel
I spot the largest, most magnificent green anemone I’ve ever seen in a tide pool. This exquisite creature is nearly the breadth of my hand, Its tentacles sway easily in the water, hypnotizing me. I watch, entranced, until I hear Scott calling to me excitedly. He has found something we’ve not seen in tide pools before.
Photo by Smoky Zeidel
Sea slugs! California black sea hares, to be more specific. They are beautiful. They’re not black at all, but more of an aubergine. In fact, that’s what they look like: small aubergines—eggplants—with spots on them. The first ones we see are small, only a couple inches long. But further down the beach we find sea hares that are seven or eight inches long. They move slowly through the pools, unrushed, unhurried, munching on algae, skirting anemones, flowing gently over black turban snails as if they weren’t even there.
California Sea Hare
Photo by Smoky Zeidel
We come across two kelp snails, their shells wearing a sunset as brilliant as any the sky has ever boasted. One shell is empty; I examine it carefully before returning it to the water. It will make a fine home for a hermit crab. The second snail is very much alive, it’s flame orange foot clearly peeking from beneath its sunset shell.
Photo by Smoky Zeidel
But it is the sea hares that keep calling to me. I am transfixed by their grace as they silently slide through the crystalline waters.
I think of my father, sitting in his wheelchair in the nursing home in Indianapolis, sleeping. How he would have loved exploring these tide pools, these beaches, with his family. Because of him my summers were filled with adventure as he drove us all over the country visiting our National Parks, the mountains, the deserts, the sea. When my mom lost her sight a decade or so ago, he became an avid armchair traveler, watching the nature videos I would bring him from my travels, reading brochures and magazines about distant places, both familiar and unknown, that he would never again lay eyes on, or see for the first time. I grieved then for my dad. I grieve more now.
Last week, my dad suddenly stopped using his right arm. He continues to have TIAs, or mini-strokes. There is nothing that can be done for him at this point. The man who was my father is gone.
But as I sit at the edge of the tide pool watching the sea hares, blocking my mind to all that is around me save the water and its explosion of life, I hope that somewhere in the recesses of my father’s mind, he is still there, hiking up a mountain trail, singing one of his silly hiking songs, content that his family is hiking right there beside him.
* * *
My father died November 29, 2009, just a few days after I wrote this piece. I feel him often, beside me, as I splash in the tide pools, or walk in the mountains or desert. And when I feel him there, walking beside me, I thank him for instilling in me my deep reverence for nature, my appreciation for bears and hawks and wolves, and also for sea slugs and turban snails and anemones. I thank him for gifting me with wanderlust, and wonderlust, and the realization that a night spent sleeping under the stars high atop a mountain is a sacred experience. My dad was an amazing preacher, but his best lessons didn’t come from the pulpit. They came from those trips into places wild–the mountains, the desert, the sea.
My family, Christmas 1992
Bonnie, Me, John, Mary Ann, Mom, Dad
Photo by James Houff
Tagged: California Sea Hare, Crystal Cove, diadem, father's day, fathers, green anemone, lionel trains, picnic on the beach, raw emotions, sea hares, tide pools, turban snail, wanderlust