Nicole Seitz, Author of Southern Fiction
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Biography

Q & A

Radio Interviews

Mid-Day Cafe, WHQR Wilmington, NC (Feb 2010)

Conversations with Joan, Charleston, SC (Jun 2008)

V100-FM, Charleston, WV

Feature Articles

Feature Article in Charleston City Paper (pdf) (Feb 2009)

Feature Article in The Post and Courier (pdf) (Apr 2007)

 

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about Nicole - Q & A

Can you tell us a little bit about your creative journey?
I’ve always been the one in the family to do drawings, sketches, come up with creative, out-of-the-box solutions. I got a degree in Journalism and another in Illustration and wrote articles for newspapers a while back. Nothing too creative though. I don’t think my true passion for creating was awakened until I was pregnant with my first child. Since then, I’ve started my own web design business, begun painting and writing books. My first novel, The Spirit of Sweetgrass, came out in March 2007. My next novel, Trouble the Water, will be out in February, 2008. My paintings are actually on the covers of those books as well!

What inspires you?
My children and husband inspire me to be the very best that I can be!

Do you have any creative dreams you could share?
My biggest creative dreams are for my children. I want them to know that they can achieve whatever God puts upon their hearts to do. I’m here to support them in the best way I can.

How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.
I have a background in journalism and non-fiction writing, but had never attempted fiction until I was expecting my daughter in 2003 when I penned a middle grade novel which is still unpublished. My next work of fiction was The Spirit of Sweetgrass which I began in October 2004 and completed just 5 months later. I contracted with an agent then in March 2005 and the book sold to Integrity Publishers in February 2006, just 11 months later.

My “call” was actually an email from my agent. He was heading into a meeting but wanted me to know he’d received an offer for two books. Not one but TWO! I remember my two young children were with me, but they weren’t nearly as excited as I was. I tried to call my husband, my mother, my sister, and finally, my neighbor across the street, but no one was home. It was a strange moment because I wanted desperately to share it with someone in order to make it seem real!

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?
Absolutely. And I hope I never get to the point where I don’t doubt my work. If I do, it will mean I think I know it all (and I’ll be unbearable to be around) or perhaps I’m not taking enough risks in my writing. I want to always push the envelope.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?
From Pat Conroy, “If you gotta do it, you gotta do it.” I think he means it’s a tough business, but if you’ve been graced with the passion to write, you need to be faithful to that passion and see it through.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?
“Read everything you can about writing craft.” Focusing too much on craft could take the surprise and magic out of writing and potentially lead to bland, formulaic works.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?
I wish I’d known exactly how long it takes to push through the publishing process. I tend to get anxious, wondering what’s happening on my publisher’s end, my agent’s end. If I knew more about the process, I think this first year may not have been so nerve-wracking. The only way to alleviate this anxiety is experience, I’m afraid!

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)
A few favorites are The Kitchen God’s Wife and The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan, Keeper of the House by Rebecca T. Godwin, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, and Roseflower Creek by J.L. Miles.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?
I would choose to never worry about what might sell, what is marketable. I would love to be able to simply write what is on my heart and never worry about the reviews, never care what people think. I would love for my inspiration to be unhampered like that, but realistically, I don’t know if it’s possible.

The closest example I can think of is author Pat Conroy. When he wrote The Boo, The Great Santini, and The Lords of Discipline, he risked great upheaval with his father and his school, The Citadel. Yet in the end, he stuck to his guns, his relationship with his father improved, and today The Citadel celebrates him as a cherished and honored alum.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?
My dream? I want to be able to write for the rest of my life, book after book after book. And I hope to get better each time. And of course, I’d like to make bestseller status so I could reach as many people as possible. I love the idea of touching people though my words. It’s an amazing feeling and responsibility, and I take it very seriously.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?
Yes, before it even began! I wrote a children’s picture book once and sent it off to publishers. I got form letter rejections from all. The impersonal nature of it was daunting and exhausting. But it didn’t stop me, thank goodness. And in my heart, I still have a desire to write children’s books. One of these days it will happen…

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?
My favorite part of writing fiction is taking the journey into my own imaginative worlds. I also cherish the ability to examine my own personal issues through writing; I find it very cathartic. My least favorite part is the waiting on publication.

How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?
The first thing I did was read Publicize Your Book by Jacqueline Deval. I wanted to educate myself on the process. I have a website, a blog, and I’ve begun speaking to groups. I’m trying to learn how to market and talk about my own book and writing. I don’t think it comes naturally for many writers who feel more comfortable sitting behind a computer screen than in front of many people. But practice your talks, get used to the praise, get used to the questions. And accept as quickly as you can that not everyone needs to like or “get” your book.

Advice for writers?
The publishing business is very subjective. Believe in yourself. Most of all, believe in what you write. At the end of the day, if you don’t have that, you will waver with every review, every criticism, and you will burn out faster than you can imagine.

Write what YOU must write, and do your absolute best. Don’t worry about what someone else is doing. Greatness comes from innovation. Happy writing!

Your debut book celebrates the rich heritage and culture of the lowcountry of South Carolina. What gave you the inspiration for this story?
Looking back, I can see so many factors that led to the writing of this book—so many things that God placed in my life to lead me to The Spirit of Sweetgrass. Yes, I did have an "epiphany" while I was driving home past sweetgrass basket stands when I was expecting my second child. The idea struck me with such force—truly from out of nowhere—that I had to grab a pen and start jotting notes on the back of a receipt. But even before that, I can see how my upbringing on a Southern sea island (Hilton Head Island) inspired me. I grew up in a place with a strong Gullah/Geechee population, but I never understood the importance of it all until I moved to Mount Pleasant, SC, where one of the most visible Gullah art forms is celebrated--sweetgrass basketry. Somehow, and for some reason, God chose to open my heart, my mind, and my spirit a few years ago to the plight and struggles of my African American neighbors, and I'm so grateful for it. I'm changed because of it.

How much of your own experiences influenced the characters of Essie Mae and Daddy Jim? What aspects became traits that were theirs and theirs alone?
"Daddy Jim" is named after my grandfather who passed away in 1996. He was a quiet, gentle man who, to this day, remains a calming force in the lives of those who knew him. My character, Daddy Jim, shares his admirable qualities.

"Essie Mae" is a true Southern lady. I've been blessed with many strong Southern women in my life to model this for me, but Essie Mae is really an amalgamation of two women: my grandmother, and a sweetgrass basket weaver/nanny who took care of me while on bed rest with my second pregnancy.

Growing up, my grandmother was strong-willed and feisty, yet loved each member of her family with everything she had in her. She'd do anything for her children and grandchildren. My grandmother is the one person in my family who taught me to love the Lord. She would tell me not to drive anywhere without buckling Him in and going "first class." She's now 89-years-old and lives in a nursing home in North Carolina. I have seen my mother's anguish over the years, watching her mother get older. Making the decision to put a loved one in a home is never an easy one, but it's something I know many families are faced with, so I wanted to include it in the book.

The African American woman who cared for me and my daughter when I was on bed rest added her voice and her "praises to Jesus" to my sweet Essie Mae, fortifying her character.

What themes exist in Spirit of Sweetgrass that you hope the reader sees? Are there any themes that weren't overt but developed as the story progressed?
One of the most overt and important themes is that we are all connected, past, present, and future. What we do with our lives is so important, and if we live as God intends, I believe our impact on earth does not end when we get to Heaven.

Another important theme: family. If you are blessed to have it, next to God, nothing is more important than family. That's something I hope readers take away from this book.

What were your most difficult parts to write? Your favorite?
I won't say exactly which scenes were the most difficult because I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say if you read a scene that packs an emotional wallop—trust me—it did the same to me when I wrote it. Often those scenes seemed to write themselves, and I found myself in tears when it was all over.

My favorite scenes to write were the first few in Heaven when I allowed my mind to soar with the possibilities.

Where were you when you got "the call"?
I work at home to be with my two small children, and my “call” was actually an email. I remember getting this note from my agent right before lunch: “Nicole, in meetings, but just got an offer for a two-book deal. Let’s talk this afternoon.”

I squealed, and my kids didn’t know what was wrong with me. They really could care less that “Mommy just got a book dea!” Two books, no doubt! So I tried to call my husband to tell him the good news. No luck. He wasn’t answering. Then I tried my mother, who happens to be my reader. She wasn’t in. I tried my sister. No good. Finally, my neighbor across the street? NO ONE was home! Here was my moment, the LONG-AWAITED moment that I’d lie in bed at night dreaming about. Here it was, and it wasn’t quite how I’d imagined. So I sucked it up, and tried to go about my day until the long awaited conversation that afternoon!

Most Memorable Moment about "the call"?
The most memorable thing about that email was realizing I’d just crossed a line—THE line between unpublished and published—and I remember thinking that there didn’t seem to be that much difference between the two. I was still just as anxious and insecure as I’d been on the un-pubbed side!

How to you stay determined?
That’s simple: I believe I have something to say. As long as I am true to the voice and the story that God gives me, it’s my duty, my joy, to persevere.

Have you had any dream breakers?
Thankfully, most people in my life are very supportive of my work. And I find that they become even MORE supportive when something sells! However, I have gotten impersonal form rejections before and moped around a bit, but then picked myself up and tried to make my writing better.

Why do you think your first book sold?
I believe it’s the voice of Essie Mae Laveau Jenkins that sold my agent and publisher. My main character is so authentic, so loveable; you just want to listen to whatever she has to tell you.

Lessons learned?
I’ve learned that there is so much to know about the publishing business, and basically, you’re the only one who will look out for you and your book. Learn everything you can. Read books about the process and ask questions. Being a new novelist, you’re at the bottom of the totem pole. You have to struggle for everything you get after signing a contract whether it’s a blurb from an author, edits, etc. That’s why it’s imperative that you BELIEVE in your work. Even though the publisher may have a publicist and sales people working on your behalf, you must be vigilant in getting the word out and promoting the book yourself. Ask what you can do to help your publisher or publicist. You have the same goal after all—selling lots of books!

Describe your creative process:
The creative process is the most fun a body can have! When I’m in the groove, really listening to my muse, it’s a taste of heaven. What I’ve learned about my creative process is that I cannot force it. If I try to make something work instead of letting my characters tell their story, it just doesn’t work out.

What is the symbolism for the title The Spirit of Sweetgrass?
Sweetgrass basket making is a Gullah family tradition passed down through generations, and still going on today in the Lowcountry. The act of making sweetgrass baskets—combining ordinary things to make something extraordinary—is exactly what the book is about. It’s what family is all about. And it’s this connection to past and to ancestors that fuels the plot of The Spirit of Sweetgrass.

Do you have a favorite character? Why?
Essie Mae is my favorite character, hands down. She became so real to me in the writing of this book that I actually longed to hug her! I’ll never be the same after telling her story.

How much research did The Spirit of Sweetgrass take?
I began my research on the computer since I was home-bound due to pregnancy and having two small children. I did, however, venture out to Boone Hall Plantation to learn how to make baskets from a local sweetgrass basket weaver. I needed to know what it felt like to make a basket in order to do the book justice. After the book was written, I worked closely with the Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation and a scholar at College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center for African American Studies to make sure my characters, the Gullah language, and Mount Pleasant African-American vernacular was authentic. Through my research, I’ve met and befriended some of the most remarkable women.

Who was the person who influenced you the most with your writing?
My mother is an avid reader, so I grew up around books. Every morning at 6:00 am, I could find her in her glasses at the kitchen table, reading away. These days, my mother is my reader, the person who gives me constructive feedback and is brutally honest with me. We tend to like similar books, and I trust her opinions.

What advice would you give to a person trying to become a fiction writer?
Find your voice. Your voice. Voice is everything. Anyone can tell a story, but only you can tell the stories on your heart. If there is something that has always fascinated you, then by all means, mix it up with the unique locations and experiences of your life, and you’ll find a story truly worth telling. But do it your way, not like anyone else.

What message would you like your readers to take away from this book?
Writing The Spirit of Sweetgrass has been a life-altering experience for me. Not only did it introduce me to the world of publishing, but it opened my eyes to the struggles of the African-American sweetgrass basket weavers in my community. I hope that readers will be touched by the story of my sweet Essie Mae, that their imaginations may soar while exploring Heaven, and that they'll have fun learning about the little-known but important Gullah/Geechee people.

What is your goal or mission as a writer?
To keep my ears open, to be faithful to the stories that God puts on my heart, and to continue writing books for as long as God gives me a voice.

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Copyright © 2007 Nicole Seitz. All rights reserved.
The Spirit of Sweetgrass Trouble the Water, coming February 2008!