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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Spotlight on...Nicole Seitz and The Spirit of Sweetgrass

I always love spotlighting a debut author because I know my time's coming very soon. Just 10 months away. :) Today, it's Nicole Seitz in the "hot seat" with a charming tale that gets right at the heart of South Carolina culture. If you ever wanted to know anything about the folks whose rich heritage stems from this state, check out her book.

Nicole Seitz is a South Carolina Lowcountry native and freelance writer/illustrator published in South Carolina Magazine, House Calls, The Island Packet and The Bluffton Packet. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Journalism, she also has a bachelor's degree in illustration from Savannah College of Art & Design. Nicole is an exhibiting artist in the Charleston, South Carolina area, where she owns a web design firm and lives with her husband and two small children.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. When is your next book coming out and what is the story?

My next book, tentatively titled Trouble the Water, should come out from Thomas Nelson in early 2008. When the lives of three very flawed, Southern women intersect in a sea island’s secluded Gullah community, they must learn the hard lesson that no woman can be an island, that in order to be whole again, they must lean on and ease the suffering of the other.

Trouble the Water is a soul-baring tale about the freedom of faith, the nature of survival, and the mysterious powers of sisterhood. Narrated by three distinct voices, it’s all at once heart-wrenching and humorous, giving glimpses of island life and unique Gullah/Geechee culture. The title is based on the lyrics of an old black slave spiritual about healing and freedom, "Wade in the Water," and on John 5:4 (KJV):

"For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had."

Thank you, Amber, for having me! It’s a thrill to be able to share my work and my journey.

God bless,

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We're glad to have you, Nicole. Everyone, don't forget to comment for your chance at a free autographed copy of this book.


Nicole Seitz said...

Thanks, Cherie! If you get a chance to read The Spirit of Sweetgrass, drop me a note ( and let me know what you think!

Jennifer Y. said...

Wonderful interview! Sound like a fab books!

Nicole Seitz said...

Glad you stopped by, Jennifer!

Rachelle said...

i'm not sure what a sweetgrass is but the book sounds like a real keeper! :D

Anicz said...

I'm a CG artist and I'd have to say that the cover of your book looks great! I like the colors and the design. This must be a really good book. The story looks promising!


Tiffany Amber Stockton said...

25% chance that you'd win this book and Anicz, you're the winner! Congratulations. Send me your mailing address so Nicole can send out your FREE book.