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Author Interview: Annie Seyler

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Annie Seyler, author of The Wisdom of Winter.

FQ: I appreciate you taking the time today to chat. This was a beautiful story to read and I am in awe of how quickly you anchored your voice. It is clear you are deeply connected to your art of writing. When did you realize this was your passion?

SEYLER: It’s great to chat with you and I’m delighted that you enjoyed my novel!

I am deeply connected to my writing, but I wrote only for myself until I was in my late 40s. I remember writing in my diary as a young girl, pouring my heart out and living in constant fear that my older sisters were in that very moment jimmying the lock with a butter knife and reading every fragile word. As a teenager I plastered my bedroom walls with lyrics by Prince and Springsteen, quotes from Henderson the Rain King, and excerpts from Rolling Stone Magazine. I adored what could be expressed through the written word. I was often verbally outwitted by those beautiful, brilliant sisters of mine, so writing was a safe haven. I’m not sure to whom I was writing but I always felt my words were being received by someone/something.

FQ: In line with my previous question, have you pursued publication with other works and what makes this one ‘the one’?

SEYLER: I wrote my first manuscript in 2015, a memoir about my experience growing up in both privilege and poverty within my nuclear family. After sixty unsuccessful agent query letters, I shoved the manuscript under my bed and swore I’d never write again. Five years later, The Wisdom of Winter took shape in my head and barreled forth. From the start, the novel seemed to have its own identity and if we were co-pilots.

FQ: Your Author’s Note moved me: "I believe in the possibility of harmony. I believe in the power of dreaming. I believe the differences between us make the discovery of our similarities so very interesting. I believe I am accountable for my actions and words. I believe in our ability to change the world." These are very moving and inspirational statements. Aside from your audience, have you ever shared these sentiments with someone close to you and how did that impact his/her life?

SEYLER: We live in a time of extraordinary volatility and polarity. The statements in my Author’s Note weren’t ones I’d articulated quite that way before but as I was finalizing the interior design of the book, they crystallized in my mind and heart. I had to include them. I had to speak up.

FQ: There are some wonderful analogies you use when capturing the art of ‘showing’ versus ‘telling’: "...It’s the in-between time when night is trying to settle in, but day doesn’t want to let go..." Sunrise or sunset? What is your favorite moment in either time of day and why?

SEYLER: I adore the night sky just before dawn and witnessing the gentle dilution of darkness as the sun rises. Dawn is a whisper. It’s still and yet humming with possibility. My creativity flows. The outside world and the demands of the day have not yet crept in. 4am to 8am are my favorite writing hours. It’s a magical time.

FQ: Character Beatrice struggles with ‘fitting in’ when the decision is made to send her to the privileged school in Vermont. What is a time in your childhood you recall you would have liked to see it play out differently and how did it shape who you are today?

SEYLER: One day when I was thirteen, I took a city bus downtown after school to distract myself. I was swirling with emotion—there was a lot of turmoil in my family at the time. While stepping off the bus, I bumped into a young woman with bright eyes and glossy hair wearing a pink smock and handing out free samples of cigarettes. I had never smoked. No one in my family smoked. When our eyes met, she smiled with such kindness and understanding that when she offered me the cigarettes, I took them. My next thought was “these aren’t enough” so I proceeded to walk all over the downtown area collecting samples from the other pink-smocked women. I smoked for the next twenty years. It would lock me into unsupportive patterns, but in retrospect, smoking also introduced me to aspects of myself that I am grateful to be aware of today—aspects that could be driving me unconsciously if they weren’t so familiar.

FQ: I liked the relationship Beatrice had with her American History teacher. Is there a teacher in your past who you credit to a positive direction you’ve taken in your life? What lasting impression did he/she make on you?

SEYLER: My high school philosophy teacher, Dr. Failla, comes to mind. As he guided us through the works of Nietzsche, Aristotle, Plato, Kubler-Ross and many others, he drove home the message that questioning is good. If popular opinions aren’t satisfying you, look deeper. Seek your own answers. He gave me permission to be curious, to challenge authority, and to find my own path.

FQ: Sometimes we run in the opposite direction from what should matter most in our lives. What words of wisdom would you give to someone to help shape him/her in making the best decision when facing a crossroads?

SEYLER: Spend time in nature, even if it’s just a city park. Sit on a bench and tilt your face to the sun. Lay on the grass and watch the clouds. Get distance from the noise of your daily life, the patterns of striving and pushing and survival. Sometimes we can only hear our hearts in solitude. Create space for your feelings to rise and show themselves. See where fear might be driving you.

FQ: We are living in tumultuous times. There is a tangible ‘choose sides’ mentality. Without getting political, if you were approached to run for a local office, what would be your platform and how would you make a positive difference in your community?

SEYLER: Hmm. I’d never run for office, but I am grateful for people who devote their careers to community service. My platform would reflect my Author’s Note, a series of beliefs that anchor a state of mind of empowerment, trust, hope, responsibility, and community.

FQ: I was intrigued by your bio; particularly the fact that you lived in a train car. What was that like and is there a future story to build around this experience?

SEYLER: I lived in a caboose on a horse ranch in northern California. The train car had electricity but no running water, a queen-sized mattress, two chairs, a small table, a toaster oven, a coffee maker, and a crock pot. It was full of windows. High off the ground. Nestled beneath old trees. Surrounded by horse pastures. I was in heaven . . . a human living among a pack of horses. To cover expenses, I worked part-time at a mortgage brokerage firm a few towns over. I’d shake the dust from my hair, dig a (wrinkled) dress out of a cupboard, slip on high-heeled shoes, and swipe on mascara and lip gloss. It felt like a costume. I do hope to write about it someday.

FQ: In line with my previous question, as a young girl one of the places we lived was in central Maine. I used to ride along with my dad on trash day to the dumps and I suppose I was somewhat of a dumpster diver too. One of the greatest treasures we found one time was a very old book on the early history of Maine. What’s the greatest treasure you ever gleaned?

SEYLER: A wonderful memory. Thank you for sharing it. My dumpster diving was far less romantic. I was diving for food, and my greatest discovery was unopened boxes of expired pecan rolls behind a Freihofer’s bakery outlet in upstate New York.

FQ: Last bio question. You also write that you ‘lost hope.’ How did you regain it and what did the journey teach you?

SEYLER: I regained hope by learning to trust myself. By acknowledging my broken parts and my shiny parts, my strengths and weaknesses, my desires and my fears and then welcoming it all, allowing the whole mess to be true. It was a journey toward freedom.

FQ: Thank you again for the pleasure of reading The Wisdom of Winter. I’m hoping you are working on your next book and if so, are you able to share?

SEYLER: My next book is circling my mental orbit, but I haven’t yet created space for it to land. Promoting The Wisdom of Winter and connecting with readers has my full attention right now, but I know I’ll wake up one of these mornings and the call of the next book will be undeniable. Thank you again. Best wishes to you~

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