The Spirit of SweetgrassThe Spirit of Sweetgrass
Nicole Seitz
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There is already a buzz about brand new author Nicole A. Seitz. A South Carolina Lowcountry native, humor and authenticity abound in her writing. Join Essie Mae as she sits beside the highway weaving and selling sweetgrass baskets and talking to her long-dead husband in his pink plastic chair. Her down-home charm and unique take on life will have you laughing and crying through her exploits at prayer-filled matchmaking, saving her home from commercial development, and managing an uppity daughter who is determined to run what remains of Essie Mae's life.
     

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 Our Interview with Nicole Seitz

What led you to become a CBA author?

 When I wrote The Spirit of Sweetgrass, I did not have a particular audience in mind. But the agent who happened to love it also happened to be a Christian. He then sold it to a Christian publisher. To me, being a CBA author means God, in His way, has validated my “leap of faith” of becoming a writer. I’m so honored to be here.

How did you come up with the concept for The Spirit of Sweetgrass?

I was raised here in the Lowcountry on a Sea Island that had a large Gullah population before developments scattered it. For the past decade I’ve lived in Mount Pleasant, driving home daily past quaint roadside stands of Gullah descendants, sweetgrass basket makers. When I was expecting my son, Coulter, in 2004, I remember driving past a sweetgrass basket stand when the idea for the novel—of a weaver with Gullah and New Orleans roots who weaves “magical” baskets to affect the lives of people who visit her stand—struck me. In fact, I had to grab a slip of paper and jot down notes while still driving. I’d never written a novel before, so after coming home, telling my husband the idea and him saying he loved it, I began researching on the Internet. By 4:00 am the next morning, the voice of Essie Mae had already begun speaking through me loud and clear, and the novel had begun.

Is any part of The Spirit of Sweetgrass factual?

 The setting is my hometown, Mount Pleasant, and the conditions of local sweetgrass basket makers are factual. There are many issues, as listed in the novel, that threaten the continuation of this ancient African craft.  And although none of my characters are based on any one particular person, some of my characters are amalgamations of people I’ve known, the most important being Essie Mae herself.

After beginning my novel, I was forced into bed rest, and a local sweetgrass basket weaver took care of my daughter and me for the remainder of my pregnancy.  I found that I could not write during that time, but enjoyed listening to her voice and her constant praises to God and Jesus.  This woman’s faith and tenacity along with elements of my own grandmother, fortified the character of Essie Mae. 

 

How closely is The Spirit of Sweetgrass based on your life?

The Spirit of Sweetgrass is not based on my life, but on my imagination and observations of human behavior.  I did, however, once drive behind a man and his dog on a motorcycle, and it scared me to death!

How long did The Spirit of Sweetgrass take you to complete?

The first draft took five months to complete.  But I eventually wrote a second version which I combined with the first to make the final manuscript.

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.

How many titles will be in this series?

This is a stand-alone title—for now, at least—although I do have in my reserves a “sister” book featuring some of the characters from The Spirit of Sweetgrass.

What is your Favorite verse from the Bible?

Ephesians 3:21-22; "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."

Its how my church ends every service, and I’m constantly reminded that God is at work in my life. He truly can do more that we could ever ask or imagine!

 

Do you prefer to write contemporary fiction? 

Yes.

What are some of the challenges you face as an author?

Having two small children and running a web design business from home takes a lot of time and energy. Sometimes when inspiration strikes, I want to write but I’m just too tired!Are there any other new projects on the horizon?

Yes! I’m finishing up my next novel, tentatively called Trouble the Water, a title based on John 5:4 and the lyrics of an old African American spiritual about healing and freedom, Wade in the Water.

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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