Let’s say that you’re in a bookstore, and you’re doing what a proper bookworm does — you’re slowly walking up and down the aisles, and your eyes methodically scan the rows of titles, waiting for something to capture your attention.
And then something does. It’s a copy of Nicole Seitz’s Trouble the Water. It’s not so much because of the title or the name; it’s the cover, a nearly impressionistic rush of bright colors — greens, yellows, and blues. And in the middle of all of this color, stands a lone figure in white, knee deep in the water. This is Nicole Seitz.
OK, not the figure standing in the water — no, the painting.
Like the book, the image that graces the cover to Trouble the Water was created by the Mt. Pleasant writer. In fact, all of Seitz’s books, including her first novel, The Spirit of Sweetgrass, and her forthcoming one, A Hundred Years of Happiness, were painted by the author. And while Seitz has long pursued both crafts, it was by chance that she embarked on a path that allows her to combine both.
“It was a happy accident actually. When I signed my first two-book contract for The Spirit of Sweetgrass … I was so excited I quickly put up a website, and I painted a painting around that time that wasn’t necessarily for the cover. But I painted it, put it on my website, because it fit the aura of the book. The publisher happened to see it, said, ‘We love it and want to use it on the cover,'” Seitz says.
The author adds, “You know, it worked. People really respond to the bright colors. It’s great. It’s become a little bit of my brand.”
Speaking of brands, Seitz is making a name for herself in the world of new southern fiction, a world dominated by female writers like Anne Rivers Siddons, Josephine Humphreys, and Sue Monk Kidd. It’s very lucrative business. But it’s also an art.
“I try my hardest to separate in my mind and my soul the art versus the business aspect of it. Writing books is a business, and I really don’t ever want to view it that way,” Seitz says. “If it turns into the business is all that I’m thinking about, then I probably won’t do this anymore, because it’s the people that I meet, it’s the readers that I meet, the words that I write, and just the amazing process … of losing yourself in your work.”
She adds, “Southern fiction on a whole is just an amazing enterprise right now, and people all over the country are looking for southern fiction. That’s one of the things that’s selling to publishers right now, which is really funny, because if you’ve grown up in the South, it’s just what you know.
“I just happen to be here. It’s just what I know. I think it’s just one of those happy accidents I grew up in the South and that’s where my books take place,” the Hilton Head native and mother of two says. “I don’t necessarily try to write southern fiction.”
But she does, and she does it well. Trouble the Water is evidence of that. In her second novel, Seitz displays a seemingly effortless conversational style, that is both heartfelt and quick, with a good-natured sense of humor. Her ability to convince readers that they are listening to a character verbalize their story and not a writer writing a novel is even more impressive when you consider that in Trouble the Water, Seitz juggles three different narrators — two sisters and an eccentric widow.
But Seitz didn’t set out to use three narrators when she first began penning Trouble. It just happened that way.
Originally, the story was told by Honor Maddox, a suicidal woman who has learned that she is dying of cancer. Later in the writing process, Seitz realized the story was really more about Honor’s sister, Alice, so the author penned passages from that character’s point of view. Eventually, Seitz decided that Duchess, the aforementioned eccentric, needed a voice as well.
The hand of fate was also responsible for Seitz’s other two books, The Spirit of Sweetgrass and A Hundred Years of Happiness.
Initially, Seitz struggled with writing The Spirit of Sweetgrass, which is narrated by a 78-year-old African-American woman. But in the days leading up to the birth of her second child, she was confined to bed rest. A friend of the family, a nanny who had previously watched her sister’s children years ago, came to Seitz’s home to take care of her and her daughter.
“I found that I couldn’t write, but I would just listen to her tell her stories about her life and her family and the way things were,” Seitz says. “I was a captive audience. I had no idea that I was doing research at the same time.”
After the birth of her son, Seitz returned to Sweetgrass. “I would wake up at all hours of the night, and I could hear this voice — I could hear my main character telling her story,” Seitz says. “I did not research or try to authenticate dialect or heritage or any of that until after the book was completely done. When a publisher wanted it, I said I better make sure this is authentic.”
A Hundred Years was also inspired by real-life events. “A year or two ago, I took my parents out for their anniversary and my husband, my mom, and my stepdad are all sitting there in a restaurant in Charleston, and all of a sudden my stepfather opens up about the Vietnam War. He talks about things that he’s never talked about in my entire life. There’s tears at the table. It was like time stopped,” Seitz says. “I went home and I wrote that scene because that’s kind of how I deal with things.”
Seitz will be signing A Hundred Years of Happiness at Blue Bicycle Books, following a luncheon at Fish Restaurant. The Trouble the Water author will be joined by Anne Rivers Siddons.