Thursday, December 3, 2015

Time Travel Made Easy: A Review of Smoky Zeidel’s The Cabin

(Thomas-Jacob Publishing, LLC, 2015), ISBN: 13  978-0-9963884-3-6

As I have made the journey from reader, to writer, to student, to professional writer, to teacher of workshops and writing classes, and then to book reviewer, I have come to believe that there are three kinds of (proficient, “talented”) writers at work in the world.
First, there are the Storytellers. People like Hemingway, that come from the gut, who go fearlessly into the vortexing dream-space of human experience to capture something in the net of their creating, who can spin a captivating yarn without too much verbal or plot complexity but plenty of power and resonance. Then there are the Technicians—those who inherently and through 10,000 hours of practice, understand and apply structure, word choice, syntax, and suspense… who “do the task of writing” at a high level.
The third type of writer is the one who is smart enough, dedicated enough, and capable enough to know that, despite the fact that Storytellers and Technicians can both sell a lot of books and equally move an audience—that the true Golden Ring of what we do as writers is to meet at the stormy nexus of BOTH of these strengths.
These, to me, are the writers worth reading. The writers who, when they produce something new, lead us to drop everything, get a firm hold of their book or e-file, and carve out ample time to dive deeply beneath the waters of their words for as long as the capacity of our mental lungs to hold our breath allows.
Smoky Zeidel, over the past four years, has become one of these writers for me.
I was able to take a little more time than usual in the opening of this review because I cannot tell you much about the story told in The Cabin. Or, more accurately, I choose not to. Because almost anything I would tell beyond the broad strokes in the next paragraph would ruin your experience. Muddy the waters into which you have to dive. And it’s harder to hold your breath with the silt of story give-aways floating about.
I can tell you that The Cabin’s characters are primarily a family who has lived in the same geographical area—the Allegheny Mountains of (West) Virginia for many generations—who have seen the best and worst of humankind through the American Civil War, slavery, and the changes that came with the new century. I can tell you that the story involves fairy stones, and the Power of Belief to defy all temporal–spatial barriers. And I can tell you that it involves, as my title gives away, Time Travel.
What I should have named the review is “Time Travel Made (to Look) Easy,” although that does not exactly roll off the tongue, which would be a particular disservice to Zeidel, because she truly is a Technician: her sentences move like the rivers and winds she often writes about in her poetry and prose. And I say that it is Made (to Look) Easy because, true to her strengths as a Technician, the complex plot, moving as it does between time and space, never carries the thornier burdens of that trope, as it often does with the stories told by, for instance, J. J. Abrams or James Cameron (each of whom are masterful Storyteller-Technicians). I think that is because, in The Cabin, it is not science fiction; it not a clever device employed for jazzy storytelling. It is an inherent, crucial part of the tale Zeidel tells, and, like the audience who brings Tinkerbell back to life in stagings of Peter Pan through the Power of Belief,  we as readers must contribute to making the magic happen. Yes, of course, it ends how it ends, but how much we invest is up to us.
I invested deeply, which speaks to Zeidel’s ability as a Storyteller. She blends her thorough, far-ranging research (once again, the Technician) with exquisitely drawn characters, a beautiful way of describing geography, and a knack for bleeding things down to core emotional values that puts her writing on a mythological level. I felt it in The Storyteller’s Bracelet, in her recent book of poetry, and here in The Cabin. You cannot teach that. It begins as a natural gift, coupled with tens of thousands of hours with pen in hand or fingers on a keyboard.
In a world where jazzy tropes like CGI and gravity-defying fights are the new standard for what passes as storytelling, books like The Cabin and writers like Smoky Zeidel remind us that there is much, much more, if only we know where to look.

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