Interview with Mark A. Zeiger

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born in Alaska, and did most of my growing up here, with the exception of about 7 years in Washington state from the ages of 2 to 8.

In those years in Washington, my brother and I were both very aware that we had been born in Alaska, and that defined how we saw ourselves. Our family's move back to Alaska in 1969 seemed a fulfillment of destiny to us. The state's hold on me remained strong--perhaps stronger than I realized. When I began looking at the short stories I'd written over the years, I discovered that almost all of them had some Alaskan theme or influence, even the ones I wrote while living in the lower 48 as an adult.

As for Sacred Coffee: A "Homesteader's" Paradigm, I probably wouldn't have written it had it not been set in Alaska. I think the setting is what draws people to my blog, and generates interest in the book.
When did you first start writing?
I'm afraid to answer that! What if someone were to find some of that early stuff? It would be too embarrassing.

I probably started writing before I entered school. I learned to read early, and my brother Dave, two grades ahead of me, used to teach me to write as he learned. We loved to play roles, so writing stories came naturally. I also wrote a lot of poetry. I think I got published in Highlights Magazine in the first or second grade. After that, I wrote a lot of stories about the things that interested me. My parents saved some of it, and I have it, but I don't share it with anyone.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I got tired of submitting short stories to magazines and getting rejected for the weirdest of reasons. I've also learned that publishing companies are giving their best-selling authors a bad deal, let alone unknown authors. I'd love for one of my books to make a bestseller list, but I don't expect that to happen. However, I've sold a lot of copies of each book, and those who read them seem, for the most part, to enjoy them. I like entertaining people, and telling stories. Indie publication makes that possible, and the opinions of a bunch of east coast publishers don't get in the way.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I've been blogging about our life off-grid in Southeast Alaska since 2009. A lot of people like the blog, and ask many of the same questions. Sacred Coffee: A "Homesteader's" Paradigm became a collection of the blog posts--essays, as I prefer to think of them--that get to the heart of the blog's content: what we're doing here, why we're doing it, what led us to choose this lifestyle, and more.

Everyone who hears about our life says we should write a book, and that's in progress; however, it'd be too big to cram everything in to it. Sacred Coffee could be seen as a first volume, perhaps.

Of course, originally, I'd intended it to be a one-off eBook targeted to the readers of the blog. However, I recently published Richard L. Harris's Selected Poems: Alaska & Northwest as an eBook and hard copy through my "micro publishing" company, Yeldagalga Publications. I had so much fun putting it into print that I couldn't resist doing the same for my own work.
Besides the Alaska setting, what do your two current titles have in common?
Once upon a time, when my wife and I lived in the "real" world, she told me that if I could find us a home in the woods, I would be free to write full time. Back then, I only really wanted to write fiction. I favored horror or dark fiction, the kind of stories that ended up in Shy Ghosts Dancing.

All my life, I'd dreamed of a little cabin on the wooded shore of Southeast Alaska. But I "knew" that such properties didn't exist, or were only available to the extremely rich. When we found, purchased, and moved to our "homestead," it amazed me.

After that, I started sorting and editing my short stories for Shy Ghosts Dancing. One odd thing that struck me was how many of the stories (most of which did not merit inclusion in the book) included settings that in some way resembled our current home. I had a vision of this place before I ever knew it existed.

Funny, though--I wrote most of the stories while living in the suburbs of Juneau, when my forays into the wild had to be planned and executed. Now that I step outside into the wild each morning, I no longer find much inspiration for writing those stories. My feelings, thoughts, and interests haven't really changed. I think the stories I wrote back then expressed a yearning for this sort of immersion in Nature. Now that I'm immersed, I find myself compelled to express different aspects of my thoughts, or at least in different ways.

So, while one book contains fiction, the other non-fiction; while one contains fantasy, the other real life, they are both knit together in a variety of ways, expressions of who I am, how I see myself, what I hope to express to others.
You use the term "homestead" in quotes. Why is that?
The Homestead Act, which allowed people to claim and "prove up" homesteads, no longer exists, even in Alaska. Now, the term homestead refers to small holdings from which people draw most or all of their subsistence. I like to put the word in quotes to remind people that we did not homestead our property in the usual sense.

I feel this is especially important as an Alaskan. Alaska's uniqueness leads to a lot of misconceptions about the state, both intentional and unintentional. There are way too many people in the lower 48 who think that they can come up here and claim land. We see too many people immigrating for the wrong reasons. I don't want to contribute to that.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Coffee.

Actually, it's the life I live on the "homestead." Besides the fun and necessity of getting up and at each day's chores, there's the beauty that surrounds us to be seen and appreciated. There are wild animals to see and deal with, as the case may be. Life is an adventure, if you live it right.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I work hard on the "homestead." There's an Alaska Native term for subsistence which roughly translates to "always getting ready." We are always getting ready for the next season, the next fish run, the next gardening and foraging cycle. We don't have enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. Many days, I wonder if I'm not spending too much of my day writing!
What do you read for pleasure?
I read so much! I have always loved reading. Now that I live on the "homestead," I "read" a lot of audiobooks, because that allows me to become absorbed in a good book while remaining active--I can actually get work done while enjoying a good book. I still would rather sit and read a book, but that's not always possible.

I read interests rather than genres. For example, I like to sail, so I'll read books about sailing, no matter their genre. I even read a romance about sailing once!

I love to read history, both non-fiction and fiction.

I'm also an avid self-educator, so I read a lot of non-fiction. Looking at my bookshelf, I see David Abrams, Henry Gee, John O'Donohue, Eric Sloane. I love fiction, though, too--I see John Straley, Gene Wolfe, Richard Adams, James Michener, Erskine Childers. Then there's the poetry: Mary Oliver, Seamus Heaney, W.B. Yeats, and, of course, Robert Service. These examples barely scratch the surface.

Reading gives me pleasure, no matter what I'm reading.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Smashwords distribution really pays off. Smashwords gets my eBooks to distributors that I'd never be able to approach on my own. I've also learned a lot about producing eBooks, which has really helped me a lot.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
I guess advertising on my Website and blog has been most effective. People get to know my family and me through that, and I think it generates interest in learning more about us through my books.

Next would be the book signing meet-and-greet. I hate to set these things up--I suck at marketing and self-promotion!

But, friends in Haines have a tourist shop that specializes in local artists. I have a standing offer to go in anytime they're open and sign books. We usually get one cruise ship per week in the summer, and I often go in. If I go with the idea that I'll meet some new people, and pass a few hours in pleasant conversation, and maybe sell a few books, it's worth the time and effort.
What are you working on next?
The blog. ALWAYS the blog. I can't get away from that.

Really, though, I'm slowly adding to "the book" about the homestead that everyone says I should write.

However, putting out Sacred Coffee has shown me that a group of related books may be better than one big one. It also allows us more flexibility.

My wife, daughter and I plan to put out a cookbook. Food plays a huge role in our life, so the blog reflects that. Response to food discussions and recipes there has been very enthusiastic, so a "homestead" cookbook has to come out eventually.

But "next" is a dangerous word. I'm moving ahead on several fronts--it's hard to say which will be completed first. Stay tuned!
Published 2013-08-24.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Sacred Coffee: A "Homesteader's" Paradigm
By
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 33,680. Language: English. Published: February 10, 2013. Category: Nonfiction » Home and Garden » Sustainable living
Sacred Coffee: A "Homesteader's" Paradigm reveals the thoughts, ideals, beliefs, and practices through which the Zeiger family pursue a simple, centered, more deliberate lifestyle off the grid in Alaska.
Shy Ghosts Dancing: Dark Tales from Southeast Alaska
By
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 45,180. Language: English. Published: March 1, 2011. Category: Fiction » Horror » General
Shy Ghosts Dancing: Dark Tales from Southeast Alaska presents stories of darkness, mythology, and danger, examining the mysterious and unpredictable nature of life in Southeast Alaska, where perception and reality intermingle and conflict with puzzling and sometimes deadly results.