CONVERSATIONS WITH MARYANN MILLER
It is always great fun to be interviewed in person or online. I’ve had the privilege of being on East Texas Live, on KETK Television in Tyler, Texas. I’ve also been interviewed on a variety of blogs and online news sources: Before It’s News, JM Kelly’s awesome blog, LJ Sellers’ terrific blog, and In the Interview Room at Terry Odell’s blog.
I also have a short interview on You Tube – VERY SHORT LOL – answering the question, “Why do I write.”
Books have been my best friends since I was first able to read, and as a child I could read four or five books a week – sometimes more. My girlfriend and I would ride our bikes to a wooded area about a mile from home and sit under a tree to read. One day, when I had just finished a wonderful story by Albert Payson Terhune, who created the series of books about collies made famous by “Lassie,” I closed the book and told my friend I wanted to write a book like that some day and hopefully some other girl might fall in love with it. I still haven’t written a book about a dog, but young girls have enjoyed my novel, Friends Forever.
What is your most interesting writing quirk?
I’m not so sure how interesting this is, but I cannot write a story that has no title. There are lots of writers who will start a project and call it “untitled,” but I can’t do that. It makes me crazy not to have a title, and I can’t relax into the writing process until I do. The same goes for character names. They have to have names or I can’t relate to them.
High school: Your glory days or a hell you couldn’t escape fast enough?
Oh, my gosh. High school days were horrid. I didn’t belong to any of the “groups” in school, so a few other outcasts and I sat at a table in the cafeteria that was off in one corner, not even close to other tables lest we contaminate those more popular folks. We were teased mercilessly, or simply ignored, and I think I liked being ignored better. I remember running into one of my former classmates a few years after graduation and he said, “No, you can’t be THAT Maryann Miller. Why she was….” Luckily he didn’t finish that sentence.
What is your favorite meal?
It’s hard to name just one favorite meal, but there was a time when I was on a quest to find THE BEST hamburger in the country. We’re not talking McDonald’s or Burger King here. The hamburger had to come from some diner that made the juiciest, grease running down your arm, home-made burger. Any time my husband and I traveled we would look for little cafes that showed promise in the hamburger department. Needless to say, now that I have to be concerned about fat, both on my body and in my body, I don’t seek out those burgers like I used to, and I have come to enjoy a really good nutritional stir fry. But sometimes a burger beckons.
Do you prefer to read in ebook format or traditional print?
Right now, I don’t have a strong preference between the two and read both almost equally. I started reading ebooks over ten years ago when I was one of the ebook reviewers for ForeWord Magazine. I had one of the first Rocket E-Readers, and I liked some of the convenience of propping the device up at the table to read while I ate. My husband was an avid reader, too, and we always read at breakfast. I still like to read with my Kindle during breakfast and really like the fact that I don’t have to juggle a book and my spoon. On the other hand, there are times that I do love to hold a print book, especially one that has been beautifully produced. I just received a book to review that was printed on fine paper and has lovely renderings throughout. It reminds me of the very old book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that I have in which the illustrations are works of art. I truly love stories, so in many ways I don’t care in which format they come, but I also love books. I have a small collection of antique books, and I enjoy looking at them now and then to appreciate the feel of the paper and marvel at the ink drawings in some of them.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?
Going to a Gentleman’s Club for research for Stalking Season, the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series. My son, David, who is my research assistant, enjoyed the visit very much. (smile) The trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas to check out the bathhouses when researching Boxes for Beds was much more fun for me.
Do you have any advice for writers who are just starting out?
The best advice I was ever given was to write, write, write; read, read, read, read, then write some more. Seriously, nothing is better for a writer than to read a wide variety of books and absorb good writing. I can see a steady improvement in my work from the earliest stories to present ones, and I think that is true for most of us. We can’t help but get better the more we write, and nothing sells like a well-crafted story. Some people with great marketing skills can make a big splash with a book, but if subsequent books don’t measure up, sales fizzle.
Is there anything special you’d like to share with your readers?
Just a huge “thank you” to everyone who has read my books and let me know that they enjoyed them, either by a note or a review on Amazon. This whole business of writing would not mean as much without that connection between writer and reader. This is why we do what we do.
- How did you come to write One Small Victory?
Years ago I read a short, two-paragraph item in the newspaper about a woman who worked undercover and helped bring down a drug ring in a rural town in the Midwest . Her story, brief as it was, just grabbed me. How incredible that this woman had the courage to do something about a problem that we all talk about.
- So this is based on a true story?
It might be better to say it is inspired by a true story. I changed the locations and many of the details about the family and the exact outcome of her work with law enforcement. Since there weren’t many details in the initial news story, I had to create details. But I kept what I believe is the heart of the story and that is the mother’s grief over losing her son and her courage in finding vindication through joining the drug task force.
- How much research did you have to do for the book?
I did a lot of research. I interviewed a small town police chief to see how law enforcement works in the rural areas. We set up a hypothetical situation that matched what I wanted to do in the book, and the police chief was quite helpful in filling in details of the other law enforcement personnel who would be part of a drug task force. My son, who is a gunsmith, helped me with weapons, making sure I had all that information correct.
- The book is categorized as a romantic suspense. How much romance is in the story?
There actually is very little romance in the sense of what romance readers are accustomed to. Jenny and the police officer she reports to do have a strong attraction, and there are a couple of scenes where they are both aware of the attraction. However, there are professional boundaries they cannot cross, and they keep those boundaries intact. I purposely let the story go in that direction because I just couldn’t see that these two characters would end up in bed together. I tried to write a scene like that and they wouldn’t let me.
- So characters dictate the story?
Absolutely. If we let them. Too often in commercial fiction authors are asked to write to a guideline or a reader expectation, and that can work if it is organic to the story and a natural outcome of a situation. For One Small Victory, it was not a natural outcome for a lot of reasons. Jenny was not ready to have a relationship, plus there was the issue of the boundaries. At one point my editor asked if there could at least be a little more kissing between the two characters, and I considered her request, but it just didn’t work.
- What was the hardest part of writing this novel?
The scenes dealing with the death of the son and the grief issues that followed were the most challenging. I had to imagine what it would be like to lose a child and draw from what I saw in friends who lost children. The anguish is almost indescribable, so words were hard to come by. I also drew on my experiences with grief support groups that I facilitated as a Hospital Chaplain. That helped a lot when it came to figuring out how the grief ebbs and flows over a period of time, as well as knowing how each person can experience grief in different ways. My training and experience also helped me understand how what Jenny did was a way of making sense out of the death of her child. When something happens like that, so unexpected and so tragic, the natural question is why. In a sense, Jenny’s work to bring down the drug ring is a way of finding an answer. It doesn’t have to be logical; it just has to feel right.
- What do you hope readers take away from your book?
I think the title says it all. One Small Victory. I hope readers see it as a victory and come to admire Jenny for what she does. It’s a hard read in places, but the outcome is so positive and uplifting that I hope readers will smile through their tears. And maybe the next time they are faced with a choice to be proactive about an issue, they can step up to the challenge.
It’s always fun to be a guest on other blogs and answer questions that may or may not be about writing. Here are just a few links to some recent interviews.