Maryann, where can readers connect with you online?
Find Maryann Miller on Facebook
Find Maryann Miller on Twitter
Blog: It's Not All Gravy
Blog: The Blood Red Pencil
Set against a backdrop of racial tension and deadly force controversy in Dallas, Open Season introduces Sarah Kingsly and Angel Johnson, homicide detectives who are unlikely and unwilling partners. When people start dying in area shopping malls, the detectives find themselves up against a killer who has his own race card to play. This is the first book in the "Seasons" series and the second, Stalking Season, has been contracted for a 2012 release.
Sounds like a great book! Where can readers find your book online?
Open Season - Purchase Link for Open Season
The Wisdom of Ages - Three stories; four men whose lives take unexpected turns. Meet Samson who wonders what is down that country road that draws people so. Should he get in that old truck and go see? Mel and Rube have been having dinner at the Leavenworth Grill every Wednesday for years. One day the menu changes and so does life for Mel. Tom would give anything for his life to change. Can he beat back the effects of a crippling stroke by sheer force of determination? Growing old is not for the faint of heart.
Sounds very intriguing. Where can readers find this book?
Purchase Link for The Wisdom of Ages
I decided when I was very young that I wanted to be a writer. I have always been an avid reader, and when I was about 12, I thought it would be wonderful to write stories that some other young girl would fall in love with. Of course, I thought the road to fame and fortune was just around the corner and all I had to do was write my stories and some publisher would find me. Ha. Don't we writers have a fertile imagination?
What was the most interesting research you had to do for any of your books?
Instead of making up locations for major scenes in a story, I prefer to look for real places, much like searching for locations for filming. It is so much easier for me to write about a place I have seen and noted details about that make it real. One of the most interesting research jaunts took me to a gentleman's club in Dallas. This was for the next book in the mystery series, Stalking Season, and I wanted to see the place to describe it, as well as needing to talk to people about how girls are hired and other details of how a club like that operates. My son, who has often helped me with research really enjoyed the trip to the club. He told me that he would be happy to go back for follow-up visits in case I missed some important detail of the place that needs clarification.
That's too funny. I'm sure he did like that trip! How do you go from an idea for a book to the birth of the story? Is the process the same for every book you write? How long does it take you to write a book?
The process for most of my fiction is the same, and it usually starts with the character, although sometimes a social issue will come first. For Open Season, the issue of race relations and the public outcry over the use of deadly force came first. The Dallas police department was under national scrutiny for a time because of accusations that race was a factor in the use of deadly force, and I thought it would be interesting to explore that from the viewpoint of individual officers. A friend who worked on a neighboring city's force introduced me to some Dallas officers who were willing to share their thoughts and experiences. One of the characters, Angel, was based loosely on a young woman I interviewed.
For other stories, like the three in the Wisdom of Ages, the characters came first. The central character in Maybe Someday came to me when I saw an old black man sitting under a mimosa tree one day when my husband and I were out on a drive. The man was watching the cars go down the highway, and I started wondering what he thought of those cars going by. Thank goodness I had a notebook with me, because that wondering led to me writing most of that short story that afternoon. The characters for the second story, The Last Supper, were based on two men I saw sharing a lunch at a small diner. Again I was with my husband, and he has since told me I have got to stop getting so involved with other men while we are out on a date.
Anyway, I saw those two men, who were obviously very close friends, and the wondering about them started. How long have they been friends? Was something significant going to happen to one of them? That story took a little longer to write, as did the last story in the book, The One O'Clock Nap. A friend of mine shared his frustration with having to take a nap everyday as part of his recovery from a stroke, saying he resented the time lost while he was sleeping. He said he didn't know how much time he had left, and he didn't want to waste it sleeping.
On the other side of that coin, I could see the anxiousness of his wife who wanted to do all she could to help him. The tension between caregiver and patient was so obvious and I wanted to explore that in the story. I think as more and more of us are caring for aging parents, readers can relate to this tug-of-war between parent and child and how the lines separating us blur as roles change.
Carrying a notebook is a good idea. I'm always jotting down story ideas. I don't think I'll ever have enough time in this lifetime to write all the stories I've dreamed up. Do you have any advice for beginning writers on how to write a book? Do you have any advice for them regarding promoting that book once published?
I always advise new writers to study the craft. Some people are great story tellers, but have not mastered the craft of getting that story on paper in a way that is engaging to readers. I am a freelance editor, and often I am approached by a beginning writer with a book to edit that really needs a rewrite first. They have lost the time-line, or some of the plotting doesn't make sense, or characters are acting with no motivation. Luckily, the clients that I have contracted with are willing to learn and eager for some coaching, so I will help them through a rewrite with some coaching and editorial suggestions. Then they are ready for the final editing and proofing.
We can all learn from constant reading and constant writing. Even if it is just a page a day, we must write.
When it comes to promoting, there is a whole new approach to that with the social media available via the Internet. I would caution new writers to remember that Internet marketing is all about building relationships, not shouting "Buy my book." There are wonderful blogs and sites out there with tips on how to do Internet marketing well, and they can be found by a simple search for "book marketing tips."
Awesome advice. Writing everyday is so needed to improve as a writer. I totally agree about your advice to build relationships in Internet marketing and not push your book in a hard selling way. What is your favorite work of literary fiction and why? Do you have a favorite literary author?
I was introduced to the work of Steinbeck in my first college literature class, and I immediately fell in love with his ability to capture the human experience in his stories. His characters are so well-defined they become real, and that is what the reader connects to. Of all his stories, I think I still favor Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck wrote it as a novella, but it has the same structure as a play in three acts, and one critic dubbed it a "play-novelette". I recognized the tension and drama that would make this story a powerful live performance, and maybe back then I was already developing my awareness of the power of live theatre. Having grown up poor, with limited possibilities for a future, I could also relate to the powerlessness of the characters who were seeking a dream that seemed unattainable. This also reflected Steinbeck's early experience of being poor and traveling from job to job in his early years.
I remember reading Steinbeck in school too. Love Of Mice and Men. One of the lines that stuck with me: The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Who is your favorite contemporary author? Are you currently reading any contemporary novels?
I have so many favorite contemporary authors, it is hard to choose just one or two to mention. I really enjoy the work of Laura Lippman and Dennis Lehane, and a few other top mystery writers, for the depth of character and story that they bring to their books. I also like to read Anne Tyler, Laura Castoro, and Jodi Picoult for their portrayal of real women dealing with a myriad of relationship issues. They have great insight and often provide a good bit of humor.
Because I am learning lines for a play I am in, I am not reading any other fiction. I have one of the leads in "Arsenic and Old Lace" at a community theatre, and one of the techniques of learning lines is to read the play over and over, and stay away from other stories. While trying to learn lines for the first major role I had in a show, the director told us it is easier to do that if we immerse ourselves in the story and stay there as much as possible. That means not getting too deeply involved in another story. So I read the script at my regular reading times, which includes while I'm eating breakfast and lunch, and other short breaks throughout the day.
Congrats on one of the lead roles...love it! What’s the most challenging aspect of writing for you? ~ POV issues; using too much passive voice and not enough active voice; trouble creating active and engaging dialogue; using too many similar words in starting sentences; or something else?
For me, one of the most challenging aspects of writing is a tendency I have in first drafts to repeat phrases and words. I am so thankful that I have worked with terrific editors who spot the ones I don't catch in my rewrites. Nothing grates on a reader's nerve more than that type of repetition. I remember when I first started reading Faye Kellerman's series, I found it irritating that she frequently had Detective Decker "blow out a breath." Because that was disruptive to me as a reader, I try my best not to do a similar thing with my characters, but it is hard to come up with different movements or gestures for characters. I think that's why they call writing "work". We really must work to give the reader something better than the first thing that comes to mind.
So as not to appear to be putting down the work of Faye Kellerman, I will say that later books have not had that annoying repetition. My husband and I have about ten to fifteen mystery authors who we follow. We try to buy most of their books, and she is still in that group. So many books, so little time. LOL
Repetition in my writing is one of my worst issues. I agree that I am so grateful for great editors who spot such issues.
In closing, I just want to thank you so much for the opportunity to connect with people here on your blog, Joanne. The interview has been fun, and I appreciate the time and effort you put into introducing new authors and new books your readers.
Maryann, thanks so much for guesting. I really enjoyed chatting today. It was a fun interview!
If anyone would like a chance to enter to win a copy (hardback) of Open Season, please comment on this blog post. Hope you all hang around for a while to chat with Maryann.