Maryann Miller is one of those writers who labors for sheer love of the craft. It’s evident that she pursues a variety of creative outlets, while keeping the day job, as so many authors are forced to do. I first encountered her through our publisher, Five Star Publishing. We also share the experience of having a number of things not quite work out, but yet we struggled through it and persevere. There’s a lesson in there for struggling newbies. Just keep doing it. You’ll get better. Opportunities will appear. And your creative efforts will be rewarded.
TH: Can you give a brief arc of your career as a writer/author?
MM: My first professional gig was as a humor columnist for a Dallas suburban newspaper. I was known as the Erma Bombeck of Plano. That was a particular delight for me because the newspaper paid me right away. Not a lot, but, hey, Erma wrote for no payment for her first year. From there, I did more freelance journalism, local and national, then did a number of nonfiction books for teens dealing with life issues they face. Those have all been published by The Rosen Publishing Group. I’ve done some work as a PR consultant, magazine editor, script editor and doctor, and currently work for an online community magazine. But my first love has always been fiction. I have written several novels and a number of stage and screenplays. Two of the novels were published by a very small publisher and are out of print.
TH: What is The Story of Maryann? Is it a novel? A short story? A poem? A limerick?
MM: Actually, I think it is a song. When a Hollywood producer said he was going to buy my first screenplay a friend of mine wrote a song for me to the tune of “Davey Crocket.” It was, “Maryann, Maryann Miller, going to Hollywood” I was young and naÃ¯ve when my screenplay won a contest at a writer‘s conference and this producer said he would help me get it in shape then personally shop it around Hollywood. I believed him, so I had visions of stars and dollar signs making me positively giddy. I called my husband from the conference and told him the good news, so he arranged a champagne party for me when I got home. After a couple of years the friends who had come to the party stopped asking when the movie was coming out.
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you know?
MM: I was about ten years old when I decided to be a writer. My friend and I were in our favorite reading spot, a small clearing in a wooded area with a blanket between us and a colony of ants. I hugged my just-finished book to my chest and relived every precious moment of the story. It was Lassie Come Home. Then I told my friend that I wanted to write stories that some other girl might read and fall in love with. At first she looked at me like I was nuts, then she said, “Let‘s do it. We‘ll be rich and famous.” What did we know? We were kids.
TH: So did your childhood reading friend go on to be a writer, too?
MM: She never pursued it professionally. She went to Wayne State University in Detroit and I used to visit her there and hang out with all the poets and musicians and artists. We were so naÃ¯ve we thought the blue haze was from cigarettes. Karen was very creative and was doing some artwork. Unfortunately, we lost track of each other shortly after she finished college and moved out of state with her husband.
TH: A lot of established writers seem to have a stack of writing somewhere that will never a see the light of day. I’m talking about stuff that perhaps helped you learn and develop your craft, like the five novels the author had to write before he could get to the good one. Do you have anything like this?
MM: Oh, my gosh, you peeked. Seriously, if a writer does not have a stash of old manuscripts that make her want to gag when she reads them, then that writer is not learning and “crafting” the craft. I periodically look at some of my early work, just to assure myself that I have gotten better at this.
TH: Of course, most writers want to have bestsellers or make some sort of artistic or literary impact. Is there some unrealized accomplishment that you’re striving for in the near future?
MM: Well, I’d still like that producer to shop my script around. The only thing I know for sure that I would like to happen is to get a mass market paperback deal for One Small Victory. I would love for the book to reach thousands of readers. Not so much because I wrote it, but because of the courage of the woman who inspired the story. She worked as a confidential informant to help bring down a major drug distributor in her small town. This after losing her son in a car accident and having all that grief to deal with. I think there is a lesson there for women who want to find vindication instead of victimization.
TH: What are some of the things that inspire you?
MM: One of my primary inspirations is to read a particularly well written book where the prose is so lyrical I want to savor each word, or the story is so engaging that I am literally lost in another world. That makes me want to write and find ways to improve my craft. For plots, I am always inspired by some true story or event, and I really like to explore social issues. I also ascribe to the tenets of The Artis’t Way and the importance of feeding our creativity. In addition to books, movies feed my muse, as does music and art. I dabble a bit with painting and play guitar, and while neither will bring me significant recognition, they are part of who I am as an ‘artist.‘ Joe Dan Boyd, a local writer, singer and songwriter recently defined art as”Self expression that satisfies the soul.“ Writing, painting, music, they all satisfy my soul.
TH: What are the most successful ways you have used to promote yourself and your work? Are there any promising marketing avenues that you might yet explore?
MM: I have done the usual book signings, as well as attended several conferences when I was marketing my other books. For One Small Victory, and Play It Again, Sam, which is coming out as an e-book in July I am focusing a lot on building my online presence through an updated Web site, blogs, and contributing to places such as Bloggernews.net. I’m considering a blog tour, but am a bit daunted by the time that involves. Because my day job as Managing Editor of WinnsboroToday.com keeps me so busy, I have to carefully consider how much time I have left for writing and promoting. Writing always comes first.
TH: Have your reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as a writer and author? If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances? Do you recall how that felt?
MM: I clearly remember the first acceptance I got from a national publication for one of my stories, and I still have a copy of the check framed on my office wall. It was from Lady‘s Circle for a short story. I don‘t know if I thought so much that I had “made it” as a writer, but I was thrilled beyond words, except for the few thousand that I used to write to all my family and friends to share the good news.
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
MM: Let me just make one thing perfectly clear, I absolutely HATE the business of writing. Whew, I’m glad I got that off my chest. However, I do what I have to do in terms of promoting because I know people will never buy my books if they have no idea who the hell Maryann Miller is, but marketing and salesmanship are not my strong points. I did some promoting at the Texas Library Association Convention not long ago and it was fun for about two hours. After that, I was so tired of hearing myself say, “Hi, would you like a sampler of my new book coming out this June yada, yada, yada“ I wanted to pack it in and go home. Instead, I took several breaks and gave myself pep talks to go back in there, and smile, and pass out those booklets I‘d spent a fortune printing.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
MM: Open Season, the first book in a proposed series is under consideration at Five Star, so I am hoping to hear something positive about that. This book deals with racial issues and features two women homicide detectives in Dallas, one white and one black. They are thrown together as partners under less than ideal circumstances and they have to work through a lot of problems in the first book. The second book in the series is almost finished, and I have a number of other ideas for crimes the women have to solve, so I would like nothing better than to hang around with these ladies for a few years and a few books.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as an author?
MM: One of the highpoints of my career was having the opportunity to direct and produce my play There is a Time at a small community theatre here in East Texas. On opening night, I stood in the back and watched the players, then the audience, then the players and had tears rolling down my cheeks. To watch my words come alive and see how much the audience was enthralled in the story was the most precious moment.
TH: Do you find that exquisite prose stylists and page-turning storytellers are seldom in the same physical package?
MM: I think that is true sometimes. James Patterson is a page-turning storyteller, but I find his prose lacking the depth and beauty of say Anne Tyler, Dennis Lehane, Toni Morrison and others like them. Nothing delights me more as a reader than to come across a phrase so wonderfully turned I have to stop and read it again. Right now I‘m reading Christine Falls by Benjamin Black and it is an amazing book with some of the deftest descriptions I have ever read. The more I read and discover about good writing, the more I try to incorporate into my own. I worked very hard with One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam to give readers a taste of what delights me when I read. That meant going back through the manuscripts several times to replace ordinary phraseology with something fresh and different. It takes time to give a book that kind of attention and authors like Patterson and some others who turn out multiple books a year, simply don’t have that kind of time.
TH: Do you gravitate toward any particular genre?
MM: Not really. I read all over the place. I like mysteries and probably read them a bit more than others, but I also like women’s novels and mainstream fiction. I‘ve also enjoyed some of the “chick lit” that is funny, with snappy dialogue and quirky, interesting characters. I do a lot of reviewing, so I‘ve been sent some wonderful young adult novels and memoirs to read.
TH: So you’ve written novels, screenplays, and stage plays. Which medium do you prefer as a creative outlet?
MM: That‘s a tough one to answer. It’s almost like I prefer the medium I’m working in at the time. The stage plays, like some of my short stories, have come almost without conscious effort, and certainly no planning on my part. I was sitting in a seminar one day during my training to be a hospital chaplain, and a hospice director was talking about how they help people prepare for death. He said they encourage people to consider death like a person that they can invite into their room and have a conversation with. My immediate thought was, “Wow, wouldn‘t that be awesome on stage. Death personified.“ So I spent the rest of the day writing the short play that turned into a longer play, “There is a Time.” That‘s the one I directed at a local community theatre.