Maryann Miller is a best-selling author of books, screenplays and stage plays. Her mystery series that debuted with, Open Season, features two women homicide detectives. Think “Lethal Weapon” set in Dallas with female leads. It has received rave reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal. The second book in the series, Stalking Season, also received a STARRED review from Publisher’s Weekly.
Miller has won numerous awards for her screenplays and short fiction, including the Page Edwards Short Fiction Award, the New York Library Best Books for Teens Award, and first place in the screenwriting competition at the Houston Writer’s Conference. She has been writing all her life and plans to die at her computer or out in her garden in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas where she lives with one horse, one goat, one sheep, one dog and four cats. The cats rule.
What inspires you to write?
All of my life I have had the urge to express myself in the written word, whether fiction or non-fiction. My interest in social issues has spurred many of my stories, and that is how the Season’s Mystery Series started. The initial story idea for Open Season came to me when there was so much controversy in Dallas over racial profiling and the use of deadly force. I know I am not alone, as many of my friends who are authors use story to explore some social or relationship issue.
What keeps me writing is the feedback I get from readers and reviewers. It is such a thrill to get those kinds of responses from people who have enjoyed the stories and the characters. The writing would mean much less to me if I thought there was not going to be somebody else who will fall in love with one of my characters.
Tell us about your writing process.
For fiction I am very much a write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer. The story usually starts when some news item or social issue grabs my attention. Then I start playing the what-if game. For my two stand-alone mysteries, One Small Victory and Boxes For Beds, I read news items that intrigued me. One was about a young single mother who infiltrated a drug ring and helped bring down a major distributor in her small rural town, and that led to One Small Victory. This woman lost her son in a car accident and drugs were found at the scene. When I read the story the character came to life immediately for me, and I had to write her story. The news item was so brief, I did not have a lot of details, so I had to imagine some, do lots of research as to how a drug task force works with a confidential informant, and follow Jenny on this adventure.
My approach does not work for everybody, and I firmly believe there is no right or wrong way to write a story. Get the first draft down in whatever process works for you. I try to do a quick first draft where I am just letting the characters drive the story, then I go back and fill in any research holes or plot holes. Before I started writing mystery and suspense, I did extensive research on police procedures, weapons, and other subject related to those genres, so now I only have to research specific details and that does make the second draft process a bit easier.
In my final draft, I add texture of setting and emotions that give the stories more life. Because I use this process of first draft, second draft, and third draft, it does take me longer to finish a book than some other writers, but I have not found any other way that works for me.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I love this question. Yes, I do talk to and listen to my characters. Since you are asking, I guess that means I am not going off the deep end after all. (smile) When characters first started talking to me, I worried about the state of my mental health. As for talking back to the characters, I’ve always been glad I have a cat or a dog in my office so I can say I was talking to them if anyone inquires.
Another thing I do is actually blocking scenes and often walking through the choreography of how the characters are moving. This is a trick I discovered after I started appearing on stage in community theatre productions.
What advice would you give other writers?
I always tell new writers to write as much as they can, and just keep writing, no matter what challenges come their way. The only way we improve our craft is my exercising it. That is true for all artistic expression. We cannot let creativity languish. So I tell folks to write, write, write; read, read, read; then write, write, write some more.
It is also very helpful to develop very thick skin. When you start working with an editor, it is all about making the book better, not about a precious ego.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I was lucky with my earliest publications which were nonfiction books for Rosen Publishing in New York. Those came about through the traditional process of sending a proposal for the first one, getting acceptance, then they were open to other ideas, as well as asking me to do specific books.
My fiction titles were another matter. I first started with a small publisher for a couple of novels about twenty years ago that basically went nowhere. Then I had my first major publication of One Small Victory in hardback with Five Star Cengage/Gale. That book did well in hardback and is now available as an e-book and paperback. Since then, Five Star has published the two Seasons Series books, Open Season and Stalking Season. Open Season is now an e-book from Venture Galleries.
The latest publication, Boxes For Beds, is my first totally indie release. I decided to do that because I wanted to get another e-book out in a timely manner, and I also wanted to see if I could actually do all the production work and get it out there. I gained a lot more respect for the traditional publishers and all that they put into releasing a book; editing, cover art, formatting etc. None of that happens by magic. (smile)
Anyone who is just venturing into the indie publishing route would do well to hire professionals for the editing and formatting, as well as covers. I know there are some places that offer ready-made covers, but they are not always as good as what you get from a professional graphic artist.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
There are so many innovations in the way books are published that I am often reeling at the sheer number of outlets for e-books and audio books. What an exciting time this is for writers and for readers. We’ve come so far from what was the norm for me when I first fell in love with books at my local library, and it is exciting to see that libraries are embracing the new technology offering e-books in their lending programs. How cool is that? My grandchildren are already reading a great deal on electronic devices, and I see that in time, that will become the norm. However, I don’t think paper books will totally disappear for several generations.
What do you use?
Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?
Mystery, Romance, Mainstream, Young Adult,
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print
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