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Interview: Ann Lee Miller

At Readers’ Realm, we believe that writers must first be readers. Do you love to read? Who are your favorite authors, and what makes them special to you?

I’d rather read than eat, so I have a lot of favs. Charles Martin is at the top of the heap. I love him because he tells heart-rending stories of characters who live in my memory years after I close the book—and he does it with exquisite language. I’ll always be a little bit in love with Joe from Francine Rivers’ The Atonement Child. Lately I’ve been captured by Anne Rivers Siddon’s bone-deep heroines and powerfully written settings that almost qualify as characters.

When did you decide you wanted to write?

I always say I became a writer the year I discovered Sister Sheila had hair. I was in fifth grade at St. Hugh’s Catholic School in Miami, knee deep in nouns and verbs, when Sister Sheila walked through the door in a new habit that showed two inches of mouse brown hair threaded with silver. Thanks to Sister’s encouragement, I went on to earn a BA in creative writing from Ashland (OH) University.

And growing up on a sailboat, an aquaculture for mold and dysfunction, shoved me—in lieu of therapy—into writing.

How many books have you written, and how many of them have been published?

I’ve written four books over the past ten years and am plotting my fifth. Kicking Eternity debuts June 1, The Art of My Life on September 1, Avra’s God on December 1, and Tattered Innocence on March 1, 2013. Atlantic spray and the grit of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, texture my coming of age stories that are littered with romance, regrets, and renewal. In a nomadic childhood, New Smyrna Beach became my haven, the place where I, like my characters, found home.

I straddle the fence between young adult and adult—sort of an Ann Brashares, (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) with a Christian perspective. I’m attracted to the teen and early adult years because those were happy seasons in my life and I’ve always enjoyed interacting with that age group.

How do you prepare to write a book? Did you do any special research?

I detest plotting, but consider it a necessary evil. I plot every scene for the whole book before I actually write the book. It takes… forever. My first two books were written without plotting. Going back through whole books to fix plot lines felt counterproductive. I tried Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method of plotting for my third book and Karen Wiesner’s First Draft In 30 Days for my most recent book. I also use Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure as I build scenes. To me, it feels so much easier to make changes to the book’s skeleton than to rewrite large portions.

I also try to do a thorough job of research before I begin writing. There are always details I have to chase down, but often research changes or adds to a plot element.

I write a first draft in three months or so, then a massive rewrite for the second draft. The third draft is usually polishing. The whole process takes about a year.

Can you tell us a little about your book?

Kicking Eternity is all about chasing dreams—our dreams, God’s dreams, and the mixed-up tangle of both. Here’s a blurb about the book:

Stuck in sleepy New Smyrna Beach one last summer, Raine socks away her camp pay checks, worries about her druggy brother, and ignores trouble: Cal Koomer. She’s a plane ticket away from teaching orphans in Africa, and not even Cal’s surfer six-pack and the chinks she spies in his rebel armor will derail her.

The artist in Cal begs to paint Raine’s ivory skin, high cheek bones, and internal sparklers behind her eyes, but falling for her would caterwaul him into his parents’ live. No thanks. The girl was self-righteous waiting to happen. Mom served sanctimony like vegetables, three servings a day, and he had a gut full.

Rec Director Drew taunts her with “Rainey” and calls her an enabler. He is so infernally there like a horsefly—till he buzzes back to his ex.

Raine’s brother tweaks. Her dream of Africa dies small deaths. Will she figure out what to fight for and what to free before it’s too late?

What is your Writing schedule like? Do you write only when inspired?

Since I started my writing career in my forties, I feel fairly obsessed to accomplish what God created me to do. I don’t have time to sit around and wait for inspiration to strike. Think about how the hero in Sweet Home Alabama jammed lightning rods into the sand to make his beautiful glass. He did his work before the lightning struck. I log hours and days, sometimes weeks, jamming words onto the page before inspiration strikes and makes it beautiful.

I aim for forty hours a week, and often write till I get the stink-eye from my husband. Don’t let me give him a bad rap. He once sold the family minivan to send me to a writers’ conference.

I’m a morning person and have to get all my writing in fast and furiously before the brain cells tire. I stay off line till the day’s writing is done to protect my focus. Late afternoon I check my e-mail, etc. Being unpublished until now has had its blessings, particularly not having to take writing time to market. When I get stuck, I take a walk and pray through the scene I’m working on.

Do you read books on the craft of writing? If so, what are your favorites and why?

I’ve always got a craft book open. I tend to read them multiple times. Some, like Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction, I am wearing out, particularly Chapter 8 where he discusses creating micro-tension. I’m a fan of Stephen King’s On Writing, Elizabeth George,’s Write Away, and Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages. Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird is pure delicious inspiration. But frankly, craft books are filed under work. Fiction is pleasure.

What do you do when you are not writing? Do you have any hobbies?

Ha! I’m so single-minded about writing that I barely have a life, much less any hobbies. But I manage to hike in the mountains with my husband, do zumba, and go garage saling every Saturday morning with a friend. This year I mentored three teens from my youth group. I don’t know if it counts as a hobby, but I’ve been guest lecturing on plotting in Phoenix colleges for the past few years. Great fun! I’ve worked at teen church camp for more years than I care to reveal—thus the camp setting for Kicking Eternity.

Is there one secret weapon in your writing arsenal you’d be willing to share with other writers?

Prayer. I have a prayer team of eighty people, who for reasons known only to them, said yes when I asked them to pray for my writing. I was inspired to do this by author Robin Lee Hatcher who saw no reason to wait until publishing to recruit pray-ers.

Also, I pray through every aspect of my books. Often, my prayer for the manuscript file is half the size of the book. This makes me feel like I’m working on a team with God. I pray first thing in the morning about the work ahead and go back to pray through any sticky situations I encounter. I think God delights to answer my writing-related prayers. He seems to wait for me to ask. I see miracles everyday.

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Ann Lee Miller is giving away e-book copies  of Kicking Eternity at her website today: http://www.annleemiller.com/contact.html

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This entry was posted on July 16, 2012 by in Author Interviews and tagged , .

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