Friday, November 09, 2007

Author Interview: Sherry Ann Miller

My guest today is multi-published author Sherry Ann Miller, who has become known as "The Writer of Miracles."

Welcome, Sherry Ann. What made you start writing?

I've been writing since childhood. I don't know that anything made me start writing, but someone did: my dad enjoyed writing. He often critiqued what I wrote, so he started me on the writer's path when I was very young.

To increase the family's vocabulary, he used to sit down with us (his wife and eight children) in the evenings and some Sunday afternoons and open a huge dictionary he owned. We'd all gather around him as he'd open a page at random and give us the definition of a word he located on that particular page. It became a great family game. We would not only have to guess the word, but we would also have to spell it, and we worked in teams and earned points. It was better than television (which we didn't even purchase until I was fifteen . . . and then we were only allowed to watch the evening news, and other programs that fell on Friday night or Saturday morning . . . and of course, General Conference).

If we children needed nearly any question answered, and asked Dad about it, he would often refer us to the dictionary or the encyclopedia for our answer. I suppose his keen love for words rubbed off on me, and when I wrote poetry or short stories as a child, his appreciation for words always showed through in my writing.

I learned to love the dictionary more than any other book (scriptures excepted) because Dad taught me to love words . . . and understand them. Today, I have several dictionaries, some quite old, and others new . . . as well as a great one on my computer.

How long have you been writing? When did you sell your first book?

I began writing to publish in 1969. I took a writing course offered through the mail and my teacher gave me good marks and strong encouragement. Although I didn't have a typewriter back then, I did have pads of paper and an ink pen and spent a great deal of time writing short novellas.

In 1974, hubby and I moved our family from Iowa to Utah. By this time, I had six young children and an older daughter we later adopted. I bought a used typewriter and began taking private writing classes from an English Professor who praised my talent. Soon afterward, I joined the Salt Lake Chapter of Romance Writers of America. By 1980, I was attending regular writing classes taught by Bethany Chaffin, another English Professor who taught out of her home (she died several years ago). I loved her classes; she always made me feel that I had the talent, skills and the discipline necessary to become a published author. However, by 1984, I had received so many rejection letters on manuscripts I'd written that I began to doubt my abilities.

We moved from West Valley, Utah, to North Ogden, Utah that same fall, and I turned my attention to writing screenplays and musical productions. One of my screenplays caught the attention of a Hollywood Agency and was optioned for a minimal amount. After two years of failing to place the screenplay with a producer, my agent gave up . . . and so did I.

In 1987, my mother passed away. Dr. Russell M. Nelson had been Mom's cardiologist and surgeon through four of her five open-heart operations. When he was ordained an apostle, our whole family wept with joy because we knew the man and trusted him completely to carry out this service to the Lord. I kept in touch with him after mom died, and at his request I updated him on our family's progress.

In the mid nineties, after writing Elder Nelson another letter regarding the family's progress, he wrote back to me and one of his observations was, "You are an excellent writer." To this day, I don't know what prompted him to say that, but I recall thinking to myself, If an apostle of the Lord thinks I'm an excellent writer, what do publishers know anyway? His words spun me around, and I returned to writing novels.

I wrote One Last Gift (first installment in the award-winning Gift Series) in 1997/1998 and sent it out to several publishers, then waited to hear from them. After several rejections, I finally heard from Granite Publishing, who telephoned to say they were going to publish my book. One Last Gift debuted in August 2000 . . . and the rest is history.

What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?

I plan ahead only to the extent that I have a clear picture in my mind of what my story will be about and who will become its main characters. I write only a brief description of my characters, giving them strengths and flaws that will enable them to grow through the pages of my book; and a very brief synopsis of the storyline. The entire plotting with characterization is never more than two pages long, and is often only one page. From that point onward, I begin the first rough draft and do not stop (except for Sundays, meals, restroom breaks and sleep) until the entire story is finished, often writing from 7 AM to midnight, 6 days a week. Depending on the size of the manuscript, I take between one week (for novellas under 40,000 words) and two weeks (for novels over 75,000 words). Then, I put the story aside and do not begin the rewriting phase until I have let it rest a couple of weeks.

When I start rewriting, I go through each chapter over and over again until I feel the story has enough action, drama, color and characterization. I smooth it out, refine it, hone it, color it until I almost can't stand to read it anymore (perhaps twenty to thirty rewrites). By this time, I'm sick of it. Disgusted with the story, I set it aside another couple of weeks while I work on something new.

Finally, I give it one last reading. This time, I am not looking so much for typos or grammatical errors, I am looking at how the story flows and whether or not it leads me along like you would a bull with a nose ring. If I find myself riveted to the story until the very last word, I send it to two editors who review it for me. One of these editors is very nit-picky; also, very kind. She leaves little yellow sticky-notes with a comment here or there. She's very good at spotting typos or misspelled words that my spell-checker has missed. My second editor is brutal. He rips my story to shreds every time he edits for me. When I receive these two edits back, I consider the words or phrases circled and scrawled upon. If I agree with them, I make the change. If I disagree, I do not make the editors' change (sorry to say, but at least 90% of the corrections have merit). After I've finished with all their corrections, I send a clean manuscript to my publisher.

That is an amazing process! How do you choose your characters' names?

Naming a character is one of the most difficult challenges an author faces, and I am no exception. I agonize over the name. I look up name lists. I think of the characters' strengths and flaws and debate whether or not the name I've chosen suits them. I often refer to the names in my genealogical database (now well over 60,000) and try some of them on my characters' shoulders.

What type of writing schedule do you have?

I spend eight to twelve hours in my library about four days a week. More than half of that time I am gathering names for my PAF files, preparing family names for temple submissions. The remainder of that time I am writing. Except when I am in the creation phase of the first rough draft, I am able to put my manuscript aside and work on genealogy without any qualms whatsoever.

How do you handle life interruptions?

I don't. When I had six children at home, the interruptions were endless and my stories never flowed. I lost continuity within the paragraphs and my stories were disjointed and jumbled (it's no wonder they were rejected). Fortunately, my children grew up and moved out of the home. If I had the 70's and 80's to do over, I would take a week's break from family, hole up in my dad's fifth-wheel trailer and write.

When I am in the creation phase of a story, my hubby handles all the meals, the laundry and the cleaning. When I am rewriting, I handle those chores. Fortunately, hubby only has to take over the household about four or five weeks a year. During the creation of a story, I don't answer telephones. I don't do the marketing, I write. Period. My kids don't like it when I am on such "writing retreats" but they've learned to adapt, thank goodness. If I lose the flow of the story due to an interruption, it takes days to get my momentum back.

Do you get blocked? Any hints on how to stave it off?

I'm sorry, but I've never had writer's block. I always have at least three or four stories floating around in my head at any given time. I would, however, like to learn how to block them off so I can function more easily doing other things like household chores and gardening. Any suggestions?

[Laughter] No! What have you always dreamed of writing, but haven't yet?

My father's story. He was an amazing man, but if I wrote his entire story, everyone would think it was fiction. I have begun writing one small portion (18 months) of his life, but even that part is so fantastic, I fear no one will believe it.

What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?

I like creating a world where I can go anywhere, do anything, say anything. Since I am retired from the general work force for medical reasons, my activities are fairly limited. But, in my mind, I can travel to any (and every) spot in the world . . . or the universe, or beyond.

For me, the least likeable task in writing is the rewriting. If we could all just sit down and write, and get every word perfect the very first time, we would all be amazing writers. But writing, like any other job, takes hard work. Editing my own writing is tedious, time-consuming and toward the end . . . a bit boring. It takes perseverance, skill and motivation. I can't go to bed at night and say, "Ah, by morning the manuscript will be perfect." I know I'm the one who has to make it perfect . . . and after the creation phase is done and ninety percent of the rewriting is done, rewriting becomes more chore than pleasure.

What is your next project?

I am working on a middle-grade reader series about a ten-year-old girl, her brother and their friend. It is entirely fantasy . . . but I love the creation process and am currently working on book two. Book one is with my publisher.

What is your advice for other writers?

Never give up on yourself. I gave up in the eighties and wasted over a dozen years when I could have been a productive and published author. Don't do that to yourself. Your manuscript will never sell as long as it sits on a shelf in your home. Write it, rewrite it, perfect it, hone it, color it and market it. You can be the greatest author in the world, but if you don't continue to market your manuscript, you will never sell it.

Tell us about your new book.

The Refiner's Gift is the fifth and concluding story in my award-winning Gift Series. Tom Sparkleman confessed to a brutal crime eight years ago, and he has been paying the price ever since. Parents shun him and women want nothing to do with him. As Tom agonizes over questions in his mind and heart, he asks the Lord, Am I still a child of God? Is there no miracle in store for me? In answer to his prayer, a raging flash flood sweeps Tom's tainted world aside . . . setting in motion events that will shape the man Tom is yet to become. He is astounded at just how much the Refiner is truly mindful of him. In The Refiner's Gift, Tom learns God carries each of us during our most difficult trials, while giving us courage and strength to lift the burdens of others.

What other work of yours has been published?

Granite Publishing & Distribution, LLC, has published all my novels and the biography.

The five-book Gift Series:
One Last Gift 2000
An Angel's Gift 2004
The Tyee's Gift 2005
Charity's Gift 2006
The Refiner's Gift Debuting for Christmas 2007

The two-book Warwick Saga:
Search for the Bark Warwick 2004
Search for the Warwick II 2005

Love Notes Collection:
Oregon Flame 2006
Scottish Legend 2007

Other novels:
Gardenia Sunrise 2002

Biography:
Mama's Lemon Pie 2007

Family History, FDM Enterprises:
Harold Theodore and Rosetta Emily (Brenneman) Miller 1990
John B. Miller and his Ancestors 1991
David and Martha (Haws) Timothy 1995
Leo Clark and his Ancestors 2005

Thank you for being my guest today, Sherry Ann. It has been a pleasure interviewing you.

Thanks for allowing me to participate, Marsha. It's been fun to answer your questions and see where you're taking me through the interview.

7 comments:

  1. It's always fun and interesting to read these interviews. Thanks,

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  2. Sherry Ann Miller12:20 PM

    Thanks, Marsha, this is such a professional interview. It is an honor for me that you featured me and my writing like this.

    Hugs,

    Sherry Ann Miller

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  3. Good job! I enjoyed reading this.

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  4. Sherry Ann is so much the writer lady. Great interview, Marsha. Thanks for the interesting read.

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  5. Paula Fletcher7:41 PM

    This was a wonderful interview to read. Sherry is an inspiration! Thank you, Paula Fletcher

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. How interesting to read how others fit writing into their life schedules. I suspect there are no two who work quite the same way. Whichever way, though,
    it seems to take a heap of time and even more effort. Thanks, Marsha and Sherry, for the post. Thanks, too, Marsha for alerting us on e-mail.

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I welcome your comments.

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