Author Interview: Anesa Miller

Today, we have with us author Anesa Miller. Anesa will share a bit about herself and  her latest book, Our Orbit. Thanks for joining us, and take it away, Anesa!

BIO:  Anesa Miller is a recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council. She studied writing at Kenyon College and the University of Idaho. Her work has been published in The Kenyon Review, The California Quarterly, the Southern Humanities Review, and others. Her debut novel, Our Orbit, releases from Booktrope of Seattle in June 2015. Anesa currently divides her time between Ohio and the Pacific Northwest.

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Who is Anesa Miller? Tell us a bit about yourself.

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I grew up in Wichita, Kansas, which was traditionally called “The Air Capital of the World.” Thanks in part to those local industries, I was obsessed by the Cold War: The Soviet Union wanted to bury us and outlaw private property like toothbrushes and socks! As a girl, I created a comic book about a group of women pilots who smuggled Russian dissidents out of the USSR to Alaska. Later on, Russian literature came to fascinate me. I wanted to write a novel of social issues in the tradition of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

What made you decide to write OUR ORBIT?

My novel embodies a lot of my own heritage in fictional form. Both of my parents were the first in their families to attend a university. They came of age in the Depression and went through some very hard times. Nowadays, that era is far enough behind us that we regard it with curiosity. But in my childhood, painful memories were avoided. Over the years, I came to understand that my mother’s parents moved “from pillar to post” and finally lost their home altogether. Their three kids were sent to live with distant relations. Of course, everyone suffered setbacks in those days.

The Warnock Clan

Learning about my background was an enlightening experience. It inspired me to look deeper into genealogy and history. One of the things I discovered is that a tiny village in southeastern Ohio still bears the name of my mother’s family: Warnock village. My ancestors had a dairy farm in that region. I have since visited and found the site of their farm and the church some of them attended, not to mention a beautiful countryside! So understanding our Appalachian roots became an important part of creating the story of OUR ORBIT.

They say that life imitates art, but in my experience, it often works the other way. Have any of your life experiences inspired characters or plot elements in Our Orbit?

Absolutely. The prosperous farming family in my novel represents an ideal part of my heritage that never lost land or homes in the Depression—never had to give up the family dairy. And the poor father who starts a salvage business represents the part that lost everything.

Do you have a favorite scene from Our Orbit? Why do you like that scene?

Naturally, I enjoyed writing all of it! The scene towards the end where the young foster mom, Deanne, makes peace with her own mother meant a great deal to me. Secrets kept for many years are finally acknowledged, and the power of denial passes away. That scene incorporated my own emotions and was redemptive to write.

But another few episodes that I especially enjoyed hark to my high school days. The character Becca Weaver is a good Christian girl, who often turns to her favorite teacher, Mr. Deluca, when she wants advice. Or when she just wants to air her thoughts to a laid-back listener. Mr. Deluca teaches biology and is more liberal than Becca’s family, but there’s a sympathy between the two of them and good communication.

I’ve received some criticism of these scenes: a suggestion that it’s inappropriate for a male teacher to meet with a student in private and hear her “true confessions.” Maybe I grew up in a more innocent time than we live in today. In the novel, I tried to re-create the sense from my own schooldays that, if you can’t tell your family everything, there’s another adult willing to listen. A teacher who understands. I hope most readers will relate to that.

What has being a writer taught you about writing? About yourself? About life?

Journals have always been an important form of self-expression for me. When I have a problem to deal with, or something is gnawing at my subconscious, I hardly know what I think about it until I’ve had a chance to write down some reflections. The move from self-expression to communicative writing—work intended for others to read—makes me feel like a grown-up at last! But both types of writing offer many learning experiences.

And just for fun, what was your favorite toy as a child? Do you still have it?

I loved Madame Alexander dolls—the 8-inch Wendy was my favorite. And when I say I “played with them,” I mean those dolls were swinging from the treehouse, swimming in ponds, and getting their hair cut. No posing in nice dresses inside a glass case for my girls! Few mementos from my childhood are still with me, but sometimes I run across a doll at an antique mall that reminds me of those days. So I’ve started a small new collection.

One other thing just for fun: I noticed that you love Victorian houses so here’s a photo of a house from 1880s Ohio. As you know, my book is set in Ohio, and this is the typical style of old brick home that could represent the Renard’s historic house in Our Orbit. The region is known for ceramics and fine clay, which is partly what those bricks were made from.

1880s Ohio Home (2)

Thanks you very much for hosting me on your blog today!

OUR ORBIT is available through all major online retailers. These links are available now, but iTunes and others should be coming soon:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Our-Orbit-Anesa-Miller/dp/1620157233/

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/our-orbit-anesa-miller/1119914300?ean=9781620157237

And by order from most brick-and-mortar bookstores!

 

Readers can always find Anesa at:

Website: www.AnesaMiller.com

Blog: http://www.anesamiller.com/?cat=2

Pinterest  www.pinterest.com/anesam98/

Facebook  www.facebook.com/anesamillerauthor

Twitter  twitter.com/anesam98

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Author Interview: J. Anne Lezsley

On Friday evening, I had the pleasure of attending a reading and book-signing at Eckel’s Ice Cream Fountain in Mechanicsburg, PA.  Featured was my friend and new author J. Anne Lezsley reading from her first novel, The Unforgotten Promise. Unforgotten Promise  Lezsley graciously agreed to allow me to practice my interview skills on her. A brief review of both the venue and the reading will follow in a separate post later this week.

*First of all, who is J. Anne Lezsley? Tell us a bit about yourself and what you write. Feel free to share any social media sites, links to Amazon/CreateSpace, or photos.

Well, the name J. Anne Lezsley is a nom de plume, because I didn’t want to publish under my real name. Primary reason being Proverbs 4:23 – Guard your heart. So much of my heart is invested in what I write. I’ve gotta keep that safe from critics, some  of whom are closer than I’d like. However, Anne is my real given middle name. I needed something close enough that I would remember to answer to it!

About me? Maybe that’s a question better directed to my friends… Umm…  I love writing the things that people struggle with inwardly and interpersonally meaning in relationship, more than external stuff. But at the same time,  I’ve been given good reviews from readers on my metaphors/similes and my scenic descriptions. I love playing with words in general, and assembling them artfully. Whatever comes out of that is what I write. I went through a poetry phase a few years ago – free-verse – and I can still rock a mean Shakespearean sonnet with all the rules of the form abided-by.

I don’t have a huge social media or online presence, which is probably not a good thing. The book has pages on CreateSpace and Amazon, and I have a FaceBook page:

https://www.createspace.com/5262112

http://www.amazon.com/Unforgotten-Promise-J-Anne-Lezsley/dp/1507785070/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1433615381&sr=8-1&keywords=unforgotten+promise

www.facebook.com/J.AnneLezsley

*What is the genre of your novel?

Oh, this is a tough one! (laughing) I’m debating with friends, yet, about it. Some of them insist that it’s a romance, but I hate that label because of the characteristics implied by most books in that genre.  Besides, everybody keeps their clothes on! But, I do have to concede that some people who aren’t married at the beginning of the story, are by the end. In terms of characteristic elements, it’s got a little bit of a lot of things. There is a love story, I can’t deny that; the backstory is a little bit post-apocalyptic; and I can’t not call it a Christian story when God has a speaking character role.

*The Unforgotten Promise is set in the future. How does that setting contribute to the plot? Were there any specific challenges to writing in a futuristic setting?

Well, what the future time setting enabled me to do is cheat, actually.  Because of the post-semi-apocalyptic backstory, it enabled me to throw backward so that things look more like the Old West. Think 1860s, westward expansion, Pony Express days, sort of thing. Hence the horse-and-wagon travel, stone streets within the Settlements, and manual labor trades, such as carpentry, stonemasonry, smithing, and so forth, as well as the agricultural elements. Things they would be required to rely on after an upheaval would literally deny them physical access to the industry for more modern equivalents. But due to the 22nd century placement, I was also able to give them things such as geothermal heating and cooling technology, solar thermal cell tech, insulated concrete form construction (which, by the way, is that “new building method” which was such a big deal in chapter 17), indoor plumbing, modern appliances (and, for the men, I would wager some tools), and some electronics. It allows me to cherry-pick and cobble together the cool stuff and the convenient stuff into a collage that blends two really disparate eras.

The great and freeing thing about writing something set in the future is that we don’t know what the future will look like. Think about “Back to the Future”. We’re in 2015 now, but there are no hoverboards, trends from the 1980s have finally been let to die, and the “Jaws” franchise quit after the fourth film. It was completely off-base, but we still love it as a modern classic. It proves that there’s no onus to project accurately for thirty, or one hundred and thirty, years from now, when writing fiction if you tell a good story. It’s very liberating to have those fetters off so that I can focus on my characters and the plot of the story itself.

*Describe your writing process.

Processes might be a better way to say it. It really depends. For one, as a general rule, I write to music. Especially with something like this story. There’s a very particular cadence to the narrative and the speech and the language, and using the same music by the same composer helps me maintain that consistently, since music is incredibly mathematical. Also, I’ve heard other writers say they let their characters tell them their stories. For me, it’s a bit more than that at times. The characters sort of run amok, and I take it all in and note down what happens. Don’t get me wrong, I do get to intentionally write, sometimes; it’s just that the other happens, as well.

And when something is, for lack of a better word, ‘downloaded’ from God, it’s very much like stream-of-consciousness writing, and it’s all I can do to keep up and get the words on the page in the correct order. Figuring out any peripheral stage blocking, background action, dramatic emphasis or window dressing all gets added in on a second pass-through, after I’m sure I’ve got it all down intact. I had a day once like that, where in 8 hours I produced and/or finished 13 chapters and then later that evening had absolutely no memory of any of what I had written. A week later I reopened those documents and read them for literally the first time, ever. It was wild. It also taught me a lesson about how much the Type-A, OCD mind in me will edit what I write, six times before it hits the page for the first time, which is potentially detrimental to the ‘creating’ part of the creative process.

*Is there a type of scene (love scene, action, dialogue, etc.) that is more difficult for you to write?

Tough one. In the case of this story/series, I’d have to say it’s the scenes that involve horses. I don’t know anything about horses. Fortunately, a friend of mine, one of my editors, does. Between her and Google, I had bases covered. Otherwise, a lot of the scenes that you see either wouldn’t exist, or would have far less detail or, lamentably, wrong detail.

Emotionally charged scenes, action scenes, visual scenic descriptions, conversational dialogue, witty banter, all of those in their turns are not too much of a problem. Give me a horse and I’m lost.

*If you could cast your characters for the film adaptation of your novel, who would play your main characters?

Guilty pleasure confession: I’ve already done this long ago. It helped me to have a visible frame of reference when attempting to write the visual descriptions of their features. I have an entire (and growing) Pinterest board. How many would you like? These are my “Dream Team” choices, if I could cast anyone I wanted.

For Caeleigh, I chose an actress named Lauren Ambrose. She is, most importantly, not too pretty for the role. Given the conversation that Cae and Elizabeth have in chapter 3, that’s rather crucial.

Speaking of Elizabeth, for my favorite short and sassy blonde, I chose Jenna Coleman. She won me immediately in one of the first episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ I saw that she was in, called “The Snowmen”; it reminded me of the sass level required of a woman who would be handling a guy like Peter for the rest of her life.

Andrew, I based on a fictional character from a television series from 1989. Obviously, the actor from that role isn’t going to be able to play a 35-year-old anymore. Something put Zachary Levi on my radar a while back, and it was a tenuous casting choice at first… but after the last few episodes of the final season of ‘Chuck’ and a Hallmark Channel flick (yes, I confess to watching the latter of those sometimes), I have solidified the choice. I posted a video clip to my FaceBook page of a performance that really felt like Andrew’s white-knuckled prayers.

For Thomas, I chose Jay Ryan. From stuff I’ve seen him in, I know he has the chops for the emotional gamut that Thomas goes through over the course of the story.

And though he isn’t a main character, I’d like to say that I have chosen Ernie Hudson for Marcus, just because, yes, I cast a Ghostbuster! I think he has an awesome laugh, and that’s one of the first things we see from Marcus, so it’s gotta be a memorable one.

*What has been your biggest obstacle to being published? Your biggest encouragement?

The biggest obstacle, initially, since I chose to self-publish, was not knowing anything about the process. As I learn more and more about it,  and I find myself surrounded by people who do know the process and can help me through it, now the challenge is that I’m entirely on my own when it comes to promotion and so forth. It’s a huge leap of faith.

The biggest encouragement has been people like you, who have done what I’m doing, before I’ve done it, who are willing to advise and instruct me. Also the people in my life who simply cheer me on every step of the way, telling me to hang in there and stay the course, and reminding me of the things that God has been promising for years that He means to do with this book that are beyond and outside of my own life.

And some non-writing questions:

*What were you like as a child? Did you have a favorite toy or game?

First off, I love this question. Totally unexpected. Thank you.

I had a creative imagination, even when I was young. I would watch films and TV shows and spin off my own story lines from what I had seen. And I was embarrassed by what I gravitated toward. That, I think, is the thing I regret most now, looking backward. If that storycrafting creativity had been fostered I might have been a different person, but as a kid I had this sense that there were expectations on me to be a certain kind of person, and I wasn’t fitting that mold, already. So I tried to wedge in there and suppress what I was and make my creative nature behave. I’m sure it’s coming out in my characters now, all that repressed energy.

Outside of a fondness for Legos, I don’t remember a particular toy or game, but I remember favorite books. Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” was a prominent one. I remember when I was fairly young, the copy in my hometown public library had gotten vandalized – scribbled with really badly with an ink pen. I made my mother take me to go buy the library a new copy. After it was donated, they let me keep the old, ruined one. I still have it. It’s in awful shape, because thereafter someone in my house decided to start coloring in the illustrations with markers, but I now own a first-edition copy.  Another was “Too Many Lollipops” by Robert Quackenbush. I loved the wackiness of that story, the fact that the principal character was a duck and the ironic juxtaposition of that with the author’s name, plus a series of alliterations and fantastic illustrations. I tracked down a copy on ebay a few years ago, because I’m pretty sure I wore out my childhood copy entirely.

*Do you have any pets?

I do. I have a 15-year-old cat who is insanely anthropomorphic and a little bit OCD. He’s also a closet Trekkie.

*Do you have any recurring dreams or nightmares?

Funny you should ask. The Unforgotten Promise actually started with recurring dreams. I had told God I wanted to write, but that I didn’t have a story and needed Him to give me one. That night or the next, I had this really bizarre dream, and then another the night after. Then the two repeated for days – well, nights – in tandem, with cinematic clarity and vividness. They’re the exact scenes/images of Caeleigh Bonding with Andrew then running away from him and Peter running into the burning meetinghouse. Thanks to a sleep disorder that wakes me mid-REM cycle, I still have visual memories of those dreams, and that was in December of 2011.

Guest Post: February Grace

First of all, tell us a bit about yourself and what you write. (Feel free to include any links to Amazon or to your blog/social media sites.)

FG: I’m February Grace, and I’m from Michigan, where it is cold more of the time than I would like. I write mostly romances of the fantasy persuasion; and have just published my fifth novel with Booktrope, a dark, time-travel fantasy/romance called WISHING CROSS STATION. Its official release date is June 2nd: it can be found on Amazon in eBook and print, as an eBook for Nook, with print from BN and eBook from iTunes to follow.   WISHING CROSS STATION COVER HIGH RES FULL FINAL - small

All the information you could want about my books is available on my blog, Love Letters from Jupiter, which can be found at www.februarywriter.blogspot.com  You can also always find me on Twitter @februarygrace .

~*~

Who or what first inspired you to become an author?

FG: I’ve been asked this question several times lately, and it finally dawned on me the real answer is that being an early reader (before the age of three) is really what inspired me to become an author.

My Grandmother and I were very close, and she taught me to read by first using a book called Mickey Mouse’s Picnic (which I still have, tattered though it is.) I naturally went from there and took to the idea of creating adventures for my favorite toys before I could write them down.

Then in the fourth grade I was assigned to watch clips of fairy tales on the projector in the library (a great privilege to be trusted with it alone!) and then rewrite the endings. After that I was always writing something, be it poetry, sci-fi stories inspired by those that fascinated me like Star Wars did, or teenage romances full of angst and tears.

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre was the book that made me fall in love with the art of language, though. I was fifteen when I first read it, and it just swept me away. Tennyson’s poetry inspired me as well, and also such diverse and different voices such as sci-fi genius Douglas Adams.

Inspiration came from lots of places but always led me back to one thing: words.

Do you do a lot of research in your writing? What was the most unusual thing you have come across in your research?

FG: Since most of my books are fantasy books, I didn’t have to do a lot of research because I was building my own mythology. The new book, though, was a different story; and I took a day trip last fall in which I researched details about trains, railroads of the 1800s and how the Stationmaster and his family would have lived by visiting a local historical theme park that is considered to be one of the best in the country.

I took hundreds of photographs, I took video of the sound of the actual, running 1880’s steam engine to remember what it sounded like. I rode the train and breathed deeply of the amazing aroma of the smoke it created. It was an amazing, inspiring day.

I think one of the most interesting, and perhaps unusual, thing I came across in my research was visiting an actual, preserved General Store from that time period at the historical park. It had more than 5000 artifacts from back in the day there, everything from delicate glassware to women’s shoes and the Postmaster’s desk and accoutrements. I was fascinated. It really was like stepping back in time, and it helped me so much as I sat down to write about that time period for Wishing Cross Station.

What has been your biggest obstacle in getting to where you are now? Your biggest encouragement?

FG: My health has definitely been my biggest obstacle to anything in my life. I’ve never been healthy, and I found out at last at age 38 that I have a rare genetic condition that is destroying the connective tissue in my body. This caused me to go blind in my thirties, and I only have limited vision now after six complicated eye surgeries. Without special glasses, I am legally blind and always be, only seeing light and motion.

The limitations on the use of my eyesight (reading is a real strain, always) have led me to get creative at times in how I wrote and finished my novels; but I am sure that all my trials and tribulations health-wise have added a dimension to some of my characters they never would have had otherwise.

Still another, and perhaps the greatest challenge I face is living with Bipolar Disorder, OCD and PTSD. There are times when I cannot write at all because of the medications I take for these disorders, and those are very trying times for my soul. One block lasted a year and a half and I wondered if I’d ever be able to write again. It was terrifying.

So, I don’t and can’t write on a schedule or set writing goals with dates in mind like other writers do. When I’m manic, I write a lot, quickly. Then the stories are refined in editing later when my mind has quieted down.

I also had the most amazing editor on Wishing Cross Station, Laura Bartha, who was just incredible and so helpful. Between her skills and those of my amazing proofreader, who happens to be a bestselling author named Jennifer Gracen, this story has been in good hands from start to finish and I am so grateful to everyone who has been a part of bringing Keigan’s story to life.

The greatest encouragement to me has been a handful of people who believed in me even when I didn’t; and also the drive of my character’s voices in my head, trying to tell their stories. They reminded me that if I didn’t tell them, then no one else would, and that was huge incentive to get their tales down onto the page.

And a couple non-writing questions:

Did you have a favorite toy as a child? Do you still have it?

FG: I did and I do! The most special of all was a stuffed Paddington bear who went with me everywhere I went, including on vacations to as far away as Florida and Puerto Rico—twice! He’s looking sad but I still adore him. I also still have some dolls from my childhood, Barbies and my favorites, Darci dolls. Also still have a Star Wars action figure or two from my originals—sadly the whole set didn’t survive the rigors of play even though I was careful with them. I’ll never forget the day Princess Leia’s head fell off. I was devastated.

Do you have any recurring dreams or nightmares?

FG: I do, but they are too dark and difficult to talk about. The dreams are hopes for the future to dear to be put into words, and the nightmares… because of the PTSD, sometimes the images from them follow me into the daylight and try to oppress me there as well and it’s a difficult thing to cope with. I am grateful to have a great team of doctors and professionals looking out for me; without them I just don’t know where I’d be now. Well, I know where I’d most likely be and it wouldn’t be where I am now. They have my unending, sincere gratitude.

Thank you so much for hosting me today!

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