It is my pleasure to introduce you to the author of one of my favorite books, “Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead”. I read this book last year and Christiana and I have been in touch ever since. Christiana, before we get started talking about your writing, tell our readers a little about yourself, where you’re from, what you do for a living—if you’re not a fulltime writer, what hobbies you have. That sort of thing!
My name is Christiana Miller, I’m from the south-side of Chicago and I’m a full-time mom and writer.
What do you do for fun?
Hang out with my daughter! We just went out whale-watching and had a blast.
What’s your favorite animal, color, season of the year?
Domestic or wild? Domestic: my favorite dog is a Doberman; my favorite cat is an Egyptian Mau; my favorite horse is a Thoroughbred. Wild would have to be dolphins. My daughter and I had a chance to pet and feed the dolphins at Sea World and it was amazing. They’re so playful and gentle. I’m an ocean girl, so my favorite color is blue — ocean blue, turquoise blue, aquamarine blue, neon blue. Although my daughter’s made me appreciate the pink family, which I never thought I would. My favorite season is fall, because it’s not too hot, not too cold, and it has Halloween in it!
We have a lot of favs in common! What’s your favorite singer, song, type of music?
I have really eclectic tastes. Old-Time Rock and Roll by Bob Seger, I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor, Burning Down The House by Talking Heads, the entire album of Evita. One Night in Bangkok with Murray Head (whom I think is Anthony Head’s brother [Giles from Buffy], Romeo in Black Jeans by Michael Penn, Secrets by One Republic, Rockstar and Someday by Nickelback. Adele, Lady Gaga, Madonna, everything by Billy Joel, Bruce Springstein. I’m really all over the place. It’s why I love Glee — they’re as eclectic as I am!
How about your favorite movie?
My daughter’s favorite movie is James Cameron’s Avatar, animated are Rio and Tinkerbell. She’s more definite in her tastes than I am. My favorites are… Murphy’s Romance with James Garner and Sally Field, Get Shorty with John Travolta, Saving Grace with Brenda Blethyn, Ghostbusters with Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis, Grease with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, Author Author with Al Pacino, Tootsie with Dustin Hoffman, Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark) with Harrison Ford, Patriot Games with Harrison Ford — actually, pretty much anything with Harrison Ford, John Travolta, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman or Cary Grant. See? I’m all over the place.
Well, we both seem to be pretty eclectic. I heard a lot of my favs there, too. Who’s your favorite actress/actor?
Cary Grant, Harrison Ford, Lucille Ball, Brooke Elliot, Doris Roberts, Betty White. Sometimes I have a hard time watching modern day actresses because they’re so painfully thin, I keep wanting to feed them! I would love for Hollywood to get away from embracing anorexia and into embracing what real women look like. They’re supposed to have curves, not be so thin they look like feminine boys. And it’s not the actresses fault. It’s the system. I know so many actresses who — even though they were at a perfect weight to begin with — were still told they had to lose weight if they wanted to work. So they went from slender to skeletal. It’s absolutely ridiculous. I celebrate any and every working actress who doesn’t fit into a size zero and still makes it in the industry.
Now that we know you a little better as a person, let’s get into your writing! What kind of books do you write (genre)?
Paranormal Chick Lit. Which means it tends to have humor, mystery and romance mixed in with the paranormal elements. Although the new one is a totally different genre. It has paranormal elements in it, but it’s not chick lit at all.
Name some of your books, including your latest.
I’m also working on a non-fiction book called Toddler Wisdom.
Tell us about your next book & when is it being published?
“The Gospel of Ruth” is a new take on apocalyptic fiction. What if 2012 isn’t the end, but the beginning? It starts in the far distant past when, through witchcraft, a boy is sent into the future to find the child fated to be pivotal in the fate of the world. I co-wrote that one with a friend of mine. I’m hoping to have it published late March/early April, so I can get back to work on the next Tillie book.
When did you start writing & why? (Did any specific author(s) motivate you to begin writing?)
Some of that was due to my favorite TV series as a kid — Brisco County, Jr. and Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys — I wanted to see more episodes than what they were showing, so I had to create my own. Then I would get my upstairs neighbor, who was a couple of years younger than me, to help me act them out!
But I was always a huge reader, and when I would get sick, I’d want to read books that I’d already read. It was like they had become old friends. When I was at my sickest, I couldn’t remember the titles of the books, but I could remember the stories and the characters, and I’d tell them to my dad in detail. He’d go to the library to find them, only to come back empty-handed because — according to the children’s librarian — none of those books had been written yet. I had invented them. But they were so incredibly real to me! So, I guess it only makes sense that I grew up to be a writer!
Are you an avid reader & when you do read someone else’s writing, what is your favorite genre?
I used to be a much more avid reader before I started writing. When I was a kid, they instituted a 10-book limit at my local library, because of me. When I went in there, I would clear out entire shelves. I lived to read. Now, I feel too guilty about taking time off writing to read as much as I used to. However, when I do read, my favorite genres are paranormals, mysteries and chick lit. But I’ll read anything. The only genre I try my best to avoid is blood-and-gore horror.
Me, too! Who is your favorite author & why?
How much time do you have? I really can’t narrow it down to just one! I love Janet Evanovich, Jennifer Crusie, Sara Gruen, Elmore Leonard, Dick Francis, Carl Hiaasen, Jim Butcher, Angie Fox, Patry Francis and a ton of others. What they have in common is the ability to write vivid characters and an escapist plot that takes me completely out of the real world for a few hours.
What is it that makes your writing different from all the others in your genre?
Over a decade of research! (She’s laughing here!) I think I’m going to let my readers answer that question! Actually, I think my books tend to be more grounded in reality than others in this genre. They also have a lot of humor, along with the suspense and drama. And, even though there is some sex and romance, even the sex has a mix of humor and supernatural. And the females in my books are forces to be reckoned with.
In general, how long do you spend writing a book?
Way too long! It all depends, on whether I’m writing it from scratch or adapting a script, if I have a deadline on another project, etc. Tillie look a long time to write, while 3 Witches took about a month.
Where do you do your writing & what is your process like?
I write in my office, while my daughter’s at school. And I’ll write in the dining room at home, in the mornings, while she’s asleep. And I’ll write on the couch in the evening, while everyone else is watching TV or sleeping. I tend to be on my computer a lot, whether it’s writing, marketing or organizing writing events. My daughter’s learned that if she wants to talk to me, and I’m on the computer, she needs to physically grab my head and turn it towards her, so I can focus on what she’s saying. Because, when I’m writing, it doesn’t matter where my body is sitting, my mind is totally elsewhere.
How do you get ideas for your stories and characters?
From the people in my life! I’ve lived in the middle of a whirlwind of eccentric characters from the time I was born. I always say my life started out as a black comedy and turned into a dramedy as I got older. I’m drawn to people who are unusual, and I prefer laughing over crying. So whenever anything happens, I try to find the funnier and more bizarre range of possibilities of how things might go, and spin that into a story. I’ve been lucky enough to find a number of humorous and unique situations to explore, just based on my life and the lives of people around me. I also collect News of the Weird-type tidbits and eventually, the different events and characters floating around in my imagination will coalesce and spit out an interesting character or story development.
What is your editing process like and who does it? A professional editor? Multiple non-professionals with different ‘specialities’ or ‘strengths’? Do you do it all yourself?
Oh, my goodness. I’m still struggling with this. I have an editor, and I have multiple beta readers read through for copy-edits, and it’s still not perfect. Sometimes readers will still catch mistakes. Mostly an omitted word from a sentence that was previously edited, or a word that the conversion software has mangled due to an accent mark. I try to catch it all, but after you’ve read the manuscript so often, your eye becomes blind to it. So, when readers have emailed me with any glitches, I’ve made the changes and updated the e-book with their name in the acknowledgements as a thank you.
What’s the best/worst experience you’ve ever had as a writer?
Best: Getting fan mail from around the world and becoming friends with my fans on Facebook. There’s a whole world of support out there for Tillie and I’m honored and amazed by it on a daily basis. Every time someone posts a review, it’s like getting a present on Christmas morning.
Worst: Honestly, the worst part of being a writer was back when I had bought into the party line of how it was supposed to be done. Back then, I hated not having any control over my career and being at the mercy of every gatekeeper in the industry. And I really hated how writers were supposed to suck up all the snarky crap hurled at them and blow kisses of gratitude to the egomaniac who was hurling it, for the honor of being noticed. But most of all, I hated how the writer — the person who was creating the material, the person without whom the entire industry would collapse — was the person who was valued least. I was a working writer for years, and I still had to have a day job. If you amortized the amount I was making as a writer, by the number of hours I was putting in, it would make you wonder why anyone does it. And that’s typical for many writers, whether they’re publishing or pursuing screenwriting. For every $5 book a publisher sells, most writers get paid a whole 50 cents in royalties — and that’s only after the book’s sold enough copies to earn out its advance. Until then, authors make nothing per sale. Until Amazon stepped in and changed the nature of the game. Amazon made it possible for a lot of people to make their living as full-time writers.
(She’s hard to draw and answer out of, isn’t she? Laughing here!) What is the best/worst advice you have ever gotten about writing?
Best: It’s going to take you 10,000 hours of writing to hone your craft. You can either sit your butt down in that chair and get it over with now, or you can procrastinate and it’ll take you another thirty years.
Worst: Unless you’re the foremost expert in whatever field you’re writing about, no one’s going to want to read what you write. So don’t waste your time writing.
OMG, imagine that being true–where does that leave folks like me who murder people on paper for a living and all those horror writers!? What advice would you give a new author?
Don’t let other people decide your career path. Figure out what you want to do and go for it. You have more power and more ability than you realize. You’re also going to have more flexibility of time when you’re younger, so don’t waste the time you’ve been given — it’s a gift. Once you’re older and you have a family, you’ll have to struggle to find time to pursue your dreams. Also, don’t just re-hash what everyone else is doing. What is unique about you? What are your hobbies, your interests, your passions? Whatever you write, you want to write it in the unique way that only you can. Keep your unique voice. It’s what makes you stand out from the crowd. It may not work on term papers, but it will work gangbusters on writing novels.
If you hadn’t become an author, how else might you be exercising your right brain now?
Uhm… wow. Being a screenwriter is still writing, so I can’t use that… I used to be an actress. Maybe I’d go back to that. But an actor’s life is really tough. They get even less respect than writers. I don’t know. I also used to paint shirts in my spare time, although I’m kind of hit and miss with that. Maybe I’d take it up again. Sigh. I might as well face it. If I couldn’t write, I’d be totally screwed.
I hear ya! Is there anything I didn’t ask that you would like to share?
I don’t think there’s a single question left that you didn’t ask! This is the most thorough interview I’ve ever done. Let me think… Okay, the only thing I can think of is the question of what inspired me to write Tillie.
Part of the answer is Janet Evanovich. I’m hugely addicted to the Stephanie Plum series and she had taken some time off to write Motor Mouth, so I started writing my own stories because I was going through character withdrawal there were only so many times I could re-read the Plum series.
At the same time, my friend Troy had gotten himself an awesome toad that he named Lord Grundleshanks. I loved that name. And when Lord Grundleshanks died, I promised Troy I’d immortalize Grundleshanks in a story. And then, when I flew back home to visit my dad as he was dying from cancer, I kept dreaming scenes and ideas that would eventually become Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead. So I always credit my dad for whispering the story to me in my dreams.
Awwww! It’s amazing how they (loved ones) still influence us long after they’re gone, isn’t it? Where on-line can people find more information about you and your books?
Where are your books available in print and/or digital?
Right now, they’re on Amazon (links below) and Barnes & Noble, although I plan to expand to iTunes and Kobo soon.
Well, be sure to keep us posted on those changes! Thanks so much for taking time away from your writing to join us here, Christiana. I’m looking forward to more Tillie adventures!