Friday, October 24, 2008

Interview with Maryann Miller on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing community. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today's guest is Maryann Miller, author, scriptwriter, reviewer, and editorial consultant.

You recently took your book, One Small Victory, on a 'blog book tour.' How is this different from a 'real-life book tour?' Would you suggest a blog book tour to other authors? What were the pros and cons of going on one?

The virtual tour doesn't involve driving or showing up in your best duds. :-) From that perspective it was very convenient and didn't cost nearly as much as a real book tour. A virtual tour is a good way to meet a lot of people via the Internet, but it does lack the immediacy of actually seeing folks and talking one on one. The chats and messages back and forth online are close, but nothing like that ability to make eye-contact and know that the person is really interested in your book and what you have to say at a presentation. At the last signing I did in a Border's store, I met a young man - maybe about sixteen - who was very focused and asked some really good questions about the writing process and about my book. He then asked if he could have my autograph, so I signed one of my bookmarks and gave it to him. He thanked me, shook my hand, and left. A little while later he came back and said he wanted to buy one of my books for his mother for a gift. That can't happen on a virtual book tour, but I think that is the only downside of a virtual tour. The benefits are many, including the fact that the blogs are live for a long time, and I would really recommend it as a tool for promoting.

You write screenplays in addition to novels. Are these two things very different to write? Many people read novels, but fewer people read screenplays. How do you get into writing them? What is a "logline?" (I picked this up from reading the descriptions of screenplays on your website, never heard of it before!)

Screenplays and novels are very different in terms of structure and format, but they both do demand the ability to tell a good story. In one, you are just going to do it visually as opposed to having someone read your story. Screenplays are not generally marketed for casual reading as people would find the format very difficult to follow. There are brief narrative descriptions of people and place, then dialogue centered in the middle of the page. Not an easy read. :-) I started writing screenplays when I won a contest for one of my short stories and the contest judge said the story was very visual and suggested that I turn the story into a screenplay. I did, and submitted the screenplay the following year in the same contest at the University of Houston. I won first place and discovered that I have a knack for writing scripts. I have written several, and two of them have placed high in major script contests. The best way to explain what a logline is, is to say that it is the short one or two sentence description of the story like you see in the TV guide. It has to tell what the story is about, as well as peak some interest. Those are incredibly hard to write because they have to be so concise. People ask what our stories are about and we can tell them in lots of sentences. But for a logline we have two sentences max to get the concept of the story across.

When people want you to review a novel, do they send you a copy of that novel? Do you write a review if you don't like the novel? Do you ever tell someone that you can't write a review for the book?

For review requests, I like authors to send me a press release with all the information about the book. If I think it is something I might want to read, I will then ask for the book or an advance review copy. Most of the time I do not write negative reviews. If I don't like the book, I will just pass. But for Blogger News Network, where the editorial guidelines are not as strict as ForeWord Magazine, I will occasionally pan a book, especially if it is one that has been getting a lot of buzz for being a really good book, and it actually has some weak writing. I think readers deserve the best that a writer can do. Most of the time I do not tell the writer if I am not going to review the book. Most writers know that we send our work out and take the chance that it won't get reviewed, or it will get a lukewarm review. That's part of the business. I sent copies of One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam to reviewers and never heard from them one way or another.

Among your many duties, you are a member of the co-op editor blog The Blood-Red Pencil. Do you think that editing has improved your writing? Do you ever run across a piece of writing that you refuse to edit?

Editing has absolutely improved my writing. After you tell a client about passive writing, you can sure spot that in your own when you get back to a work in progress. I have declined to edit projects that were obviously written as a catharsis for some trauma and were so poorly written that the writer needed to take a basic creative writing class to start a rewrite. I can do some mentoring and teaching as I edit. I'm doing that right now for a client, but it has to be a project that has some potential of getting published. Unless the writer just wants to write a cohesive autobiography. Then I will take on the project, but the fees will be much higher than for editing work that just needs a little bit of help.

On your website, you offer writers a chance to experience a 'writer's retreat' of your own creation. What a terrific idea! What gave you the idea to provide a retreat for writers? Do you find that it helps to inspire writers when they 'get away from it all?'

The writer's retreat idea came from a good friend, Laura Castoro, who often will rent a cabin in the Ozarks for a few weeks to finish a book. She came to visit me several years ago and said my little ranch reminded her of that cabin -- very pretty setting, quiet, and conducive to writing. She also suggested I offer the editorial services because she considers me a good editor. I do know that this place really feeds my creativity. We need to nurture that in ourselves, and a little time outdoors just marveling at the beauty really gives me a boost. I'm sure it is the same for many other writers.

What is your one super secret tip for aspiring authors hoping to get published?

I don't know that there is one super secret tip for aspiring writers. Writing and getting published all involves a lot of hard work. We have to work as hard on the marketing as we do on the creating, and through it all, we have to be professional.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor, publisher, etc. who's doing great things right now, and why?

I'm not sure if the folks at the Blood-Red Pencil are doing great things, but I think the blog certainly is a great resource for writers and I commend Dani for coming up with the idea. As far as publishers go, university presses are now publishing more fiction and trying to be a publishing outlet for writers who are finding it harder and harder to get into the NY houses. As are independent small presses.

About the Author

To learn more, visit Maryann's website. Maryann has written One Small Victory (Five Star/Gale) and Play It Again, Sam (Uncial Press). She's also part of an upcoming anthology, One Touch, One Glance Anthology (Freya's Bower).

© Emma Larkins and Maryann Miller

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Anonymous said...

Good interview. I am fascinated by the screenwriting thing. Would love to try my hand at it sometime. Hats off to Maryann for mastering both that and novelling (is that a word?). I DID write a spoof short screenplay once involving one of my characters in Owen Fiddler, the puffed up Satan wannabe called Louis Seiffer. He's interviewed on the "Inside the Actors Head Studio with Thames Lipton." It was a real hoot and I got several comments that I had a knack for screenplay writing, they could really "see" everything.

thanks to you both for this interview!

Maryann Miller said...

Thanks for hosting me here today, Emma. And thanks for your kind words, Marvin.

I learned how to write a script by using Sid Field's book, Screenplay, and following those guidelines for the formatting. The challenge always when adapting a novel or short story is creating the visuals. If you already have a knack for that, the rest is easy to learn.

And just to clarify one small point that I didn't make clear to Emma. The One Touch One Glance anthology is not all my stories. I only have one story in it. :-) There are 17 other authors who contributed.

Kathy Ostman-Magnusen & Dennis Magnusen said...

Interesting, informative blog. Good luck on your novel!

Aloha, Kathy

Emma Larkins said...

Marvin, you should definitely write a screenplay. Maybe as a version of your crazy vampire story? :)

Thank YOU Maryann for your great answers! I fixed the anthology thing (oops!)

Many thanks for your luck, Kathy. I need all I can get! Speaking of which, time to log in some writing hours. But I'll keep popping in now and then!

Maryann Miller said...

Thanks for changing the info about the anthology, Emma. I'm sure the other authors will be pleased that I am not hogging all the credit for the book. :-)