Brandon Marie Miller On Writing & Fear

 I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk. SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!

Today’s guest for the SAT is Brandon Marie Miller, an award-winning author of U. S. History for young people. She earned a degree in American History from Purdue University and now lives in Ohio. Her books have been honored by the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), the Society for School Librarians International, Voices of Youth Advocates (VOYA), Bank Street College, and the Junior Library Guild.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I’m both!

As a mostly nonfiction writer I am definitely a Planner. I have notes, some neat, some scribbled on scraps, some in MS Office OneNote. I have outlines. I have timelines. I have stacks of books ready to tip over. I have piles of photocopies spread all over the floor. Now that I think about it—things are a lot less planned and organized than I’d like.

For fiction, I usually have main plot points in mind, but I go with the flow after that and see what develops in a bare bones draft.

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish? 

The only novel I’ve written (YA historical) took me 8 years off and on to finish. It is not yet published but I have hopes.

My history and biographies take about 2 years to research and write.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi-tasker?

I only work on one project at a time, although there are always small things going on and fires to put out. I might be waiting for comments from an editor while working on a nonfiction book proposal or writing a blog. But multi-tasking at writing is not one of my strengths and I don’t beat myself up about it.


Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

I’ve had 13 books published and I have fears every time I sit down to write. It’s huge, it’s a long process; you need thick skin, persistence, and self-confidence, which are often in short supply. I always worry I won’t be able to do IT (write something) again. I worry I won’t be able to sell the next thing or will I go through a long drought of nothing. But, the writing community (especially in kid lit) is supportive and helpful. I don’t think I could do this without my writing buddies.

How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?

I handled my own submissions, rejections, and contracts for many years before getting an agent. It used to be that more houses were open. And for nonfiction you have the chance to sell a book based on a proposal and a sample chapter instead of a finished manuscript. Contracts are so complicated now with e-rights and different things, and so many houses are closed to submission, that I was very happy to have an agent for this last book.

Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?

I don’t have any half finished ms stashed away. I finish what I start and quit the rough way-- when the market tells me to quit through numerous rejections!

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them? 

My agent is Dawn Frederick at Red Sofa Literary. I actually queried another agent at Red Sofa who wasn’t taking on new authors at that time, but she loved my query and told me to send it to Dawn. I sent Dawn my book proposal and she offered representation after we talked on the phone. So I had a referral, but also wrote a query letter and a book proposal. 

How long did you query before landing your agent?   

For the project that got me an agent I probably sent out a dozen queries, maybe more.

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

Patience. Also, if you don’t have writing credits, don’t point it out—just leave any comment about that out of your query. Read successful queries. Use the internet and social media to refine your focus on agents who like what you are writing.

How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?

Unreal. Fantastic. That first book, now long out of print, is still so special to me!

How much input do you have on cover art?

None. And out of 13 books, only one has my working title! 

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

How very slow it all is. How bruising the process can be. And the biggest surprise: How little money a writer actually makes.

How much of your own marketing do you?  Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?

I do what I can, but it is out of my comfort zone, for sure. I submit for book festivals, and spend time on social media. I’ve tried to build relationships with other writers, librarians, teachers, and hope they will put in a good word about my books once in a while. Share other writers’ news. Be generous. But you can’t count on other people doing the same for you. I share a blog with two other nonfiction writers and I have a website that is chronically in need of updating. Marketing is hard. A good marketing team at the publisher can be uplifting. Sometimes you have to ask for what you’d like to have. Be kind, thoughtful, respectful, but ask.

When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

I think you should start before you get an agent—after all an online presence may help you get that agent.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

For some authors, yes, but it certainly doesn’t translate for all authors. I see people fretting about the number of followers they have. Don’t. Instead, have generous interactions with a smaller number of followers who are actually interested in what you do. These are the people that will support you and share your information. 



Nancy Roe Pimm On Finding Inspirational Subjects

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.


Today's guest for the WHAT is Nancy Roe Pimm, a MG narrative non-fiction writer who has been published in Highlights for Children, Hopscotch, Boy’s Quest, The Horseman’s Corral, Guideposts for Kids and Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her published books include: The Indy 500-The Inside Track (Junior Libray Guild Selection), The Daytona 500- The Thrill and Thunder of the Great American Race (JLG Selection), The Heart of the Beast-Eight Great Gorilla Stories (JLG Selection). Endorsed by Jack Hanna, Colo’s Story—The Life of One Grand Gorilla (JLG Selection),  Flying Solo—The Jerrie Mock Story, and her latest book, Bonded by Battle: The Powerful Friendships of Military Dogs and Soldiers.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book? 

Well I write nonfiction, so I’m always looking for stories that seem unbelievable, or I look for the “WOW” factor--something takes my breath away or keeps nagging at me in the middle of the night. Then it’s research time.  I chase it down. For instance, while watching the news one evening in my kitchen I learned that the first woman to fly around the world was a housewife from Newark, Ohio. The newscaster said that the big event had happened fifty years ago. I wondered why I had never heard of this woman and why the first person who came to my mind while thinking of around the world flights was Amelia Earhart—but she disappeared. I had to learn more about this little known lady who circumnavigated the world, solo, in a little plane five decades ago. The more I learned about Jerrie Mock, the more I needed to know. After speaking with Jerrie on the phone, I packed my bags and set out from my Ohio home to Florida, to meet and interview eighty-eight- year-old Jerrie Mock. 

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it? 

My niche is narrative nonfiction. For me the plot already happened, I need to find an engaging way to tell the story. Once I’ve been hooked on the subject, I dig deep. It’s like a treasure hunt and I won’t stop digging until I’ve uncovered some gold. I try to find little known, or quirky and interesting facts on the subject. While researching my Daytona 500 book I went to the race track as a writer instead of as a driver’s wife. I learned things I never knew, even though I worked in the pits for many years. In the past I hung out in the motor home or the car trailer, waiting for driver introductions. As a “reporter” I watched for the first time as the pit box was sprayed with cans of soda pop in preparation for the big race. The crew member explained how the sticky surface kept the pit crew from slipping and sliding while they changed four tires, made any necessary adjustments, and refueled in about 11 seconds. While digging around in the Jerrie Mock biography I learned she had eloped. She never shared that with me or with her own family. No one in her family knew her wedding anniversary date. I also discovered her flight around the world became a race against another lady pilot, a fact that made the plot even more intriguing.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper? 

When I write fiction I am a total pantser. I love being surprised by the characters or by a turn of events. In nonfiction I have to find the format that best serves the story. But when I wrote about military war dogs, the history of them and how they were trained, I found a better story inside of the story. Time and time again, I discovered the most amazing thing about military war dogs is the bond of friendship and trust they developed with the soldiers they served. So BONDED BY BATTLE made a complete turn around and focused on the soldier/dog relationships. COLO'S STORY also surprised me. I never expected the first gorilla born in captivity to have so much personality and such attitude. She gave me a lot to write about, which is a good thing because interviewing gorillas can be quite challenging.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by? 

Fortunately or unfortunately story ideas come at me fast and furious. I find it hard to sleep at night! There are so many stories I want to write, both fiction and nonfiction, from picture book to young adult novel. I write what I am the most passionate about at the time. After all, I know I’ll be spending days and nights researching and writing so I need to love the topic.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating? 

Right now I am working on the biography of a World War II veteran. I met the soldier while I was writing my latest book, BONDED BY BATTLE. So, one book birthed another so to speak.  Bill sent me an e-mail and said, “Nancy, if you are serious about writing my biography, let’s get started. I’m 94 years-old!” So Bill’s story went straight to the top of the pile. Bill Wynne was a photo reconnaissance soldier who fought for two years with a Yorkshire Terrier by his side. The Yorkie became a war dog hero and is credited with being the first therapy dog. Once I have the biography complete I am anxious to revise my young adult novel and a nonfiction picture book.

2016 was not an easy year. Do you draw any inspiration from the world around you, or do you use writing as pure escapism?

I draw all of my inspiration from the world around me. Even though I am not a race car driver, (some of my friends will argue that I am a racer, just not a professional!) I found living from racetrack to racetrack something to write about. I worked at the Columbus Zoo and wrote a couple of gorilla books. I love animals and will happily write about any of them. Manatees and whooping cranes are on my radar right now. Learning about World War II from a man who lived through it has been fascinating, and I think it’s important to have a good account of what our soldiers went through fighting for our freedom. And I loved writing about a lady who followed her childhood dream and I hope Jerrie Mock’s life story will inspire others, old and young, not only to have a dream, but to believe in them, and most important, to follow them. So I’ll keep writing as long as I keep breathing. There is so much to write about—inspiration is all around us!