Please welcome Anesa Miller (@anesam98), author of Our Orbit to the blog today!
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas. Both of my parents were born and raised in Kansas as well. I've spent most of my adult life in Ohio, which I still consider home, but over the past decade, I've spent part of each year in eastern Washington state in connection with my husband's work. That's how I wound up attending the University of Idaho in Moscow.
What is the name of your most recent release? Can you give us an idea of what the story is about? What genre is it and where can we find it?
My most recent book is a novel called Our Orbit. It's set in the mid-1990s, which most readers still consider "contemporary," and it leans toward literary fiction, although I believe it's very accessible.
It's the story of a nine-year-old girl named Miriam Winslow and what becomes of her family after the mother dies and father is sent to prison. The Winslows are conservative and deeply religious, so Miriam faces a lot of changes when she enters foster care and finds herself living with a liberal, secular-minded family. Miriam's 3 siblings also play a key part in the story as her older brother becomes outraged at the foster parents' interference in the Winslows' traditions.
Our Orbit is available from Amazon in print and as an e-book. Print copies (complete with my signature and a dedication, if desired) are also available from my website.
What is your writing process? Do you use an outline, fly by the "seat of your pants" or some other method?
That's an interesting question. I'd have to say both, depending on the circumstances. In the case of Our Orbit, I was expanding a short story, intending to keep most of the plot intact so I had a clear idea of where things were supposed to go. Of course, there were some changes along the way, but I was still able to produce many chapters without feeling the need for an outline.
The exception to this pattern is when I find myself feeling anxious about an especially complex or dramatic scene, or series of scenes. Crucial developments with layers of detail tend to make my mind freeze up! I know everything that needs to happen, but when that anxiety makes it hard to line up the words, an outline can become a great tool. It gives me just enough confidence to start drafting dialogue and so on until I feel sure I can pull all the elements together. I may not follow the outline precisely, or may not even look at it after the writing is underway, but it's a comfort to know I can lean on it if need be.
In Our Orbit, there were two chapters that I needed to outline in this way. That amounts to less than 50 pages out of almost 300, but those are among the most important—and, I think—the most engrossing passages of the book.
What or who inspired you to being writing?
My mother got me started on keeping a journal when I was 7 years old. Well, at least, she planted the seed that grew into a practice of journaling, which I've kept up to this day. And when I started writing poems and little plays and so on, she gave me a lot of encouragement. So I have her to thank for many things.
Did you hire or use an editor prior to publishing?
I hired a copy editor and a proofreader. I didn't use a developmental editor for Our Orbit because I wrote a large portion of the book while I was enrolled in a creative writing MFA program (at the University of Idaho). I was able to workshop quite a few of the chapters, some of them more than once, with different instructors and fellow students. I felt that effectively filled the roll a primary editor might play.
Do you have a favorite character of your own and what makes him/her your favorite?
I love Miriam and Rachelle and all the characters in Our Orbit. But I'm making a real effort these days to get myself oriented towards the future, so my new favorite character is a young woman, 26 years old, named LaDene Daniels. She has lived in my mind for quite a few years now. I've got a couple of notebooks of sketches for her story, and I hope to start producing real pages fairly soon.
LaDene is a country girl who gave up a baby for adoption when she was 16. That was especially traumatic because she was always the "good girl" of her family. When her pregnancy was revealed, her identity among her loved ones changed in a negative direction. People thought less of her, even though they still loved her.
Now, LaDene has made a quiet life for herself as a nursing home aide and volunteer at the local animal shelter. She does not suspect that a huge challenge looms ahead: her former boyfriend has gotten out of jail and is coming home to find her.
Do your characters "talk" to you?
I wouldn't say they talk to me, but they definitely talk inside my head. I guess they're talking to each other or to themselves! Until I hear their voices, I don't know what to write.
Who controls a story when you write; you, your characters or a combination?
An essential part of my process is to understand the character deeply enough—the background, dreams, personality, etc.—so that I feel they are alive in my mind. Then they starting talking and doing things and even bringing in new characters that they want to interact with!
But when I first start trying to establish a character, I don't bring a blank slate to the process. I have a few expectations in mind—things that he or she needs to be able to do in the course of the story. A friend of mine once said, "So it's like casting a show!" I think that's true because I always start with a few plot elements—events that are going to occur—and I'm looking for people who can make those things happen.
At the same time, I think the adage is true that a writer can't force a character to act contrary to the personality that has developed. Like maybe I want LaDene to kill someone or abandon her elderly mother, but the character I've created says, "Forget it—I would never do that!"
Then I have to get somebody else for the hatchet job. So I think you're right: it's a collaboration.
How do you feel about publishing in a digital age?
I'm very optimistic that print-on-demand technologies can be a boon not only for authors and small publishers but, hopefully, even for the independent bookstores that have become such a beloved but endangered species in recent years.
E-books also seem to be primarily a force for good. Both of these new technologies are beneficial for the environment, which is important to me. In the case of e-books, I am concerned that without a physical reminder cropping up now and then, it may be easier to forget what we've read, and as a result to forget that some books one has in storage even exist. That would be unfortunate.
But so long as people are still reading, I'm happy. And grateful.
How can we connect with you?
Few things brighten my day like a new comment on my blog at AnesaMiller.com or a message via the Contact page—I love to hear from people in that forum. I also have a Facebook author page at https://www.facebook.com/anesamillerauthor And I'm active on Twitter: @anesam98.
Thanks very much for your attention!
Thank you so much for joining us today and enlightening us on the writing process and more about your book Our Orbit!
Our Orbit by Anesa Miller
Genre: Mainstream/Literary Fiction
In Anesa Miller’s new book, Our Orbit, nine-year-old Miriam Winslow has never worn new clothes, was not permitted to cut her hair, and believes that children must repent their sins with major displays of remorse, or harm will come to their loved ones. Barely half a year after her mother’s death, Miriam is thrust into a different world when her father, a militant tax protester, is jailed on weapons charges.
Miriam finds herself in foster care, her teenage siblings sent to other homes.
College-educated Rick and Deanne Fletcher quickly come to love their “new little girl.” Then they encounter the rest of Miriam’s family: Uncle Dan believes he was abducted by aliens. Sister Rachel, just out of juvenile detention, harbors many painful secrets. Brother Josh is outraged that the Fletchers disrespect Christian teachings. When his plan to remove Miriam from their home fails, Josh reacts with growing hostility to outside interference in their way of life.