Linda Lael Miller Comes Full Circle in Life and in Storytelling e-interviewed by Martina Bexte (July, 2006)
Linda Lael Miller traces the birth of her writing career to the day when a teacher told her that her stories were good enough that she just might have a future in writing. Later, when she decided to write novels, she endured her share of rejection before her first sale. Because of her writing success, Linda was able to live part-time in London for several years, spent time in Italy, and traveled to such far-off destinations as Russia, Hong Kong and Israel. Now, Linda says that the wanderlust is mostly out of her blood, and she's come full circle, back to the people and the places she knows and loves.
In January of this year, Linda left the Arizona horse property she's called home for the past five years. She put her home outside Cave Creek up for sale and packed up her works-in progress. Her beloved dogs, Sadie and Bernice, as well as her four horses made the trip home with her to her birthplace in Spokane, Washington. Even so, Linda says she's still enamored of the people she came to know and love in Arizona, and says she will continue to set books in that starkly beautiful area.
During her lengthy career, Linda has written successfully in various genres including contemporary romance, suspense, time travels and paranormals. However, she's best known for stories set in the old west like McKettrick's Choice, which scored #15 on the New York Times bestseller list. Her recent release, The Man From Stone Creek is another sweeping, adventure-packed western romance about two people determined never to love, who find that sometimes it's worth the risk.
Q: You've recently moved back to your home state of Washington. What precipitated your return?
A: You can leave home, but it never really leaves you. I was born in Spokane and lived here for the first ten years of my marriage. I loved the Arizona desert, still do, but I began to yearn for tall pine trees and changing seasons. My dad, now 80, lives in this area, as does most of my family. Recently while traveling back to Northport, (where I was raised), for a wedding, it struck me that that winding highway, through some really remarkable scenery, will always be the road home, no matter where else I may hang my hat. For me, the move was spiritual, as well as physical. I've come full circle, into the true richness of my life and my history.
Q: You're a world traveler and have spent time living in London and various other locations in Europe. What are some of your more memorable travel experiences?
A: What experiences I've had! In Israel, I walked the same roads Jesus walked, and went out onto the Sea of Galilee in a boat.
In Paris, I met my good friend, Peggy Knight, who worked for Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Through them, I met a slew of celebrities and spent time at two of the Cash houses. I attended John's last birthday part in Jamaica and an award ceremony in Washington, D.C., with the President of the United States officiating.
Once in London, I noticed a stir outside a swanky custom-lingerie place. A guard. People holding huge bouquets of flowers. I stopped to watch. A little navy blue BMW whipped up to the curb - and Princess Diana got out! I managed to snap a picture, which I treasure.
I lived in a palazzo in Venice, during Carnivale, and a flat in the Piazza Santa Croce, in Florence, where I was entertained by an Italian countess.
Q: Of all the various genres you write, your western romances seem to bring out your strongest voice. Is this time period the most creatively challenging and satisfying for you?
A: I love westerns best of all. To me, the cowboy is the great North American myth, the ideal of honor, courage and persistence we need to live up to. Also, I feel as if I grew up in the West, even though I wasn't born until 1949. Our first residence was a cabin, insulated with unfolded coffin boxes from the mortuary in Colville. (Pronounced CALLville, not Coalville.) We had no electricity or running water. My dad rodeoed for a while, and my uncle, Jack "Jiggs" Lael, was quite a star on the circuit. He rode at Madison Square Garden and kissed several Miss Americas. He was Elvis handsome, too.
Down the road was the Wiley ranch, a true homestead. There, while my honorary grandmother, Florence Wiley, cooked at a genuine woodstove, I listened to stories that made me a writer. Back on her father's farm, outside Coffeyville, Kansas, she actually heard the shots when the Dalton brothers tried to rob the bank in town. (Word had gotten out, and the law and some armed citizens were waiting for them.) On another occasion, Jessie James slept in their barn - he wouldn't come in the house, though he would have been welcome, because he didn't want to endanger the family.
Q: You're the daughter of a small town marshal. Did your father's work and perhaps his character give you that extra incentive for writing western romance, where honor, courage and trustworthiness are valued?
A: Absolutely. My dad was a good marshal. He adhered to a code of honor, but he was tough, too. I've looked up to him all my life.
Q: Why is it important to you to portray your female leads as strong, independent and very capable women who would do just fine without a man?
A: I believe writers have a responsibility to their readers. There are women out there, and young girls, reading my books and trying to figure out what it really means to be a woman. I want my heroines to be strong, wanting to love and be loved by the hero, but be just fine on their own, thank you very much. I feel they should be, above all else, good examples.
Q: You sponsor scholarships for women and donate all the funds from your public speaking engagements to this cause. Why is this scholarship program so important to you and what has it accomplished for its recipients so far?
A: This is my way of giving back. I have been abundantly blessed, but I was once a single parent, with my back to the wall a lot of the time, and I know how it feels. I believe, too, that if you educate a mother, you educate a family, and endless future generations of that family. There are lots of good people out there who've never had a break - this is my way of showing them that other people care what happens to them. We all know that one small kindness, even a smile, can change the whole course of a person's life. The whole experience has been wonderfully satisfying to me - I only wish I could give them ALL a scholarship.
Q: In your current release, The Man From Stone Creek, your lead, Arizona ranger, Sam O'Ballivan, goes undercover as the new schoolmaster in a small border town called Haven. Why did you use this plot device?
A: I love Sam O'Ballivan, and by putting him in the Ranger/Schoolmaster situation, I wanted to show the contrast between his tough lawman side - he could be quite ruthless - and his tenderness toward the helpless ones.
Q: Sam is also a very soft touch when it comes to animals, which makes him an even more endearing character. Are saving strays as close to your heart as Sam's?
A: Yes! I love animals passionately. I will be doing more work in this area in the future. My primary goal is to convey to people that merely adopting a pet and actually giving it a real home are two different things. It's a commitment, not to be taken lightly. Once a critter comes to live with me, that's it. It's for the duration.
Q: The Man From Stone Creek has its share of humorous situations, yet you don't sugarcoat or romanticize the harshness of the Old West or the darker side of some of the people who settled its rugged lands. Do you reference actual historical characters or events as a basis for your characters and situations?
A: The Old West was a hard place, not the least bit glamorous. People worked hard from sunrise until they collapsed, just to survive. They were courageous, and to minimize the struggles they went through to carve out a place for the rest of us would be a disservice to their memory. I do reference historical figures, but not so much the famous ones. Wyatt Earp did appear in Stone Creek - though I never mentioned his name. He was the marshal who came to Haven from Tombstone, to help Sam and Vierra and the others fight off the bad guys.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your new romantic suspense, Deadly Gamble (out in November) and its heroine and main character, Mojo Sheepshanks?
A: Mojo cracks me up. She's a modern character, with a limited memory of her childhood, basically trying to invent herself. She becomes a PI by accident, and is plagued by a troublesome new talent: she sees dead people. Deadly Gamble is the first of what I hope will be a continuous series of romantic thrillers. I had a lot of fun writing it and look forward to starting Deadly Deceptions this fall.
Q: Mojo has conversations with the ghost of her ex-husband - why did you decide to add an element of spookiness to your new series?
A: I've always been fascinated by the paranormal. I think the poet was dead-on: There ARE more things in heaven and earth than this world dreams of. Plus, with a paranormal story, you get to make up your own rules.
Q: You used to live just outside a town called Cave Creek, Arizona - is the Cave Creek in Deadly Gamble modeled after the real place?
A: Yes, absolutely. I changed one of the bars on the main drag, put an apartment over it for Mojo to live in. But Mojo's Cave Creek is definitely the real place. It's a wonderful, wild-west kind of town, where you can visit places like the Horny Toad and the Buffalo Chip Saloon.
Q: Besides the new romantic suspense series and a sequel to The Man From Stone Creek, you're also working on various stories featuring the modern descendents of the McKettricks, another western series that was a reader favourite. What can we expect in these spin-offs?
A: You can expect classic McKettrick stuff. Honest to God, these characters absolutely wear me out sometimes! Jesse, in McKettrick's Luck, is the modern counterpart of Jeb, in Secondhand Bride. Rance, of McKettrick's Pride, is descended from Rafe and Emmeline, of High Country Bride, and even though all the stories are fresh and new, the readers of the historical stories will see correspondences. Keegan, of McKettrick's Heart, is Kade, of Shotgun Bride. The books are funny, but full of raw emotion, too.
We can't leave out the McKettrick women, of course. In Sierra's Homecoming, a Silhouette Special Edition, to be published this December, readers will meet Sierra, who is directly descended from Holt and Lorelei, and lives in their house - along with Hannah, an ancestor of hers. The premise is that the two women are living parallel lives, and I can't tell you how much fun I had writing that book! Sierra's sister, Meg, will wrap up the series in December of 07, in another paranormal story, as yet untitled.
Q: Some years ago, you wrote a popular vampire series - do you plan to revisit their world or one similar to it any time soon?
A: At the moment, I have no plans to write another vampire book, even though I get constant requests for one. The reason? I don't think I can top Valerian, and I don't want the story to be anticlimactic. This is not to say I won't be struck by a brilliant idea one of these days, though.
Q: How has the romance market and readers' tastes changed since the publication of your first novel, Fletcher's Woman?
A: There's been a shakedown, similar to what happened in the computer business some years ago. Readers are demanding better books, stronger heroines, more depth and sub-plots. Characters they can hold in their hearts for a long time. And I say, GOOD FOR THEM!
Martina: Thanks for all your great stories, Linda, and best of luck with your various new projects!
Linda: Thank YOU for these wonderful questions, and an opportunity to speak to all those Bookloons out there.Find out more about the author, her books, and her scholarships, and read her blog at LindaLaelMiller.com.
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