Award Winning Author Winnie Griggs

 

 

 

 

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Phyliss Miranda

 

June 2011

 


WG:      Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.

PM:      Thank you so much for inviting me to step into your spotlight this month. I was born and raised in Amarillo right in the heart of the Texas Panhandle. I've been married to my DH Bob for 43 years and have two grown daughters and two fabulous sons-in-law, who have given me seven grandchildren. Now everyone knows where I get the material to write stories with little kids in them. I graduated from Amarillo High and went to college here. From a career standpoint, most of it was spent in the legal field, so that's why you'll generally find a lawyer in many books I write, whether it's historical and contemporary. I love antiques and the art of quilting, which I definitely think is a dying art. I really do believe in the Code of the West, and am happy to say it's still alive and well in Texas.



WG:      Let's talk about your own personal road to publication:
Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer? Explain.

PM:      In 2001, I lost my younger sister and both of my girls were away in college or living in another town. I also lost my business partner to death and was really feeling like I needed to do something different. Take up a new hobby, maybe? So I sat down and wrote a list of things I'd like to do, but I found fault with most except that I'd wanted to write a book a long time; although I thought that a pubbed author was definitely some type of special person that the Good Lord sent us to give us the opportunity to escape reality and enter a world of fantasy. But I thought I could write a cookbook, since I come from a family of professionals in that field. That same day a catalogue from Amarillo College arrived and I found a class offered by Jodi Thomas ... New York Times bestselling author. I didn't know her, but figured surely she could teach me how to write a cookbook. And, that was the beginning. Of interest, I had my second writing class the evening of 9/11. We gathered, meditated together and left early not realizing our world had changed forever that day.

I took a couple more of Jodi's classes and began traveling with her to booksignings and events. I didn't realize at the time but it was a perfect way to prepare me for what comes after you are published. It was long, grueling hours, but I got to do something few new writers get to do - shadow a real author.


WG:      Tell us about your journey.

PM:      I did everything. With Jodi as my mentor, I immediately joined two critique groups, and I'm happy to say that I still meet and am friends with several of my original critiquers. They were hard on me, but fair. I went to conferences, entered every contest I could find, purchased how-to books, and did everything (just about) that I was told to do. I was like a sponge, I soaked up everything any writer told me. I'd only been writing a few weeks when I won a scholarship to Frontiers' in Writing Conference and attended. That is where I met Elmer Kelton for the first time. My first books were contemporary and each was about 800 pages! I'm not kidding you, but I learned a lot. I wrote 24/7, except when I was working. And, I submitted and submitted and got rejected and rejected. The most memorable was an RWA contest. Coming from the legal field, I had to work very hard to discard my stilted formal voice and dig deep inside for my Texas voice from a writing standing. Now, from a verbal standpoint, I'm so Texan it's unreal. My whole family knew all about thingamajigs, knew exactly the proximity of catawampus, and exactly what the speed of mosey is. In the end it helped when I began writing Texas historicals. Back to the contest. One of the judges wrote that she'd suggest that I find a class at the local college and take one of how to speak properly. Dern it, I wish I knew who she was and I'd send her/him one of our six anthologies that are loaded with Texasiums!

My big break, however, came when Hilary Sares, ex-editor at Kensington, attended Frontiers' in Writing. The conference chair, Molly McKnight, asked if I'd take Hilary to see some of the local sights. I waffled on the deal, but finally reluctantly agreed to take her, not knowing that was the pivotal point for me. A year later, Jodi, Linda, DeWanna (all of my co-authors in the six anthologies we've written) signed the first of six contracts for anthologies with Kensington. That was definitely a second pivotal point for me, to be asked to write with such a fantastic bunch of authors.

It's been said that typically from the day you decide to become serious with your writing and getting your first contract is about five years. I was just a little short of that time frame. And, believe me, there's a lot of high's and low's along the way. One of my rules of thumb is to learn from every critique, contest and workshop ... there's always something of value even in a rejection letter, and I have my share.



WG:      How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?

PM:      Counting the two, 800 pages sagas, I wrote two for Desire, which are still on the shelf, but did a ton of writing for newsletters, short stories, and worked on a number of projects. I have about 15 books outlined and sample chapters written. As a matter of fact, one day, Jodi sat me down and said for me to stop "drafting" and begin writing and that's exactly what I did. Believe it or not, my agent is shopping some of them right now!


WG:      Can you tell us something about your experience in getting 'the call'?

PM:      It was definitely an OMG moment. I had just had lunch with Jodi and two other writers when our agent called Jodi and told her our first anthology sold. Jodi knew I was driving, so she told Gail to tell me to pull over to the side of the road, so she could talk with me. My two original critique partners were in the car with me, when she told me the news. I'm so thankful I wasn't driving. I ended up having to call her back to ask questions. She did tell me to get a piece of paper and write down some of the things she said. I'll never forget that day.


WG:      How has being a published author impacted your life?

PM:      The first thing I try very hard to get across to new writers is that writing is a job, not a hobby. It might start out that way, but eventually, if you want to succeed you must view it was a job with regular hours. At first, the hours didn't bother me too much. I was actually still working full-time, as well as owning two small businesses with a business partner, and writing, so I got a lot accomplished. But, as time went on and my grandkids moved back to Amarillo, along with adding a couple of new ones to the family, it is much harder. I have a great supportive husband, so I don't have to worry about stopping at a certain time to fix dinner. He's old enough to know how to put a TV dinner in the microwave and he's happy.

With the first book, the publicity and promotion was fun. Many people don't know but the four authors in the six anthologies we've done are all from the Panhandle. As a matter of fact, DeWanna, Jodi, and I graduated from three different high schools in Amarillo. We share the publicity and promotional job, using the strengths and weaknesses of each of us. DeWanna works full time as a school librarian, so isn't as flexible with hours as some of the others are, so we divide the work load up between us. Wow! That makes a huge difference because we can do three times the publicity and promo as a single author. As more books came along, more opportunities presented themselves, and the business side got harder. I think most first time pubbed authors don't realize that it's hard work. Sometimes overwhelming, but without fail 150% worth every effort!


WG:      What aspect of life as a published author surprised you the most - either in a good or bad way?

PM:      The "job" part was a total surprise, although I'd been warned. The most rewarding is there is always a more experienced writer out there who will take a lesser experienced one under his/her wings. I've found that authors want to help the new ones, sharing. One of my favorite things to do is to talk to local writer groups, and of course, being a part of Petticoats and Pistols is absolutely one of my favorite aspects. I love to blog about the Old West.

The best surprise is when I finish a book and realize that every word on that page came from me and me alone. I get a lot of input, and very valuable input, from my critique partners and co-authors, but in the end, it's my story and my words, so I'm always surprised. Also, I get all excited when a characters tells their own story and it isn't anywhere near what I expected. I love to have my characters surprise me at the end. I received a review not long ago, and the reviewer complimented me for not giving away the "secret" until the end. I wanted to write her and say, I couldn't because my character hadn't told it to me yet!


WG:      What about your writing process:
Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?

PM:      Absolutely nothing typical; however, my best writing is done when I set aside regular office hours and stick to it. No lunch with friends. Avoid any calls I can return later. The worse thing in all the world for a writer is facing a deadline with way too many pages left to write. I try to set a specific time allotment.


WG:      Do you set writing goals for yourself?

PM:      At the beginning of every year, I sit down and go over last year's goals and mark off the ones that I accomplished, and try to justify the ones that I didn't make. Then I make a new chart for the year. I also do a dream book with many goals that are very long, long ranged that way I don't put totally unattainable goals on my regular goal list. When I'm on course, I do a lot of goal setting. I've always been goal oriented.

As a matter of fact, Linda Broday and I sat a personal goal when we were on tour for our first anthology "Give Me a Texan". We were in Waco at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, and although we didn't even know we would get more contracts and be able to write about a Texas Ranger, we told one another as we stood before the "Romancing the Ranger" Pop Culture exhibit that one day we'd have a book on display ... and we did. "Give Me a Texas Ranger" was placed in the exhibit in 2010!


WG:      Do you have a 'mood setter', something (music, ritual, environment, etc) you use to get you going when you sit down to write?

PM:      Yes. I do all of my writing on my desktop computer without Internet, which is dedicated only to writing. I do my editing in the living room. I do my research in the den in front of the TV. If I'm not in the right chair, I can't work! No music for me and no TV. Nothing. I cannot write with anyone in the house except my two cats and my husband, who doesn't bother me except to bring me a large Coke every day. My office is absolutely covered with my "stuff". Everything I've picked up over the years that is writer connected is on a shelf or on the wall. I have two book cases full of research book, but wouldn't get rid of one of them.

I have a tag hanging on my door thanks to the Northern Arizona RWA group that reads: "Please come in ... especially if you're tall, dark and handsome!" and on the back side, "Writer at Work ... Slide a synopsis of your problem under the door and I'll get back to you in 8 to 10 months ...."


WG:      Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?

PM:      I'm a plotter. And, as I said before, it might not end up that way, but I have an extensive plot outline and it takes days for me to do character profiles for each of my major characters. I want to know what their favorite color is, how they like their steaks, and why they chose their career, along with a laundry list of things. I write in first person for the narrative profile. Basically, I simply rear back and let them tell me their story.


WG:      Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?

PM:      As a general rule it's an event that triggers my ideas. Something I've read in the newspaper for contemporary or with historicals an event. With the anthologies, we have a little bit of a trigger because we'll decide we want to write about an outlaw, the rodeo, a Texas Ranger or as in our last two Christmas and Valentines. Sometimes a historical character will trigger something in me. But generally it's going to be something I read about an event, be it current or past.


WG:      Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories?

PM:      Without fail. I generally write about strong willed Texas women and of course the Alpha male, but not always. I just recently realized that I have written several of my stories where the hero's father has let him down and ran off, but always helps the hero to be strong. My men seem to always have a loving caring (and mostly deceased) mother. Absolutely nothing like my own father.


WG:      What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?

PM:      Oh wow, that's a hard one. I'd love to say that I'm so dedicated that I work 18 hours a day and never get discouraged, but that isn't the truth. I think my strength might well be in my research. I do a lot of it and I think it shows in my writing. Sometimes it's the tiniest of details that'll make a plot or character believable.


WG:      Are there any obstacles/conflicts, specific to your particular lifestyle, that get in the way of your writing? If so, how do you try and overcome them?

PM:      That's another hard one. A writer is never prepared for what life throws at you. I wrote one anthology while my precious 92 year old mother-in-law was staying with us during her final days. That was hard. I had to have surgery during one, as did my husband. I've had deaths, weddings, happy and sad times, so I don't know if a writer is prepared for all of them. It's just something that you have to prioritize and work with. All families have issues and it's hard to set them aside and go to your computer, close the day and clear your mind, but sometimes you have to. I've also found the support of my author friends very helpful through those times, understanding and encouraging. I've used a number of things to try to overcome problems. Recently, I read really good inspiration "how-to" books; however, the first one, who I won't name, confesses to being a procrastinator, so I immediately put that back on the shelf .... that was one of my problem. Also, watching old movies in the genre you are writing will get you off high center most of the time.



WG:      Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your process?

PM:      I tend to be organized, so I keep a binder with all of my research, proposals, pictures, etc. throughout the writing process. I also tape up pictures that pertain to my story, and always a pix of my hero and heroine (which of course are typically a modern day movie star.) I outline, but I write and rewrite a chapter until it's fairly polished before I go to the next chapter. I also have a phrase book, which consists of an array of phrases from a number of sources, but I'm big at hearing a phrase or word that really hits me and writing it down. Also, my phrase book is divided into section such as contemporary, historical, "Texasiums" even an old "chic lit" section.


WG:      Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?

PM:      Like so many romance readers, I cut my teeth on Kathleen Woodiwiss and LaVyrle Spencer, but also loved historical romances, such as Jodi Thomas. At first I planned to write contemporary romances, but really love western historical romance, particularly ones set in Texas.


WG:      Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?

PM:      I'm not published in contemporary romance and am working on a proposal for a small town Texas series. I'd also like to try my hand at cozy mysteries.


WG:      Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?

PM:      Read, write and learn! Read everything you can in your genre and as many how-to's as possible. I also suggest a biography if you're writing historical. But more than anything ... write, write, write! Think and write outside the box. Learn the rules, abide by them like they are gospel (because they are while you're learning) and one day you can break them and not feel the least bit guilty!


WG:      Is there a specific 'ah-ha' moment you've had as a writer that you would like to share with us?

PM:      Definitely the day my first contract arrived. I sat there for hours running my finger across my name and the name of the book. One of my daughters called the other and asked what I was doing and she told her that when she left me that I was still "fondling" my contract. The next most exciting time was when my first cover flat arrived and I saw my name on it. I still have it wrapped around someone else's book sitting on a shelf above my writing computer.

But, I'll never forget the first time I was introduced as a "writer" ... not a student or someone who wants to write, but a real red-blooded writer!


WG:      Rejections, notes from unhappy readers and less than stellar reviews are all part of this business. What is your own method for dealing with these and moving on?

PM:      Oh at first you kinda wonder what rock that person crawled out from under, but then you realize that was only one person's opinion. That's the reason there's so many genre's out there. If everyone liked the same thing, reading would sure be boring, so you really have to slough off anything unfavorable. For the one person who says something unkind, there are a whole bunch more readers who loved your story. I've heard of some agents who forbid their clients from reading reviews. Even the top shelf, best-of-the-best authors get a review that isn't as good as it should be.


WG:      Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of 'conventional wisdom' that you wish you had ignored?

PM:      My friend and mentor, Jodi Thomas, taught me that "A successful writer is willing to do that which the unsuccessful writer is not willing to do." And, "Don't cheat your goals."


WG:      What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What aspect do you struggle with the most?

PM:      For me personally, I think it's rewarding to do something that my mama would have really been proud of. At the age of 70, Mama had never read a novel until I began taking writing classes and she got totally hooked. She lived and breathed historical novels. She would have been really proud to have my books on her bookshelves. Helping other writers is very important to me. I love to give back what they gave to me, in any way possible. Selfishly, I do have to admit that being recognized as "that Phyliss Miranda" thrills me. Balancing family with writing as a career and the deadlines and time frames required is a struggle sometimes. I can't live without my list of things to do and prioritizing is so very important. I'm lucky that I have a fabulous support system with my family and friends.


WG:      When you're not writing, what do you do for fun or what is your favorite self-indulgence?

PM:      I judge a number of contests. To me, that's something I can do to give back for all the help I got as a beginner writer. I love to read. I'm also involved with our local writers' organization, Panhandle Professional Writers, which is the oldest continual writing group in the U.S. established in the early 1920's. Again, that's my way of giving back.

My co-authors in our anthologies always do something special when we reach a milestone. It might be just having ice cream, going to a movie, or taking the day off and taking a short trip somewhere. We'll go get a mani-pedi or go shopping.

As for real fun, with seven grandkids from the ages of 5 to 16, I always have something on my plate with them. My husband and I travel as much as possible. And, much to my husband's dismay, I like to self-indulge by eating my favorite ice cream straight out of the carton. That way nobody else will touch it!


WG:      When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

PM:      I came from a long line of school teachers, so that is what I would have done. I couldn't afford to go to college full-time, so I went part-time while I worked. By that time, I had two daughters and worked full time, plus I'm a Dale Carnegie graduate, former toastmaster, and I was an avid bowler. I ended up coaching, so that's kinda teaching, and now I love to teach new writers.


WG:      What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?

PM:      Probably that I owned an ol' fashioned Texas Honky Tonk and play the base guitar. I am such a bad player that the band wouldn't let me on the stage until closing time when we wanted everyone to get out of there so we could close ... and I was the boss! I also love old cemeteries. I used to travel to San Antonio frequently and I always stopped at Menard and visited the Pioneer Rest Cemetery to check on some graves of ol' time Texas Rangers.


WG:      What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?

PM:      With seven grandkids, I can know nearly every Disney movie by heart. I love all of the old movies ... the older the better. I love the CSI/mystery type television shows, and have to admit some of the reality shows have gotten me hooked, particularly "Dancing with the Stars". I'm a huge PBR fan, so never miss bull riding. It began as research for "Give Me a Cowboy" which was about the rodeo. I'll tell you a secret; most of my animals in my stories are named after a famous PBR bull. And, I have to admit that I record "The Young and the Restless" every day.


WG:      I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share.

PM:      "My soul dictates what I accomplish, not my body!" I fell down a flight of stairs years ago and have some residual affects since then.


WG:      Please tell us about your current project.

PM:      I have two projects, with another on the backburner simmering. One is a series where the back story is set at Andersonville Prison during the Civil War. All books are western historicals about four survivors and how their lives intertwined after the war was over. Each book is set in the Texas Panhandle. I'm just waiting and praying for western historicals to make a come back. I've just finished anthology 5 and 6 for Kensington, so I'm currently working up a proposal for a contemporary romance with a heavy thread of mystery.


WG:      What inspired you to write this particular story?

PM:      The Andersonville stories were definitely as a result of my visits to Andersonville, Georgia. My husband and I were driving to Florida and I really wanted to see the cemetery and prison grounds. To my surprise when we arrived they were having their big annual festival and Civil War reenactments. It was so wonderful that on our trip back to Texas, we returned to Andersonville. I experienced things there those two weekends that I simply can't explain. The smell and feel of the cannons when they fired was breathtaking. They shook the ground I was standing on, and really did take your breath away with the smell. But, when I read that the original plantation was owned by a Robert Hodges (my husband is Robert) and his first wife was Rebecca Davenport Hodges (my younger daughter's name at the time was Jennifer Rebecca Davenport) and later they had a daughter name Emma (my first granddaughter by Jennifer) plus another one Ruth (my mother's name) .... hum! To me it was a sign that I was to write that series.


WG:      What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Did you stumble across any unexpected interesting/fun tidbits along the way?

PM:      I do pretty extensive research, if at all possible. Andersonville Prison was certainly one of those occasions. I love to walk the walk. I read everything I can get my hands on about whatever I'm writing about, and yes, I love tidbits. They are seeds to many, many stories. I wrote Bat Masterson in as a character in one chapter of "Give Me a Texan' and I read three books on him just so I'd have his mannerisms down pact. He used a very distinct syntax to his communications, so I wanted to make sure his words were as realistic as possible. I remember one day when Bob came in and I had my head in the trashcan taking deep whiffs of cold coffee grounds to see how they smelled. He didn't even flinch!


WG:      Tell us about your upcoming plans.

PM:      "Give Me a Texas Outlaw" will be out July 3rd. "A Texas Christmas" will be released in October following shortly thereafter by "Be My Texas Valentine".


WG:      And before we close, tell us how your readers can get in touch with you.

PM:      I love to hear from my readers. My web site is PhylissMiranda.com and you can always write me at PhylissMiranda@aol.com. At least one Tuesday a month I blog at Petticoats and Pistols (Petticoatsandpistols.com), so you can visit me there, along with my fellow Fillies who blog every day about everything western.


WG:      Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun 'chatting' with you, as always!

PM:      It was my privilege to spend time with you all, and hope you feel like you know me a little better than when we started. Hugs from Texas, Phyliss

 

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