My Writing Life: Melissa F. Miller

Melissa F. Miller“Don’t get it right; get it written. There’s a huge psychological effect, for me at least, of getting that first draft down. Once it’s written, you can perfect your story. But, you have to get that sucker down on paper first!”

Like the protagonist of her legal thrillers, Melissa F. Miller is a practicing litigator who lives in Pittsburgh. Her Sasha McCandless series has sold over 60,000 copies and includes Irreparable Harm, Inadvertent Disclosure, Irretrievably Broken. The latest installment, Indispensable Party, was published earlier this year.

When did you first discover a love of writing? Is there a particular book that made you want to become a writer?

Like so many writers, I started writing as a young child. I was, and still am, an avid reader, but I wouldn’t say there was a particular book that made me want to write. I did write my first complete novel as an adult after a cross-country flight during which I read Michael Connelly’s THE LINCOLN LAWYER on the first leg and Paolo Coehlo’s THE ALCHEMIST on the second leg. The first is an example of the type of book I love to read and wanted to write. The second is the kick in the pants I needed to do it!

Where do you get your story ideas?

For my legal thriller series, I usually get the seed of an idea from an article, news report, or case that I’ve read (I am also a practicing lawyer). I also have an Evernote folder full of story ideas that don’t work for this series but that have been rattling around in my brain.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

“Don’t get it right; get it written.” There’s a huge psychological effect, for me at least, of getting that first draft down. Once it’s written, you can perfect your story. But, you have to get that sucker down on paper first!

Do you believe in Writer’s Block?

No. I like this quote by Phillip Pullman: “Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?”

But, I also have found something that Rachel Aaron says very helpful. She claims that “if writing is like pulling teeth, you’re doing it wrong.” In other words, that feeling of being unable to write or dreading writing probably means there’s something wrong with the scene you’re working on and your subconscious realizes it. Once I started thinking about it that way, so-called writer’s block became a call to reexamine my plot, structure, character development arc and try to suss out whether something was wrong.

What made you decide to self-publish?

I had written (and hidden in a drawer) one very bad novel that will never see the light of day (I call it my training wheels novel) and then I wrote Irreparable Harm. I gave it to my husband, who read it (with some trepidation, I’m sure, having read my first one!), and he loved it. It was December of 2010 and I was gearing up to send out query letters, when my husband emailed me a lifehacker.com article about self-publishing. That led me to J.A. Konrath’s website, which led me to the Writer’s Cafe on kb.com. And after having done all that research, I realized self-publishing was the better choice for me. I run a small business already (our law firm), I have NO patience, and I had actually worked in publishing for a few years between college and law school. It just seemed like a better fit for my personality to be able to plot my own course.

Are there any self-publishing tricks of the trade you’d like to share? What rules of craft or promotion do you live by?

I do think the best promotion you can do is to write the next book. That’s not a sexy answer, but I think it’s true. The more ways there are for readers to find you, the better. That’s not to say that I don’t promote, because I do. But, I try to balance things like blog tours or giveaways with writing time. It must be working. I published the first book in my series in April 2011, and to date I have sold over 60,000 copies of the series. That’s not a jaw-dropping number like some indie superstars have, but I have to pinch myself when I realize that there are many people out there who have paid good money to read my stories!

On a craft point: I would say, find what works for you. There’s no one system that’s going to work for every writer–or even every book by a single writer. Read. Read in your genre but also read widely. And write.

What is the one writing tool you could not do without?

Coffee. Specifically, fair trade, organic, farmer friendly, cafe cubano roast by Mayorga Coffee Roasters. I buy it 5 lbs at a time direct from the roaster. Without my coffee, there would be no Sasha McCandless legal thriller series. And with that, it’s time for another cup!

5 comments

  • Nice interview. It is so true, get it written and then worry about fixing it. I love that quote for writer’s block,hadn’t thought of it like that but so true. I think ‘writer’s block’ is really the writer worrying about getting it right the first time and not just writing the story, so they end up stuck not going anywhere. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  • I’ve been credited for having a great imagination and yet I can’t imagine Melissa Miller in court accusing or defending anyone. She has such an endearing smile. My first reaction was, “That’s a face to come home to after a rough day in the outside world.” However, catchy as her argument is about plumbers not getting plumber’s block, it is a poor and invalid analogy. The self-critic in creators be they writers, painters, sculptors or whatnot can be enormously intimidating and paralyzing, leading to an inability to move forward for periods. The trick is to learn how to minimize the duration of those periods. I got mine down to an average of six minutes. Getting up and stretching or making a tea or coffee or quickly checking email; any diversion, will usually bring a new point of view and the block is defeated.

  • Very true. Also as they say write about what you know. Just remember what you saw and felt and write about it. I did this in my novel Steel’s Treasure just published in May 2013 and avail on Kobo. Set in the Philippines on and around Clark Air Base in the 1980s, Steel’s Treasure is a thriller adventure, mystery, and work of military historical fiction that weaves my experiences as an intelligence officer with firsthand accounts of the war between the New People’s Army and the Marcos regime. Follow my main character USAF Capt William Steel as he risks his career, his freedom, and ultimately his life to uncover the legendary plunder of WWII General Yamashita, the Tiger of Malay. Follow Nick’s blog at http://www.steelsteasure.com

  • Assim eu fiz. Em 2012 decidi parar tudo para escrever. Montei 27 esboços de meus livros. Já tenho 8 livros pronto para trabalhar com eles. Tenho uma trilogia e ontem terminei um livro de mais de 600 páginas. Hoje comecei a trabalhar no esboço que tinha de outro livro, já passei de 900 páginas de material e referencias do assunto que quero escrever. Agora é montar a minha história, personagens, local e escrever, escrever e escrever. Limpar o que for preciso, revisar e depois deixar um tempo na gaveta e somente depois de uma leitura minha, monstro para a família e amigos. Agora estou a procura de uma editora para editar e-book e impresso – Um destes oito livros já trabalhado. Desejem-me sorte.

    Escritor Lúcio A. Belmonte
    Brasil – Perú
    Facebook

  • Really nice article. Proofreading, improving are key, but first you need to get the draft done.

    One thing I try doing, while drafting, is to plan a good deal of what will happen on different chapters. I do not plan everything, of course, but some bullet points are helpful. And that is good if I am doing a 500 or 22000-word text.

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