For someone who describes herself as having been an average girl growing up, Elizabeth Miles sure has accomplished extraordinary things. While working 40 hours a week as a journalist, she’s managed to complete a YA trilogy and, in her free time, has plunged into the world of theater. She’s following her passions and pushing herself to the limit.
Elizabeth Miles is one to watch…
Elizabeth Miles is on Facebook, Twitter @milesbooks, and www.elizabethmilesbooks.com
What were you like as a kid?I’m an only child. My parents are both educators. They were very supportive of my academic interests. I was a big reader and writer as a child. I was really into playing pretend which makes sense given my theater interests now.
Where I grew up was very affluent and concerned with superficial things in some ways, but it was also a great school system and so I feel it was kind of “normal”. I wasn’t really emo or dark and I wasn’t really sporty or a cheerleader. I was kind of like an average girl.
What was your best memory from childhood?My parents have this house in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. We used to go there every weekend. I would find these little red orange salamanders and collect them in a coffee can and try to bring them home with me to Chappaqua to start a colony there. It never worked which is really sad for the salamanders, but I can remember finding great joy in those salamanders. And my dad would help me find them, so, yeah.
Have you always wanted to become a writer?Definitely. I was always writing little stories and binding them into little books. I found such solace in books and reading. Looking back on it, it seems so natural that this is what I do now. Certainly, there was a big gap of time when I didn’t think I’d ever be an author. I was so focused on journalism. It wasn’t until 2010 that I decided to try fiction writing.
So, how did you evolve into writing fiction?My friend, Lauren Oliver, the author of the Delirium series and Before I Fall, which are YA novels, was starting a literary development company called Paper Lantern Lit. She suggested that I send in a writing sample. I had been exercising the creative side of my brain with theater and I thought ‘OK, I’d like even more of a chance to get creative and delve into that less fact-based side of me.’ So I sent in a sample and they liked it.
The Paper Lantern Lit. Can you explain exactly what they do and how it works?They find generally unpublished writers, who need some sort of help – plotting, discipline, whatever – and if they think the raw talent is there, they will use that as a spark to develop a book. I worked with them to craft the outline for Fury and then wrote it and it was sold as the trilogy.
So do you pay them for their services?No. They’re the middle man between Simon & Schuster and me. They get a cut of my advance. It’s been terrific. They’re like a really helpful critique group.
Your trilogy is Fury, Envy and… ?Eternity. I just finished writing the actual first draft and submitted it to Simon & Schuster, so there will be editorial notes. It felt cathartic to write the end and it’s funny, I’d been wondering throughout this process ‘Am I going to have another idea when this is done?’ And as soon as I finished writing Eternity, something else popped into my mind. It was like my brain had the space.
Will you share that idea?I found this old account of a pair of young ladies during the 1600s who cross-dressed to get onto a pirate ship and to join them.
Anne Bonney and Mary Read?Yeah, exactly. I had been wanting to write about girls dressed as boys in colonial times and then I found this and people love pirates. So, I’m going to do some serious research and see where that goes.
Where did the idea for the trilogy come from?I had always been interested in mythology and I knew that I wanted to write something scary. I thought the furies were under-represented and in my mind, they were the perfect villains because the idea of revenge is so terrifying. Taking the creative liberty to make (the furies) evil, unrelenting and disproportionate in their sense of justice seemed to be a really great catalyst for some scary stuff.
Is your character JD based on a real character?In the acknowledgements to Envy, I say to Keagan that I used to think a guy like JD was too good to be true, and then I met you.
(JD’s) not really based on anybody in particular, he has lots of traits of guys that I’ve loved and respected. I think he’s so smart and funny, but he really does, especially as the trilogy progresses, have a backbone and he demonstrates that. In the first book he acts a little bit like a doormat, but he’s not and I really like that about him.
Have you decided how you feel about forgiveness? Is sorry ever really enough?I definitely have come to the realization that you should be judged only by the person who your misdeed affects. The idea of being judged by some over-lording entity is a scary one. Gabby has every right to be furious and feel hurt and betrayed for good and I think that she chooses to forgive Emily is much more powerful than any outside condemnation that she could have affected.
What keeps you focused and motivated?Coffee. (she said with a laugh)
It helps that I really love to write. Sometimes I don’t feel overjoyed to approach the computer, but there is a zone I get into, as every writer does, and I can muddle through the hard times knowing that I’ll get into a zone sooner or later.
About how many hours goes into working as a journalist and how many hours do you spend writing fiction?Well, I work a typical 40-hour work week as a journalist and then about twelve additional hours a week working on the books. I stick to a very strict schedule of two chapters per week. And then I send them periodically to the folks at Paper Lantern Lit and then I’ll do a week of editing. So, it’s more manageable when I get to the end, so it’s not totally raw.
Have you ever experienced writer’s block?Yes. Since I work on an outline, what I’ll do is skip ahead. I try to get the beginning of the next chapter done. If I start to feel productive, I’ll feel more equipped to go back and tackle the problematic area again. It’s like I have to build up my own confidence and then once I’ve achieved that then I can tackle the harder parts.
The other thing that keeps me motivated is reading. I try to read a lot. It’s inspiring to read something deliciously good. And that makes me want to go to my computer.
What do you like about writing?I was giving this talk about freelancing the other day and I was talking about even when you have the stupidest assignment it can still be fun because there’s always a magical combination of words that when you hit them, you know it. You feel tingly. It’s really exciting to know that if you work hard enough at it you can express something real through words.
I’ve always been a big letter writer and email writer and I think I process a lot of my emotions through writing and I think that’s a really important part of who I am. So, yeah, that’s what I like about writing.
Is there anything you don’t like about writing?I don’t think there’s anything I dislike about writing. There are parts about being a writer I’m not crazy about: the inevitable comparison to other writers, feeling that I’m not being productive enough.
Do you have any advice for writers? Or for those considering a writing career?The typical stuff: practice and write all the time and read as much as you can, but everybody says that. I think one of the most helpful things for me has been to not get too carried away. It’s just something that I like to do and so I’m doing it. I think if you just approach it as realistically as possible and don’t think ‘I’m going to be the next Stephanie Meyer’…
The other thing is to keep trying. Don’t be overly emotional about what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. Yeah, just write.