Interview with Historical Fiction Author J.L. Miles

J.L. (Jackie Lee) Miles, a resident of Georgia since 1975, hails from Wisconsin via South Dakota. She considers herself "a northern girl with a southern heart." Her paternal grandfather was christened Grant Lee by her great-grandmother in honor of the many fallen soldiers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. Ms. Miles is a former D.I.A.L. Systems Engineer for Baker/Audio Telecom, one of the premier forerunners of voice mail. In addition to systems application, she provided voice tracks for several major companies, including Delta Airlines and Frito-Lay Corporation.

You can visit her website at www.jlmiles.com.

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Jackie. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I’m a resident of Georgia for nearly thirty-five years, but was raised in Wisconsin. I consider myself “a northern girl with a southern heart”. My paternal grandfather was christened Grant Lee by my great-grandmother in honor of the many fallen soldiers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.

I’m a former D.I.A.L. Systems Engineer for Baker/Audio Telecom, one of the premier forerunners of voice mail. In addition to systems application, I provided voice tracks for several major companies, including Delta Airlines and Frito-Lay Corporation. As a former Miss Racine, Wisconsin, I made television, print and fashion appearances, and participated in various stage productions, including “Joan of Lorraine”, “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs” and “The Miracle Worker”.

Currently I live in a suburb of Atlanta with my husband Robert. I’ve been writing since the year 2000 when my youngest child graduated from college and left home. My debut novel, Roseflower Creek, was Cumberland House Publishing’s lead book when it debuted in hardcover. It’s also available in Trade paperback. Earl Hamner, creator of The Waltons called it, “A powerful, extraordinary novel.” N.Y. Times best-selling author William Diehl wrote: “The lyric prose will thrill you, the story is unforgettable, and the characters will stay with you forever.”

Cold Rock River, the journey of two young women born a century apart, debuted September 2006 in hardcover. N.Y. TIMES best-selling author DOROTHEA BENTON FRANK writes: Cold Rock River by J. L. Miles is a powerful story of family, love and loss that will keep you up into the wee hours. Absolutely wonderful! Beautifully told and straight from the heart of an exquisitely talented writer.” It’s now available in Trade Paperback.

My latest project is the Dwayne series, a three-book southern anthology featuring Francine Harper, who’s under felony assault charges for shooting at her husband Dwayne and his stripper/lover Carla from the Peel ‘n Squeal. Francine finds her strength and recovers her dignity after a trial and many errors. It’s a departure from my normal genre, but provided a nice respite. When I’m not writing, I tour with The Dixie Divas, four nationally published book-writing belles—with a passion for promotion—serving up helpings of down-home humor and warmth. Visit my website at www.j.l.miles.com. Write to me at Jackie@jlmiles.com

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

COLD ROCK RIVER is the journey of two young women born a century apart:

In 1963 rural Georgia, with the Vietnam War cranking up, pregnant seventeen-year-old Adie Jenkins discovers the diary of pregnant seventeen-year-old Tempe Jordan, a slave-girl, begun as the Civil War was winding down. Adie is haunted by the memory of her dead sister. Tempe is overcome with grief over the sale of her children sired by her master. What’s buried in the diary could destroy them both. As Cold Rock River rushes to its shocking ending the depth of the connection between these two women united by place and separated by race—and a century—is revealed.

The book was inspired by an incident in my own life. Like Adie’s sister Annie, my baby sister Vicki choked on a jellybean when she was twenty months old. It was the week following Easter and we three older girls had our little baskets squirreled away. Our mother insisted we weren’t to drag them around the house, but she was gone for the evening and our daddy let us roam about, baskets in hand, to our hearts’ content. I don’t recall that any of us actually gave Vicki a jelly bean. More likely she picked on up off the floor. I do remember I panicked when I saw her put one in her mouth, and I tried to grab her. She started giggling and running as fast as her little legs would allow. The next thing I knew, she was choking and her face was blue. She survived, but as I grew older I was very much aware of how our lives would have changed had she not. One evening, lying in bed, something made me think of it; how fifty years had passed and yet the memory of that night was still as raw as fresh-skinned knees. I closed my eyes, ready to drift off, when I “heard” the opening lone of what became Cold Rock River. I got up to write it down, so I wouldn’t forget a single word. I was still at it the next morning. I had forty, maybe fifty pages. I realized then that this young, beautiful, delightful creature, who I chose to call Adie, might have something to tell me worth hearing. And if I was quiet and listened closely, maybe her ghosts would help me purge mine.

What kind of research was involved in writing Cold Rock River?

Cold Rock River was a five year journey without a paycheck. Initially, it was to be the story of Adie Jenkins, seventeen and pregnant and unmarried during the early 1960’s. I know today if you’re in her condition, they throw you a shower. In those days they threw you out. I decided Adie would do some chicken farming to feed them when it became apparent Buck wasn’t going to be one she could count on. I went to the library to research Georgia chicken farming and stumbled onto the Slave Narratives. The complete collection— which contains more than two thousand first-person accounts—is housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. They were commissioned by President Roosevelt during the depression years, in order to record the journey of those freed slaves still alive. Writers ere sent across the nation to search for them. Their accounts are as fascinating as they are poignant. Over the years, there’s been a good deal of controversy as to their accuracy, based on the fact that some of the freed slaves were fearful or perhaps suspicious of the government—brings to mind “forty acres and a mule”—and hesitant to speak candidly regarding the treatment they may or may not have received at the hands of their sometimes still powerful former masters. The collective consensus is that somewhere amidst the vast amount of material lies the truth. After months of reading, reviewing, and re-examining all of the narratives I could locate, Tempe’s portion of Cold Rock River emerged. Her story, based on what I found, is remarkable. Everything that Tempe experiences was lifted from the lives of actual people who wore the chains and bore the scars of slavery. I won’t ever forget her; nor am I able to forget those I ‘met” through the narratives, who bravely shared their life stories so that Tempe could tell me hers.

How much input did you have into the design of your book cover?

Very little. These days if you’re not John Gresham, or Stephen King, etc., an author has little to say over the design of the cover. But, thankfully I absolutely love the cover to Cold Rock River.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

There’s an amazing story behind my getting published. I went to this book conference and had taken a portion of my debut novel Roseflower Creek with me to be evaluated by one of the agents attending the conference. At the reception I literally bumped into Ron Pitkin, the president of Cumberland House Publishing. He was kind enough not to notice I spilled his drink and asked what I was working on. When I told him fiction, he promptly replied, “That’s a crap shoot.” Definitely not what I wanted to hear. I mean, I’d paid good money to come to this conference and he’s raining on my party, big time. “Well,” I said, “that’s too bad, because I have a dynamite opening line.” I was prepared to walk away, when he gently took hold of my elbow and said, “So what’s your opening line?”

“The morning I died, it rained.” Keep in mind this was long before The Lovely Bones.

“God! I want to see that book,” he said and asked me to send the entire manuscript. I did and he phoned a week later to tell me they were bringing it out in hardcover and bumping back their memoir piece on Dale Earnhardt who’d been tragically killed, to make Roseflower Creek the lead book in their fall catalogue. I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right project. I consider it a miracle.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

It only took six months so it was a total whirlwind from signing the contract to seeing it on the bookstore shelves.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

Initially my agent was Sarah Piel with Arthur Pine Associates in New York. They are now known as Inkwell Management. Sadly my agent left the industry after birthing two babies back-to-back. I had to begin the difficult process of querying all over again. Happily I got the attention of Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary Agency. I’m blessed to have her! She’s outstanding and very encouraging.

Do you plan subsequent books?

I currently have a three-book southern anthology featuring Francine Harper, who’s under felony assault charges for shooting at her husband Dwayne and his stripper/lover Carla from the Peel ‘n Squeal. Francine finds her strength and regains her dignity via a trial and many errors. It’s a completely different genre than what I normally write but provided a nice respite. The first book in the series Divorcing Dwayne debuted April 2008. The second one will be released in April 2009 (Dear Dwayne) and the third one will debut April 2010 (Dating Dwayne). My current manuscript is being shopped by my agent. (The Heavenly Heart). I am almost finishing up the last few chapters on my seventh novel entitled All That’s True

Are you a morning writer or a night writer?

I normally write from eight a.m. to noon. If it’s going well I might continue for a few hours after lunch. So long as I get three to five pages a day completed that are worth something I’m happy.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

Ads in the New Your Times and in all the other major magazines and periodicals.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Self-promotion is absolutely necessary to help get your books out there. Twice I’ve hired publicity firms to assist Cumberland House’s in-house publicity staff. At Cumberland they have approximately eighty books a year to promote so they can’t devote all their attention to just one book. Hiring publicity firms is expensive, but I feel so far it has helped. My debut novel went into a third printing. Cold Rock River just released in Trade Paperback, which reflected the third printing and sales for Divorcing Dwayne look encouraging. I’ve also hired Bostick Communications who were very successful in getting numerous on-line reviews and exposure, and I recently signed with Pump Up Your Book.com which I’m very excited about. In addition I tour with the Dixie Divas, four nationally published authors with a passion for promotion. When the Divas come to town we don’t just sell books we put on quite a show. We each have our own persona and dress in costume. We’ve made over a hundred appearances in the last two years alone. To schedule an appearance, contact nechespublicity@knology.net.

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Read, read read! And write, write write! And remember those talented authors who you think were born to write, well maybe so, but let me assure you they weren’t born published. Also, always remembers there are only three simple steps to writing a good book:

  1. Put a tiger under a tree.
  2. Get you protagonist up that tree.
  3. Get your protagonist out of that tree.

Best to you in all your endeavors and bless your reading and writing hearts.

Thank you for coming, J.L. Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

My website is www.jlmiles.com. My books are available at fine booksellers everywhere in addition to amazon.com, barnes&noble.com and booksamillion.com.

GOOD READING!!!

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