An Interview with Author MJ Miller (The Luckland Mysteries)

Welcome avid readers to our interview with Author MJ Miller! We’re excited to welcome this mystery writer with different perspectives on character development. We’ve known MJ for a while and always enjoy reading her books, so we were honored when we asked to interview her and she said yes!

About MJ Miller

A lifelong teller of tales, MJ Miller grew up inspired and mentored by an entertaining collection of master storytelling matriarchs. Women who could spin a yarn better than anyone. A native New Yorker and mother of two amazing women, MJ and her fabulously supportive husband share their Tucson home with their resident feline geniuses, Darwin and Miss Chloe. A hopeless romantic, MJ loves to tell tales filled with romance, mystery and mayhem that keep the reader turning pages long into the night. Follow MJ Miller on social media or via her newsletter!

Author MJ Miller

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An Interview with Author MJ Miller

As a hopeless romantic, how does your love for romance influence the relationships and dynamics between characters in the Luckland series? How do you approach crafting authentic and compelling romantic storylines within the broader mysteries?

I find that adding a romantic thread gives characters an added dimension. We learn so much about a person in the way they connect with others be it friendship, blood or romance! A good mystery requires understanding our characters and what drives them. To make it compelling, I usually find the romance has a way of interfering with an investigation rather than boosting it! It’s simply more fun to have our leading lady, or gentleman in some cases, being thrown out of their rhythm by none other than that pesky thing called attraction. It gives an opportunity to find some humor and some relief from the scenes that put us on edge. 

The theme of family and friendship is prevalent in your books. How do the relationships among the characters, particularly the Luckland Ladies, mirror or deviate from your own experiences and inspirations?

The Luckland Ladies were such fun to create. Each of them is a composite of friends and family members that influenced me throughout my life. My childhood friendships and even my frenemies. And then there are the matriarchs of my own family. We grow up thinking we know everything about those who raised us, but the truth is, we know so little. I wanted to introduce a group of women of a certain age that aren’t so cut and dry. Women with secrets, some outlandish, other so common we can all relate to our own lives. Characters that make us stop and yell OMG I did that! Or… they did what???

In your bio, you mention being inspired by master storytelling matriarchs. How have these influences shaped your writing style and the themes you explore in the Luckland series?

My particular favorite was my great Aunt C. She’d sit, in her wheelchair, on the porch down at her Florida condo… chatting with everyone who passed by. Just a sweet rosy cheeked, white-haired woman with a cheerful disposition and gravelly smokers voice. I adored her by the way. No surprise, to me she was the queen of storytelling holding court. But the wild tales she told, I discovered later in my life, were not far from the truth. And the older I got, the more I was privy to. The secrets she had kept were astonishing. And revealed more about her, and my own family, and all the complicated relationships that resulted from them.

Then there was my great Aunt F. She was always the petite, staid, older woman who adored us all, though not quite the affectionate one. She shared her life with her best friend, Aunt G. And yes, it took a while for us all to figure out there was far more there. Aunt G was a writer, Aunt F a dancer who loved to write. Wait, they weren’t just two sweet old ladies living in a rent-controlled apartment on the Upper West Side? How’d they meet? What was their lifestyle like? So much I needed to know, and with every tidbit I learned, my fascination grew. 

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer, or did your passion for storytelling develop over time?

I didn’t always know I wanted to be a writer, but I was an avid reader, and always loved telling my own stories. In fact my teachers in grade school loved to discuss that little habit of mine during conferences. The time I had nothing for show and tell, so I got up and shared my family trip… one I hadn’t been on (it had been my sister who went) but did a wonderful job describing it. Second grade, and I was already causing problems. My mother still enjoys that story. I did, and do,  love the process of inventing stories. And writing them down, eventually. I was never the daily journaling type, nor was I a prodigy writing my first novel at 11.  I was a working mom needing an outlet when I began weaving tales in earnest. 

Are there any specific authors or books that influenced you early in your writing journey?

I’m afraid my early influences might surprise people! Harriet the Spy and Encyclopedia Brown were my favorites. Yes, children’s books. Now later, I was spellbound by Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. I had an insatiable appetite for figuring out who done it, and ultimately, I wanted to know if I could outsmart the author. Could I figure out the endgame before it’s revealed? 

How do you approach the process of generating new ideas, a first draft, and translating them into fully-fledged stories?

My house is decorated with notes and journals and scratch paper with ideas. I know others use technology to keep track, but I just jot them down as soon as they pop into my head. Just the other day, I saw the strangest shadow in my neighbor’s yard. The whole house was dark, and there were no outdoor lights to speak of. Yet there stood this creepy image of a cross, roughly nine feet tall, and it glowed. Next day, there’s nothing in the yard. I stood and studied every angle of the house… it’s porch… the trees… and nothing. So I wrote it down. Then I wrote down what I thought it could have been. Then I wrote down what is should be… and it all comes together from there.

What challenges did you face when you first started writing, and how did you overcome them?

My very first novel that I completed, in draft form, still sits in my computer. Because back then, I simply didn’t have the experience to know how to bring the story together properly. I didn’t have the patience to tweak every line. Give every line impact. Give every scene its due. Most of all, give the characters enough depth to keep them real in the mind of the reader. All of this took time and practice. Starting and stopping, writing multiple openings, learning to edit, and learning how important that is. I had to accept that writing is a process, and there are no shortcuts.

Are you a planner or a “pantser” (writing by the seat of your pants)? How do you approach structuring your stories?

I am most definitely a pantser. I love the art of storytelling, and my books reflect that. I let the story lead the way. Outline? Plot? Sure, I have those, but they’re minimal, I’ve already started writing when I put those together. 

The process for me is an idea in my head. I write it down on my never-ending idea list. Then I add to it. I start a document. Maybe I have a title. Maybe all I have is an opening line. It doesn’t matter. I stare at it, and then I just start writing. This goes back to all those notes scattered about. My desk is an organizer’s nightmare. Once I start, the story takes over, every time. 

How do you develop and bring your characters to life? Are they ever inspired by real people or experiences?

I typically build the characters as I go. I usually have a protagonist in my head when I start, and as I add each character, I jot down some notes about them. Not just their backstory, but their personality characteristics. How will they play off each other? I love my characters, and as a pantser, it’s so fun to be surprised when a new one shows up! All my characters are based on a modicum of truth and experience. It’s the only way I know to create someone readers can get behind. 

True story, a reader asked where I got the idea for a furrycon in Luckland: Stolen Recipes and a Dead Chef. And so here’s the real story behind it. I was with my brother when he passed away several years ago. It was very sad and poignant and all of that… of course it was. But when we gathered at the hotel, my siblings and cousins, for a drink to toast him into the next plane of existence, we found ourselves in the lobby lounge surrounded by Furries. Now, we were a few drinks in, and honestly, none of us were quite sure what we were looking at. What we did know, was my brother would have absolutely LOVED it. We made a few new friends that day. And I knew right then, someday, I’d write about them. 

What role does research play in your writing? How do you strike a balance between authenticity and creative freedom?

Authenticity requires research. As a writer, I love research. I love to learn as much as I can about events I write about. If I was ever a suspect in a crime, I’d need to smash my computer to smithereens as the search engine would look like a serial killer’s vault of secrets. Thankfully, I’m too much on the straight and narrow. But that’s part of mystery writing. It’s far different than building a fantasy world. Mysteries are grounded in reality. How long has the victim been lying frozen in the pond. Under the ice. What color is it. Is the skin pruning up? I find it necessary to keep it real. That’s not to say that some elements of my stories aren’t unexplainable or illogical, even paranormal. That’s the element of fun. That’s the element of creative freedom. The trick is to ensure the reader knows the difference, and is receptive to the oddities I throw in. 

Do you have a favorite genre or style to write in, or do you enjoy experimenting with different forms of storytelling?

My style, or voice, is one that takes things on the lighter side. I love to write cozy mysteries with a dash of humor and romance. Stories that allow the reader to escape for a while, no blood and guts or awful triggers. Just some lighthearted fun… murder and mayhem at its finest.

How do you capture and convey emotions in your stories to connect with your readers on a deeper level?

For me, capturing emotions is capturing the human the experience. When a character speaks to another, it isn’t just the words that are important. It’s their facial expressions, their mannerisms, their tone. This I true for when they aren’t speaking as well. I feel as if the reader needs to feel as if they too are experiencing the moment. It’s the old adage ‘show don’t tell’ and I believe strongly that it makes all the difference.

Do you prefer coffee or tea? What kinds, or specific ways to enjoy these drinks? 

I love my coffee. I’m not a coffee snob, though if it has the consistency of tea I won’t touch it. Rich, bold, a dollop of cream and a little bit of sweet. Without it, well, let’s just say my keyboard remains idle.

How do you approach the process of submitting your work to publishers or pursuing self-publishing? What has been your experience?

Having experienced both, self-publishing my first few books and then being taken on by a publisher, I think self-publishing is less stressful, actually, and less demanding. In the beginning, I was only accountable to myself. I self-published and was so proud of myself. I’d queried all along of course, at first for an agent, then adding a few publisher submissions. And landed a deal that way.  I learned immediately that having a publisher means serious deadlines, an editor who will tear my work to shreds, only to allow me to rework it to a far better story. And with a publisher, it’s a bit lengthier process. They determine when it’s ready to go. They set the launch. It certainly doesn’t offer the control over a book’s destiny that self-publishing affords. So for me, having a publisher pushes me to do my best work, while self-publishing allows me to relax and enjoy the ride! Is one better than the other? I’m still on the fence.

If your latest book were to be adapted into a movie or TV show, who would you cast in the lead roles?

Of course I will say Luckland deserves some screen time! These ladies are awesome and I do have a few ideas. The ladies? Well, Jennifer Coolidge, Annette Benning, Julia Roberts, perhaps? How about Viola Davis?  There are so many wonderful actresses who could do justice to the series.

Thanks so much for letting us interview you MJ! We loved getting to know you better!

MJ Miller’s New Book

How much of the Luckland legend is legend, and how much is truth?

On opening night, the curtain fails to rise when a body is discovered in the theatre. Pippa is again caught up in the Luckland Ladies’ shenanigans, but this time it’s Devon she needs to rescue. Treasure maps and the ladies’ secrets might be the key to Devon’s freedom.

After a daring mission, the hunt for a killer begins, and when the final two missing shoeboxes are unearthed, along with letters, a diary, and family heirlooms, the ladies, guardians of Luckland, have one more confession to make…

Find it on Goodreads, Amazon, and Bookbub.

More Books In The Series

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