Sunday, December 4, 2011

Positively Published Virtual Book Tour Kicks Off Tomorrow!

It's been several months since I've posted. What can I say? Busy with work, the kids, edits to the second book, drafting the third book, the beat goes on . . .

I wanted to let you know, though, that Positively Published has kindly arranged a virtual book tour for me, and it starts tomorrow! So, if you always wondered why I gave Sasha Krav Maga skills, how I did the research for the book, or the best way to bribe me (!), you'll want to check out the series of interviews and guest posts that these very generous bloggers have set up:

December 5th: No Trees Harmed
December 6th: Uneccessary Musings
December 7th:
December 8th: A Pen and
December 9th:
December 10th:

Hope to "see" you on my tour!

Monday, September 5, 2011

As My Oldest Goes Off to Kindergarten

Red backpack with embroidered octopus? Check.
Owl pocket folder? Check.
Dinosaur lunchbox? Check
Wild animal tracks water bottle? Check.
Boundless enthusiasm and curiosity? Check.

Tomorrow, our five-year-old son starts kindergarten. He has all his supplies ready and is chomping at the bit. He's excited for school to start, but he's even more excited at the idea of all the things he can learn.

He reads everything he can get his hands on that is related to wild animals (present day and extinct). He woke me up this morning by telling me that the kinkajou eats fruit and drinks nectar. I just asked him how to spell kinkajou.

At some point today, he'll rope his brother into playing the game he made up, called What Dinosaur Am I? Or he'll sit the baby down and explain to her the hunting habits of birds of prey.

I couldn't manufacture this level of engagement or self-directed learning if I tried.

Watching him, I wonder if his interest in wild animals will endure. Is this a phase or do we have a future paleontologist or naturalist on our hands?

It could be.

When I was his age, I wanted to be a writer.

Hell, I was a writer, judging by the stories I drafted and my mother typed up for me on onionskin paper. My first work was a collection of mysteries, covered in contact paper, if memory serves.

My first published novel was a legal thriller.

In the thirty-some odd years between Rocky Raccoon and the Missing Garbage Cans and Irreparable Harm, my view of myself as a writer has held constant. It has never wavered.

And I owe that, in large part, to two teachers. Pamela Johnson (or Ms. J.) and Jane Gargaro were my English teachers my sophomore and junior years of high school.

Ms. J. fed my creativity. Journaling, writing workshops, publishing a literary journal, reading my poems at open mic nights---all things I explored under her tutelage. With bouncy curls and long flowing skirts, she was nurturing and encouraging.

Mrs. Garagaro was the yin to Ms. J's yang. She marked up my essays until it looked like the pages were bleeding. She insisted that I think and write critically. With her red pen and tailored suits, she knocked the authorial ego right out of me. I lapped up her criticism as eagerly as I had Ms. J's kudos.

By the time I left high school, thanks to them, I was submitting my writing, taking editorial comments like a pro, and never once thought I was any less of a writer simply because I wasn't yet old enough to vote.

So, when I look at my son, so ready to dive into school, I can only hope he runs into a teacher or two who will show him how to take his enthusiasm for learning and run with it. Preferably one who already knows how to spell kinkajou.*

*I have just been informed that the kinkajou is also known as the honey bear and lives in the rainforest, in case you were wondering.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

E-book signing

So, I am pretty excited about this development. I just got a Wacom Bamboo Tablet Pen, which will allow me to sign e-book covers, like with a pen and everything!

The way it works . . . okay, I'm not sure exactly how it works, but if you have an electronic copy of IRREPARABLE HARM or DARK BLOOMS that you would like me to sign, e-mail me at melissa (at) melissafmiller (dot) com.
If there's specific wording you'd like, put that in your e-mail; otherwise, I will just sign my name.

I will e-mail you back a signed PDF and either .mobi or .epub file (please specify which eReader you have so I send you the right version)!

(If you have a paperback that you'd like me to sign, send me an e-mail and I'll give you my snail mail address. You send me the book, and I'll send it back to you signed.)

Please note that my handwriting (electronic or hard copy) borders on the illegible, so bear that in mind!:)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Review and Giveaway, plus Assorted Other News

I haven't posted in awhile; I've been working on the follow-up to IRREPARABLE HARM, mainly, but have also revamped the website. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, IRREPARABLE HARM received another great review at Babs' Book Bistro!

Babs was also kind enough to have me as a guest on the blog last week. If you've always wondered what my favorite ice cream was but have been afraid to ask, you can find out in my interview.

Okay, okay, it's cherry chocolate chip from Leo's on Trindle Road, but if you check out the interview anyway and post a comment before June 16, you'll be entered to win a copy of the book!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Amelia Givin Library Needs You!

In 1890, Miss Amelia Givin, heir to the Givin paper mill and rug factory fortune, presented the tiny borough of Mt. Holly Springs, Pennsylvania, with a free public library. (Miss Givin was a real trailblazer: her library opened five years before Andrew Carnegie's library in Pittsburgh and four years before George Pepper's Philadelphia Free Library.)

The Amelia Givin Library (added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004) is the oldest library in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, and continues to serve Mt. Holly Springs and the surrounding communities.

The library has a vibrant children's program and offers computer access, as well as books, periodicals, and videos for children, teens, and adults.

As a member of the library's Board of Trustees, I can tell you that the library is heavily used by the community and that it---like all of Pennsylvania's libraries---has experienced some significant budget cuts in recent years.

So, the library's annual on-line auction, which is its biggest fundraiser, is more important than ever!

My publisher has graciously donated a Kindle to the upcoming auction. I am donating a signed paper copy of IRREPARABLE HARM and the right to name a character in my work-in-progress.
I am also going to load the Kindle with the IRREPARABLE HARM and DARK BLOOMS ebooks.

Here's where you come in: Do you have a paper version of your book (signed or unsigned) that you're willing to donate? Would you donate an electronic version that I can load onto the Kindle?

Fellow thriller writer Douglas Dorow recently solicited ebooks for a Kindle that he donated to his children's school auction with great success, so I am going to shamelessly copy him here:

I will (1) thank each author or publisher who donates to the auction here on the blog (where all five of my followers will be very impressed, I am sure), as well as on Twitter and my Facebook page; (2) link to the book and/or your website; and (3) encourage the winning bidder to post Amazon reviews of the books after he or she has read them as a way of thanking the authors.

The auction is in October and the deadline to submit items is September 15, so you have plenty of time to finish your WIP. Heck, if you write fast, you could finish two!

You say you aren't a writer or publisher but you want to support the library?

No problem! The auction isn't limited to literary items. Past auctions have included themed gift baskets, gift cards, handcrafted items, sports memorabilia---pretty much if you are willing to donate it, we would love to have it!

Please post a comment if you have any questions or e-mail me at melissa(at)melissafmiller(dot)com.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Steel Pierogies?

As Mother's Day approaches, I am thinking about all the Pittsburgh women---moms and non-moms---whom I know and love. I am also thinking about my protagonist, Sasha McCandless.

And the striking thing about all of them is that they share the same tough-as-nails outer shell. The women I know and admire are pragmatic, sarcastic, and take charge. They may not, as Sasha does, break someone's fingers and disarm them, but they overcome real-life challenges with a matter-of-fact grace and wit.*

And inside that tough exterior is a warm gooey center. These are women who support, love, and help their families and friends.

I should know. Since the publication of Irreparable Harm, my circle of Pittsburgh women, both those still in place and those who have relocated but retained their Pittsburghness, have been amazingly supportive. From buying multiple copies of the book to sending me flowers, my relatives and friends have rallied around me. Which is what Pittsburgh women do.

Thanks, ladies.

*I am actually pretty sure that ALL women have this dual nature---whether it is the steel magnolia manifestation from the South (soft and ladylike outside and tough inside) or the tough outside/soft inside version indigenous to the 'Burgh.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Children and Perspective

So, Irreparable Harm is here! Well, mostly here. It's available as an ebook on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords RIGHT NOW. The trade paperback will be available on Amazon beginning next week (barring disaster) and at various local independent bookstore shortly thereafter (fingers crossed).

The boys, five and three, were sweetly supportive during the writing process. Actually, their baby sister played a big role, too. She would kindly wake me up around 2 or 3 a.m., eat, and then go back to sleep.

I could then write or edit for three or four hours, until her oldest brother (our resident morning person) came bounding down the stairs at first light. He routinely greeted me with, "Morning, mom! How's the book coming?"

Our night-owl middle child provided additional encouragement during a conversation about what he was going to be when he grew up. His older brother had changed his future career from firefighter to paleontologist. The three year old still wanted to be a police officer, but planned to also be a meteorologist. Older brother did not approve of this dual career and the three year old said, "Mom is a lawyer AND a writer, so I can be a police officer AND a meteorologist."

So, when the electronic versions of the book went live, I told the boys. They were very excited for me. Then, they got down to business:

Five Year Old: Is it a very important book? Will it save people's lives?

Me: Well, no.

Five Year Old: Oh, will it teach people how to be a lawyer?

Me: Uh, no.

Five Year Old (a note of exasperation creeping into his voice): Is it about dinosaurs?

Me: No, no dinosaurs. It's a book for grown ups to read for fun . . .

Five Year Old (cutting me off, addresses the Three Year Old): No dinosaurs.

Three Year Old: No dinosaurs?

Me: No. Sorry.

Three Year Old (looking on the bright side): Will lots of people buy your book?

Me: Maybe. I hope so.

Three Year Old: If they do, can we go to the dollar store?

Me: I really hope so.

Three Year Old and Five Year Old abandon discussion of book to daydream aloud about the many riches awaiting them at the dollar store.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Truth or Fiction?

IRREPARABLE HARM, which is slated for release later this month, wasn't intended to be ripped from the headlines, but take a look at this article that appeared in's Threat Level column recently: ("Federal Courts Worry Your Smartphone Might Be a Bomb")

My Smartphone, although not a bomb, is da bomb: having finally accepted that I may never get this post up if I wait until I have five minutes in front of the computer, I am typing this on my Android in the wee hours while rocking a feverish, but finally sleeping, baby.

By necessity, then, this will be brief. But, look for more frequent posts in the next two weeks.

I have final, final pages sitting on my desk to approve this weekend and, after that, look out, here comes my book!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


As the release date for IRREPARABLE HARM approaches, I've been thinking about the process of writing it.

In ON WRITING (a fantastic book), Stephen King shares his oft-repeated advice that the second draft should equal the first draft minus 10%. Variations of this advice abound---murder your darlings, leave out the boring parts, etc.

Apparently, it is common for a writer to write a long first draft that needs to be pruned (or, in some cases, shorn). I wouldn't know.

My first draft, of anything, is short. Too short.

My husband is my first reader for everything I write. And without fail, his remarks will include something like, "good thing you're not being paid by the word" or "this is all pitch and no wind up."

With regard to the first draft of IRREPARABLE HARM, he said, "This is good. I like it. It's way too short."

I, of course, always take his comments with exceeding grace. But, this time, I did protest.

"It's a thriller."

"I know, but it's all action. Everything is driving the plot forward."

Now I'm thinking maybe he's just a wee bit stupid and I need to find a new first reader.

"It's a thriller." (I say it slower this time.)

"It's too fast-paced. It's exhausting to read it. There's no downtime."

After several more iterations of this conversation, he pulled from the bookshelf an array of thrillers by different authors and flagged the "downtime" parts for me to see what he was talking about.

And, finally, I got it. Once I did, I had to concede the point. And, the second draft more or less equaled the first draft PLUS 10%.

It occurred to me that there are probably three reasons for my lean first drafts:

1. My undergraduate creative writing concentration was in poetry. When writing poetry, you are trying to convey with a phrase, or even a word, an emotion, a description, a memory, or what have you. Poetry is spare.

2. I've spent a decade writing as a lawyer. There's almost always a page limit. In brief writing, you aim to be direct and succinct. (And when all else fails, you play around with the footnotes and margins!)

3. I wrote most of the first draft while mothering a four year old and a two year old and finished it while mothering a five year old, a three year old, and a newborn. So, I wrote in short bursts, with the goal of completing a scene before someone noticed I had disappeared. My writing sessions usually ended when I heard crying. I knew I had a small window, so I got right to the point.

My point (to the extent I have one) is that writing advice is like anything else. You have to be open to it, use what applies, and discard the rest.

And, cue the crying! So that's it for now.

The next two weeks are going to be pretty busy with the IRREPARABLE HARM release, so check back for updates and a giveaway!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

On Raising Readers

Today, I interrupt my own endless fascination with my fast-approaching publication date forIRREPARABLE HARM to write about raising kids who read.

But first, a picture of our littlest "reader."

As former kids who read, my husband and I naturally filled our kids' world with books from the time the were born. We have bookcases, baskets, and bins overflowing with children's books scattered throughout the house. And a typical trip to our fantastic local library usually results in each of us leaving with an armload of books. (The boys make it a point to always pick a few for their baby sister.)
Nothing makes me happier than seeing my kids sit down and pull out a book. Now that our five year old is reading fluently, he will often read to his younger brother or sister. (Not to mention, I am far from the only writer in the house! Both boys write their own stories---either themselves or by dictating to me or my husband.)

Okay, great, right? What's my point?

As the boys are getting older, I worry that they are getting the message that reading is boring and no fun. It's a chore, but if you just suffer through it, you will be rewarded.

How? By the seemingly endless parade of reading programs aimed at kids. You know, you keep track of how many books you read or had read to you during a specific period and then you turn in your sheet for prizes. (I'm not sure what those prizes are, because we don't participate.*)

Reading is its own reward. The prize for reading is being transported to another world or learning endless facts about dinosaurs that you can spout at our mother before she's even had her morning coffee. Getting a free pizza or trinket shouldn't be the pay off.

And, it turns out, my knee-jerk, no-fun reaction is supported by the research. Here's what Alfie Kohn's thought-provoking book, PUNISHED BY REWARDS, has to say about reading incentive programs:

"What rewards do, and what they do with devastating effectiveness, is to smother people's enthusiasm for activities they might otherwise enjoy."

The full discussion is really interesting and I encourage you to read it.

So this is why I am that parent. The one who won't let her kids earn the prizes. So far, they could not care less; they just want to read for the sake of reading. Here's hoping it stays that way!

* We did participate in a Read-A-Thon to buy a new chair and ottoman for the children's section of our beloved library. The rationale was the boys themselves received nothing but a thank you note and, as heavy users of the children's section, we were in agreement that the sad, well-used chair needed to be replaced.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Read an E-book Week and My Cover

Ahh, it's already Tuesday! We are well into Read an E-book Week now, but there's still plenty of time to celebrate. You could win a free e-reader or get a whole bunch of free or discounted e-books, including DARK BLOOMS (use code RE100 at checkout and it's free through March 12).

I have to run, but not without sharing the exciting news that I now have a mockup of the cover for IRREPARABLE HARM, which will be available as both an e-book and paperback next month!

Have a peek:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Both Genders Prefer Male Protagonists?

I just came across a blog post about a study (link is to the abstract) that concludes both male and female readers prefer reading about male main characters. I find this counterintuitive (as did the researchers).

I also suspect there may have been some flaws with the study, but I am a big believer in reading original source material. So, I am going to hold off until I have read the entire study before I speculate.

I will say this, by way of example only: I loved Chris Cleave's LITTLE BEE (literary fiction, female main character) and enjoy Jamie Freveletti's thrillers featuring Emma Calridge (female). But, I also am a huge fan of Lee Child (protagonist is Jack Reacher, male) and Michael Connelly (particularly the Mickey Haller books, male).

In fact, I would venture to guess my bookshelf is about evenly split between books with male and female protagonists.

What do you think?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

MYSTERIES in PARADISE: Review: DARK BLOOMS: Two Crime Fiction Shorts, Melissa F. Miller

If you like crime fiction, you've probably already visited the MYSTERIES in PARADISE blog. If you haven't, consider yourself warned: you will come away with an armload of new titles for your TBR (to be read) pile.

Today would be a particularly good day to check it out, as the review of DARK BLOOMS is up!
MYSTERIES in PARADISE: Review: DARK BLOOMS: Two Crime Fiction Shorts, Melissa F. Miller

From the review: "DARK BLOOMS is without doubt a ploy to whet the reader's appetite for more by this author."

She's right, of course. I'm an unknown author. Brown Street Books and I want readers to take a chance on me and read IRREPARABLE HARM when it comes out. What better way to do that than to offer a low-risk (in terms of both cost and use of precious free time) introduction to my work?

And, I'm happy to report, it worked! Also from the review: "Both are well crafted quirky stories with unpredictable endings, and yes, I came away hooked."

Now, that's a nice way to start a Sunday morning.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Will Print Books Really Go the Way of the Giganotosaurus?

Amazon's announcement late last month that it sold more e-books than paperbacks in the fourth quarter of 2010, coupled with the news that independent author Amanda Hocking has sold more than 450,000 books (almost all of them e-books) and that Borders has filed for bankruptcy protection, has led to great publishing industry and author hand-wringing (or maybe celebration) about the demise of traditional publishing and, with it, print (or dead tree) books.

I don't think so.

I do think most books sold will---some day soon---be in electronic format. It is just cheaper, quicker, and more convenient for everyone from author to publisher to reader.

Case in point: Yesterday, while waiting at pick up at my sons' preschool, I had fewer than five minutes to kill. I checked Twitter from my phone, saw that Marcus Sakey was offering a short story for free on Smashwords, clicked the on the link, purchased the story, entered the coupon code, and loaded the story to my Smashwords library. (And had three minutes left to arrange a play date to the museum this weekend AND buy the tickets for said play date through a Groupon. Again, from my phone.)

Later than night, I read the story on my phone while I was up rocking the baby and posted a review (five stars, by the way).

At no point did I have to go to my computer, let alone drag three kids to a bookstore.

So, yes, I think e-books are going to predominate, but there will always be a place for print. Off the top of my head those tactile baby board books and lift the flap books; pop up books; people who read in the bathtub; and people who read on the beach will all be better served by print. And there will always be those special books (defined on purely subjective grounds) that will merit a physical space in our book collections.

But, electronic delivery is pretty cool. So, here's a free electronic copy of DARK BLOOMS, from me to you. Use code MX28B at checkout. And hurry up, code expires on Saturday.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Why Indie Publishing Is Right for Me

I just published my set of crime fiction shorts through Brown Street Books, an independent publisher, and will publish IRREPARABLE HARM the same way in April. In light of a convergence of factors----like the spectacular success of self-published Amanda Hocking, the fact that Amazon sold more ebooks than print books in the last quarter of 2010, and Borders' bankruptcy filing---independent and self publishing are a big topic right now.

Veteran authors, including JA Konrath, Kristine Kathyrn Rusch, and Dean Wesley Smith, have staked out positions suggesting that authors at least consider alternatives to traditional, or Big Six, publishing. (In the case of JA Konrath, his views are a good bit stronger than a suggestion, as he believes traditional publishing and print books are dying. But that's a topic for a later post.)

They all make valid points, but, in the end, I agree with Rusch that there is a certain personality type who is better served going the independent route.

For me, it is the right decision because I (1) lack patience (my husband will confirm this); (2) have some publishing background to draw on; and (3) have an entrepreneurial spirit.

  • Impatience. While it is indisputable that I am impatient, the real issue is the glacial pace of traditional publishing. Step One is to find an agent. Many good agents have a several month response time to queries; then there is a further delay if they request either a partial or full manuscript. If an agent offers representation, said agent then needs to actually sell the book to a publishing house, which again could take awhile (or not ever happen). Then, the book will need to go through the book production process on the publisher's schedule. We're talking multiple years, here. In the case of IRREPARABLE HARM, the plot involves a smartphone application that can be used to crash a plane, which seemed pretty nifty when I came up with it. In 2009. It'll probably seem pretty lame five years from now, when we all have hover cars or whatever.

  • Background. After earning my extremely practical undergrad degree in medieval literature and creative writing (poetry), I worked as an editor for three years, including a year and a half as a book production editor at a publishing house. I learned a lot about the process before going to law school. While it's true that a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous, I do feel as though I don't need anyone to hold my hand.

  • Entrepreneurial spirit/control. This last one is probably the biggest factor. My husband and I quit jobs at two of the country's largest law firms to start our own. Countless lawyers said some variation of "that's really brave" or "that's risky." I beg to differ. I think the risky choice is to leave one's professional future in the hands of a management committee made up of near-strangers. In my firm, my success or failure is in my hands. This applies with equal force to publishing. By going the independent publishing route, I have more control and more responsibility, which suits me.

I do think this option is not for everyone. But, I know it's for me.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lots of News

After going dark here last Spring to focus on writing (and also to give birth to a most adorable baby girl, tend to my wonderful boys, and run my legal practice), the blog is about to heat up!

I have lot of exciting news and plan to do a series of detailed posts over the coming weeks, but today I just want to hit the high points:

First, I am going to publish my fiction through Brown Street Books, an independent publisher. This decision is a sea change for me (which I'll explain in a follow-up post), but I am convinced it is the right direction.

Second, as of today, DARK BLOOMS: TWO CRIME FICTION SHORTS is available electronically through Smashwords (multiple electronic formats) and Amazon (for the Kindle). It should be available in iBooks, Nook, and Kobo formats within the next week or so.

But that's not all! In April, Brown Street Books will publish IRREPARABLE HARM, my legal thriller.

Now, I have to run. Deadlines and children await. Not in that order.