Today on the blog we have one of the attending UtopYA authors, Nooce Miller. Her book, THE ROOFTOP INVENTOR, is due out May 1st. So keep those eyes peeled for it!
Mandy: What would you be doing right now if you were not an author?
Nooce: I’ve been writing full time for over two years now, but if I weren’t, I’d definitely be doing something else creative, because that’s who I am, though my work resume may not show it.
After being pre-med my first year of college, I switched my major to studio art. I threw myself into it whole hog; art history, drawing, pottery, sculpture, and—my favorite—oil painting. Picture little 20-year-old Nooce in faded jeans and a white men’s dress shirt, sleeves rolled up, splotched with every bright color of the rainbow. Painting is a glorious, messy business, and I loved it. But back in the 80s there wasn’t much of a career path for fine artists, so I chickened out and switched my major again—this time to English literature and creative writing with a little poli-sci thrown in so I could say I was pre-law. Yeah, I know, it sounds like that joke from Animal House—
Take it easy, I'm pre-law.
Mandy: I thought you were pre-med. Or a studio art major.
Nooce: What's the difference?
Law degree aside (that’s a whole other story), I’ve always remembered my year as an artist with a fierce longing, so if this writing gig doesn’t work out, I’ll give it a try again!
As a special treat for your readers, here’s one of my paintings, circa 1982.
I call this painting “Girl with the Chopped Off Arm.” It’s a “gesture” painting, an exercise one particularly masochistic prof always had us do that involved completing an entire oil painting in 15 minutes. Gesture painting often results in a really loose painterly style and missing body parts due to ill-planned layout design.
Mandy: 5 years ago: what were you doing?
Nooce: In 2003 I started a Medical Marketing Communications company. Within a year, it was doing so well my husband quit his job with a major pharmaceutical company and joined me so he could handle the business end of things. By 2010, we had a staff of medical writers, graphic designers, and marketing communications managers.
So five years ago I was leading projects, writing, editing—whatever needed to be done. We had about 18 employees at our peak size and I loved working with my husband, but being an entrepreneur is really hard work and long hours. My plan always was to grow the company for three to five years then I would step aside and begin doing what I really wanted to do, which was write fiction. But somehow that never happened because there was always so much work to do, until my husband came up with an idea to take the company in a different direction and make a software product for medical device companies. That was fine with me. I finally quit to become a writer!
Mandy: Do you have a certain writing ritual?
Nooce: This isn’t me. But it might as well be.
I must have quiet when I write; I can’t have TV or music. I also can’t have anyone else in the room with me, and to be honest, I write best if I am entirely alone in the house. It’s a good thing my sons are grown.
After my husband leaves for work in the morning, I make a pot of hot tea and head for my big comfy armchair with my china cup and saucer. I write on a honking big laptop with my feet propped on an ottoman. When scenes get tense, I tuck my feet up underneath me. When the writing gets difficult, I go let the dog in or out, or else I stand up and stroll purposely around the house and yard, muttering bits of dialogue under my breath. My neighbors must think I’m crazy.
I average about 1000 words per day, sometimes more. It really doesn’t take me very long – from one to four hours. When I’m working on a first draft I try to write every day, even on weekends. Revisions take place in the late afternoon or evening.
Mandy: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
Nooce: I used to be active on an online writing workshop called Critique Circle. After I’d done a number of critiques of other writers’ work, I screwed up my courage and slapped up the first chapter of a fantasy book I was writing. Now remember, I’d been working with physicians for years producing medical communications, and those experts could be brutal critics of medical writing done by a non-physician, so my skin was already pretty thick. But this was fiction—writing that I really cared about.
One CCer absolutely ripped my chapter to shreds. He hated that my character Hap awoke in a strange land, he chided me for having poor Hap stumble around fuzzy-headed trying to figure out what was happening to him, and he thought my villagers sounded like Jar Jar Binks.
Jar Jar Binks! Cringe!!!
He was right, of course, the chapter didn’t do what a first chapter needs to do. But there is a fine art to giving a good critique, and while his was helpful, it was nasty and caustic to the extreme.
I read his own chapters on the site, and they were marvelous. Attention-grabbing, tautly written, fraught with tension, and full of interesting characters. Then I noticed that he only had first chapters on the site. No second chapters. No full books, and he’d been at it for years. I realized he was an expert at writing a good first chapter, but that he didn’t have what it took to write a book. That made me feel better, because even if my chapter wasn’t what it should be, I knew I could write a whole book. And so I learned from it and moved on.
Mandy: Is there an author you'd like to meet?
Nooce: I’d really like to meet Patrick Rothfuss. The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear are the kind of fantasy I aspire to write, and I’d love to pick his brain on how to successfully plot a wide-ranging fantasy story. Plus he seems like a really nice guy. If he wasn’t available, I’d love to hang out with Gail Carriger. We have a few things in common, she’s an amazing writer, and she’s simply hilarious, so I think we’d have a lot of fun.
Mandy: Biggest writing pet peeve?
Nooce: This might sound odd, but my writing pet peeve is the decline of letter writing. Pen on paper. Emails and texting might offer instant gratification, but they just don’t have the same romance and tactual immediacy of a letter written on fine stationary. The people who study writers’ lives rely on their correspondence and written drafts to determine what was going on in their lives and how they approached their writing. Unless they take the time to print out their drafts and emails, modern writers (me included) will leave precious little behind to inform those who come afterwards about their lives, what they thought, and how they accomplished their craft.
Mandy: Strangest research?
Nooce: For The Adventures of Theodocia Hews, I looked up the U.S. 1860s Census to get ideas for names for characters in the series. I also looked up 1800s swear words (they’re funny!) and an article titled: Women as “the Sex” During the Victorian Era.
Mandy: Fav Color?
Mandy: Fictional Character you'd like to spend the day with?
Nooce: Tyrion Lannister. I love the Imp. He has all the best lines.
Mandy: Fav food?
Nooce: Chocolate mousse. I make a divine chocolate mousse. I’d like to mud wrestle in a big vat of chocolate mousse.
Mandy: Fav song and/or singer?
Nooce: Thinking Out Loud, Ed Sheeran. Can you tell I’m in love with my husband?!
Mandy: Guilty pleasure?
Nooce: Binge watching TV series like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. Since our boys went away to college, we can stay up as late as we want, even if we have work responsibilities the next day. Oh my, how naughty!
It’s 1879 and seventeen-year-old Theodocia Hews is out of control. Her inventor father Orin Hews tried to raise her to be a proper lady, but Theo says and does whatever she wants. Since girls aren’t supposed to be inventors, she’s secretly building her own airship up on the roof of their house. When her father is attacked and his valuable invention is stolen, she sets out in her untested airship to get her father’s contraption back. She’d better hurry. Her father’s contract with his buyer expires in three days and without it they’re ruined.
The airship lifts off but things get complicated when Theo finds an unintended passenger aboard. Henry Caracticus Thorne—the thief she’d spotted that morning making off with things in the market—is an altogether unsuitable companion. But he’s unlike anyone she’s ever met before, he’s willing to help, and he’s drop-dead gorgeous. As they soar through the sky in the close quarters of Theo’s airship, it’s not just the steam engine heating up.
Theo has a hunch who took her father’s invention. Will she manage to catch the culprit before it’s too late? What did that strange lightning storm do to Theo and Henry? And will Theo give in to her heart and act on her growing feelings for Henry?
The Adventures of Theodocia Hews is a humorous YA steampunk adventure/romance series set in 1879 Cincinnati in an alternate universe where the evil institution of slavery was abolished shortly after the United States was founded, the Civil War never happened, crazy inventions are commonplace, and steam power rules!
Coming May 1st
Excerpt from the first chapter of The Rooftop Inventor (The Adventures of Theodocia Hews, Book 1).
We join our heroine and narrator Theo just as she’s decided she needs to — ahem—find a pair of pants to wear while she’s inventing things. So she’s chosen to visit the clothesline of a family that’s treated her badly in the past…
It was a Monday night, and I knew from long experience that Mrs. Goff four houses down could never prevail upon her many daughters to bring the wash in from the clothesline until Tuesday. And so as the rain began to pelt down on my head and shoulders, I cut between two carriage houses to the Goff’s side yard. There hung three lines full of clothes flapping in the gale and the sudden spatter of raindrops—most of them frilly girl’s undergarments. With so many arrogant, fashionable daughters, it’s a wonder Mr. Goff’s laundry ever got any attention, but at last I found his things near the end of the third clothesline.
Luckily for me, Mr. Goff was a slender soul and his garments looked to be the right size. I pondered my choices. There hung Mr. Goff’s lounge trousers, a pair of his tweed breeches, and his dark, hand-tailored, best quality dinner trousers. The three pairs of pants waved cheerily at me, ankles up, all in a row.
The dinner trousers were my obvious choice. In addition to being a color that would effectively hide me while I climbed onto my hidden roof workshop at night, it delighted me to picture Mr. Goff sans pantalon amidst his large family of daughters at one of their remarkable dinner parties. Not that I’ve ever been invited for dinner. I’ve been to only one ball at their house and that was some time ago, but I understand the dinners are quite fashionable affairs.
I removed the pants from the line, taking care to replace the clothes pegs since I wanted to be sure Mrs. Goff noticed the loss. The rain was now slashing down in earnest, and it soaked me to the skin. Lightning was beginning to strike all around. For a moment I stopped to observe the branching white bolts up in the clouds. I do love a good storm.
Nooce Miller writes fantasy, speculative fiction, and YA steampunk. Technical writer, lawyer, medical writer, marketing communications editor, she’s held a lot of jobs, but her current gig is the one she likes best—author. Her favorite music to write to is silence because the dialogue turns out better. She’s also fond of birdsong, thunder, and the sound of the wind in the trees. She sees herself as a visually creative person, though others might disagree once they’ve been exposed to the questionable quality of her drawings, paintings, and photography. She drinks a lot of hot Earl Grey tea—usually in the company of her dog Stinky—who never partakes.
She’s lived in six different U.S. states and one Asian country. Tiring of so much moving, she undertook to persuade her husband that they should settle down and enjoy the four glorious seasons of her beloved Midwest until their two sons were grown, and lo and behold, it worked.