Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Today the guest author is Christiana Miller!

Christiana Miller is a novelist, screenwriter and mom who's led an unusual life. In addition to writing for General Hospital: Night Shift and General Hospital, she's had her DNA shot into space (where she's currently cohabiting in a drawer with Stephen Colbert and Stephen Hawking), and she's been the voices of all the female warriors in Mortal Kombat II and III. If her life was a TV show, it would be a wacky dramedy filled with eccentric characters who get themselves into bizarre situations.

and now...to the HOTSEAT!

R: Hello, Christiana, and welcome to my hotseat!
C: Thank you for having me, Rocco.

R: To begin, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your newest novel ‘SOMEBODY TELL AUNT TILLIE SHE’S DEAD?

C: First, let me just say what a pleasure it is to be interviewed by such a handsome and discerning cat. However, this is making me realize that I have an appalling lack of cat in my stories. I will definitely have to correct that for the next book!

R:  It’s good that you realize that, heh heh.  Tell us about Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie.
C: Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie is a fun yet spooky paranormal story. It's about how a little magic can go a long way -- to really screwing up a girl's life. So be careful what you wish for!

When the story starts, Mara is having the worst month of her life. At least, that’s what her tarot cards are telling her and they’ve never been wrong.

In short order, she's evicted from her apartment, loses her job and is banned from Beverly Hills. With the tarot cards predicting her imminent demise, Mara uses a little magic to make her world right.

Suddenly, her life goes from bad to worse. An aunt she’s never met dies, leaving Mara as her sole heir. But when Mara moves into her inherited home, she discovers Aunt Tillie never moved out. She’s still one pissed-off old lady, even post-mortem, and she blames Mara’s magical meddling for her death.

When Mara accidentally releases a demon and awakens the spirit of the most powerful witch in history, her Aunt Tillie’s ready to kill her -- literally. It’s the only way she can think of to save the girl from herself.

The witch and the demon, however, have other plans for Mara’s body.

R:  Sounds interesting!  In your own opinion what do you think makes your novel different and engaging to readers?

C: The book is full of fun things like witchcraft, voodoo, spellcraft, dealing with ghosts, modern-day paganism, sex and, of course, tarot card readings. I've tried to keep it as authentic as possible, in representing the different paths covered under the larger umbrella of modern-day paganism. The story also touches on the ethics and rules of using magic, and as a bonus, it has some usable spells thrown in. So if you're looking for a hot-and-heavy love spell, there's a rockin' one mid-story.

Overall, there is an amazing amount of research that went into the book. About five years worth. And that research has spanned everything from the esoteric to the mundane. There's even a fair amount of forensic research in the book. That's actually where I came up with the last third of the story -- it was inspired by the research I was doing and some interesting information I came across.

While the story does get suspenseful and even spooky at times, a big dose of humor helps make the "spooky" go down. If it was a recipe, I would say it's comprised of a lot of witchcraft, some tantalizing bits of sex, and a sprinkling of voodoo, stirred with a cup of magic, half-a-cup of humor, a quarter cup of ectoplasm and served with a heaping handful of chocolate kisses.

R: I see from your website you’ve been a screenwriter. Which do you prefer, screenwriting or novels? And what challenges are involved in each?

C: Good question. They're both different. My head thinks more clearly in terms of screenwriting -- especially when it comes to plot structure and which scenes are necessary. Tillie actually started out as a script scene, then a short story, then a novel. However, even when I'm writing a prose version first, I find that my screenwriter brain tends to churn out a very minimalist first draft that then has to be filled in and expanded.

Because of the background I have, I find that when I write, I'm more focused on the action and what's visible in the scene rather than on long passages of introspection. And I also tend to write too much dialogue and banter -- just because I'm having fun listening to the characters go back and forth with each other -- so I always have to go back in and weed that out during rewrites.

As to which one I prefer… I'm trying to figure that out myself. Writing novels gives you more control. You can write a novel, publish it and be on a blog tour -- especially with indy publishing -- in the same amount of time it takes to write and rewrite a script for a production company, only to have it go nowhere because of things outside your control. But there's also something to be said about being able to see actors embody your words on screen. That's a very unique kick in and of itself.

I think the best of both worlds would be to write a novel and then sell the movie rights. :-D
R: Good answer!

R: You’ve also dabbled in acting- what was your favorite role and why?
C: Oh my gosh, that was awhile ago. I really enjoyed playing Electra in college, although that was for an acting class. My favorite performance was probably Emma Goldman. I wrote, produced and acted in a one-woman show about Emma Goldman during my senior year in college. There were times when it felt more like I was channeling Emma than acting. At one point, I was on-stage and my brain slipped into Russian -- I had been learning the language as part of my research in creating the show -- and I had a moment of panic, because I couldn't remember the English words for what I wanted to say next. I had to finish the sentence in Russian before my brain switched back into English. Weird, huh?

Overall, though, playing Emma Goldman was a lot of fun. The show combined live action with a slideshow projection. I remember at the end of the first performance, the audience didn't want to leave. They stayed and I fielded questions about Emma's life until I had to leave to get to the after-party. The performance itself was free -- at least it was supposed to be free -- but as people left the theater, they started giving me donations -- completely unasked for -- based on what they thought a ticket to the show was worth. So I wound up making a nice profit.

While I completed both the Theater core and the Creative Writing for the Media program in college, I was a Performance Studies major, which is about adapting non-traditional material for the stage through the use of live action and multi-media. Instead of adapting a novel into a script, you'd find a way to perform the novel, as is. I loved adapting non-traditional material for the stage. I think my favorite was Shirley Jackson's "We Have Always Lived In The Castle."

R: Tarot Cards figure prominently in your novel. How extensive research did you do on Tarot, and can you read them?
C: While I've been reading coffee grounds since I was a kid, I've only been reading tarot cards for a little over a decade. During that time, I've mostly done readings for charity events. I also do individual readings for people, where I'll combine both coffee grounds and tarot cards, but it's not something I do as a living.

R: What was the hardest part of writing and/or publishing your book?
C: The hardest thing in terms of writing is letting go of scenes that don't really advance the story too much, but are just fun to write. I hate cutting those, so I keep them in a "to be used in the future" file. The other hardest thing is to just sit down and write. While I love the process of writing -- and especially, "having written" -- sitting down to that first blank page can be hugely intimidating. You have to get past all those fears of "what if I can never come up with another story again?"

The hard part about publishing is juggling marketing with writing time. It's really easy to get caught up in marketing and not budget enough time to write.

R: What do you do when you are not writing?
C: When I'm not writing, I'm playing with my daughter. She wants to be a writer, so I help her "write" her books. She's still really young and she's just learning how to spell. So I staple together mini-books for her to use. I spell out the words she doesn't know, and she writes her stories on paper. She's also illustrating her own stories, which is something I can't do. When I'm not hanging out with my daughter, I'm either teaching or putting together educational events for writers.

R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing?
C: My computer. If I can't have a computer with me, I take an AlphaSmart Neo. I just weaned myself off of having PBS and Nick, Jr. cartoons playing while I write (occupational hazard of having a little one in the house). My husband works at home and after I drop my daughter off at school, I escape to my office to write. It's quiet there, so I can hear myself think and listen to the characters as they chatter in my head. Most of all, I like that I'm close to my daughter's school while I'm writing, in case anything comes up. I'm also starting to play with the idea of writing to music -- I like the theory, but I haven't taken it out for a test drive yet.

R: What books are you reading now?
C: Victoria Laurie's ghostbusting series and I'm in the middle of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files.

R: Your Favorite:

TV show:  Desperate Housewives, Drop Dead Diva, Harry's Law -- I'm all about fun escapism.

Book:  Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I even named one of my dogs Ender.

Actor:  Harrison Ford / Cary Grant / George Clooney

Actress:  Sandra Bullock / Lucille Ball / Brooke Elliott

Author:  Elmore Leonard / Dick Francis / Janet Evanovich / Tami Hoag / Jennifer Cruisie / Angie Fox / Lisa Scottoline / Tony Hillerman. Dang, I really have a hard time choosing just one. My entire life is based around books. My house has about a thousand books on the shelves. Thank goodness for e-books, or I'd have to find a larger place to live.

Character:  Stephanie Plum / Aisling Grey

Drink: Alcoholic? Tawny Port, Samos of Patra (a sweet muscat wine from the Greek Islands) and Bailey's. Not mixed together though. Mixed drinks would be either Cosmopolitan or Sex on the Beach. Non-alcoholic would be Real Lemonade, Chocolate Milk and Pumpkin Spice Lattes.

Spies or Spook?   Spooks. I mean, spies. Wait. Aren't they the same thing? Spooks, spies. How about spirits? Can I go with spirits?

Vampire or Warlock?  I can't shake the definition of warlock being someone (of either gender) who is an oath-breaker. To be warlocked means to be shunned and excluded from a community because you've broken your oaths to your gods, to your ethics and to your peers. So if I had to choose, I'd go with vampire. Even if they do remind me of human mosquitoes. :-D

Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica?  Tough one. Which version? Since I've worked on Star Trek, I'm going to have to go with Star Trek. Especially Star Trek: Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Cats or Dogs?  Both. My heart belongs to Dobermans and Egyptian Maus. Although, I've also shared my life with a beautiful tuxedo cat who gave great hugs. (R: ever been hugged by a 30 lb tuxedo cat?  I’m just sayin’)

R:What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?
C:  I don't know that anything would surprise them! I was raised Greek Orthodox, I hate being lied to, and I'm fascinated by esoteric mysticism, from the Egyptian to the Greek to the Christian to the Celtic. I've taught classes in English, Math, Writing, Performance and Mythology and I love learning new things. Oh, probably the most shocking thing is that my author pic was taken when I first started working on Tillie. I swear, I've aged about a hundred years since then. Taking time off to have a baby will do that to you!

R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done?  
C: That I can tell you about? Hmmm… I rode a horse over a course of 4'3" - 4'6" jumps with no stirrups, no reins and my arms in the air like I was flying. It was fun, but I'd never do it again. And yes, I was wearing a helmet. Oh, and to conquer my fear of flying, I once piloted a 4-seat Cessna. And then there was the time when I was a kid and I snuck into an old, abandoned, haunted cemetery, deep in the woods, late at night… But that's a story for another book. ;-D

R: What can we expect from you in the future? What are you working on now? 
C: A lot more! I have a number of scripts that I'm adapting into novels, so if the writing goes according to plan, readers should see a new novel from me, every few months. I'm also working on a sequel for Mara and Gus (the main characters from Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She's Dead). But that will probably take a bit longer.

R: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to our readers? 
C: Don't let fear stop you from embracing your life and living it to the fullest. Embrace love -- including furry packages of purring love that waltz into your life, looking for a bit of herring or sardines. Enjoy every moment. And keep reading!

Thank you for a wonderful interview, Christiana!

And now – go get your copy of EVERY WITCH WAY BUT WICKED!

Miller's first novel, Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She's Dead, is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Diesel, Smashwords. Check out her website at: www.christianamiller.com or like her author page on Facebook. You can also find her on Twitter at @writechristiana.
Tomorrow: Rose Pressey and then…THE HUMAN!


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