Marie Millard and I belong to the same writers’ club (Redwood Writers) and live in the same community, so I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know her in person over the last few years. In addition to being a fine writer, she has a welcoming smile that beams acceptance, intelligence and interest. A winning combination, I’d say.
Marie also read her work when I hosted readings on the theme of sisterhood that ultimately led to the publication of the anthology Sisters Born, Sisters Found: A Diversity of Voices on Sisterhood. And I was delighted to accept her short memoir “Flotation Device” for the anthology.
Recently I sent Marie several interview questions. I think you’ll find her answers are refreshingly honest and unrehearsed:
Tell me about your journey as a writer—when you began writing, what your major challenges and delights have been along the way and what your goals are.
I have always wanted to write. One morning I woke up from a dream about an artist who painted beaches that were red, tan, and green striped, and I had to write about him. So I finally started writing. My challenges are poor vocabulary and of course lack of time. My goal is for someone to say that one of my books is their favorite book. Of course, knowing me, I’ll either not believe them or be horrified because their other favorite authors are ones I can’t stand. As for delight, I love to read my own stories, even the ones no one else seems to like.
I enjoy the humor in “Flotation Device,” the story you contributed to Sisters Born, Sisters Found, as well as the wit in your blogging and social media updates. Your blog title, “Were You Always This Funny?”, seems apt. So I have to ask, have you always been this funny?” If not, how have you developed the ability to tickle people’s funny bones?
I have some very funny people in my family. I think when I got past the age of caring what people thought about me, the humor emerged. Two things that I think have helped me develop my humor are watching Seinfeld repeatedly and reading the book How to Be Funny, by Steve Allen. When I was trying to think of a topic for a blog, I actually chose humor because my natural tendency is to see the most depressing side of things, so I knew if humor was the theme, I’d be forced to keep it a little light. You can still see the depression in there, though. Also, social media is great for me because it always takes me a few seconds to think of a funny comment on someone’s post, and in real life the moment is gone before I can think. I’m not quick.
Anaheim Tales, your October 2014 book inspired by Canterbury Tales and featuring teens telling each other stories while on a bus trip to Disneyland, is a brilliant idea. How did the idea come to you? Are the stories modern-day adaptations of tales from the original, or are they basically unrelated to the stories in that book?
I read The Canterbury Tales for the first time a couple years ago, and the idea popped into my head while I was reading it. What would happen if modern day teens had a storytelling contest? Except for the first girl, the stories are unrelated to The Canterbury Tales characters’ stories. Some of them tell stories designed to take stabs at each other like The Canterbury Tales characters do, though. The first girl tells kind of a Spark Notes version of several of The Canterbury Tales stories to subtly let the teacher know that she knows his idea for the contest came from The Canterbury Tales. I knew when I wrote it that it was a horrible way to start the book, as her story is less interesting to teen readers than some of the others, but I did it anyway. That’s the way I am.
Why do you use the name M. L. Millard for your books instead of Marie L. Millard?
Studies show that men are STILL less likely to pick up a book with a woman’s name on it. Get with the times, guys.
You published Seeking First His Kingdom: 61 Days of Worry Free Devotions in March 2014. What prompted you to write the book? Do you want to write more books for the Christian market, which I understand is huge.
I quickly wrote and published my Bible devotional before I put out Anaheim Tales as kind of a reminder to myself that God comes first. I thought it appropriate I should start with something like that. I don’t say much that’s too profound in it, but I think the way I’ve arranged the verses is very powerful. I have little interest in the Christian market. Christian publishers’ rules are too restrictive, especially in fiction. No this, no that, someone must accept Jesus by the end, etc. And some nonfiction Christian books with major publishers and distribution say things I think are unbiblical. Woops, you got me started.
It looks like your books are available in paperback but not in electronic form. Is that correct? If so, why did you make this choice?
I started this way simply because I’ve never read an ebook. I don’t own a Kindle. I wasn’t confident that I could format one if I didn’t know what readers would see. For my next novella, Littlefoot (a fairy tale comedy based on Music Girl’s tale in Anaheim Tales), I’ve actually hired local author Crissi Langwell to format the ebook for me. I’ll probably get around to doing Anaheim Tales eventually.
In addition to writing your own books, blog posts and social media updates, you are employed full time writing content for business websites. Does this affect your own writing projects? If so, how? And how does your literary experience influence your writing for other people’s websites?
I just started my job at WSI about four months ago, and I haven’t had much time for my own writing since. But this major shift has given me the motivation to publish two books that are sitting and waiting for yet another rewrite. I may never have time for another rewrite, so they’re going out as is. Well, maybe one more little edit. I’m so afraid that I’ll never pull the trigger on publishing that I might publish TOO soon. Who knows?
You shared some of your job hunt journey on Facebook. How long did it take you to find a position that is a good fit? What observations would you like to share about looking for work in today’s job market?
So my book Seeking First His Kingdom is based on the verse where Jesus says “Seek first His kingdom and all this will be added to you.” The “all this” refers to food, clothing, and all we need to survive. Jesus doesn’t want our worry about money to take our focus off God. I wanted to go back to work when my daughter started high school, which was this past fall. I knew it might take a while to find a job, so I started looking the spring before. First I stressed about a resume. Then I stressed about finding jobs to apply for. I didn’t have the writing or marketing degree that all the jobs I wanted required. I stressed all summer, sort of hoping that I wouldn’t find a job before the fall so that I could spend quality time with the family, but also stressed that I’d never find one. Guess what happened? In the fall, a friend called up and said they had a writing job for me at their Internet marketing company. I hadn’t needed to spend all that time on job websites. I hadn’t even needed a resume. So my observations about looking for work in today’s job market is 1) it’s not fun, and 2) seek God and “all this” will be added to you. Isn’t it lame that I did so much stressing? I need to read my own book.
I know that you are also a musician. Given your level of accomplishment, it’s likely you began your musical education at a young age. When did you begin and what did you study? What instrument(s) do you play now? You have given music lessons in the past, too. Is that something you’d like to do again?
I have a degree in trombone performance. I started playing in fifth grade, but I played the violin for a few years before that. My grandpa was a professional musician, so it’s in the blood. I love giving private trombone lessons, but with my new job I might not have time now. I’m at a rare moment where I have no students, and I may not try to get any new ones. I’m pretty busy.
[Note: Shortly after Marie answered these questions, she emailed to let me know she had quit her job. Much as she enjoyed the people she worked with, writing content for business websites didn’t appeal to her. She was also asked to switch from part-time to full-time employment, which is something she didn’t want to do. Who knows? Maybe she’ll start teaching trombone again.]
Do you feel your background in music influences your writing? If so, how?
I’m not sure that it has, except that music is great training for the mind in general. The funny thing is that I’ve tried to write songs, and I have more trouble with the melodies than with the lyrics. Every melody I write reminds me too much of some other song. It’s like I know too much about music to be happy with my own. I don’t know as much about writing so I’m like “My writing is awesome!”
You are balancing your career as an author with your family responsibilities as a wife and mother. How do you balance all of that?
I have a very messy house, but I think my kid is happy. That’s what counts. You’d have to ask my husband if I’m being a good wife.
What advice do you have for new writers who want to carve out a path for themselves in the literary world?
That’s easy. 1) Join a critique group. 2) Read Sol Stein’s books on writing and John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. As for traditional versus self-publishing, I am still not an expert in carving out a path for myself. If my books ever become best-sellers, you can interview me again!
Many thanks to Marie for taking time to share part of her creative journey here. If you’d like to become more acquainted with Marie and her work, she blogs at wereyoualwaysthisfunny.com and mlmillard.wordpress.com. Here’s one of my favorite posts from wereyoualwaysthisfunny (used with Marie’s permission):
10. I only steal gluten free lunches.
9. Perfect face for phone and email communication.
8. Office party designated driver.
7. Internet IQ tests going around Facebook tell me I’m anywhere between “above average” and “genius.”
6. I taught 4th – 8th grade band for ten years. Could your job possibly throw anything more challenging at me?
5. (Your business name here) is my favorite business.
4. I need a new washing machine.
3. I hate travel, so I’m always around.
2. My faith dictates that I love you even if you’re a horrible boss.
1. I finish projects even if I think they’re stupid.*
*I finished this list, didn’t I?
Note: I’ve removed pictures from this post and others created around the same time, because that’s when this site began loading very slowly. No one has been able to figure out why. I’ve changed all kinds of things, including my web host. Now I’m going to see if deleting pictures posted when the problem began will help.