Marietta Miles likes her genres dark. The darker the better. Her roots as a writer are in horror, and when asked what attracts her to crime fiction in general and noir in particular, she says, “To me, noir is a realistic representative of horror. It’s as close as you can get to horror without actually stepping into the paranormal or the fantastic.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that her dream novel, the one she’d most like to write, would plunge the reader deep into that darkness. “One day,” she says, “I want to let go of my self-consciousness and write an absolutely terrifying novel with a mind-blowing evil. Something to make you check under your bed before you go to sleep.”
It took her a while to find a publisher for her writing, but she’s now on her second novel. AFTER THE STORM is about a flawed, deeply conflicted, yet oddly engaging character whose desire to do the right thing is constantly at war with her hunger for love and her instinct for self-preservation.
In this The Big Thrill interview, Miles shares a bit about her writing process, provides insight into the decisions that went into writing AFTER THE STORM, and reveals what she feels is her greatest writing challenge.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your new book. Why don’t we start with your writing process? Can you walk us through your writing day?
I wrote my first novel, May, and AFTER THE STORM consecutively and it was a very different experience than writing novellas like Route 12. For Route 12 I had a little corner in the attic where I kept my laptop. I used old cardboard boxes to make walls. It was very private. I never want anyone to watch me writing. I get physical. Reflect whatever I’m writing. Sometimes I’m all hunched over or I can look angry.
I’d put on earbuds and listen to the Dexter soundtrack or Call of Duty. Hide behind my little walls. I wrote at night, for the most part. I can’t explain why, but I think that comes through. Route 12 is a little darker than May.
Now my writing space is in the middle of the living room. I’m alone when the kids are at school. I’ve had to change up my way of doing things as they’ve gotten older. We’ll see what happens with my current project.
The one constant is music. I always have music going while writing. Usually soundtracks, instrumentals. The pace of the music fits the pace of what I’m writing.
For inspiration, before actual fingers-to-the-keys time, I listen to what my character would like. Reverend Friend from Blood and Sin would listen to standards. Nice, clean music. Or Sunday morning spirituals. In Route 12 Theresa and Cheryl listened to “O-o-h Child” by Valerie Carter from the Over the Edge soundtrack. On 45, of course. That song was essential to their story, so it was high on my playlist.
Music is incredibly important to me when creating something. I also think it’s interesting to see how many writers are actually musicians, as well. Music and writing seem to go hand-in-hand.
May Cosby, the main character in both novels, is a complex and intriguing character. What inspired her, and how did you manage to make her likeable despite some questionable decisions?
My friend and writer E. A. Cook said he knows a thousand Mays. That may be one of the reasons she provokes sympathy. She’s familiar. She is a little bit of many different women. A waitress in New Mexico. Grocery clerk in North Carolina. Hairdresser in New Jersey. Not a criminal mastermind or brilliant serial killer. She’s a very normal woman. Damaged. Not really living, just falling forward. Grounded by a tough history.
Plus, knowing why she makes the choices she does compels a certain amount of forgiveness for her transgressions. Why is she selfish? Why doesn’t she think through a single decision she makes? And the answers to those questions reflect the reasons she is so fallible, why she keeps tripping herself and getting in her own way.
In what way does AFTER THE STORM echo the themes you introduced in May?
With composition, the approaching storm helps with pacing. Quickens the pulse. Makes time feel crucial. Those elements help a story this heavy feel less bogged down.
It helps with setting and imagery, as well. Disasters, natural or manmade, create long-term, common, and personal uncertainty. Storms. War. Terrorist attacks. Once the event itself is over, there is a vacuum of security. It’s hard to feel truly safe and sound when nothing is recognizable. It’s easy for schemers and thieves to swoop in and take advantage. Survivors have a tendency to make rash decisions just to get a little bit of their life back, and that makes them easy targets.
It seems this dynamic is true in newsworthy events and personal tragedies, from elderly widowers being hoodwinked into life insurance to a lonely-hearts Don Juan preying on newly divorced women. The friendless and the lost make perfect prey. Hunters follow prey.
May has spent her life surviving one storm after another.
What would you say is the biggest challenge you face as a writer?
Time was and is the biggest challenge in writing for me. There are not enough minutes in the day for me to write as I would like to, non-stop.
Born in Alabama, raised in Louisiana, Marietta Miles currently resides in Virginia with her husband and two children. Her shorts and flash can be found in Thrills, Kills and Chaos, Flash Fiction Offensive, Yellow Mama, Hardboiled Wonderland, and Revolt Daily. Her stories have been included in anthologies available through Static Movement Publishing and Horrified Press. She is rotating host for Noir on the Radio, Dames in the Dark and a contributor to Do Some Damage Writer’s Blog.