Writer’s Success Result of Perseverance, a Little Luck, and, of course, Great Stories
In February 2015, Serena B. Miller will publish her first nonfiction book. For a prolific writer known for her fiction, it’s a milestone in a brief, but celebrated, career for the Minford, Ohio, native.
Before publishing her first novel, Miller hauled walnuts, worked as a teacher’s aide and did a stint as a court reporter. During that time, she dreamed of becoming a writer but thought she needed more than her year and a half of college. She thought she needed magic.
While living in Michigan with her husband Steve, Miller took a community education class on how to write a query letter. She didn’t feel like she belonged in the class; she listened when the teacher told the class that it didn’t take magic to become a writer.
What it took, Miller learned, was perseverance.
Miller went home and wrote a story about a woman from her hometown and sent it to the Detroit Free Press. Then, she moved back to Minford with her family, and a year-and-a-half later, the publication tracked her down to tell her they wanted to publish the piece. By then, Miller had connected with the Romance Writers of America®, which had been recommended to her by people she respected. She drove to Ashland, Ky., to attend meetings where she learned the process of pitching herself and her book ideas at writing conferences.
Miller started writing for confession magazines. “They are a really hungry market,” she said. They also paid well. She wrote eight stories, which paid for her trips to writers’ conferences. The stories she wrote didn’t necessarily have to be true, but she had to sign a form saying that the stories “could be true.”
She presented her pitch to agents at the Romance Writers of America conferences and the American Christian Writers Association. The Christian Romance genre was growing at the time, and although she believed her age was working against her (she was in her late 50s), she signed on with McGregor Literary out of Portland, Oregon. The owner preferred working with older writers. “He feels they bring more experience and depth to writing,” Miller said.
With her agent’s help, Miller shopped around two Christian suspense novels, but they didn’t sell. They did, however, get the attention of Summerside Press.
“My agent said, ‘If you’re willing to write about the Amish, they’d like to see what you’ve got,’” Miller said.
They were producing a series of 58 books about life in little towns. By happenstance, they gave her the Sugarcreek, Ohio, assignment – an assignment that would change everything.
“I went to Sugarcreek,” said Miller, who planned on seeing all the tourist attractions. She stayed in a bed and breakfast run by an owner who introduced her to Amish in the community who were happy to talk to a writer. Miller became fast friends with the Amish in Holmes County and completed her first published novel, “Love Finds You in Sugarcreek.”
From there, Miller’s writing career took off. She wrote “The Measure of Katie Calloway,” an historical novel set in the lumber camps of Saginaw Valley, Mich., which won a RITA award from the Romance Writers of America in 2012. Her historical novel, “An Uncommon Grace,” based on a story she found in a court document in her grandmother’s house, was a finalist for the Carol Award – the highest prize in Christian Fiction. The following year, she won the Carol Award for “A Promise to Love,” an historical romance set in Michigan.
Because “Love Finds You in Sugarcreek” sold so well, Simon and Schuster signed her to a three-book deal to write about the Amish. Her editor, who learned that Miller was impressed with Amish children, “…and how happy they were,” asked that she write a book about Amish parenting.
While researching Amish parenting strategies, she received a phone call. Her first publisher, Summerside Press, was bought by Guideposts®, who partnered with Mission Films to make movies from any of the “Love Finds You In” series. They wanted to start in Sugarcreek.
Miller visited the set and met with well-known actors Kelly McGillis, Sarah Lancaster, and Tom Everett Scott, who were portraying characters she’d created. She expected drama and egos, but was pleasantly surprised. “I saw wonderful actors who worked like dogs to make this a wonderful movie,” Miller said. The film debuted on UPtv to 2.6 million viewers and is set to air in France, Poland, and the Middle East.
The Amish friends she made in Sugarcreek helped her in her research for her nonfiction book, “More Than Happy: The Wisdom of Amish Parenting,” which hits stores on February 3, 2015. Her co-author, Paul Stutzman, was raised by Amish parents, and the book covers principles in Amish homes that have a positive impact on their children.
“I wish I’d known my Amish friends before I raised my children,” Miller said, noting she believes the book will appeal to secular parents as well.
For her next project, Miller is going back to writing fiction.
“I get to fix things,” Miller said. “One of the really satisfying things is that I can have good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. That’s very satisfying, and that’s why I love what I do.”
Photos Compliments Serena B. Miller