Steamboat author publishes 1st book in mystery series
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Author Mandy Miller, who lives in Steamboat Springs, has just published her first book titled “States of Grace.” The book, featuring protagonist Grace Locke, is the first in a mystery series. Explore Steamboat caught up with Miller to learn more about the book, the writing process and plans for the series.
Explore Steamboat: First of all, tell us a little bit about the book.
Mandy Miller: It’s a legal thriller. The protagonist, Grace, is a U.S. Army veteran who has a prosthetic leg because she was injured in Iraq. She’s a lawyer, a former prosecutor, down on her luck. She has drug and alcohol problems and managed to find her way to jail. Now she’s newly released and is just getting her law license back, but now, she defends the type of people that she used to send to jail. She finds herself in a very high-profile case when a girl is accused of murdering a guidance counselor at a private school. As the previously overzealous prosecutor, Grace believes everyone is guilty, but she soon finds out that things are not as they seem, and the girl might be innocent.
ES: You used to be an attorney — how did you get into writing, and how did you decide to write this series?
MM: Obviously, being a lawyer for 35 years, I spent a lot of my time writing. In the mid-’90s, I started an MFA program in creative writing. I was always interested in writing stories, but I didn’t know much about the craft. I took a lot of classes about fiction and nonfiction writing. When I was working full-time and a lot of hours, I had the idea for the story, but I never had time to actually sit down and write the book. When I was first starting my career, I started as a corporate lawyer and then later on became a criminal defense lawyer. I saw a lack of justice and fairness in the system, which is riddled with inequities, particularly for minorities; it’s just not what people think it is. That’s something you can really get your teeth into, and that’s one thing that took me into this story.
ES: As part of the Steamboat Writers Group, can you talk a little bit about the writing community in Steamboat?
MM: It’s really great, and it’s one of the things that kept me accountable to finish the book. It’s a very positive group; we have an ethic of trying to be helpfully critical of people’s work and craft but not the topic or substance, just the form. A lot of people in the group have been published, and it’s a great mix of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Having to read a piece of my work out loud each week really helped me. The other members had great ideas and pointed things out that I didn’t even notice.
ES: This is your first book. Was there anything about the writing process that surprised you?
MM: This is what I tell people: If you don’t enjoy the actual writing process and the process of educating yourself about the business end of publishing, then writing a book isn’t for you. There is so much rejection, and it’s a very subjective world. One person’s like is another person’s dislike. You really need to educate yourself on the business end to understand what sells, because it’s a business after all. You need to know where you fit on the bookshelf.
ES: With a mystery, did you know what the outcome would be when you started writing, or did that unfold in the process?
MM: I’m not a plotter. I don’t have the time or patience to spend four months writing an outline and then go on to write the book that I already know the end to … I don’t want to know the end. There’s no mystery for the writer that way. I started with the character and place. I had an idea of the story — I knew it was a murder that would also tie into the opioid crisis that was going on in Fort Lauderdale (where the story takes place) at the time. Things popped into my head along the way, and I wrote my way to the end.
ES: Grace is the main character in this series, and you’ve already written one book and have a draft of the second one. What’s it like living with a character you’ve created?
MM: I call her “my Grace.” She starts out very despondent and is just putting one foot in front of the other, and then as circumstances change around her, she starts to change, too. Sometimes I find myself thinking “I wonder if Grace would like that?” To me, she’s real; she lives.
ES: What is the plan for the future of the series?
MM: I’ve already written the first draft of the second book, and right now, I’ve got the first three mapped out. Each book will follow Grace but will be a different mystery. My hope is that the books will be entertaining but not fluffy. Each book features some sort of social or justice issue. Not to be preachy, but it’s just part of the story. When I read, I like to learn something and to be entertained. With a lot of mysteries and thrillers, you sort of learn what’s behind the curtain in a certain industry or in the courtroom. I want readers to have something to sink their teeth into.
“States of Grace” can be purchased from Off the Beaten Path. A portion of royalties will be donated to veterans charities.
Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. She can be reached through the editor.
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