Title: Seeds of Magnolia
Synopsis: The most peaceful years of Austin Miller’s life were before he married. Only he, Sophia and her mother, Elizabeth, were in the house. After his marriage, the house became a hotbed of chaos fueled by overzealous attitudes and unyielding temperaments. His marriage had been strained by adultery, and after it had been patched; they were separated by the war. Sophia’s best friends were three white girls that she grew up with. When seen by someone that did not know them, they would assume that all four were white. The color of their skin would not be enough to tell that one had a trace of black blood in her veins that made her a slave. Appearing to be white did not make a person white, and being black had its’ limitations. Yet, in a small southern town in Tennessee, Sophia ignored the social code regarding interracial relationships. Seeds of Magnolia unveils some of the stories that have been sheltered by the family—stories that have been kept in the closet, swept under the rug, or just gone untold.
Author: Bill Miller
CH: Welcome, Bill. Thank you for joining me and allowing my readers to get to know you and generations of your family. The first question I have for you is can you please tell us in one sentence, why we should read your book.
BM: It was rare, but for a few people, Seeds of Magnolia describes a brighter side of the darkest chapter in our country’s history which was slavery, and that makes it a worthwhile read.
CH: What attracted you to write your ancestor’s history?
BM: I wanted to write about them because I don’t want them to be forgotten. The things that I wrote about are things that were told to me by my father and his brothers and sisters, stories that have been handed down from one generation to the next.
I think, I’m the only one that remembers these stories anymore. Recording them in the format of a book is my way of putting them in a place for safe-keeping.
CH: What is different and exciting that you bring to your readers through your historical writing?
BM: When we read about slavery, we know that sooner or later, we’ll get to the page that tells us about the chains and shackles. But this time, there are no chains and no shackles.
The setting for Seeds of Magnolia is Bolivar, Tennessee, at the mansion referred to as Magnolia Manor. It was built by Austin Miller, and it’s still there today; still being used.
Magnolia Manor is a place where a slave girl was allowed to grow up and experience a lifestyle more like that of a well to-do white girl. It was a place where she could sometimes almost forget that she was a slave.
During the Civil War, Generals Grant, Sherman, Logan and McPherson used Magnolia Manor as their headquarters.
When General Grant knocked on the door, it was my great grandmother, a slave named Sophia that let them in.
Also, most books written about slavery are told from the viewpoint of someone on the outside looking in. Seeds of Magnolia is told from the viewpoint of someone on the inside looking out. That person on the inside being a slave.
CH: Did you have to do any special research to write this book?
BM: There were some things that I had to research. Maybe some of it was just to satisfy my own curiosity. I always knew that my great-grandfather died at his plantation in Mississippi, but I never knew the cause of death. I had to do some research to find out.
I knew that he was born in Guilford County, North Carolina, but I had to do some research to find out when he moved to Hardeman County, Tennessee.
So, there were a few things that I had to research, but most of the things that I wrote about were tucked away in my mind. I just had to get it properly arranged and put into words.
CH: Who was your favorite family member to write about or describe?
BM: That’s an easy question to answer. Sophia was my favorite, and its’ probably reflected in my writing. I felt a lot of compassion whenever my writing took me to her. She had the starring role, and I fell in love with her.
I loved describing the free-spirited lifestyle that Austin Miller allowed her to have. I knew that he let her live that lifestyle, but when I started writing about it, it drew me closer to him.
While writing, I was always asking questions of myself. Questions like, why did he allow her to be the way that she was …letting her learn how to read and write? Since she had spent a lifetime in his house, did he not see her as a slave …maybe because her skin was so white? Did the time ever come when he was in love with her?
Although I asked the questions, I knew that there would be no answers …just lots of questions.
CH: Was it painful to revisit some of the family issues or to talk about the situations for the first time in the book?
BM: It was painful describing how Sophia fell in love with a boy while attending church every Sunday at the bush harbor.
A bush harbor is a lattice like framework with tree branches placed on top to block the sun.
They looked forward to seeing each other every Sunday, and then one Sunday she went there to find out that he had been sold and taken away. He was the first boy that she had ever loved.
I found it very painful when I wrote about Sophia begging Mrs. Miller not to put her on the auction block and sell her. That was the most painful part of the entire book.
I became very emotional writing about it. I’ve never told anyone before, but my eyes were filled with tears while I was writing.
CH: Are there any books that influenced you while writing this book?
BM: There were no other influences. I was driven by the fact that I wanted to preserve what I know about my family’s heritage. I know that when I die, there won’t be anyone else to tell the stories, and the stories will die with me. They’ll be gone forever.
CH: What pitfalls have you run into as a new author?
BM: Marketing is my biggest hurdle. There are a lot of authors, and it’s hard for a rookie to step onto the stage with them and be recognized. It’s much easier to write a book than it is to sell one.
CH: You are so right about marketing and if an author doesn’t know that, they will soon learn it. So, who is your favorite author? Why?
BM: I don’t have a favorite author, but two of my favorite books are (1) This I Believe and (2) Physics for Future Presidents by Richard Muller.
CH: What book are you currently reading?
I just bought a copy of Dr. Ben Carson’s book, One Nation, but I haven’t read it yet. When I have time to read, it’s usually college text books. I like reading about science and history.
CH: On Amazon, you had 7 out of 7 five star reviews, and most of them wanted to see a movie. So, are there any other plans for this book? Any movie deals?
BM: No movie deals yet, but I believe that Seeds of Magnolia would be a great movie; set during the pre-post Civil War era with a completely different twist—one that’s real.
Every day, I hope that someone in the movie industry will hear about it and read it, and say, “yes, let’s do it.”
That’s having high expectations, but I think it’s realistic and not farfetched. The right person just has to read it.
CH: What’s next on the agenda in your writing career?
BM: Seeds of Magnolia is nonfiction. I could follow up with a sequel, but it might get me in trouble, because too many people would be too close to what I write.
But I am writing another book now; it’s fiction.
CH: Do you have a website?
BM: Yes, I have a website. It’s www.billmillerbooks.com
CH: Where is your book sold?
BM: Amazon sells the hardcopy. It’s also available as an eBook at Amazon Kindle.
CH: Any closing remarks?
BM: I don’t know any of my white relatives anymore. I would like to meet them and shake their hand, and maybe embrace each other, if they’re so inclined.
I suppose that someday some of them will read Seeds of Magnolia. When they do, they’ll probably read about some things that they would rather I had left in the closet. At the same time, I think, they will realize that I remembered to write with dignity.
Austin Miller owned my family as slaves. In spite of that, I’m proud of my family heritage; I’m proud of who I am, and I’m proud of what I am.
It was wrong for him to own us, but still, I can’t make myself hate him, probably because I don’t want to, because he and Sophia are my great grandparents.
CH: Thank you, Bill, and thank you for sharing your book, and the generations of the Miller family with my audience.
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