Guest Author Interview – Sharon K. Miller

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Title: The Clay Remembers (Book 1 in The Clay Series)

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Synopsis: Anna’s Story – Oppressed by a husband who treats her as his property, Anna Robinson flees to the Southwestern desert. As an archaeologist, she knows each sherd, each scrap of cloth holds something of an earlier life. And each artifact draws her more intimately into the stories of Esperanza Ramirez, a nineteenth-century homesteader, and of the Hohokam woman before her. Can their experience here beneath a rugged ridge in the Santa Catalina Mountains, joyful and tragic both, give Anna the strength to face Foster, the armed and dangerous husband on her trail?

Foster does not yet suspect there is another man in Anna’s life, a man with his own story of pain and loss. Resist Nick Anderson as she will, Anna is hopelessly attracted, fearful of her husband’s crazed jealousy, and only beginning to sense the deep love and fulfillment in the lives of the women who preceded her.

Title: The Clay Endures (Book 2 in The Clay Series)

Synopsis: Esperanza’s Story – When her husband brings her to a lonely ridge north of the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson, Arizona, to start a cattle ranch in 1865, Esperanza Ramirez struggles to help him achieve his dream. Finding an ancient pot in her garden gives her a sense of companionship, as does, surprisingly, the presence of an enigmatic Apache that watches her from a distance.

Can she survive the desolation, the tragic loss of a child, her husband’s indifference to her struggle, and an attack by outlaws? Will she know what to do when the Apache makes his move?

Title: The Clay Sustains (Book 3 in The Clay Series)

Synopsis: Ha-Wani’s Story – It is a time of struggle for Ha-wani and her people. Her village, once an extensive, thriving, open community has evolved into a closed community within a cobble-walled compound.
The village shaman encourages the People to believe the gods have abandoned them and that only he can guide them back to plenty. He is determined, not just to control the village, but to capture Ha-wani’s spirit for himself, a spirit he knows is blessed with special gifts.
But has he underestimated the strength and spiritual power this simple woman brings to their conflict?

Sharon K. Miller, Author


CH: Today’s Guest Author is Sharon K. Miller. Having fallen in love with words, reading and books as a child, she wrote her first book in the second grade. Welcome to my blog, Sharon.

CH: Please tell us in three sentences, why we should read the books in this series.

SKM: If you like strong women characters, who overcome adversity, you’ll like the books in this series. The first two books, The Clay Remembers (TCR), and The Clay Endures (TCE), take place a century apart on a scrap of desert where a simple clay pot brings Anna and Esperanza the spirit and courage of the remarkable woman who made it in the twelfth century. The third book, The Clay Sustains (TCS), tells the story of that woman and her battle with an evil shaman determined to capture her spirit.

CH: The three books of The Clay Series were inspired by local history of the Sonoran Desert. So, what made you decide to write this series?

SKM: There is a state park not far from where I live near Tucson, Arizona, and in the park is an interpretive trail that winds through the ruins of a prehistoric Hohokam village which was inhabited from approximately 200 BC to about 1450 AD. At the same site are the remains of a nineteenth-century homesteader’s house. Signs along the interpretive trail describe how the Hohokam lived and farmed the area and how Francisco Romero brought his wife there in the nineteenth century to establish a cattle ranch. The first time I walked this trail, I wondered about Victoriana Romero’s life on this ridge with no one around but Apaches who stole their cattle, did battle with her husband, and threatened their very existence. My first inclination was to write her story, but I discovered there was very little in the historical record about her. I decided to write a story about a fictitious woman, Esperanza Ramirez, who finds an ancient pot and makes a connection to the Hohokam woman who made it—a connection that helps her deal with loneliness and threats from those who would do her harm. Her story, then, is actually the second book in the series. The first book, which I conceived of later, involves Anna, an archaeologist who participates in the excavation and study of the site in preparation for the park and the interpretive trail. She finds the broken pieces of the pot and makes a connection to the woman who made the pot, but she also connects with Esperanza and her experiences. The third book tells of the woman who made the pot in the twelfth century, at a time when the Hohokam culture was in decline. Her struggle is with the village shaman who knows she has a powerful spirit, one which he wants to control for his own purposes.

CH: How do you weave history with fiction?

SKM: Historical fiction offered me a ready-made time and place wherein my characters could interact while facing the challenges associated with the time period, as well as those I created for them. The Clay Remembers takes place in the late 1980s in modern Tucson, The Clay Endures in the late 1860s in the Arizona Territory, and The Clay Sustains in a twelfth century Hohokam village in the same place that figures in the first two books. Anna (TCR) is an archaeologist who has run away from an abusive husband; Esperanza (TCE) is a Yaqui Indian married to a man whose family disapproves of her because they want to maintain what they call their “pure Spanish lineage.” Ha-wani (TCS) is an ordinary woman, who finds herself facing an extraordinary conflict with the village shaman at a time when their social structure was changing. Each woman’s world is defined by the time and the place in which she lives; consequently, I felt I had to present those worlds as accurately as I could. My job as an author is to guide my characters through that place during those times in history and to tell a compelling story at the same time.

CH: Do you have a standard formula for plots or do stories come to you as a whole concept?

SKM: I do not follow any kind of formula. I conceive of the characters and the conflict or struggle they must endure, drop them into a time and place, and then watch what happens. That may sound flip, but, in fact, I often find that stories begin to write themselves and characters frequently do things that surprise me. Once I have identified the conflict, my goal is to tell what happens as they struggle to overcome the obstacles I’ve placed before them. My intent is for them to “win” in the end, but I’m never quite sure how they will get there.

CH: What is different and exciting that you bring to your readers through your writing style?

SKM: Different and exciting? That’s a difficult question. I try to be very honest with my writing even though I’m creating fictional characters and events. I strive for believability and accessibility. I don’t go all flowery and purple with descriptions of people or places. I want my characters—even those who lived centuries ago—to come across as real people, people you might meet on the street or in the grocery store. With these stories, I tried to present the setting—the Sonoran Desert—as another character, one that has a profound impact on the experiences of the women and men who inhabit my pages.

CH: Since this series is historical fiction, did you have to do any special research to write these books?

SKM: Oh, my goodness, yes. I read extensively about the Spanish entrada into the New World, about the Apaches, about Tucson in the nineteenth century. I not only read about archaeology, I took courses at the local community college and participated in excavations. My instructors allowed me to reconstruct a pot in the lab, since I needed to learn about it on behalf of Anna, in the first book. I joined archaeological organizations and attended lectures and went on field trips and even took a ten-week course in the history of the Hohokam in the southwestern United States. I signed up for pottery classes with an instructor who specialized in re-creating prehistoric pottery. In fact, with his help, I collected clay from the same source my character in the third book would have used to make her pot—the pot that touches the lives of the other women in the series. I made two pots with that clay, one that I scored with a dental tool to make it look like it had been glued back together and the other as it might have been when Ha-wani finished making it. The covers of my books feature those pots. The history and culture of the Pascua Yaqui Indians informed the spiritual and cultural beliefs of Ha-wani’s people in book three. Each of my books has an extensive bibliography included. In fact, I spent many years in research before I seriously sat down and gave myself deadlines to finish the books.

CH: Who was your favorite character to write?

SKM: That’s hard to say. I think most of my characters are very different from one another, but, in the third book, I created a character who, at first, I thought would just offer variety to the inhabitants of the village. He was a young man, who, if he lived today, we would know quickly that he was on the autism spectrum. We see him going through his daily routines without variation, never speaking to anyone, moving silently through the village delivering firewood to each family’s ramada, and destined to be alone, because he would never be initiated into manhood. He was one of those characters whose outcome surprised me, even though from the very beginning, I had actually foreshadowed that very outcome. He became more important to the story than I had originally envisioned.

CH: Which character was hardest to write?

SKM: That’s a tough one. I think it would have to be Anna’s boss in the first book. He agreed to give her a job when she arrived in Tucson even though he did not know her history or the situation with her abusive husband. He hired her as a favor to an old friend and colleague who asked him to do it. At first, I made him far too accommodating and supportive, but one of my early readers suggested that it might be more realistic for him to have doubts about her, that she might need to prove herself as an archaeologist and even as someone he could trust. That was hard, because I liked him and I wanted to keep him likable, but I had to let him withhold his approval of her developing relationship with one of his employees, and to let him be angry when he discovers he and his family and his crew might be in danger when Anna’s husband comes after her. It was hard to strike the balance for him.

CH: When you wrote the first book in the series, did you realize it would be a series then?

SKM: Actually, the second book was the first one I conceived of and I really thought I’d write one book and weave the story of the Hohokam woman, who made the pot into Esperanza’s life on that lonely ridge on the other side of the mountain from Tucson. But then, the first time I went on an excavation with the community college, I picked up a pottery sherd to examine it, while the instructor told us what to look for. I turned it over and realized my thumb was resting in a depression on the concave side of the sherd. My thumb fit into it perfectly. I was suddenly overcome with what I can only describe as an “otherworldly” feeling. I had touched the hand of the potter—I had actually touched her hand. In that moment, Anna was born. At first I thought—foolishly—that I would just weave the three stories together into one book. But that was unreasonable, so three books was the solution.

CH: Which book in the series was hardest to write?

SKM: I would say it was the third book, The Clay Sustains, because I had to do a certain amount of world-building, since it was a prehistoric culture and society I was describing. Many of the spiritual and cultural beliefs of the characters were borrowed from the Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s ancestral people, the Yoeme, as well as from the Tohono O’odham Indians, who believe they are direct descendants of the Hohokam. I felt an obligation to treat these beliefs and practices with the utmost respect, while at the same time creating a society that readers should not assume to be factual representations of either culture or tribe. And, because Yoeme spirituality is somewhat complex, I had to work hard to make it accessible to my readers. It was also the book that I had done the least work on over the years. I had done scenes that were integrated into the first two books, but I had not conceived of the entire story until the time came to actually produce it.

CH: Will there be other books in this series?

SKM: Because the story of the pot has been completed, and there are no other women for whom the pot will be important, I won’t have more in this series. However, many readers wanted to know what happened to Anna’s husband at the end of the first book because I didn’t go into his trial for kidnapping her. I’ve been mulling over the idea of a sequel to the first book wherein he comes back to Tucson seeking revenge after he gets out of prison. He’s a real piece of work, that fellow, and he wouldn’t just go away quietly. But then I’d be into writing a mystery which is a new genre for me. I hope I’m up to it.

CH: Is there a message in each book that you want readers to grasp?

SKM: I hoped to write stories about strong women and to demonstrate through their experiences what women are capable of when they are put to the test. One of my reviewers put it nicely when he said, “Sharon Miller is convinced of the solidarity of women throughout time, and the pot connecting all three women … is the symbol of the love, work, and suffering which binds them in shared experience.” I wish I could have said this myself, but sometimes it is up to others to synthesize our message for us.

CH: What type of feedback have you received so far?

SKM: I’ve had very good reviews for the first two books, both of which received IndieB.R.A.G Medallions for Excellence, an honor not to be taken lightly. Their standards are very high. While it would be nice to have a vast collection of five-star reviews, I’m afraid I don’t have that many, but the ones I have are four or five stars. After the first book, I discovered I had readers who were eager for the next books. That’s a nice feeling.

CH: What can we expect next from you?

SKM: I’m planning to spend some time with marketing and promotion after The Clay Sustains is released at the end of September. It’s difficult to do all of that when you’re writing against a deadline. I’ll promote the series as a whole, offer a boxed set, hopefully do some book talks, maybe a blog tour, and other interviews like this. I’m also hoping to become more involved with book clubs, either in person or via skype. And I schedule regular book talks at Catalina Park, where I provide light picnic fare and a walking tour of the interpretive trail, which is the setting for all three books. That’s the most fun of all.

CH: Can you tell us a little about your website?

SKM: My website is Visitors can read synopses, previews, buy the books at reduced prices, and get special pricing with free shipping for book clubs. They can also download and read previews of all three books.

There are also three Pinterest Boards (The Clay Remembers, The Clay Endures, The Clay Sustains) that provide illustrations of people, places, and things associated with each book.

CH: How to Find Sharon K. Miller:

CH: For my audience, where are your books sold?

SKM: The Clay Remembers  and The Clay Endures are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Antigone Books, and Mostly Books, as well as, Indie bookstores in Tucson, Arizona.

The Clay Sustains will be available for pre-sale on Amazon on September 1, 2017, with a release date of September 29, 2017.

CH: Any closing remarks?

SKM: Cheryl, Thank you for the opportunity to share with your readers my excitement about these books. It has been such a long journey, having first conceived of these stories almost twenty years ago. Arriving at my destination has been very gratifying.

CH: Thank you so much, Sharon K. Miller, for taking time out of your very busy writing schedule to join me and my blog followers.  It has been a real pleasure discussing your book with my audience.  And readers, if you’re like me and would enjoy this book.  I suggest you pick up a copy at your earliest convenience. 

Note: Photos/Clip art are compliments of the Internet, Sharon K. Miller and Cheryl Holloway.

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On this blog, I “Pay it Forward” to other authors by spotlighting them with a Guest Author Interview. I only ask that they too “Pay It Forward” to any other author.                                              ~ Cheryl Holloway

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2 thoughts on “Guest Author Interview – Sharon K. Miller

  1. Cheryl,
    Thank you so much for this opportunity. Writing The Clay Series has been a remarkable journey for me, and I hope your readers find something in the stories to draw them in.

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