Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Interview: Tekla Dennison Miller

Today I'm pleased to welcome Tekla Miller to the blog!

1. What inspired you to begin writing?

Authors are always asked when they knew that they wanted to be a writer. It never occurred to me that I would one-day be a published author. When I retired early my friends urged me to write about my twenty-year career with the Michigan Department of Corrections including as a warden of a men’s maximum security prison. But I brushed them off. After all the most exciting material I had written all those years were my monthly reports and annual budgets. Trust me, these don’t make best-seller material.

The transition from a challenging work world to retirement might have been easier if I had mapped out my future. The only plan I had made, however, was when I could access my retirement money. Yet all that agonizing about what I would do with the rest of my life didn’t foretell the direction my future would take. That revelation came to me after one specific event. Tired of staring at the walls in my home, I determined to do what so many of my predecessors had done–I became a consultant. Within a month of that decision I got my first job. I was hired to be a keynote speaker at the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association conference on the female offender. I was flown to Boston, put up in a nice hotel, chauffeured around and paid $500 for a thirty-minute speech. I was delighted and knew I had made the correct choice. I couldn’t make that much money for a half hour of writing, especially when I didn’t have the skills.

When I got home I promptly deposited my $500 check and made plans on how to spend it. Shortly after, the bank notified me that the check bounced. “How can this be?” I asked the teller. “It’s written on the Sheriffs’ Association’s account?”

Little did I know that by the time I had contacted the association, the executive director was under investigation for mismanagement of funds. When I discovered this, I told myself, “Perhaps consulting isn’t meant for me. I should try writing. What did I have to lose? I couldn’t have a worse experience.” But first, I bought a computer, learned how to type and took creative writing classes.

Now at seventy-one I have published three memoirs: The Warden Wore Pink, A Bowl of Cherries, and Mother Rabbit and several non-fiction articles, essays and stories, and 2 novels in the Chad Wilbanks series, Life Sentences, and Inevitable Sentences,

2. Would you classify your writing more as plot driven or character driven?

Most of my writing is about women’s struggles and their courage to overcome obstacles. So I believe my plots are character driven.

3. Can you tell us a little about your main character?

Mother Rabbit is the true story of Alyce Bonura, the Bunny Mother for Chicago's famous Playboy Club in the tumultuous 1960s ...this could be the dream job of a lifetime or the toughest challenge.

Alyce is a single mother who takes a position as the Bunny Mother of the Chicago Playboy Club to not only flee from a negative relationship but to pursue a career that guarantees financial freedom and upward mobility. Unfortunately, all is not what is assured or expected.

4. Without giving away too much, tell us a little about the main conflict in this book.

Mother Rabbit is the story about a woman like so many in the 1960’s, caught between living according to traditional social mores and pursuing the promises of the feminist movement. Alyce’s stint as the Bunny Mother is set during a particularly turbulent era when such a secluded environment as the Playboy Club is affected by the Viet Nam War, the Apollo 1 tragedy and back alley abortions. Alyce’s story pays tribute to the women who had the courage to break free from the oppressive standards of the day while also dealing with the universal dilemmas of single mothers including abuse, financial crises, the special difficulties of parenthood and the quest for self-fulfillment.

5. What do you hope readers take away from your book?

There are several reasons Alyce’s story is important. Foremost is for all women, especially the younger generations to recognize the struggles women had to survive and the battles they had to fight so they could have the “equality” with men they have today. The second reason is to inspire women to be confident, accept oneself, to be resilient and not to give up on their dreams regardless of the constraints and limits society still tries to place on us as women. The third reason is tied somewhat to the second. We need to be aware that what women have achieved since the 1960’s can easily be eroded if we are negligent in our resolve to maintain our position. Each day we are confronted with attempts to wear away what has been hard fought for and achieved. If we let this happen we not only won’t continue to move forward, we will regress.

6. Night Owl or Early Bird?

Early Bird. I am up at 5:30 am every day and walking my dogs by 6am.

7. Skittle or M&Ms?

M &M’s—or anything chocolate.

8. Who are your favorite authors?

I love Donna Leone and her Brunetti mysteries set in Venice. Other favorites are: Anne Lamott, Anne Tyler, Maya Angelou, Louise Erdrich, David Gutherson, and Ernest J Gaines. And my favorite memoir is Too Close to the Falls by Catherine Gildiner

9. Can you tell us about your future projects?

I have completed another work of fiction titled Ten Hours in July that still needs some tweaking. It is a suspense inspired by my experiences during a twenty-year career with the Michigan Department of Corrections. It is a weave of fiction with the true crime. The antagonist, Lily Hood has manipulated her four sons as her accomplices during a lifetime of spectacular scams. Now, having bankrupted her family and run out of suckers to con, she resorts to a violent, murderous payback. This time the victims are the police. But the African-American Police Chief Jefferson Quarles and the Lebanese-American hostage negotiator Nadia Barakat are determined that for once, Lily Hood won’t be calling all the shots.

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Other Books by Tekla: 

The Warden Wore Pink

A Bowl of Cherries

Life Sentences

Inevitable Sentences