On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, Gary Lee Miller talks about his story of self discovery, Finding Grace, and what inspired his characters.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Gary Lee Miller about his new book, Finding Grace, what inspired him to write it, and his creative process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Prior to beginning my writing career, I was a reasonably successful businessman and entrepreneur.
My writing is rooted in my life experiences and people who have crossed my path in my life’s journey. I draw on my ability to translate my observations into relatable stories by readers.
I live in “the Scenic City of the South” Chattanooga, Tennessee. I have two adult daughters and one granddaughter who live close by. My favorite hobby is occasionally acting in movies and TV and I am listed in IMBD (Internet Movie Data Base).
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I never “WANTED” to write a book. But the “NEED” to write a book only occurred months after my wife of 45 years (Dr. Sharee Sanders Miller) passed from her four-year battle with leukemia.
When did you take a step to start writing?
This may be “too much information” but…
Over the years of our marriage, very infrequently, I would write some song lyrics. Not the music, but just the words to express my feelings or to tell a story. Sharee thought they were good and always encouraged me to write more. But our life was busy raising our daughters and earning a living, so writing never became a priority. After her passing in May, 2019, I had too much time available to be alone with my memories and thoughts. That’s when I began spending time writing song lyrics again. Most of my lyrics are called “spoken word”, which tell a story, rather than the traditional Verse, Chorus, Bridge structure. Writing several times each week over the summer I soon had over a dozen song lyrics. Then one day, the angel on my shoulder whispered in my ear, “You know if you take these six song lyrics, they might make a pretty interesting story.” And that was the first step.
They say to write what you know, so while Finding Grace is a fiction novel, there is a tremendous amount of detail based on my first-hand experience with Sharee and her illness. While never having written a screenplay or novel, I wrote what I knew. The characters for each song materialized quickly, as did the idea for the cross-country trip. Then came the two main characters of Judith and Grace. The reason for a cross-country trip was easy, based on my losing Sharee. Grace was dying from leukemia and wanted Judith to come home to visit her before it was too late.
The next step was contacting a friend of mine in LA in the movie industry, sharing my thoughts about writing a screenplay called Finding Grace. He said to write a two-page pitch, which I did. He read it, saying my lyrics were very strong and the idea of Finding Grace was very solid as well. He encouraged me to write the screenplay/script. I had no idea about the structure of a screenplay, so I googled and printed the first ten pages of five movies. After narrowing down the different format structures to two that felt comfortable to me, I began writing the first five pages. Then I sat back, reading those first pages, satisfied and at ease with my format. So, over the next six months, I wrote. That’s when things got interesting.
I wrote when, emotionally, I had the need. There was no schedule to when I would sit down to write. Sometimes a week or more would go by without writing, but there was a routine when I did write. I would sit at the end of my kitchen table with my favorite picture of Sharee facing me on the other end. On my right was the bay window where I could see the trees, birds, rabbits, and squirrels. Then I would bring up my Spotify playlist of favorite songs that Sharee and I loved, and played it softly in the background.
I have always been a very visual person, so as I began writing, more often than not, I found myself as an outside observer. It was as if I were actually watching the characters in my mind as they talked with each other, and there were times when it was challenging to keep up typing their back-and-forth dialogue. It truly felt surreal to me. Again, I believed it was that angel on my shoulder still whispering in my ear. So, I listened.
After completing the screenplay, my friend in LA read it, and again was encouraging, but that was when COVID-19 shut down life as we all knew it, and all movie production. Shortly thereafter, a “coincidence” occurred. While having a phone conversation with a friend who had just released a best-selling business book, I mentioned my screenplay. He asked if he could read it, and also if it would be okay for his wife to read it. Naturally I said sure, emailing Finding Grace to him. A couple of weeks later I received an email from his wife, asking to schedule a Zoom! call to discuss my screenplay. What I didn’t know was that she was an executive for an international publishing company, and she liked Finding Grace, asking if I might be willing to turn it into a fiction novel. After giving it some thought, I agreed to invest the time and work to bring Finding Grace to life. What were the odds of this kind of connection that would lead to the next step of my journey?
I quickly learned that it was MUCH more work writing a novel as compared to a screenplay or script. A screenplay is primarily the dialogue between the characters with some minimal detail about the day and location of the scene. In a novel, you must create a living, breathing world, researching every detail and nuance to bring that world and the characters in it to life. And such was my goal with Finding Grace.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
Approximately 21 months. Finding Grace will be released March 15, 2022. The eBook was released December 7, 2021.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Finding Grace?
Rather than attending a grief-support group, writing Finding Grace was my way of working through my grief.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Finding Grace?
Some days, and while writing some chapters, were very emotional.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
Judith Lee, Grace Lee’s granddaughter, is the Protagonist. She is the composite of many people I have known during my lifetime. During Judith’s six-day bus trip she encounters a different seat companion each day. Each with their own challenges and own story. Each of Judith’s six seatmates could be considered a Protagonist in their own story.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
Finding Grace does not have the traditional Antagonist. Instead, as an Antagonist, I introduced internal conflict within Judith resulting from her challenging, sometimes traumatic childhood.
What is the inciting incident of Finding Grace?
Finding Grace’s inciting incident is Grace Lee’s dying wish for her granddaughter Judith to come home from Los Angeles to Nashville via bus.
What is the main conflict of Finding Grace?
The main conflict is Judith’s struggle against breaking from the cocoon of emotional security that her immense wealth has allowed her to create to protect herself.
Did you plot Finding Grace in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
Finding Grace was carefully plotted, with a tremendous amount of detailed research going into every aspect of Judith’s journey and Grace’s illness.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Finding Grace need?
Adele Booysen (from South Africa, now living in Guatemala) was my development editor. She was instrumental in helping me with the formatting required by my publisher and the editing and polishing of Finding Grace. Enough so that I chose to give her a credit on the cover.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Write what you know.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I have written the screenplay for Finding Grace and currently I’m working on rewrites and edits, hoping to bring it to the movie or TV screen.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes. It was definitely worth the effort, if for no other reason, to work through my grief. And in retrospect, yes, I’m proud of the story and the tale of Judith’s journey. I hope it honors the memory of my late wife, Dr. Sharee Sanders Miller. Most of the story of Grace’s struggle with leukemia came directly with Sharee’s four-year battle.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
We strive to keep The Table Read free for both our readers and our contributors. If you have enjoyed our work, please consider donating to help keep The Table Read going!