Backstory

Authors tell you what inspired their work

Maryann Miller, Author of "One Small Victory"

One day while reading the newspaper I happened across a small, four-inch item about a woman who infiltrated a drug ring and helped bring down a major distributor in a small town in Michigan. She was a single mother with several children, had no background in law enforcement, and had just lost her oldest son in a car accident. The news story did not give many details about the woman or how she managed to get on the drug task force. It only said that she did so at great personal risk.

I started thinking about the kind of courage it takes to bully one's way onto a task force, then actually go out and meet with drug dealers and earn their trust. Not much about parenting can prepare someone for that. Then there was the fact that she did all that while enduring the most significant loss a woman can experience. Pretty ballsy, I thought, and I just knew I had to write about this incredible woman.

About that same time, I was in contact with Nick Krantz, nephew of Judith Krantz, who was with Paradigm Entertainment in California. I had an "open door" with them based on a screenplay I had submitted. They weren't able to develop that script, but were open to me pitching other ideas. So right away I called Nick and told him about this story. He told me to send story beats and they'd take a look, so I did.

It took a few days to get this written and sent to him, but he called right after he received the material to say he loved it and they were interested in proceeding. He asked if I had the rights to the story. I laughed and reminded him that I was a poor writer. Paradigm needed to acquire the rights.

"Oh, right," he said. "I'll get the lawyers right on it."

When I didn't hear from Nick for a few weeks, I called, and he said he'd forgotten to talk to the lawyers. He was very apologetic and said he'd take care of it right after we hung up. Later, he called back to relay the unfortunate news that another company had optioned that woman's story.

Well, crap. So much for being rich and famous.

Even so, I couldn't give up the idea of writing about this woman I had named Jenny. A writer friend suggested that I write a fictionalized version of the story, reminding me that many plots start with a real event or a real person. So I moved the setting to a small town in Texas, changed all of the family details — as well as the details about the drug ring — and started writing One Small Victory.

That was almost twenty years ago, and sometimes I can't believe it took so long to get the book finished and sold. I had to do a tremendous amount of research about the various levels of law enforcement personnel involved in a drug task force in a rural setting, and that took about six months. Plus I always had my other writing and editing work that took precedence as it actually paid a few bills.

During that time I also studied to be a Hospital Chaplain and learned more about the grieving process. Becoming a chaplain was not actually on my career path, but it was something I could do to earn a regular salary and receive benefits after my husband was laid off. The freelance work I had been doing was just not stable enough to make us feel secure.

While I was working at the hospital, I had less time to write, but I soon discovered that my new career was opening a whole new window to the story. When I did find an hour or two to pull up the manuscript, I was able to really explore Jenny's grief, as well as the grief of the rest of the family, and I realized that it is a major element of the story. It drives many of the actions and emotions of the family members, as well as the detective who is Jenny's "control." His wife died a few years before the story opens, and the pain of that loss is still strong at times.

One of the most interesting things about grief is how different it is for each person. Sure, we have those standard "stages of grief" but they are experienced at different times and in different ways for each of us when we suffer a loss. One of the stages is anger, and Jenny uses her anger as motivation and determination to do something about the problem of drugs. It was important to establish that in the book so what she does is believable.

Now looking back, I see that maybe it was a good thing that the Paradigm deal never happened and the writing of the book kept getting interrupted. Otherwise, I don't think I would have ended up with a story with so many layers.

Maryann Miller's novel is One Small Victory. To learn more, visit her website, Maryann Writes, or her blog, The Many Faces of Grief.


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Friday September 12th 2008, 2:01 PM
Comment by: Patricia D. (Santa Clara, CA)
Well, the story is what grabbed the author and reality can be quite limiting in what and how you can explore an idea. Some things just take longer to percolate up through our first idea of how it will take form.
Friday September 12th 2008, 6:32 PM
Comment by: Herman B.
I am not a writer. Iam an avid reader. Essentially, this is now a fictional story. But is it credible in terms of reality? Has the research been such that this might well have been a true story that just did not really happen to this woman and these people?

Background info about becoming a chaplain and the depth that that added is fascinating.
Saturday September 13th 2008, 6:41 PM
Comment by: Roger Dee (Haslett, MI)Top 10 Commenter
Maryann Miller's explorations of the topic of grief in her novel One Small Victory deserve deeper consideration.
In our Western culture with its current cacophony of bitter cynicism and political dishonesty, one needs to retreat from the turmoil and find the space and quietness to discover a better understand of the spiritual dimensions of tragedy and loss.
In so doing, another door is opened before us. It is the door of understanding. Our eyes can be opened in thankfulness to the gratitude we owe for the abundantly good things of life we already freely enjoy.
In the din of hurry and greed, one will not hear that "still small voice" of God where the purpose and meaning of our existence comes into focus.
Sunday September 14th 2008, 1:43 PM
Comment by: Enid Y.
Kudos to you! I look forward to reading your books as well as the interviews and other useful and positive articles on your website/blogsites! I haven't had a chance yet to look at all you've done. If you haven't already, I hope you will focus some of your writing on/for young women, from puberty onward. There are still so many girls out there who would benefit from your strong female characters and from your can-do attitude and perseverance!

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