Meet Debut Author Serena Bonzo Miller

Serena Bonzo Miller sold her debut novel to Summerside Press on a hot day in July. Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, Ohio, a contemporary Amish romance, is due to release in September 2010.

Serena has lived many places, including a four-room railroad shanty, her grandmother’s 1800s log house, tiny apartments and various parsonages. She’s a minister’s wife with three grown sons, two lovely daughters-in-law and two adorable grandchildren. Home these days is a way-out-in-the-country farmhouse in southern Ohio, which she helped her husband and sons build­—a place she hopes never to leave.

When she’s not writing inspirational fiction, articles or short stories, Serena likes to make rag rugs, research anything that catches her fancy (you never know what might end up in a story), talk books with her twelve-year-old granddaughter, and occasionally feel guilty over not practicing her hammered dulcimer. Her favorite time of year is late autumn because she can take long walks without fear of running into any snakes!

Join me as we learn about more about Serena and her debut novel.

(Look at the bottom of the post for multiple drawing prizes offered.)

.

Serena Bonzo Miller

.

Serena’s Journey Begins

.

•You’ve lived in a variety of homes in a number of states. In all those places, you wrote. When did you see your first piece in print?

An “All In A Day’s Work” piece was purchased by Reader’s Digest about twenty years ago. The story was from when I worked midnight shift as a clerk in Vanderbilt’s ER. I got $300 for that paragraph and was so excited the kids and I broke my bed jumping up and down on it screaming.

.

•When did you decide to write a novel, and where did the idea for that first work come? A character who burst into your mind, chattering away? An opening scene that grabbed you? A setting that begged to be used?

There was a man in our area who built a strange little castle out in the woods. This is in deep Appalachia, and the castle, although four stories high, had tar paper turrets. No plumbing or running water. Based on a visit to that castle, I came home, sat down at the computer, closed my eyes, and began a dark and brooding story filled with anguished characters. Had no idea what I was doing. Eventually wrote myself into a corner and didn’t know how to get out, so the story permanently stalled. It caught the attention of my twelve-year-old son, however. He wanted to read the daily installment when he got home from school. I figured if I could hold the attention of an adolescent male, I had a shot at catching adult readers some day.

.

•How many novel-length stories have you completed? Are they all in the same category or have you dabbled in different ones?

Aside from my tarpaper castle story—that fit no genre I’ve ever seen—I’ve written four full-length inspirational romances. One is a suspense involving the Appalachian Trail.

.

.

Serena’s High Points

.

•After several years producing stories that warmed your heart, you received some heartwarming news. An agent offered representation. How did that come about? What advice would you offer others seeking an agent?

In addition to praying for God’s guidance, I played by the book. I took classes. Went to conferences. Read books on craft. I entered contests that gave feedback. I made friends with published authors and listened to their advice. I joined a critique group. Eventually I began to final in contests. Magazine editors began to buy my short stories and articles. I won a writing contest.

When Chip MacGregor announced at the Dallas American Christian Fiction Writers conference three years ago that he was starting his own agency, MacGregor Literary, I made an appointment and pitched a story to him. He asked to see a partial. A few weeks later he e-mailed to say that, although my writing was strong, his agency was still getting off the ground and he couldn’t afford to invest the time into launching a new author–yet. A year later, I got an e-mail from Sandra Bishop, who had just joined his agency and was looking for new authors. The day I received an author/agent agreement with her, was a happy, happy day.

.

Serena Bonzo Miller with Sandra

Serena Bonzo Miller with her agent, Sandra Bishop

.

•Your agent went to work for you. On July 21st, which you’d written off as a bad writing day, she called. This wasn’t just any call. It was The Call. Tell us all about that momentous occasion. Were there tears or cheers? Or perhaps some of both?

I knew Summerside Press was looking at my proposal, but I was afraid to hope. I’d received so many rejection letters by that time, I’d begun to pride myself on how well I dealt with them. When I actually heard the words come out of Sandra’s mouth, “Summerside is offering you a book deal” I was so surprised, I burst into tears. Sandra told me the basics of the deal, then gave the glory to God when I tried too hard to thank her for all her hard work. That woman is a true believer, and I am incredibly blessed to have her in my corner.

Then I partied. Went out on the porch, where two of my grown sons were visiting with my husband. I told them my news and got hugged within an inch of my life. We were whooping it up so loudly that my third son, who lives in a log cabin just a few yards down from us, heard all the commotion and thought something bad had happened. He came running across the field, still carrying a kettle of soup he’d been heating. He was hungry and didn’t want to relinquish the soup unless he had to.

.

•Wow! What a great story. In spite of the fact that we unpublished writers are told repeatedly that we must have a completed manuscript before we query, you didn’t. How did your agent sell a book from an unknown writer that wasn’t yet finished?

Actually, I did have a completed manuscript. I’d just finished a story that my agent felt could be re-written to fit Summerside’s needs. The fact that I’d successfully written for several magazine editors, in addition to the fact that Sandra was representing me, had a lot to do with them being willing to gamble on a debut author.

.

•You paid a visit to Sugarcreek, Ohio to perform on-site research for your book and were blessed with a special opportunity. Please tell us about it.

I chose a Bed and Breakfast that approximated the farmhouse inn I planned to use in my novel. I intended to do the regular tourist route of commercial tours, etc. but God had a better plan. The B&B hostess has many Amish friends. She was scheduled to can peaches with a family one afternoon and took me along. While we worked, they were gracious enough to give me permission to ask any questions I wanted. Their relatives up the road, intrigued by the fact that I was writing a book, invited me and my husband to dinner later that evening. We had a picnic-style supper around a small campfire in their yard while watching their seven beautiful children play.

Frankly, I fell in love with the gentle graciousness of these two families. The father, when he discovered my husband is a minister, ran to get his Bible, and they had a wonderful discussion of scripture. The wife and I shared our hearts about the challenges of raising believing children in a corrupt world. She wrote me recently, telling me how her garden is doing and asking that we “let our friendship grow.” I feel honored to be considered her friend, and I can’t wait until my next trip to Sugarcreek.

.

.

Serena’s Partners on the Journey

.

•We write in solitude, but most of us have faithful supporters standing behind us. Who are the people who have been there for you?

I ache when I hear stories of women who try to nurture their writing in spite of their husband and family’s disapproval. It must be so very hard. I have not had to deal with that. My husband not only supports me emotionally, he prays for me daily. This has given me much courage.

My youngest son, a computer tech, keeps my computer up-to-date. The whole family gets involved in brainstorming new stories. I have three older sisters who are terrific cheerleaders. I have had more encouragement from my church family than any one person has the right to expect.

.

•You just returned from the ACFW Conference, where you got to meet two of your most important partners. What was it like meeting your agent and editor in person? What did you take away from the experience?

I was chatting with other writers while standing in line at the hotel reception desk when a lovely woman said, “Serena?” It was my agent, and she had recognized my voice. After we’d hugged, we made plans to meet the following morning at breakfast. The next morning, I had the honor of meeting several of the other writers she represents. After breakfast Sandra gathered us all together in a sort of huddle, and then she prayed for us. There are a lot of good agents out there, but to have one who prays for her clients is an amazing gift.

Summerside Press had a dessert reception for their authors on Thursday night on an outside terrace lit with fairy lights. I met both Summerside editors, who were gracious and caring. I cannot believe how nice these people are! They had gift bags for each of us, along with a personal, handwritten note of encouragement that I’ll cherish forever.

.

•What’s it like to be part of The Summerside Press family? What advice would you give a writer interested in this publishing house about how to approach them?

The Summerside Press staff is amazing. They go out of their way to support and encourage their authors. The information about their Love Finds You…series is on their website. As always, I’d advise anyone interested in writing for them to study the guidelines and read several of their books before submitting. It is also wise to contact them about potential town names before writing a story. They have definite ideas about towns in which they’re interested.

One of the things I enjoy about the Summerside books is the tremendous variety. Within the Love Finds You…series there are light, humorous stories, darker historicals, strong contemporaries, and some even have a suspense theme. They allow an author’s voice to shine through.

I chatted at length with Susan Downs, the other full-time Summerside editor, about two new lines she’ll be launching soon. One is a romantic suspense. The other is a historical line based on the era from 1900 through the sixties. The title of each of the historical novels will be from a song of that era. Summerside books are selling so well, and are of such quality, I have great hopes for these two new lines.

.

.

Serena’s Debut Novel . . . and Beyond

.

•Please tell us about Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, Ohio.

It is about a legendary baseball player whose starlet wife has been murdered. He tries to protect his traumatized four-year-old son from the media feeding frenzy by escaping into the back roads of America. When his truck breaks down in Sugarcreek, Ohio, he shelters at a farmhouse inn run by three elderly Amish sisters. He believes he’s finally found a place of blessed anonymity, until Rachel, a Sugarcreek cop, investigates the suspicious stranger and inadvertently reveals Joe’s identity to the media.

.

What can your readers look forward to next?

I’m fascinated with the Amish and don’t intend to stop writing about them any time soon. At the moment, I have two Amish proposals being considered by another major CBA publisher. One is a contemporary, and one is a historical.

.

.

Five Fun Facts About Serena, the Writer

.

~ I sent a story to Chicken Soup For the Mother’s Soul II that my mother had written. She was beyond thrilled when they published it. She was ninety-three years old.

~ One of my favorite things to do while on vacation is visit famous authors’ homes and have my picture taken in front of them.

~ If I get stuck while composing a story, I pull out a pen and legal pad and start writing in longhand. This sometimes frees my mind in ways a computer cannot.

~ I always write with a timer. I set it for forty-five minutes and write like mad. When the buzzer goes off, I set it for fifteen minutes and clean or do laundry while I work out a new scene in my head. At the end of the day, my house is fairly straight, there’s food cooking—and I can barely remember doing any of it.

~ Every time I write “the end” I lay my head down on my desk and cry.

.

.

Five Fun Facts About Serena, the Person

.

~ I was once voted “Limbo Queen of Trinidad” while on a mission trip. You don’t want to hear the story. Let’s just say I was trying a little too hard to “be all things to all people.” (I was also only 22 years old and much more limber than at present.)

~ I play the hammered dulcimer—very badly.

~ I find four-leaf clovers everywhere I go. It’s a weird gift, but it’s what I have.

~ I’m licensed to carry a concealed weapon. Not that I do. I just thought it would be cool to get the training and have the card.

~ I was named after my grandmother, who was named after her grandmother. Not that there’s any pressure on my sons to name a daughter after me or anything. <g>

.

.

Serena’s Question for You

.

•I’ve enjoyed having you as my guest, Serena. Thanks for your great answers to my questions. Now it’s your turn to ask a question of your visitors, so ask away.

One of my sons is presently doing a thesis on the role of literature in forming moral values. So—my question is this: What books, if any, have had a moral impact on your life?

.

.

Learn More About Serena

Visit her Web site and blog  ~ http://www.serenabmiller.com

.

.

Leave a Comment for Two Chances to Win

To leave a comment, click on “Comments” below the date in the title at the top of the post.

.

My Regular Drawing

My next drawing will take place September 30th. The winner will receive a silver necklace bearing the word Courage, which is something anyone embarking on her writing journey needs.

.

Courage Necklace

.

To enter the drawing, just leave a comment on any blog post by September 30th and enter your email address when prompted. (I don’t share your information or add it to any mailing lists.) On October 1st, I’ll post the winner’s name in the Welcome post at the top of the blog.

.

You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook

If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by me, your blog hostess Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and September 30th. Be sure to include your name and email address when prompted if you want to be entered in the drawing. (Your information will not be shared.) Click red link above to see samples of covers and pages.

On October 1st, I will choose one person who will have her/his choice of covers on an 8×8 inch, twenty-page scrapbook in which s/he can document that long-awaited first sale. The pages will cover various milestones including The Call, signing the contract, receiving the first advance payment and holding your debut novel in your hands.

(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling.)

About these ads

About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
This entry was posted in author interview, first sale story, writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Meet Debut Author Serena Bonzo Miller

  1. Keli Gwyn says:

    Welcome, Serena! It’s great to have you here. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to get to know more about you and your writing as we prepared for your interview.

    Congratulations again on your sale to Summerside Press. I’ve enjoyed a number of the Love Finds You . . . books and look forward to reading yours.

    A book I feel stands out in terms of moral value is Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Through her rich retelling of the story of Hosea and Gomer, Rivers conveys the age-old message that God loves us and will never forsake us, no matter what we’ve done. His unconditional love is a gift, one so incredible as to be mind-boggling.

  2. Linda Henderson says:

    Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown was I think an eye opener for me. Also Creek Mary’s Blood also by Dee Brown shows the plight of the American Indians.

  3. Susy Flory says:

    I enjoyed this interview and loved the story about your son running across the field with the soup, Serena. Books that have had a moral impact on my life? Hmmm…
    - Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd (because I didn’t agree with the turn her spiritual journey took, and it made me examine my own faith and why I believe what I believe)
    - CS Lewis’ Narnia series (reading these as a child taught me so many moral lessons about actions & consequences, and having faith in a God you cannot always see)
    - The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (God can use relationships to heal and transform us)

  4. Walt M says:

    I have to go with the Narnia series as well. What’s really great about it is that I got all seven books in HC when i was kid. My older son has now read all of them.

  5. serena says:

    I agree, Keli. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers has enriched so many lives. Reading it was one of the reasons I chose to write inspirational romance instead of secular.

  6. serena says:

    I’m ashamed to say I’ve not read either of Dee Brown’s books, Linda, although I’ve definitely heard of them. This is the kind of literature my son is especially focusing on–that which increases our understanding of other people through reading about their struggles. Thanks for posting.

  7. serena says:

    Hi Susy,

    Yeah, my son had worked for a landscaper all day and was hungry!

    Interesting how disagreeing with a book can help deepen one’s beliefs. (Dance of the Dissident Daughter.) Dan Brown’s book was one that did that for me–I dug deep on that one.

    - CS Lewis’ Narnia series–I didn’t experience that series until I was a mom reading it aloud to my sons. The last book was my favorite, it made the concept of heaven so appealing.

    - The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is another one I really need to read. So many good books–so little time.

  8. serena says:

    Thanks for posting, Walt. Isn’t it amazing that with all the new Christian literature out there, C.S. Lewis continues to be a favorite? Talk about a life well-spent! I wonder how many lives he changed with his pen. Have you read The Screwtape Letters (One of my husband’s all time favorites.)

  9. Thanks, Serena, for sharing your journey and your tips about the Summerside series. I read about them earlier but you gave some extra tips.

    I had to think about your question and decided I would offer the Mitford stories by Jan Karon. They depict a faith that is part of regular life – a place you’d like to live, with people you’d like to know.

  10. Jill Nutter says:

    Hey Serena,
    I’m sooooooooooooooo happy about your contract with Summerside Press. I know you’ve worked hard and deserve this, and Jesus wants you to share your words with the world. I love the picture of you and your agent.

    What books have had a moral impact on my life? Other than ones already mentioned I’d have to say that Ghosts by Adrian Plass was incredible. I’d encourage everyone to read it. The book is about a man who has lost his wife and the weekend reunion (that she planned before her death) for her hubby and friends left to cope with her death.

    Serena, my friend, may your words always touch the ones they’re meant to reach.:)

  11. serena says:

    Hi Tessa, thanks for stopping by. I loved the Mitford series, too. I think part of our enjoyment is because Jan has such loving eyes when it comes to seeing people. She allows you to laugh at their eccentricities, but also writes in such a way that we care deeply about each one–something I hope to emulate.

    Glad I was able to help you with more info. about Summerside. BTW–I met several of the published Summerside authors at the conference last week, and none of them can say enough good about working with the Summerside staff. My agent, who deals with them in a business capacity, says that she’s especially impressed with the company’s integrity.

    One more tip–if you want to increase your chances of writing for the Love Finds You line–search for a state that isn’t already represented. Although they’re willing to publish more than one town per state, they’d like to have one for each of the 50. They do require that you visit the town you’re working on–not necessarily before you’re contracted, but before you’re published.

  12. serena says:

    Bless your sweet heart, Jill. Glad to see you’re feeling better. Loved having a pajama party with you and Vicki at conference.

    I’ve never read Ghosts, but if you recommend it, I know it’s good. I’ll get a copy.

    You’ll be debuting soon, too, you know. I can’t wait to read your story–I know, since you’re the author, there will be much depth.

    And thanks so much for getting me involved with ACFW!

  13. Daphne Wedig says:

    Congrats to you on your debut release, Serena! Can’t wait to read your novel! My mom and three aunts LOVE Amish stories! One book that made an impact on me, early in my life (at the age of 12) was TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. The heroism and courage shown by so many of the characters in that book have stayed with me throughout my life. I was thrilled beyond belief when my son read it at a young age, too. We’ve had wonderful conversations about it and now that he’s a college sophomore, I recently learned that he feels the same way about the book that I do. It’s served as a moral compass as well as a barometer for us both.

  14. Hi Serena: Congratulations. I’ve just met you through this interesting interview about your recent sale. How wonderful to hear about your journey. It inspires me with hope that if I try hard enough, I may someday see my name on a book cover. Keep writing and growing in this publishing world. Thank you for sharing. Kudo’s to you and your proud family. :-)

  15. serena says:

    Hi Daphne–great to see you on here!

    Reading TO KIll A MOCKINGBIRD was a watershed moment for so many of us who grew up with it. I think it would be hard to read that book and not absorb a desire to live one’s life with integrity. I think it’s especially interesting that it has crossed generational lines by impacting both you and your son. Wouldn’t it be great to write something that could resonate like that one did!

  16. serena says:

    Thanks Suzanne. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about writing–it isn’t magic, and it isn’t wishful thinking–it is hard work.

    Randy Ingermanson Ph.D. (a physicist and inspirational novelist) has an especially helpful free e-zine for writers if you’re interested. http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/ezine/
    I met him for the first time at the ACFW conference last week and got to thank him for the encouragement I’d received through his classes and e-zine. He told me that he has a new book coming out in December–FICTION WRITING FOR DUMMIES. Randy knows the writing business inside out.

    Also, you might want to check out my agents’ blog http://www.macgregorliterary.com. Chip and Sandra give wonderful up-to-the-minute advice about publishing and are a delight to read.

    Good luck on your own writing!

  17. Quilt Lady says:

    Hi Serena, congrats on your sale! Your books sounds amazing! You said you can find four leaf covers everywhere and I can never find them. I new a lady once that could set down in clover and pull four leaf ones out right and left and I always thought she was very lucky to be able to do that, so now I know you can too. Thanks for sharing with us!

  18. serena says:

    Hey Quilt Lady–thanks for posting!

    Yes, I can find four-leaf clovers all day long, but I can barely manage to thread a needle without sticking myself. My hat’s off to anyone who can create a quilt–what a wonderful talent!

  19. serena says:

    It’s been great visiting with everyone here! My son was especially happy with the suggestions many of you left for his thesis on literature’s moral impact. I wish success for each of you on the writing journey, and much appreciation to those who purchase and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

  20. jim lindeman says:

    how funny, I knew your mother was a legend with a pistol but your concealed carry license, please forgive me for not being able to take it so serious. I am trying to visualize you pulling iron out of your pants:) Concerning your mother it was so refreshint to find out she got in chicken soup. Just knowing she is not here is like a burden to bear every time I think about it. and on to the moral values, that I find highly impressive as a theme for a thesis. I wish I knew you kids, with you and Steve endowing and training them I am sure it is my loss that I dont. I am not a reader of fiction. My uncle, Dave Russell sent me an advance copy of his book coming out next month (Tate), and I am so embarrassed that I have only made it about 50 pages. I know your son’s paper must have parameters and what I am about to say may well miss that target. I find the great spiritual warfare of moral values being waged more in social and physical sciences rather than in fiction. I dont know if you are aware of George Barna the great church growth scientist and lectureship guy. He employed over 100 in his business that researched what made churches grow and held seminars to help churches achieve that “success.” “Christianity Today” called him the most quoted man in Christianity. Now he has only a couple people working for him because he (through his scientific surveys) determined that everything he had taught was based on false premise and the churches were hollow at best or were already in decline. His new premise is that we entertained people into the church but did not arm them with knowledge to offset the flood of secular progressive information challenging the very existance of God or at least his activity in man’s affairs. Christians who do not have clear and sure answers have no foundation. So I say the present debate began with Marx, Freud and Darwin, not them but those who used their works to question the Bible in the Documentary Hypothesis thereby undermining the eternal Christian values upon which Western law, government, values and religion were founded. Sorry to draw this out but it is real complex. The revisionist history books your kids read are about a totally different reality than what you mother learned about. Same with science and biology teaching eveloution as a fact so that intellectual dissonance vibrated loose the foundations of belief in a literal revelation of God. We made a great mistake in the church by not confronting our world on political, scientific and historical facts and let the secularists gain the high ground in the culture. A fictional book that lauds a given virtue is marginalized by science/history calling into question the validity of eternal and universal codes. So i am going to say people like Cleon Skousen in “The 5000 Year Leap” or old timers like Thomas Paine and my favorite Locke”s Letter on Toleration. This stuff is up Steve’s alley I am sure he can come up with lots of Xian evidence stuff (and he can explain significants of Documentary Hypothesis–which is something nobody has ever heard of but it alone cracked Christianity wide open 125 years ago). I have been challenging Jason Corriell on Facebook when he post progressive crap, it just breaks my heart that our kids are growing up beliving that government is the salvation of man. well if I am even close I can say more but it is useless until I know his parameters. you know I love you and am happy that you are doing something you have always dreamed about. I would very much like to spend time with you and talk about it. and please if you are inclined to answer me, use facebook, I dont frequent blogs like this much :)

  21. serena says:

    Good to hear from you, Jim! And you’re right–I’m definitely not the marksman my mother was! I agree that there are major issues facing our nation and our church. I find it very hard not to become overwhelmed by all that needs to be done. That’s probably one of the reasons I love writing Christian fiction. I get to create my own world in which flawed people overcome great obstacles through God’s redemptive power. It’s very satisfying to right wrongs–even if only within the parameters of a fictional world. Glad to know you’re still fighting the good fight, friend.

  22. Judy Lumpkin says:

    Serena, Wow, I’m proud to say I know you. We just got your Christmas card cause we moved and it was forwarded. If you’ll email me maybe we can stay in touch better.
    Judy Lumpkin

Comments are closed.