Researching Boxes for Beds

by Maryann Miller

Boxes_Kindle_final_smallerFirst I want to thank Heidi for inviting me to be her guest today. I am so pleased that we have become cyber-friends, and I was honored when she asked me to share something on her blog about my book, Boxes For Beds.

The story idea came to me when I read a small newspaper item a number of years ago about a mystery in Arkansas. It seems that when a woman died and authorities went into her home, they found skeletons of babies in boxes in her attic. Apparently the woman had never married and lived alone in an old farmhouse on the outskirts of a small town. The people who knew her thought she was a sweet old lady, and all were shocked when the grisly discovery was made. Nobody knew where the babies had come from, or how the skeletons ended up in the attic.

Wow, what fertile ground for a writer’s imagination.

I immediately started filling in some of the blanks and characters began to take shape, as well as motivations. There had to be a plausible reason for someone to have dead babies in their attic.

I don’t want to say much more about that, as I don’t want to give away the important elements of the story and spoil it for potential readers, but nothing is spoiled if I explain why the story is set in 1961. I wanted to have the county sheriff be corrupt, and while it is not unheard of to have a corrupt sheriff in 2013, I thought it would be interesting to tie into the fact that the mob out of Chicago controlled much of Hot Springs up until roughly 1965, especially at Oak Lawn Racetrack.

If the sheriff was controlled by the mob, it would make sense that he closes kidnapping cases as quickly as possible before any Federal authorities go involved. Of course, that meant I had to learn all I could about Hot Springs and neighboring towns from that historical perspective.

One of the first places I went to was the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, and they sent me several brochures about the bathhouses and other places of interest. One of those places was the Gangster Museum, which turned out to be a treasure-trove of information. One of the things I found out was that the mob leaders would often come to Hot Springs for meetings, staying in the hotels, visiting the bathhouses, and taking care of business while they were there. Working that into the story added a lot in terms of motivating the sheriff while adding some historical interest.

My initial research was done via the Internet and through the material sent by the Chamber, but I did take a trip to Hot Springs just as I was finishing the book. I thought it was important to see some of the places I was writing about, as I have a hard time describing something I have not seen. That is why I don’t write fantasy or science fiction. I would be hopeless trying to create whole new worlds and societies, and I admire those who can do that and make it seem to seamless.

But I digress.

For accuracy in reporting, I also though I should probably visit one of the bathhouses while I was in Hot Springs. Not just interview people like I have done with research in the past, but actually have the whole spa experience. After all, I was going to have my central character, Leslie, visit one of the houses, so I needed to know what it was like. Right?

Leslie and I both enjoyed the wonderful hot springs in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

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Maryann MillerMaryann Miller is a best-selling author of books, screenplays and stage plays. She started writing as a child and dreamed of fame and fortune. She’s still dreaming. However, she is thrilled at the attention that some of her books have received, including Boxes For Beds.  It is her first indie release and has already received some good reviews on Amazon.

 Miller has won numerous awards for her screenplays and short fiction, including the Page Edwards Short Fiction Award, the New York Library Best Books for Teens Award, and first place in the screenwriting competition at the Houston Writer’s Conference. She has been writing all her life and plans to die at her computer or out in her garden in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas where she lives with her husband, one horse, one goat, one sheep, one dog and four cats. The cats rule.

  You can find out more about Maryann Miller’s  books at her Website   and Blog    and connect with her on Facebook   and Twitter        

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 6:35 am  Comments (10)  
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YA Author Tackles Prohibition Mystery for Her First Novel

CoverMy guest this week is Erin S. Gray, author of Moonshine Murder, a young adult novella.

Synopsis: It’s 1925. The small cabin deep in the San Juan Mountains is the only home seventeen-year-old Lenora Giovanni has ever known. But when her father dies from tainted moonshine, leaving her alone, she is forced into a life of danger.

Lenora is determined to find whoever sold the poison to her father–a determination that leads her into working as an undercover agent in the town of Durango, Colorado. She meets Rusty, a young moonshiner who guides her through the world of bootlegging.

As Lenora gets to know this intriguing young man, three things become clear: Her father was entangled in a scheme of deception. Rusty is keeping secrets–secrets about her past. And she is falling irrationally and unconditionally in love with him.

Faced with betrayal, Lenora is tempted to protect Rusty and preserve her father’s memory, rather than bust the illegal moonshine business that destroyed her family. How will she choose: with her head or her heart?

This is your debut novel. Tell us about how the idea and the story came about.

I first met my main character, Lenora, on a backpacking trip deep in the San Juan Mountains. As I sat watching the sunset, light reflected on a small cabin across the canyon. I dreamed of a girl surviving in harsh conditions. What would her world be like? Over the years, I became more acquainted with this character, Lenora, until I felt she was alive and breathing. Almost a decade later, I made the trip to the cabin that started Lenora’s journey. A well hidden treasure, it still stands today. Between my imagination and the research I conducted, the story fell into place.

How long did it take you to research, write and get it published?

I started writing Moonshine Murder in 2003 and finished the first draft in the fall of 2004. I was teaching full-time and wrote after work and on the weekends. I added more historical details during later drafts, and spent a large portion of time researching. Then I began submitting to publishers in the spring of 2006 after the birth of my first son. I received eight rejections from publishers, and would consider their advice and if warranted, change my manuscript, then submit again. My acceptance for publication came in the spring of 2012.

What made you decide to write a mystery?

The story evolved into a mystery from the research I had done. I became fascinated with all the secrets I uncovered about Prohibition in the Durango, Colorado area. As my characters developed, I knew that a mystery was the best mode for my story.

Can you tell us what is unique about your book?

There is very little written history about Prohibition in Colorado, and even less for young adults. My book captures the culture of mining immigrant communities as well as explores some of the “dirtier” secrets of Prohibition in a book appropriate for young readers.

What other writing have you done before this?

I wrote a complete manuscript about a decade prior to Moonshine Murder, which explored the Irish immigrants during The Great Potato Famine. I never pursued a publisher for this piece, but received encouragement from the English Department at Colorado State University to continue writing. I’ve also written a handful of short fiction pieces, and some poetry.

What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes that book so special?

Down the Long Hill by Louis L’Amour. My dad would read this novel over and over to me, at my insistence. I fell in love with historical fiction, particularly western historical fiction at the impressionable age of eight. I was collecting my own L’Amour novels shortly after that, and could not put them down.


What other books or authors have influenced your writing?

Without a doubt, Louis L’Amour has been a large influence in my writing. I met his wife once, after he had passed away, who told me that persistence was the key to his success. I was in high school at the time and decided I could do this writing thing then, because I’m stubborn!

Other influential authors are Janette Oke, Lori Wick, in the Historical Christian Romance category. Classic Christian writer, Grace Livingston Hill has been a recent and most loved discovery. I can’t discount some of the current young adult writers out there like Suzanne Collins for writing about difficult situations

You are a mother of two, a part-time bookkeeper, President of Women Writing the West, and a writer. What is your writing routine, and how doerin you unwind from all of this?

I work outside of the home a couple days of the week. I have a home office in the basement (I call it the studio – much less depressing) so when it comes to writing, I write when my oldest son is at school and the baby is napping. When nap time is over, I answer WWW emails and market Moonshine Murder while playing with the baby. I “unwind” on my treadmill, although here I’m working too. Believe it or not, I use this time to catch up on my reading – done much easier with a Kindle then back when I used to use “chip clip” to hold the book open! Evenings are family time, though.

Where can we purchase your book and get more information about you?

Moonshine Murder can be obtained at my website at,, Baker and Taylor Books, or at, . I have developed a complete teaching guide for Moonshine Murder as a free download on my website. Teacher copies are FREE, so if you know a teacher who may want to teach Moonshine Murder, please send them to my website.


Erin S. Gray writes historical fiction for adults and young adults. She backpacks through the very mountains about which she writes and was inspired to begin her novel, Moonshine Murder, after stumbling across an abandoned cabin during a trek deep in the San Juan Mountains.

Erin is the 2013 president of Women Writing the West, and an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. A graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in English, she lives in southwest Colorado with her husband and two young sons. For more information about the author, visit her website.


Published in: on January 11, 2013 at 6:03 am  Comments (5)  
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Meet the Co-Authors, Who’s Got the Money? Part II

Who’s Got the Money is an amateur sleuth mystery, spiced with humor. Where did the idea come from?

Morgan: You would not believe how many funny things happen in real life, particularly with the type of marketing position both of us held for four years. We’ve been inside the prison factories, military warehouses and “fought the battle” to get orders as high as millions of dollars. It was a zoo! Most people think of prison manufacturing as making license plates. They are shocked to find it’s almost a billion dollar a year business.

Which situations are based on things that have happened to you?

Meredith: The actual scam is fiction but many of the things the trio of sleuths experience were based in things that actually happened to us.

Morgan: For example, the scene with the sleazy guy offering sex in return for a big order really happened to me. Not in that particular job, but in another. He was the purchasing agent for a major aerospace company. Meredith and I also ran down the street in Anchorage, Alaska pushing a cart loaded with thousands of brochures looking for a place to dump them (A scene in the book) because the prison factory sent us thousands, not hundreds as requested for a trade show. The warehouses filled with merchandise stacked to the ceiling–that’s real. Some of our scenes are truly exaggerations, but others will sound familiar to our former co-workers if they buy the book.

How did each of you come to follow the path of a writer?

Meredith: This is my first book, collaborating with Morgan St. James.

Morgan: I began to write years ago with published magazine and newspaper articles. In the late 1990s my sister, Phyllice Bradner, also a published writer, and I developed the Silver Sisters Mysteries series. The first book in the series, A Corpse in the Soup, was released in 2006 and won an award in 2007. We followed it with two more and the fourth currently is in development. Meredith knew about my books and approached me with her idea for Who’s Got the Money? I knew it was great, and jumped at the opportunity.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Morgan: It is really simple. Do your homework, learn your craft and don’t give up. Always put out a quality, well-edited product even if you self publish. I once read a Facebook rant that showed how important this is. The author was upset by poor reviews of a self-published book that lambasted spelling and grammar errors, information dumps, poor formatting and more. The rant was, “It should be about the story, not the mechanics.” No. That is not correct. When a reader pays for a book they deserve a professional product.

Meredith: I believe it’s important to network with other writers for encouragement, help, and promotion. Joining a local writer’s organization and writers conference will help you develop friendships and give you support as you develop your craft of writing.

Getting Even, A prequel to Who’s Got the Money is available on Kindle only. This book tells how our heroine, Jennifer Hayes, gets even after the loss of her job and her money.

Morgan St. James bio: Award-winning Author/Speaker/Columnist Morgan St. James’ says her just-released books, Confessions of a Cougar, and Who’s Got the Money? are stories that begged to be told.

Her short stories appear in Chicken Soup for the Soul books, other anthologies. The recently released The MAFIA FUNERAL and Other Short Stories collection covers everything from true stories to fiction, mystery to romance and some genres in-between.  She has written over 500 published articles relative to the craft of writing and people in the industry, as well as the book Writers’ Tricks of the Trade: 39 Things You Need to Know About the ABCs of Writing Fiction.

Meredith Holland bio:

This is Meredith Holland’s debut novel. She graduated college armed with a degree in Interior Design and designed environments including commercial spaces from healthcare and educational facilities to hospitality.  Her diverse background and passion for problem solving combined with her interior design education easily qualified Meredith for the position of sales executive, marketing products manufactured by The Department of Corrections.

As a marketing representative she supported the programs, products, inmate rehabilitation mission, and government policies. Meredith says she appreciated her time spent growing her region’s Federal customer base and interacting with contracting agents and clients.

St. James and Holland met while they were both part of the marketing team for prison-manufactured furniture and conceived the idea for this comical crime caper.   Meredith resides in Seattle, Washington with her husband and son.

You can find Meredith blogging at

Morgan’s websites:

You also can connect with Morgan on Twitter: @MorganStJames, and Facebook:

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