By Brandon Marie Miller
I’d never seen myself as a writer. I’d thought of myself as a reader, but not a writer. I was a nerdy history girl, a stay-at-home-mom with a history degree, but not a writer. I knew nothing—about querying, proposals, contracts, publishing. But then my mother entered the picture. She sent me a magazine article about two teachers who’d just started a history magazine for kids called COBBLESTONE. They needed writers. I wasn’t a writer, but what did I have to lose?
I sent for guidelines, enclosing a self-addressed stamp envelope as the magazine article instructed. I submitted an overview, outline, and bibliography—just what they requested. When I got a go-ahead, I wrote the article by hand, counted each word, typed the piece on my portable typewriter that left fingers exhausted, and snail-mailed it in. It was all very quaint by today’s standards—the clack of keys, the ding when you reached the end of the line, hiding typos with discreet dabs of White Out, carbon sheets to make a copy.
I earned $80 and splurged on a desk lamp at Ethan Allen which I still use today. But I didn’t really think of myself as a writer.
Years passed, kids grew, I wrote more articles, some of them on assignment. I studied the publishing business, read books and magazines. And then I got my big break—Carolyn Yoder, then the editor at COBBLESTONE, passed my name along to a book editor. The editor was starting a new MG history series. Would I be interested in writing a proposal? Um, yes! I studied book proposals. I researched my book topic. I wrote an outline like the ones I’d done in grade school creating subheads with Roman numerals, A’s and B’s, and numbers. I cringe at the memory! My outlines now consist of paragraphs for each chapter—much simpler. I polished my sample chapter. Well, dear reader, they offered me a contract. I studied up on contracts and negotiated it myself. Oh, boy, an advance of $1,500!
Something happened as I wrote the book. I was no longer a stay-at-home mom writing a few magazine articles a year. I could tell people I was writing A BOOK. I was going to be AN AUTHOR. I joined SCBWI. I had a sense of validation. That first book got a starred review from School Library Journal and won awards. But I soon learned writing MG and YA history is not going to make you rich or famous which seems to be our measuring rod for success in publishing. So was I a writer after all?
While on this long journey I’ve had to figure out why I write. What makes me a writer since fame and fortune have not arrived? The answer is simple. It’s doing the work, typing the words, giving structure to ideas and information. It’s passion for my subjects and digging into my research. It’s bringing something to readers that they didn’t know before. It’s feeding my own curiosity, and the curiosity of others. That’s why I write.
My 13th book comes out next April. It’s called ROBERT E. LEE, THE MAN, THE SOLDIER, THE MYTH. The editor is Carolyn Yoder, who gave me that boost over twenty years ago. And now she has prodded and pushed me to another level once again. I have an agent now, a partner, so I don’t have to deal with contracts that have grown increasingly complex. My kids are grown up and productive citizens with children of their own. And here I am, still writing as that nerdy history girl, a future I never envisioned for myself. And happily, along the way I actually began to think of myself as A WRITER.
Brandon Marie Miller earned her degree in American History from Purdue University. She writes about famous people and common folk, about great events and everyday life. Her award-winning books for young people have been honored by the International Reading Association, the National Council for the Social Studies, the American Library Association, the Society of School Librarians International, Voice of Youth Advocates, Bank Street College, the Junior Library Guild, the New York Public Library and the Chicago Public Library, among others.
Brandon encourages readers to think of history as the greatest story of all. Fiction has nothing on history for tales of courage, sacrifice, redemption, cruelty and betrayal. As a writer of history Brandon aims to inspire readers with stories of people who have struggled, overcome great odds, and made a contribution to our human spirit. It’s no coincidence that “story” is right there in the word history!
Born and raised in Illinois, Brandon lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. When not researching and writing, she loves to read biographies and murder mysteries, travel, play games, attend the ballet, watch sports and old movies from the 1930s and 1940s, and enjoy great conversation. She includes her middle name on all her books so people know she is a girl named “Brandon”