The Writing Life is very pleased to welcome, Anesa Miller, author of the debut novel, Our Orbit.
Anesa Miller is a recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council. She studied writing at Kenyon College and the University of Idaho. Her work has been published in The Kenyon Review, The California Quarterly, the Southern Humanities Review, and others. Her debut novel, Our Orbit, releases from Booktrope of Seattle in June 2015. Anesa currently divides her time between Ohio and the Pacific Northwest.
What is your book’s genre?
That’s a question I’m especially interested in! Debate has been raging recently over what defines the various genres. Mine is a bit controversial, but I’ll claim it anyway: literary fiction. I can also call my book “contemporary fiction,” in hopes people won’t consider me a snob!
Please describe what Our Orbit is about.
Our Orbit is set in the 1990s and follows a series of encounters between two families who’ve lived in the same small town for generations but have rarely crossed paths. They live on the proverbial opposite sides of the tracks. After losing both of her parents, the youngest daughter from the poor family enters a new world when she is placed in foster care with the educated, middle-class family. The young foster parents quickly come to love their “new little girl.” Then they meet the rest of her relatives: brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins. Connections and conflicts ensue.
How did you come up with the title?
I ran through an array of titles over the almost 8 years that the basic plot spent as a short story. I settled on “Our Orbit” because it suggests a homey routine as well as cosmic balance: Things held at a distance but in a kind of harmony. After I chose this title, I stumbled upon the phrase “our orbit” in Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird. That book focuses on children and everyday life in a small town with social problems, so I felt encouraged and stopped trying to think of a better title. You see, earlier, I had gotten some criticism that readers might assume my book was science fiction because of the term “orbit.” I finally decided not to worry about that.
What is the reason you wrote Our Orbit?
At first, I had a very intellectual purpose in writing the story. I wanted to portray conflicting beliefs among people who can’t simply ignore each other or pretend their views are compatible. The foster child in the story brings notions to her new home that could be considered far-out. For example, she believes that her uncle was abducted by aliens—her whole family supported this legend. But the foster mother feels threatened because her biological children are younger and might pick up wacky ideas.
This struck me as a serious, yet potentially comical, scenario that would be fun to explore in fiction. But over the years that it took me to draft the complete novel, I came to realize that I had subconscious reasons for gravitating to my topic. I lost my mother when I was 16 and my father when I was 26. Although I was never in a foster care system, I have a natural sympathy for children—and adults for that matter—who’ve experienced a loss of family. I wrote three novels before I really noticed that this theme runs throughout my work: the condition of being an orphan. Or of young people whose parents are alive but unavailable to care for them.
What is your favorite part of writing?
My favorite part of the writing process is when some new insight comes clear to me—like in the situation described above, when I saw the obvious connection between my characters’ situation and patterns in my own life. On the surface nothing was similar; only the subconscious link.
And in the writing life, my favorite thing is no doubt the same as most writers’: When someone I’ve never met before reaches out, maybe through a review or a message, to say that they enjoyed my book. That’s what I live for.
What is the most challenging aspect of writing?
Keeping faith that the effort is worthwhile in times when no one reaches out.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Among classic novelists, I love Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Wharton, and Woolf. Among contemporaries—Alice Munro, Louise Erdrich, Kazuo Ishiguro, Barbara Kingsolver, Kent Haruf, and lots of others.
What authors or person(s) have influenced you?
I’ve had wonderful teachers. Their work and advice is in a class by itself. To mention a few, there’s Kim Barnes (author of In the Kingdom of Men); Nancy Zafris (The People I Know and Metal Shredders); Joy Passanante (The Art of Absence); Mary Clearman Blew, (This Is Not the Ivy League); and Daniel Orozco (Orientation and Other Stories).
And, of course, there were my high school English teachers, Mr. Jensen and Mrs. Grandee. Both were very dedicated and remain special to me.
But my most crucial influence in every way was my mother. She was the first in her family to attend a university. She majored in chemistry and became a medical technologist but always loved literature and all the arts. When I was little, she read poetry out loud and taught us to appreciate the beauty of language. Quite a few years after her death, I learned from my aunt that my mother’s favorite novel had been the same as mine! At that time, The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky was my favorite.
Anesa, what’s your favorite place to write?
Any quiet place but with regular distractions so I don’t forget to move around once in a while. The “sedentary lifestyle” is a killer! For the most part, I write best at home. I like to stand up and stretch, which gets awkward at a coffeehouse. I try to set a timer for 25 minutes throughout the day so I stop and do that. At least, when I’m being good that’s what I do.
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
Before I developed foot troubles a few years ago, I used to be an enthusiastic walker. I would trek over a mile with my backpack to pick up a few things at the supermarket. I cut behind the big box stores to avoid busy streets. If health and urban design would permit, I’d love to live “car-free.”
Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?
I never thought I would self-publish but wound up bringing out two books. I thought I would never find a publisher—then, that happened, too! So it has been a series of surprises.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?
I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing, and when I was looking forward to starting that program at the University of Idaho, I made a plan for my thesis: I wanted to develop my troublesome short story into a novel. At that point, I had written two previous novels, but they didn’t seem as promising. Something told me that Our Orbit could be a book readers would warm to.
Any advice for writers looking to get published?
Use every kind of writing to gain practice: emails, birthday cards, blog comments, non-fiction gigs, shopping lists—everything! It’s all grist for the mill of “honing your craft.” And don’t send anything to a publisher that you might be embarrassed to see again a few months from now. In other words, don’t rush!
Social media links:
Where can we find your book?
Booktrope makes it available through all major online retailers. These links are available now, but iTunes and others should be coming soon:
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/our-orbit-anesa-miller/1119914300?ean=9781620157237
And by order from most brick-and-mortar bookstores!
What’s next for you, Anesa?
Here’s hoping I find the energy to finish another novel. I have one underway with a similar Appalachian setting to Our Orbit. And I also have a short story collection going into production soon. It’s called To Green Camp, and it presents of a diverse cast of characters who all encounter life-changing adventures. It is scheduled to be published by Booktrope later this year.
Thanks for visiting The Writing Life, Anesa! I look forward to reading Our Orbit. I wish you much success with your new release!
About Eleanor Parker Sapia
Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of PEN America and the Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.
A Decent Woman is Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.