Panelist interview: Dusty Miller

Ellen Meeropol interviews Dusty Miller, a panelist on the Paths to Publication panel.

\"\"How did you come to write the mystery series?

When I began the first Alice Ott mystery, I had no clue that I would end up writing a series. After a long career in mental health, including writing many articles and non-fiction books, I wanted to do something new. I created Alice Ott, an elderly cane-wielding sleuth who carries a purse and a small oxygen tank. Although she was the perfect fit for a Miss Marple “cozy,” Alice tackled crime of national and international proportions. In the first of the “Danger” series, biological weapons were being secretly developed at a U.S military facility, microbiologists were being assassinated around the world, and Alice Ott was on the case!

Though most amatuer sleuths her age are relegated to the cozy, Alice and her friends went on in the next three books facing the kind of danger more suited to political thrillers. Inspired by Alice Ott prototypes (like Frances Crowe, a peace icon and long-time friend and mentor), Alice propelled me to write three more books in the “Danger” mysteries.

Who gave you the most encouragement early on?

I was lucky to find Dori Ostermiller’s Writers in Progress program as I began my mystery writing journey. The writing workshops eventually evolved into writers support groups, and I continued to be challenged, inspired and loved by my sister writer friends.

What is the most rewarding part of being a writer for you?

I love my relationships with my characters. They entertain and thrill me just like playing make- believe when I was a child. I have treasured deeply sustaining relationships with Frances Crowe and Ann Wilson, the two main inspirations for the Alice Ott character. Having Frances at my side for numerous local bookstore and library book talks has been an extraordinary gift.

What do you do in your daily life that supports your writing life?

I walk two to four miles a day year round. This is as important to my writing life as the hours spent at the computer. I also read planfully — perhaps addictively — and find a mix of mysteries, contemporary fiction, and miscellaneous non-fiction keep my “learning” cells alive.

Have you ever gotten writer’s block? How did you snap our of it?

No, not really. I think I suffer from too much social hunger to notice if I have writer’s block. I find it hard to take enough time alone to write. When I get myself to finally sit down at the computer, I\’m excited that I have a block of writing time.

What are you planning to talk about at the conference?

I’m talking about my experiences with indie press publishing vs mainstream. In my nonfiction publishing years, I had more success than I deserved, really. My clinical work in the field of trauma and addiction opened a direct path to publishing. I never had to do the work of finding and negotiating with mainstream publishers; they found me. When I switched to writing fiction and got over the shock of discovering that my success in nonfiction wasn’t ready currency, I was lucky enough to find two local indie presses, White River Press and Levellers Press. I will explain how that has worked out, mostly very well.

You’ve said that DANGER IN THE HOUSE is your last Alice Ott novel. What’s next for you?

I\’m trying to settle on whether to begin a new mystery series set in Florida where my wife and I live in the winter, or finally get down to working on a memoir centered on my experiences with death. The latter has been evolving in small pieces for too long now, and I have to either commit to it or dive into the Florida series.

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