Celia Miles is a native of Appalachia, born in Western North Carolina, and, except for brief stints in Massachusetts and Virginia, plus college in Kentucky and Pennsylvania, has lived here all her life. A long-time English instructor at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, she is retired and living in Asheville. She calls herself “a teacher by trade, a traveler by design, a photographer for fun, and a writer by avocation.”
While teaching she co-authored a textbook for the two-year college market (Writing Technical Reports, adapted for the Canadian market as Some Assembly Required. McGraw-Hill, publisher). Now in addition to freelance editing and writing in various genres—thus, a “nicheless author”—her interests include traveling, photography, old grist mills, and Neolithic sites, especially stone circles. Her novels are A Thyme for Love, ThymeTable Mill, Mattie’s Girl: An Appalachian Childhood, Sarranda, and (in 2010) Journey to Stenness. Two short story collections are On a Slant: A Collection of Stories and Islands One and All: Stories and Otherwise. With Nancy Dillingham, she has co-edited three anthologies of the work of women writers in Western North Carolina: Christmas Presence, Clothes Lines, and Women’s Spaces Women’s Places.
Read an interview about my writing life by Netwest Mountain Writers and Poets.
Some time ago I responded to questions on a blog interview about my next novel. Now that the book is here, I’ve tweaked only the references to time. I hope you enjoy reading the comments.
1. What is the title of your latest book?
Sarranda’s Heart: A Love Story of Place.
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
It’s a sequel to Sarranda, published in 2006. Sarranda evolved as a sort of “prequel” to a short scene in my sweet romance, ThymeTable Mill (2005). In that book the heroine wants a grist mill for their herb farm; once an old mill is reassembled, she often goes to sit and enjoy its atmosphere. During one visit, she dreams/ imagines/ sees a woman who tells her story of her grandfather’s mill (lost during the Civil War). That character, Sarranda, was so vivid to me that, a few years later, I told her story: Sarranda. Its ending almost demanded a sequel and now it’s here.
3. What genre does the book fall under?
Sarranda and Sarranda’s Heart are historical fiction and women’s fiction—novels of a strong woman enduring and surviving the cruelties behind the battlefields, the home scene during devastatingly hard times of defeat and afterwards.
4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I’m not a movie buff, so I’d leave that decision to someone else. However, Sarranda is in her forties, so maybe a Sally Field type, with a Jude Law appearing as a love memory and interest.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your books?
Having left her beloved Greene’s Valley to become a companion to a lady in Charlotte, Sarranda is recruited to journey north to be trained to return in the early 1880s to aid women after the Civil War, and in her native mountains discovers her true love, her worth, and a mission different than expected.
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I will self-publish the novel (as I have all my works) and self-promote, for pleasure, with profit a slight possibility. Most of my books are available as e-books and in soft cover from Amazon as well as in regional independent bookstores.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I know that Sarranda was completed in a quick six weeks, with then a bit of time for checking facts about prisons and regiments in WNC during the 1860s. Sarranda’s Heart has not come as easily. I’ve worked sometimes sporadically, sometimes obsessively for almost two years, doing other things along the way.
8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I’d like the readers and critics to compare it to Robert Morgan’s Gap Creek and to think of Wilma Dykeman’s Tall Woman.
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’ve read a great deal about the aftermath of the Civil War in the mountains of North Carolina, the hardships, poverty, lack of resources, and much about the mission of church (especially) groups in the north who wished to and did help—with settlement schools, crafting opportunities. And I’ve felt some conflict about all that “outside” aide, though I recognize its value. My intent was to have Sarranda return to work with the craft movement, but that actually occurred later than my heroine’s time frame; I wanted her to be in her early forties and thus set the story around 1880. She had to find another venue and that was “ready-made” for her: her love of Grandda’s grist mill. And, of course, there is a love interest threading its slight way through.
10. What might pique reader’s interest:
The question is often raised: Can one go home again? After losing land, family, after becoming a “different” person in some respects after one leaves, can the return be successful? Can a woman manage in a man’s world, even when many men were destroyed physically or emotionally by a war they lost? Can Northern and Southern differences be overcome by necessity and/or love?