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Monica Koldyke Miller can pinpoint the exact moment when she knew she wanted to become a writer.
The longtime Decatur resident, whose historical romance novel, "Threads of Betrayal," has just been published, recently recalled a time when she was 11 years old and just entering the sixth grade at a new school.
"I had no friends. I felt alone. I felt stupid," she said. Although Miller found friends and a sense of belonging later that year, it was her teacher, a Mrs. Rindfusz, who said some powerful words that would encourage a dream.
Rindfusz told Miller, "You write the most interesting sentences."
Miller, who always enjoyed writing, recalled, "That was almost like a lifeline for me; her telling me that gave me my first inkling that I had a talent. I truly, at that moment, decided that I was going to be a writer."
Soon after graduating from high school, Miller started writing the now-published book. The original title was "White Wine and Red Roses." It took her about four years to write it using a manual typewriter while working fulltime and raising her children.
Writing a story based in the 1860s required Miller to spend countless hours researching everything from clothes to the Underground Railroad, maps, layouts of houses, adoptions and more. "I want everything to be as accurate as possible because it's so much fun to bring the reader back to that time frame and make them feel like they are there."
She sent the completed book off to a publisher in New York City, but it never actually ended up in the publisher's hands. Eventually it was returned. "Then I shelved it, because I didn't know what to do with it."
Miller said that about 14 years ago, "I decided it was time to try again, but I didn’t know where to start." She called Laurel Steill, her creative writing teacher at the former Columbia City Joint High School, who agreed to help by critiquing chapters.
"If it wasn't for Mrs. Steill, I probably would have quit. Her encouragement was so important because I kept thinking it [the book] wasn't good enough," Miller said.
Steill gave Miller two books on writing: "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott, and "Page After Page" by Heather Sellers. Miller said the books were encouraging for her because they explained that "every writer goes through writing a crappy first draft. [It was comforting] just knowing that all writers go through that process. I did all of the things they mentioned in these books, and I thought, 'Gosh, I'm really a writer!'"
Miller also joined a writer's group in Fort Wayne called Summit City Scribes. "They taught me two valuable things," she said, "That my story was too long and that it needed a great hook."
Miller's story originally totaled around 210,000 words. And the original hook, or first paragraph that captures the reader's interest, was later referred to by Les Edgerton, author of the book "Hooked," as "information dump."
"I continued to work on my story until I had taken it as far as I thought I could," said Miller. That's when she contacted Bobbi Ray Madry, a retired New York editor who moved to the Monroeville area. "I wanted the opinion of someone in the professional publishing field to tell me if I was ready."
"I worked with her for two years," said Miller. "She helped me cut out a lot of what I didn't need and she showed me where there were holes in my story and where the reader might get lost." Madry also helped Miller change her long chapters to shorter ones and suggested that she change the title. Although Madry did not suggest a title, she said that there are a lot of "threads" going on throughout the story.
Miller said she and her husband, Rendell Miller, thought long and hard about the title until they kept coming back to "Threads of Betrayal."
Monica rewrote the story three or four times and shortened it by nearly 40 percent — to 134,000 words. She also cut out some historical facts and lengthy character development. "I was learning how to become a better writer," she said. "I took out a lot of the explaining and put it into dialogue."
As much as Miller wanted her book to be published, she said, "I didn't want to make the mistake of publishing too soon." She knew she needed a better beginning to her story, so that's when she contacted Edgerton.
"He was critical in helping me get that new hook," she said. The beginning of the story ended up being the last thing to fall into place.
After the story was finished, Miller spent two or three years submitting query letters to several publishers before deciding to self publish. She noted that it took J.K. Rowling five years to get her first "Harry Potter" book published.
"I had a few bites," she said, but publishers who were interested wanted her to cut her story down to under 100,000 words. "I resisted because I thought it would make my characters shallow and underdeveloped."
Miller published her book first on Kindle and then in paperback form about two months later. She explained that she received a lot of help from people in the community, especially when it came time to create and choose a cover.
Local photographer Rebecca Liechty took about 400 pictures of a local model in a local Victorian-style home. The model's hair was done by local stylist Beth Fleming. The jewelry worn in the photo was from Eichhorn's Jewelry and the rose was from Ritter's Flowers and Gifts.
"This is not just me," said Miller. "I feel blessed that the cover has been almost a community project. People have been so supportive in helping me complete my dream.
"I really didn't feel like an author until I got the book in my hands and saw my name on it. I thought, 'It's real. It's not virtual anymore.' And getting reviews from people I don't know saying they love my story… it's humbling."
Miller enjoys it when people say they are interested in what is going to happen next. "I did leave one thread open at the end of the story. All of the other threads are woven into a nice, neat tapestry, except one."
Miller is currently working on a sequel, "Winds of Betrayal." She said, "I'm excited to see where it is going to lead me."
To learn more about Miller, to read book reviews or to purchase the Kindle or paperback version of "Threads of Betrayal," visit www.monicakoldykemiller.com or www.amazon.com.