Author Interview: Cynthia Ripley Miller

  • How do you come up with the titles for your books?

I start with a simple first title drawn from the book’s content. Often, I expand on this title based on an idea or insight about the book, and I create a list of possibilities. Next, I show these possibilities to a few readers closest to me to see which two they like the most. Then, I do a web search to ensure that my two chosen titles are not already in use. Afterward, I step away from these two titles for a few days, and when I return to them, the right one seems to jump out at me.

  • How much research did you need to do for your books?

I’ve done quite a bit of research because my novels take place at the end of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Medieval Age. By the fifth century, things in late ancient Rome had changed regarding clothing, military gear, religion, customs, etc. I’ve spent numerous hours researching things as simple as hairstyles to the type of swords and shields used by the military. For me, it’s been an incredible and educational adventure. I’ve read so many interesting books about this era. My research has also led me to experts across the globe, via the internet, who have generously guided and informed me on the topics relating to my novels.

  • When you did your research, did it change your characters or plot significantly?

In my first two books, I discovered a few things that influenced my plot. For example, Europe was Christianized by the 5th century AD, including the barbarian groups, except for a few tribes, including the Germanic Franks. My hero, Garic, is a Frank warrior and First Counsel to his tribe. The Franks were Germanic pagans with gods similar to the Scandinavian gods (Wodan was the equivalent to Odin). My heroine, Arria, is a Roman senator’s daughter and a Christian. This religious difference between hero and heroine added an extra layer of tension to the clash between their cultures, making it even more difficult for them to be together. However, I viewed this difference as an added conflict for the characters that would enhance the plot.

In my third book, A Sword Among Ravens, a portion of the story takes place in Jerusalem. I discovered in researching the history of this part of the Roman Empire that the Jewish people were banned from Jerusalem due to revolts and conquests that stretched back to Emperor Hadrian in 130AD. They were only allowed to enter the city once a year on ‘the ninth of Ab,’ a Jewish holy day. But I intended to bring back a Jewish character from book one. At first, I viewed this historical reality as a definite obstacle. It affected the plot because my character, Samuel, needed free access to the city. After thinking about it for a few days, I realized there was a solution to this dilemma, reaching back to book one. In the end, an even stronger plotline emerged that provided additional tension and drama.

  • Are there therapeutic benefits to modelling a character after someone you know?

Absolutely! Across my books, several characters have taken on the characteristics of people I know or have worked with that either enriched my life or brought me grief. In one instance, I created a character based on two persons I worked with who were always mean and rude to their colleagues. I took their names and blended them to form one character’s name. It was so therapeutic! It helped me create this character who became the arch-villain. Writing does have its benefits. J

  • What author in your genre do you most admire, and why?

I’m a fan of Diana Gabaldon and her Outlander series. As a novelist, my roots lean toward historical romance/mystery & suspense. I enjoyed the novel Outlander with its blend of history, adventure, romance, and fantasy. It inspired me to write a story that included several genres—romance, history, suspense, and mystery. I love the idea of a strong heroine and hero supported by colorful characters with smaller stories that help create sub-plots. I find books that bring me into secondary stories that enrich the overall theme and main plot exciting. When a reader tells me they liked a particular supporting character, I feel good. I cannot write a novel with two main characters and only one or two characters in the background. My muses won’t let me.

  • How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

Currently, I’ve written three books in my Long-Hair Saga. Book 1—On the Edge of Sunrise, Book 2—The Quest for the Crown of Thorns, Book 3—A Sword Among Ravens. I favor each for different reasons, the same way I feel about my children. I could never choose.

  • What flavor is your writing?

The combination of a chocolate energy bar with a pinch of cayenne might best describe my novel’s flavor. My story is fast-paced with more dialogue than narrative (although there’s enough narrative to provide imagery and internal dialogue). I like action and conflict to keep the story fresh, and romance weaved with mystery and suspense to make the plot exciting.

  • Whom do you trust for objective and constructive criticism of your work?

I’m a member of a four-person writing group. We’ve been together for over ten years. We all have strong backgrounds in either literature, editing, writing, or teaching. We’re all published. I also have one family member who is an avid reader and bluntly honest. She brings the perspective of the ‘reader’ who doesn’t write to her criticism. This ability helps me immensely. In addition, once I finish a manuscript, I ask several acquaintances who love to read to act as beta readers for me.

  • Do you play music while you write—and, if so, what’s your favorite?

No. I’m having conversations in my head when writing dialogue, and I want to feel immersed at the moment. So any noise, like a loud television or a barking dog, is distracting. I’m an auditory learner, so if there is music playing, it has to be instrumental. Otherwise, I begin to listen to the words.

  • Have pets ever gotten in the way of your writing?

I have this cat, Romulus, who knows when I’m most engrossed in my writing. He will paw at my legs, even meow (sometimes, it sounds like wailing to my ears) to get my attention so that I’ll get up and give him a treat. I love him, but at times like these, I either submit to his wishes, or I’ll shoo him away and close the door behind him. He’s my darling, but he can be so frustrating.

On the Edge of Sunrise “weaves, twists and turns at a tremendous pace, and the characters leap off the pages, which simply keep on turning.” Marilyn Sherlock, Historical Novel Society—(Book 1) The Long-Hair Saga Series. 

The Quest for the Crown of Thorns (Book2)“In this thriller, rivals race to possess Christ’s crown of thorns. Ripley Miller astutely brings to life a Rome teetering precariously on the brink of collapse … The reader should be glad to have read this volume and eager for a third. Recommended” – Kirkus Reviews

A Sword Among Ravens (Book3)”is tense, it is powerful, and I could not put it down. A gripping read from start to finish—I highly recommend.” The Coffee Pot Book Club Reviews

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Twitter: @CRipleyMiller

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