Manhattan Beach author Wanda Maureen Miller has a new and vibrant book in "Last Trip Home." Having written an historical romance and three college textbooks, Miller says this just-published project “could not be more different.”
She notes “All the five books have in common are words and hard work. I had a contract and an advance for the first four books but no guarantees that this fifth one would ever be published. The first four did not tear my guts out to write; nor did they mean as much to me.”
"Last Trip Home" is an intensely personal book. Miller describes it as a "coming-of-age mem-novel."
The main character struggles to escape from poverty on an Arkansas farm, her father’s lecherous grip and a husband in the Klan. She gets an education, moves to California, struggles with survivor’s guilt and finally returns to Arkansas to bury her father and burn down the sharecropper shack she grew up in.
With a powerful and cathartic story to tell, Miller explains her book is primarily about women who struggle.
“The message is work hard, be stubborn, keep your sense of humor and you will survive. It’s about the universal search for identity and meaning and the need to confront the past, however painful, so it stops haunting the present.”
The process of writing a book so close to the bone was therapeutic yet agonizing, according to the author. By putting events that had haunted her into her art, she said she was finally able to distance herself from them.
“After I wrote about my mother, I stopped seeing her face on the ceiling when I woke up every morning,” Miller said. “Revising, cutting and polishing over 3,000 pages to slightly over 300 pages of stories brings them and my family alive, over and over again.”
She admits that after working so hard for such a long time, just thinking about others reading the intimate revelations of her life fills her with a bit of dread along with anticipation.
“It will be like walking naked onto the Manhattan Beach Pier and having the sun shining on all my wrinkles and sags while people point and laugh,” she smiles. “I have asked people I know to buy the book but not to read it.”
But Miller’s prose is compulsively readable, regardless of the subject’s personal sensitivity for the author. Miller explained that while most of the stories are true, she simplified some events, changed names and created some composite characters.
"In the last edit, I decided to use my murdering pedophile great-grandfather’s real name, William J. McClure,” she said, risking that relatives still living in the town would be embarrassed.
According to Miller, McClure shot his daughter-in-law for trying to stop him from taking his young granddaughter into a back room and locking the door.
"I decided he and the women he hurt deserved to be outed for the #MeToo movement," said Miller. She also including a prison photo of McClure and a newspaper article about the murder and his arrest.
Miller began writing in the 3rd grade, around the same time reading became an important escape from her life on an Arkansas farm.
“I loved stories so much I wanted to create them. I started writing my Arkansas stories in 1988 in a workshop by Nancy Bacal and got her praise and encouragement, so I joined one of her weekly writing groups. That gave me courage to relive Arkansas every week while teaching full time in a community college and writing the four other books.”
Today, the author loves living in the beach cities.
“Walking around Polliwog Park to get my 10,000 Fitbit steps a day and seeing the ducks and coots on the lake calm me. Manhattan Beach could not be more different from Millerville, Arkansas, the rural community where I grew up. But sometimes I miss seeing the pine trees on my land in Arkansas and hearing an unpretentious redneck accent. And I miss eating fried squirrel.”
Find out more about "Last Trip Home" at https://shewritespress.com/portfolio/wanda-maureen-miller/