Interview with Miranda Keller: Q3 2020 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest Runner Up

Sunday, October 04, 2020
Miranda’s Bio:

Miranda lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband of 35 years. Her writings take the reader down various paths of thought and feeling- the ebb and flow of life. She faces her own human struggles with courage and refreshing honesty.

She has enthusiastically coached her two sons and numerous students through the challenging aspects of the English language working as a paraeducator. Her love of the written word is contagious. She has attended literary course work in which she excelled and is currently reworking her biography.

Recently, Miranda had the opportunity to ghost write in a nonfiction, short story. In addition, Miranda placed 4th with “What If” in a past WOW Contest, which can be found here. She, also, recently placed in the top 10 in Wow’s Q2 2020 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest with her essay, “Good Morning, Class.”

If you haven't done so already, check out Miranda's award-winning story "Two Cups of Hot Water, Please" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Q3 2020 Creative Nonfiction Contest!  How did you begin writing this piece and how did it and your writing evolve as you wrote?

Miranda: First, I lived it. I see the story in detail in my head. Then I spill the picture onto the page. Poring over my verbs, I change whatever Be verbs I can. After checking the word count, I begin tightening my sentence structure and eliminate every word that might not be necessary to paint the story. This piece started out 1556 words. I had 556 to eliminate. Oh gosh, I can’t do that. Oh Yes, I Can! What startled me was how clear and sparkly the final draft became. 

WOW: That’s amazing to eliminate a third of your story to get to that clear, sparkly draft. I like to compare editing to wood sculpting: you start with a block of wood and remove everything that’s not needed to get to the heart of the piece. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay?

Miranda: I talk too much. I write too much. Against incredible odds, I am a survivor – a fighter, always thinking on my feet. Seeing my huge pack of Costco toilet paper, I understand where that comes from. Dignity can be found in a roll of toilet paper.

WOW: We are lucky and very grateful that you have shared a piece of your story with us, and it sounds like you’ve been in the process of sharing more of your life story, too. Please tell us more about writing and reworking your biography. What’s that process like? 

Miranda: Spilling out 276 pages of raging anger, I had decided I would never write my story for a Christian audience. So, I attempted to paint my ridiculous life, tuck God in there a bit and come out shining like a mighty over-comer. Wow, look at me. I’m a star. This just wasn’t ringing true to me. I owe God everything. I breathe against incredible odds. I owe it to myself to tell the truth. My reader will walk through every traumatic event because I relive them as I lance each one on the page. 

WOW: You’ve well-described that messy and beautiful process that challenges many memoirists: what is the truth and how to best write about it. Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you? 

Miranda: One book stamped permanent branding on my soul. I know this book is not nonfiction, but I’ll never forget it: East of Eden by John Steinbeck. “Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7“If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it’” (Genesis 4:6-7). That book taught me my blood is not what makes me evil; my choices make me evil or good. I have a choice. I can and must master it.  I don’t have to be my mother. 

I’ve also read just about every book about Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Paul Brand. Philip Yancey diligently and powerfully painted parts of this man’s life. Paul Brand revolutionized the treatment of leprosy, which, incidentally, behaves similarly with diabetic neuropathy. In His Image taught me that closed doors guide a person in the way they should go. Pain, the Gift Nobody Wants helped me to understand pain in my feet is a blessing, better than numbness. Pain is the only catalyst that truly changes behavior. Phillip Yancey taught me more about writing than all of my college classes put together. He said that if you are going to paint history, make sure your reader relives it. This one thought changed my writing style. Mark Sullivan’s Beneath A Scarlet Sky taught me so much about bravery. That 17-year-old boy saved life after life with his strength and courage. I learned more about World War II in that book than I ever learned in school. Lastly, as I read David Pelzer’s A Boy Called It. I saw in vivid display how he suffered so much more than myself. However, I do believe we both knew a woman named Aunt Mary. 

WOW: If you could tell your younger-writing-self anything, what would it be?

Miranda: Compare yourself to no one. Tap into every sense you have. Remember them all and use them to bring your story alive. Open your eyes; look around you. Pay attention to the nuances that make each person unique. 

WOW: Anything else you’d like to add? 

Miranda: I went to a writing conference a couple of years ago. I was so charged and filled with direction and joy. Then I went to the last class. This professor knocked the wind and the joy out of my sails. He said if you don’t have a formal education, no one will read or represent your work. I cried all the way home. I’m in no physical condition to tackle a degree. But, by-golly, I have a story to tell, a passion to tell it, and an informal education to do it well.

WOW: I’m glad you didn’t let that one professor keep you down. Please, please, please keep writing and sharing your story! We all benefit from reading and sharing stories: it’s what helps to gain new perspectives, learn, and empathize with others – regardless of education level. Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses. And thank you for sharing your writing with us!

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Anne--Thanks for doing this interview, and for providing a link to Miranda's essay.

Miranda--Congratulations. The competition is stiff in these contests (I've failed to get any recognition in two of them already ;) so you should be proud.

That guy at the writing conference was so so wrong. There are booksmart people... and some of those "educated" people have no common sense or have no ability to relate to other people. There are street-smart people--and many of those people have fascinating, compelling stories to tell. You have a story to tell. Keep writing and keep telling your story.

And again--congrats.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

This was a great interview Anne. Congratulations Miranda and continued success as a writer.

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