Victoria is super excited to see her first children’s picture book, If a Mantis Finds a Fly in the Sky, published and available for purchase. This book was inspired by her real-life pet Praying Mantis, Jade, who just passed away. Who knew one could get attached to an insect! If you have, or know of, kids aged 3-8 who are big fans of bugs and Seussian rhymes, this book is for them! Victoria is an APA style-certified editor and the founder of www.LocalEditors.com, which helps high schoolers craft their college application essays and graduate students polish and publish their theses and dissertations. Her published pieces have appeared in print and online in The Bark, Dog and Kennel, Animal Wellness Magazine, YourTeen.com, Diablo Magazine, Thought Catalog, WOW! Women on Writing; her stories for kids can be seen in Cricket Magazine and Dream in Color, etc. Prior to the pandemic, Victoria worked as a wine educator on the weekends at her favorite winery: McKahn Family Cellars. She is currently working on a novel about a female-centric winery. She lives with her incredibly fun and supportive husband, Martin, and they are parents to four talented children: Ari, Justin, Logan, & Kaitlin, who are all making the world a kinder and more interesting place to live. Message her on Twitter: @Vic_Lorrekovich. Or visit her at: www.VictoriaLorrekovich-Miller.com.
----------Interview by Renee Roberson
WOW: Welcome, Victoria, and congratulations again! I've always been intrigued by Sylvia Plath, her life and her work. How did the idea to intermingle Sylvia’s last moments with a modern-day twist first come to you with your story, Sylvia and Me in 1963?
Victoria: My husband and I support the “Little Free Libraries” movement and have recently installed one in front of our house. Every day I love to see what has been taken from—as well as deposited into—our little library. One day, I happily discovered a copy of Sylvia Plath’s 2nd book of poetry: Ariel (which was published after her death). I plucked it out and immediately began reading it. I’d read some of its contents years before but had forgotten much of it. I was so happy to rediscover it during the Covid-19 pandemic. It got me thinking…what if …Sylvia Plath had been born during a different era when mental illness wasn’t as stigmatized as it was during her life span? And what if she had been born during a time when women’s rights were just human rights? The story took off from there.
WOW: Your children’s book, If a Mantis Finds a Fly in the Sky, came out at the end of February and is based on the real-life relationship you had with your praying mantis. I’m sorry to hear of Jade’s passing! How did you first come to be a praying mantis owner and what lessons did you learn from her?
Victoria: My husband has always raised praying mantises for "green" pest control because they eat aphids, beetles, crickets, termites, as well as spiders (which were biting our kids). Then we began raising exotic mantises as pets—mostly as starter pets for our kids. They have included Giant African Mantises, which is what Jade was, Ghost mantises, Orchid mantises—which are gorgeous, Devil Flower Mantises, African Twig Mantises, and others. Our kids loved watching the mantises hatch and evolve into little carnivorous assassins. Eventually our kids outgrew their “insect phases,” but my husband and I just got more into it! Jade was a Giant African Mantis who lived for an entire year. I was transfixed by her and was also thankful that she was only four inches long. She was this intrepid insect that was one part patience and one part daredevilry! When she died, I couldn’t believe how sad I was—crazy! I knew she would need to have a story to memorialize her. As I was doing research for the “10 fun facts about praying mantises” at the end of my story, I learned that the late RBG (who I was—and still am—obsessed with) has a praying mantis named after her: llomantis ginsburgae. Apparently only male genitalia had been used for insect species classification until researchers Sydney Brannoch and Gavin Svenson were able to correct a mistake. They found that two genera that had been lumped together were actually separate species, based on the female characteristics as well as other traits. This certainly underscores the need for entomologists to equally consider both sexes of praying mantises. I knew female praying mantises were bad asses but I had no idea that my favorite feminist icon had one named after her! Jade not only inspired my curiosity but enabled me to connect two of my passions: praying mantises and iconic fighters for women’s rights!
WOW: Oh, I love that story and did not know RBG has a praying mantis named after her. How fascinating! As an editor who helps high school students with their college essays, what are some common issues you see arise in their first drafts?
Victoria: I’m an APA style-certified editor and the founder of www.LocalEditors.com, which helps high schoolers craft their college application essays and graduate students polish and publish their theses and dissertations. The biggest issue that I see with nearly all of my high school students is that they ignore the “story” aspect in their essays. They basically turn their resumes into prose and, as a result, their initial essays are forgettable. Essays and Personal Statements are where the admissions counselors get to see the personalities that exist beyond the grades, test scores and AP classes. In an essay, a student can highlight emotional depth, strength through compassion, perseverance, humor, etc. by showing versus telling. I had one student who had to write an essay about his community. He lived in an urban environment and walked to and from school every day. After several drafts, he wrote about his neighborhood from the perspective of his tennis shoes. It was moving, illuminating and humorous—and one I’m sure the admissions counselor remembered long after reading it. (BTW, he got into UC Berkeley). [As an aside, I always say this to young people who think that the right major and the right college will determine their later successes: “Your path will twist and turn in ways you can’t possibly fathom from where you are at this point in your life. Nearly ¾ of college graduates actually end up working in fields that are not related to their majors. Work hard but also be flexible, adaptable and open to new experiences."]
WOW: That's great and solid advice. Now, we definitely want to hear more about your work-in-progress about a female-centric winery! What genre would you say it is and can you give us a brief overview?
Victoria: I would say that my novel would fall under the literary, feminist, romantic, humorous chick-lit genre. The world of wine is a fascinating place in which to be (and where I work on some weekends) but if you look too closely, you’ll find that it’s dominated by men (at least when looking at the actual winemakers), so I started thinking about characters: Athena, a badass winemaker and her best friend, Ivy, who’s an amazing artist with a degree in business, and together they realize their college dream and open a winery together. After Ivy loses her husband to an auto accident, she buys a vineyard with the life insurance money. Ivy, who is straight, and Athena who is lesbian, create a family together. They are not romantic partners, but are soul mates in many ways. They live in separate houses but on the same property. Life is good, aside from the challenges that go along with raising Aaron, Ivy’s 14-year-old son, who is obsessed with horror stories and ignoring school rules. A visiting professor enters the scene and sees Aaron through a different lens and recognizes his brilliance. This professor also falls for Ivy and Ivy for him (facilitated by Athena’s orchestration). Given that Eli lives on the East Coast, Athena thinks he’ll be only the fling her best friend needs, but it goes way beyond a fling. How do these four people redefine what it means to be a family and make room for one another?
WOW: You have an impressive variety of writing clips, published pieces and awards. Can you give us a glimpse of what your daily writing schedule is like?
Victoria: I have carved out a section of our master bedroom as my office—it’s the only place in the house that is quiet. (Once one of my sons moves out, I will turn his bedroom into my writing lair. Shhh). My husband has made a sign for our bedroom door that says: “Mom is working. Do not disturb unless the house is on fire.” I usually work on my creative nonfiction projects, short stories, and/or novels in the mornings and then spend the afternoons working with students. After dinner, if everyone seems to be doing their own thing, I go back to writing for myself. This is a Monday through Friday schedule. The weekends are reserved for family fun like paddle boarding, hiking, hanging out with friends, antique shopping, wine-tasting, and going to art shows or music concerts. There’s also usually a couple of times a month when I’m working as a wine educator in a Livermore Valley Winery. Of course, the pandemic has forced us to stream movies and concerts and hang out with friends via Zoom, but we keep reminding ourselves that this is only temporary.
WOW: Victoria, thank you again for a fascinating interview. You've made this interview very fun and introspective and we look forward to reading that novel once it's published!