In the next in my occasional interview series, I caught up with author DM Miller, whose interfaith romance Heart series, chiefly concerning the relationship between Muslim Abdul and Jewish Catherine, caught my interest some time ago.
The Religion of the Heart, Agony of the Heart and Secrets of the Heart are now joined by the latest entry, Holiday of the Heart, and this seemed an opportune moment in the run-up to Christmas to delve deeper into the series.
What initially inspired the Heart series?
Believe it or not, it began as a dream. I’d always been a writer, starting out with poetry, then journalism, and I even wrote a manuscript at the ripe old age of 20. But later, the writing took a backseat to real life until I had this dream, which was the catalyst to get me writing again. At the time (2011), the Arab Spring was on the news every night, and it got me thinking about Egypt. Then the story took on a life of its own.
How much of you is in Catherine?
A little, but probably not as much as people think. I actually have more fun writing Abdul’s character.
Why are you drawn to the clash of the monotheistic faiths as a major theme?
The three main Abrahamic faiths claim to worship the same God, and yet He’s characterized so differently in each religion. I love to compare and contrast because we have a great deal in common, but the differences are fairly profound if you really think about it. Otherwise, there would be no need to separate the religions. So why do Jews, Muslims and Christians see Him so differently? There’s a lot of history and culture influencing our belief systems, politics as well.
I like to explore these things because I find it fascinating to analyse our differences honestly and without the hindrance of political correctness, while also highlighting our shared views.
And why these monotheistic faiths in particular? Well, they say to write what you know, and this is what I know. If you ask me to write about Hinduism, I’d have to start researching from square one!
Are any of the other characters based on people you’ve met?
Actually yes. None of them are based on one single person but a combination of various people I know or have known in the past. For example, Abdul is a health nut and obsessed with exercise, he is controlling and has issues with his father. All of these traits and problems are exaggerated versions of my own friends and family, and in this case, they’re put together in one character.
What inspired the most recent entry, Holiday of the Heart?
Even though I love books that make you think, I also enjoy Christmas love stories. Last year I read several, but most were fluffy and forgettable. They’re fun to read, but then I brain dump them. So it came to me last December, what if I were to write an interfaith holiday book, one with real substance and grit, one that people would not be as likely to forget? The Shadids and DiMarcos were perfect for this!
Did you base any of your novels on experience, or on stories you have heard?
Just like the characters, the stories are a mixture of imagination and various real life events mashed together. But I will say this: a great deal of research has gone into every single one.
Are you going to explore the complications of raising children in interfaith marriages in later novels?
There may be a little more of that in future Heart series books. As for other novels, I’m not sure yet. My next release will be a novella in January 2018. It is romantic suspense, and my signature interfaith theme is subtly woven into the plot but takes a backseat to the action this time. It’s like no book I’ve ever written, and at the same time, you will still recognize my style.
Do you think interfaith marriage can work in real life?
It’s tricky. If both partners are extremely religious, they’re better off marrying someone who shares their beliefs. If one or both are secular, it’s a lot easier, but either way, raising the children is challenging. This is something I wrote about in my nonfiction book, Half-Jew: Searching for Identity. I was raised interfaith myself and therefore know a thing or two about it.
How long will this series continue?
It could potentially go on and on. In my head, I have the characters’ lives planned out for years to come, and then there are their children and their lives as they grow up. However, I’m thinking of taking a little break from the series for now so I can write some other things and hopefully attract new readers. Once I grow my readership and subsequently, the readership for the Heart series, I will be able to continue writing it.
How much does your initial draft change before you get to your final draft?
The Religion of the Heart was the first book, and that one changed dramatically over the course of four years. The rest of the books don’t change a whole lot, but I keep tweaking them and often get lost in the details. You know when you rewrite something so many times, you eventually come full circle and end up where you started!
What is the best thing about being a writer?
Catharsis. It’s my vice. I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs, but I write. We all need a release, and this is the healthiest release I can think of.
What is the worst thing about being a writer?
Marketing. I hate it so much, I’ve been thinking about maybe, possibly, if I don’t change my mind… looking for an agent. So far I haven’t done so because I enjoy having full control over my work.
To what extent do you agree with the statement “write what you know”?
There is some truth to that, but you can put your heart into anything you feel passionate about and do enough research to make up for what you didn’t know before. If you are inspired to write about something for whatever reason, and you don’t know a thing about it, you can learn. It depends on what it is. With that said, when you know a topic inside and out, the words flow freely, and I’m sure that comes across far better to the reader.
Which writers inspire you?
Too many to list! However, recently I’ve come to the conclusion that my absolute favourite writer is Jan Ruth. It’s a little odd because she’s a British author who focuses on Northern Wales and horses, neither of which having anything to do with the constant themes of my books. But even though I’m not Welsh, have never been to Wales and am not a rider, I find similarities in our realistic family themes. And as passionate as Ruth is about Wales, I am about Israel and my Jewish roots.
Orit Arfa is an Israeli author who writes about some of the same issues as me, I love your work, Joel Hames, Maria Gibbs, A.M. Khalifa, Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway, Elizabeth Gilbert, Mary Campisi… I could go on and on. My original inspiration was poetry: Lord Byron, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Dylan Thomas, Edgar Allan Poe… But I also read the commercial darlings like Debbie Macomber, Jackie Collins, Nora Roberts, etc, to see what they’re all about. I don’t always love their work but still find inspiration in their writing.
You thought I’d give you one or two names, right? It’s hard to narrow it down!
How important is social media if you are a writer?
Extremely. I have a love/hate relationship with it, but it has definitely helped me to market my work. Lately I’ve dedicated a little more time to Twitter (which I’d practically ignored in the past), my blog and Youtube, in addition to Facebook, and I think it all helps to get your work out there to the public and find that elusive readership we all seek. I wish I could spend the day holed up and focused on my writing, but unfortunately, marketing is a must. Social media is a free but time-consuming marketing avenue available to those of us who don’t have a stash of money to spend on getting our names out there.
What are your future writing plans?
Like I said, I have a novella coming out in January, then a new poetry book in April, and I’m thinking of writing another interfaith romance that’s not part of the Heart series in the upcoming year. However, that one might go to the agents first, which means its publication date is up in the air for now. We’ll see what the future holds.
Check out DM Miller’s novels here.