Author Sandra A. Miller's memoir Trove starts with an armchair treasure hunt for gold coins buried in New York City, but like all good memoirs, delves much deeper. Read my review of Trove here.
Trove: A Woman's Search for Truth and Buried Treasure by Sandra A. Miller, from Brown Paper Press (2019)
Sandra recently talked with Rose City Reader about treasure hunts, writing, and her book Trove:
Tell us a bit about the armchair treasure hunt that inspired your memoir Trove.
My friend David who, like me, is obsessed with treasure, invited me to go with him on a search for a chest filled with $10,000 in gold coins buried in NYC. In this kind of armchair treasure hunt, a person hides something of value then sets up a series of codes and clues to reveal the location where it can be found. It’s been a “thing” for a while, but now the hobby is really growing in popularity. Once you think you know where the treasure is, you have to go to the exact spot and try to find it. Over the course of two years, David and I made several trips to NYC in search of that treasure chest, but as my memoir reveals, the whole thing got a lot more complicated than I ever could have imagined. Then again, treasure hunting often does.
Also, in the same adventurous spirit, I’ve created an armchair treasure hunt to go with Trove. If you read the book and follow the 8 clues on my blog, you may win the treasure: A handcrafted bejeweled bracelet worth $2,200.
How did you come to write Trove?
I was working on that armchair treasure hunt with David when I realized that as much as I wanted to find that chest of gold coins, there were other things in my life that I was looking for: a connection to my mother who was dying; a deeper sense of purpose; an understanding of who I was in my marriage and family. In my journals, I began writing about my many searches, exploring the idea of life as a treasure hunt—which mine had always seemed to be. I kept writing, making the connections between something I had lost as a little girl, and the ache I carried inside for something I couldn’t even name. I just kept writing and telling my story, revealing the details like clues discovered in a treasure hunt. Soon enough, those stories began to make sense as a longer narrative.
Your memoir is intensely personal, dealing with a rough patch in your marriage, your childhood, and your relationship with your aging mother. Did you have any qualms about sharing so much?
Absolutely. I think almost every memoirist must have some qualms about revealing the most intimate details of her life. At the same time, I knew I had to lay myself bare in this book, or I couldn’t accomplish what I wanted to do, which is make other people more compassionate for their own journeys, help them to realize that the darkest parts of their lives may offer the most insight and—ultimately—illumination. So in sharing my story without holding back, I think readers are able to connect their struggles, however different they may be, with mine.
Did you consider turning your experience into fiction and writing the book as a novel?
After reading various blog posts about how hard/impossible it is to sell a memoir, I’d think, oh, no, what am I doing trying to publish this story in an already saturated market? No one is going to buy this, so maybe I should just really make it a novel. But I knew in my gut—and I almost always listen to my gut—that fictionalizing this was the wrong approach to take. Writing this book and sharing the narrativized but unvarnished truth, was a deeply healing experience for me, and it ultimately makes Trove a more powerful, revealing, and intimate story, I think. And judging from many of the comments I’ve received from readers, they appreciate that it is my true story and that I was able to strip down on the page. I hope to write a novel someday, but Trove was never meant to be a novel. I never wanted to enhance, distort, or dilute the truths I tell.
What did you learn from writing your book – either about the experiences you describe or the writing process – that most surprised you?
I finally had proof of something I had suspected for a long time: that if you believe in a project with unwavering faith and work at it with persistence, and love, then you can bring it to fruition. I had heard a version of that advice from so many writers, but I needed to find it out for myself. I believed in this book more so than I’d ever believed in any other creative project I’ve ever attempted. Long before I found Wendy Thomas Russell, my wonderful publisher at Brown Paper Press, I pictured this book on shelves in my favorite stores. I felt the weight of this book in my hands. I imagined presenting it at workshops and conferences, signing copies, sharing it with friends. As I was writing this book, I was also dreaming it into being. And every single one of the things I dreamed has come to pass.
Can you recommend any other memoirs that deal with major life issues with the kind of heart and humor you put into yours?
It’s not terribly humorous—although I can tell the author does have a lively sense of humor—but I think absolutely everyone should read Know My Name by Chanel Miller. Run don’t walk to the nearest indie bookstore and get a copy. Trust me on this.
I also love Body Leaping Backward: Memoir of a Delinquent Girlhood by Maureen Stanton. Now this is a memoir with great humor and a huge beating heart.
Who are your three (or four or five) favorite authors? Is your own writing influenced by the authors you read?
I grew up in a house in which we had very few books and could not easily get to the library. Consequently, I tended to read several of my favorite books over and over again, and I think that’s how I came to understand plot structure. I read books like The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery dozens of times. I would keep returning to books I loved for comfort, but they ended up giving me so much more in an very challenging childhood. Really, they gave me my creative path.
What kind of books do you like to read? What are you reading now?
I read widely, but when a new rock ‘n’ roll memoir or biography comes out, I have to get it right away. So right now, I’m finishing up Me: Elton John, which was a Christmas present from my husband. Also, inspired by a friend of mine who has been reading all of the Pulitzer Prize winning books, I’m starting to do the same. I recently dove into Gilead by Marilyn Robinson, and it’s a very meditative experience. You just can’t rush it.
You have a terrific website and are also active on twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. From an author's perspective, how important are social media to the reading and writing community?
Thank you for saying so. I often feel shy about putting myself out there (gone are the old days of writing in obscurity), but social media is an essential and accessible path for writers who need to bring attention to their work. And, seriously, what writer doesn’t? Also, social media has leveled the playing field for authors in a very positive way. Whether you are with one of the Big 5 publishers or an indie press, you can leverage your social media contacts to promote your book. And for that reason, people can take non-traditional paths to publication and not despair when Random House doesn’t sign them. A savvy author with a small press can be very successful.
Do you have any events coming up to promote your book?
I have several events to start off 2020 and keep adding more. Check my events page for updated details.
What is the most valuable advice you’ve been given as an author?
My friend Lisa Carey, who has published five novels gave me excellent advice when I was trying to sell Trove. She said, “Trust that your book is strong enough to make the journey.” If you believe in your book, then you must keep the faith, and be patient as well as persistent. A book’s journey is seldom as expected.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
Exploring ideas and topics that interest me and bringing them to life on the page. I’d always wanted to write a book about treasure hunting, and here it is.
What’s next? Are you working on your next book?
I am, and it’s different from Trove, but still has a treasure component to it, because I’m clearly not done with the topic. But I’m also toying with the idea of that novel. A character keeps pestering me, so I think I’d better see what that’s about.
TROVE IS AVAILABLE ONLINE OR ASK YOUR LOCAL BOOK SELLER TO ORDER IT.