Welcome to The Author Spotlight where authors get treated like the stars they are!
Today we have with us Bill Miller
(WOW would you look at that?)
Author of Heroes and Hounds
I see where you're involved with the Norfolk Hunt Club. To those of us not whipper-ed in and completely clueless, what does that involve? Obviously dogs, (grins), but how much time does it take? What skills does it require?
Bill: Of course the first skill is to be an excellent rider. Staying on a horse’s back should be second nature to you like skating is to a hockey player. You should also have a keen eye and a sharp mind. Events happen very quickly in the hunt field and you have to be aware of everything that’s going on around you. There are two types of whipper-ins. There are the paid professionals who are pard of the hunt staff and then there are honorary whipper-ins who do it for the love of the sport. They are not paid. Our hunt does not employ professional whipper-ins. Our job is to the assist the huntsman anyway we can. This involves keeping the hounds (dogs) in check when they are not hunting. Rounding up stray hounds should they wander off and in general being everywhere at the same time. Our hunt seasons goes from September through November and then again from Mid-April to the end of May. When we’re not hunting, we exercise the hounds six days a week walking them out on foot. Usually there are three or four whipper-ins accompanying the huntsman on the daily exercise. We walk them for about an hour a day off lease, thirty to forty hounds at a time. So it is quite an exercise that can go bad quickly if you’re not sharp.
In your forward, you dedicated the book to Mrs. Jane Sheldon, former Master of Foxhounds and said that the story was originally written as a present for her. What a magnificent gift first of all, secondly, we'd love to hear a little more about her and her lost dog that inspired this book.
Bill: I started riding with Mrs. Sheldon when she was Master of Foxhounds around 1990. She was just in her prime and a very young 75 years old. A very strong equestrian and a woman with a great heart, she taught me a lot about hunting, its passion and the care of horses and hounds. She was also one of the first to welcome me into the Norfolk Hunt Club. She was an active rider well into her 90’s. The lost hound that inspired the book did not belong to Mrs. Sheldon or the Norfolk Hunt Club. It was a story about a hound that went missing for several months. Everyone had given up on him but sure enough when the snows melted he appeared on the scene, thin but otherwise healthy. So the story is loosely based on this true event. However, most of the scenes in the book are an amalgam of other stories and my imagination.
The illustrations and the layout of the book were superb. It was like opening up a treasured book from long ago. Was this the plan from the beginning or did the design come after?
Bill: After I finished the manuscript, I put an ad on-line asking for illustrators to work with me on the book. I received applications from all across the country. Some of it fine art work, some of it resembled crayon drawings you would find on a refrigerator. I was particularly taken by the artwork of Mary Burkhardt who specializes in animal portraits. I sent her the manuscript and she fell in love with it. She and her husband are both retired from very active careers in the publishing business. He is a retired book designer. A perfect match. I knew I didn’t have to look any further. I suggested drawings for certain aspects of the book and Mary suggested drawings for other parts. So together we came up with a plan for the illustrations. I couldn’t have worked with a nicer and more talented couple. In this day and age of the internet, I have yet to meet Mary and Al. All of our correspondence has been on the web or telephone.
This book focused on a young girl, her friend, a veteran, and a dog. The veteran was such an organic character full of depth. Was he based on anyone roughly?
Bill: My best friend from high school was a Vietnam Vet. In his last few years of his life he became almost destitute, living with his cats in a trailer park in South Carolina. Unfortunately, he didn’t take very good care of himself and died from diabetes. But he was a good soul; a wonderful person and he would never hesitate to put his life on the line for you no matter what the circumstance. A true friend. So him many ways the character of Strange Willie is based on this friend.
Alright, now about YOU.
Your favorite dessert is served up on the table before you. You dig into?
Bill: I love chocolate mousse. I would eat gallons if I could. Unfortunately, too much keeps me up late at night.
The first dog you can remember made a distinct impression on you because?
Bill: As a college graduation present to myself, I got a rescue dog from the ASPCA. He was with me through three girls friends and two wives. (I’m still married to the second one). I always took him on dates with me and one of the early girlfriends told me I would have to choose between her and the dog. You know who one. He was mostly white with big brown spot on his back. I had people convinced that the spot moved up and down on his back according to the weather. Another time I was up on the roof at my brother-in-law’s home fixing the TV antennae (Some of you won’t know what a TV antennae is). It was two stories up. I was hammering away and looked around there was the dog standing next to me on the roof. He had climbed up the rung ladder and wanted to be part of the action. He was a wonderful dog and a portrait of him hangs in my living room.
If you had free tickets to travel anywhere in the world to stay free for a week, where would you choose?
Bill: I would love to go to Montana and ride with the cowboys on a real cattle drive.
You look at a clock and it says 8:00 p.m. It's been a wonderful day and you settle down to a book. Which genre do you reach for?
Bill: At eight o’clock I’m ready for bed. I read a lot of biographies and truth based fixtion. Right now I’m reading a lot of equestrian fiction written by friends on Equine Author Sites.
Bill, you are wonderful for doing this interview! Thank you so much!
Bill Miller on Twitter: @Millerfilm102