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In Episode 4.5 of The Turn On, we interview Rebel Miller, the author of "Awakening," about world building and sex scenes as character development.
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Kenrya: Come here, get off.
Kenrya: Today we're chatting with Rebel Miller, author of Awakening, the first book in the Realm series, which we read an excerpt from in the last episode. Rebel Miller is a fiction author who writes gripping romances about charismatic leaders who often turn social conventions on their heads. Rebel earned a graduate degree in communications and culture from Ryerson University and an undergraduate degree from the University of the West Indies. Rebel, plus hubby and sons, lives in the outskirts of Toronto, Canada, and enjoys overindulging in Pinot Grigio and caramel popcorn.
Kenrya: And binges on an eclectic mix of movies, music, and angst filled romance novels. Rebel, thanks so much for talking to us today.
Rebel Miller: Well, thanks for having me.
Kenrya: Yeah. We're excited that you're here and Erica is especially excited about this Pinot Grigio and caramel popcorn.
Rebel Miller: Whoa.
Erica: Oh, I read that and said we could totally spend a weekend together.
Rebel Miller: Oh, for sure. Are you kidding me? That my go to, my go to.
Kenrya: I don't like either one of those things.
Rebel Miller: What?
Kenrya: I feel like... I don't.
Rebel Miller: Okay. You don't know what good Pinot Grigio is. That's the problem.
Kenrya: I don't drink wine. I don't know how to live.
Rebel Miller: You don't drink wine.
Kenrya: I'm living wrong.
Rebel Miller: Okay.
Kenrya: I'm not a wine person. Yeah. And I don't like Carmel. I'm weird. It's fine. I'm okay with it.
Kenrya: Oh, before we get started, what are your preferred pronouns?
Rebel Miller: Preferred pronouns? Oh, she, her, that kind of thing.
Rebel Miller: Yep.
Kenrya: Exactly that. Okay. Erica and I are both she and her as well.
Rebel Miller: Excellent.
Erica: So, we read your bio and, again, me too on the Pinot Grigio and caramel popcorn. But I want to hear how you describe what you do. So, can you tell me in one sentence what is it that you do?
Rebel Miller: I guess... one sentence, I write romances that speak to today's romance reader, and that person is living in a world where diversity is pretty much the norm and kind of trying to talk about identity in a different way. Yeah.
Erica: That's great. Did you always want to be an author?
Rebel Miller: It's so funny. I've always been a writer. So, I've done public relations in my lifetime. I do like consulting in that type of realm. And then, it was really five years ago, so what is that, 2014, 2015 actually, that it just occurred to me, you know what? The time is now. I've thought about it when I was in my early twenties and writing and I just didn't feel that I was emotionally ready. I didn't know what I had to say, kind of what I could add to the various romances or just fiction in general.
Rebel Miller: And then, as I got older, I had the two kids and my husband. I had more life experience behind me. I started to feel like, you know what? I was like, you know what? I think I do have something to say. And, of course, I've been reading romances all my life. Right? Like I remember being like... what was I, under ten and hiding in my mother's closet with a romance.
Kenrya: Yo, same.
Rebel Miller: What can I say?
Kenrya: I've read through like all of Danielle's Steel's books.
Rebel Miller: Oh, yeah.
Kenrya: Starting in the second grade. I'm like, it's so highly inappropriate. But like second, third, and fourth grade I was consumed with Danielle Steel.
Rebel Miller: Really? Exactly.
Kenrya: So wrong.
Rebel Miller: But they're great. That's the thing about romance novels. I think a lot of people... it's changing now, I think, especially with E-reading. I think people are viewing romances a little different because they're kind of open more open to it and willing to read it.
Rebel Miller: I remember giving a seminar or a talk about my books and I said, people turn their nose up at romance every now and then, but then I'm like, when you go to Walmart, what are the books filling up those shelves?
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Rebel Miller: Romance. I was like, who's reading them? So-
Erica: Yeah, that's right.
Rebel Miller: It's fulfilling the demand. Of course people love romance. You know?
Kenrya: What do you think changed? Why do you think it's like more out in the open now?
Rebel Miller: Well, I'm not sure. With the publishing industry and the Internet, there's been a lot of disruption, I'm sure you ladies know, in terms of a lot of writers being able to get their work out there.
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Rebel Miller: And what I noticed is, of course, you've got a lot more writers doing that. And then, because you're reading on your E-books or your mobile devices, not everybody knows that you're reading a romance. So, I think you can be on the train, or the subway, or the bus reading a romance now, whereas before I remember having to hide the book cover kind of.
Rebel Miller: I didn't want anybody to see. And now, it's not a problem. You can kind of get away with that indulgence. Like you download two books at once and you just kind of keep ripping through them. And so, I think there's just so many things in the industry changing, people changing. Look at diversity nowadays and people just thinking, I'm interested in learning more and being a little bit more free with kind of my thoughts, and my thinking, and love in general. Right?
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kenrya: Yeah. That's what's up. I'm thinking, even kind of to that point about how so many more folks can really get out there and get their work out there, I think you are a really great example of that. And a quick look at your website even makes it clear that, beyond being a writer, you're a business woman. Like you can buy your books on your site, T-shirts, pillows, mugs, all kinds of branded stuff. I'm wondering what led you to start your own company and self-publish?
Rebel Miller: Yeah. So, for sure, I think any writer starting out thinks, well, do I go traditional, meaning with maybe the big publishers? Or do I do it myself? And, for me, I think I had a comfort level with my PR background already writing, understanding what goes into a production of a piece or a product that I could handle it on my own. And then, there was the whole idea of do I really want to go through years of rejection probably, or to get my voice heard? And the truth is, my novels are different. I mean, they are erotic romance, which is always great. Hot, sticky romance will always get you pretty far.
Rebel Miller: But they take a different turn in terms of the... I try to tackle social issues in a way that are a little bit different. These novels, for example, Awakening, the first and the trilogy, it's a futuristic trilogy. So, that's not something that I think the mainstream publisher would be ready to understand or willing to understand. And I think I made the right choice going self-publishing because you always find your tribe, right? Those people who are interested in... there's some group of people for everybody. So, in doing it on my own, I was able to find that group on my own. So, it worked out.
Kenrya: So, I mean, it's interesting that you mentioned, and I mean, to us, like the whole reason that we picked your book is because we're in awe of this like whole ass universe that you build with this series.
Rebel Miller: Oh, good.
Kenrya: Yeah. I mean, that type of world building usually is reserved for like dystopian YA novels, right? It's like The Hunger Games and all of those kinds of things. And it's really impressive how you created this entire, like I said, not just a world, but a universe that these folks and Kira and all of her ilk inhabit. Because we just read an excerpt for the show, of course, can you give us kind of a quick overview of the setting for the action in Awakening?
Rebel Miller: For sure. So, the world building was something that I decided on pretty deliberately early on in deciding whether or not I wanted to write a romance that was contemporary, historical, or futuristic. And I did futuristic specifically for that reason. I said, I don't really know many... at least I wasn't aware of it at the time, erotic novels or eromances that were diverse in this way and set in the future in this way.
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Rebel Miller: And I really enjoyed the opportunity to develop my own culture and my own kind of society.
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Rebel Miller: So, for The Realm, it's a society that's made up of a number of worlds. And the worlds are grouped into dominions. So, there are five of them. And I guess the biggest part that makes it different, besides it being in the future, is the fact that society is based on a caste or social class system. And there are four in this particular series.
Rebel Miller: So, there's the lowest caste, which is the subordinate caste. And then, above that-
Kenrya: Right. That's where Kira is.
Rebel Miller: That's where Kira is. And then, you have the protectorate caste, which are, of course, the protectors, kind of what you would call our military. And that's where the other part of her love triangle ties.
Rebel Miller: It ties to that group. Above that would be the Senate. And those are the senators, and they're kind of like the government officials. And that's where Gannon is, the other part of that love triangle. And at the top, of course, is the elite. So, you've got these four different castes. And there is kind of a spoken/unspoken rule that you don't really have relationships between certain castes. So, the upper two castes, of course, they're free to do what they want. And the lower two are able to do the same. And it gets tricky with this love triangle because, of course, you've got Kira in love with men from different castes and one of them is considered forbidden.
Rebel Miller: So, it adds to the whole kind of tension to the book. And it also kind of talks about society in a different way. Because what I liked about setting it up in this way is that it wasn't so much about sexual orientation or race that people were discriminating against, it was more against the caste. So, you'll find a lot of fluidity in the characters in terms of who they love, how many people they love, because there's polyamory, which I call multiples in this case in the novel. But that's normal. That's okay. It's more about what role you've been predetermined to fill and that you should stay in that particular box. So, it takes you on a journey about her deciding, well, am I going to stay in the box or not? Can I just be free to love who I love or do I want to follow the rules?
Erica: Where did you start with writing this? You said you were deliberate about the decision to make it futuristic and map out, set a new environment. But where did you start? Was it character or location?
Rebel Miller: Yeah. So, I definitely started with character. As a writer, you ladies know, you always say is it character or plot? Right? Which one comes first? And, for me, I've discovered that I think it's more character. Of course, in a year from now, it might change to plot. But I see the characters. If you've got a great character, someone who someone can resonate with, they see themselves in, and kind of can root for, then you're so interested in seeing what they do next.
Rebel Miller: So, once I had the girl, the protagonist in mind, I was able to say, okay. Well, where do I want to put her? Right? And that's where I said, well, this is where I want to kind of take a challenge and put her in a different setting that I don't think anybody has ever seen before.
Erica: What was the most difficult part of creating the series?
Rebel Miller: That's a good question. Probably... I don't know. It's so hard. I don't know if I can say there was a difficult part of creating it. It was so much fun to write, that's the thing.
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Rebel Miller: The thing about writing, and I tell people all the time, you come up with an idea of how you want it to end up, and then it changes as you go.
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Rebel Miller: I think that's great. It comes down to the character. And that's why I say the character bosses me around and says, no, I wouldn't do that. So, I really have to go, okay. Well, you pivot, and you pivot, and you pivot in the storyline. You say, well, how am I bringing that to a particular end that makes sense for the people and that honors kind of the readers and what their expectations are and what I've set up for it? So, I think it was just pivoting all the time. Just going, okay. Well, book two, this is not where we wanted to go, but this is how it's going to be interesting and how it's still to be proximate, and still really drive the story.
Kenrya: Wow. I mean, I think it comes through and especially that attention to who that character is. Like I very, very early, even when we met Kira when she was younger I was already in, or I was like, okay.
Rebel Miller: Oh, good.
Kenrya: I see who she is. I'm interested in learning more. Oh, she can't come? What's happening there? Like I want to know what's going on. And, as things unfold and things get scary sometimes, I was never really able to put it down because I was so totally drawn into her world, not just where she lived, but internally. Because she dealt with so many external and internal conflicts and you really care about where she lands in each one of those. So, I thought that was pretty dope. And, speaking of which, as we read in your bio, you said you're fond of creating characters who step outside of the expected. I'm wondering how that manifests for you in Awakening.
Rebel Miller: So, for me, it definitely was the whole relationship between her and the two men. So, I played with the idea of... I talked about polyamory being a normal... it's accepted now but in more of a mainstream accepted in this futuristic setting that that was never an issue. It was an option. So, for her, I wanted her to have multiple challenges and conflicts, as you say. It's, well I could be with one man, or I could be with both men, but can I be with that guy if that guy doesn't want me to be with that person.
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Rebel Miller: And then there's the whole restricted caste thing. My parents aren't going to like this at all.
Kenrya: You know they got they own situation going on.
Rebel Miller: Then they have they own situation going on. And then, the hypocrisy there. I really enjoyed writing about the hypocrisy piece.
Erica: Yeah. I was like... like when her heart stopped.
Rebel Miller: That's a bad one.
Kenrya: I was like, you have got to be kidding. I mean, it's not like you didn't foreshadow it and we got to see her friend with her partners, but it was still really like, oh, okay. I felt that.
Rebel Miller: That's right. That's right. So, it was really manifesting in terms of her kind of stepping out of the box, turning tradition on its head because she's saying, I have all this choice. It's really up to me. It's now up to me in terms of what I do. And I think, when you look at today in the media or just in society with diversity and then Me Too and women's empowerment and how we're kind of coming into our own, I thought that was a really good message. Because I think there's an opportunity for people to say, okay. Yeah, we're getting empowered, we are empowered as women. And now, what do I do with all of it? Now it's all on me, right?, to decide how my life is going to live, who I'm going to love. So, I like doing it that way.
Erica: Cool. So, in the book it's very clear that Kira owns her own power, but she's also drawn to very powerful men. So, I kind of want to twist this question around to you. I know you're married, but what are you most attracted to in a potential sexual partner? We'll take this back to the pre-marriage Rebel. Or partner in general, I guess, right?
Rebel Miller: Yeah. So, I am a heterosexual woman. So, I guess, of course, I'd want a man. I think he'd have to be someone who... I guess I look at my husband and see what I ended up and I think that was the ideal person. He's strong, but he's able to be very compassionate, very passionate as well. Very much a person who is a family person. But, at the same time, when we talk about the romance and all that, he gets it. He's turned on by it. He thinks he is the inspiration for my novels.
Kenrya: He's like, I'll take that credit, thanks.
Erica: That's me. That's me. That's me.
Rebel Miller: [inaudible 00:17:07]. So, I like a guy who is able to see himself as a partner, a supporter of the woman that he's with. And I think, we talk about women being empowered and who they are, and the next book I'm writing really touches on... it's Ascendance, which will be the fourth book in the series, talks about the men being in a subordinate position and the woman being in the elite position and how he is still considered a man in supporting a woman who is in a higher, powerful position. So, that one is very interesting as I'm writing that one.
Kenrya: Is that going to be with Leanna?
Rebel Miller: And Kira's brother.
Kenrya: Oh. Get out. And see, I ain't get that far. Okay. That's exciting.
Rebel Miller: A little sneaky.
Kenrya: Okay. Y'all heard it here first.
Erica: So, Rebel, have you ever been torn between two people like Kira has?
Rebel Miller: Wow. Good question. You know what, no. I wish I had been.
Erica: Well, you wrote it very well.
Rebel Miller: This is my fantasy.
Rebel Miller: Well, this is it, it's my fantasy. I think that's what it's made into. You're inspired by the things that happen sometimes and things that maybe you wish could happen. Right?
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kenrya: I'm trying to think, have I ever been...
Rebel Miller: Have you been in a love triangle?
Kenrya: I don't think I ever have, but I've always been like a super duper serial monogamist. So like I get blinders once I am like fully in with somebody. So, I guess, no.
Rebel Miller: Yeah. I know what you mean.
Erica: I mean, I have, but I don't know if it was really like true love or just me like being a hoe. But that wasn't really for me. I mean, but either way, it was fun.
Kenrya: I mean, that's the-
Rebel Miller: I want to add to that because I think we don't know... like we're not open to necessarily being with more than one on a regular basis.
Rebel Miller: You know what I mean? Like if we thought it was an option, maybe we would realize we were in love triangles more than we do.
Erica: And I might have been in a few and not known it. Well, you know what, for fact, I know I had some and didn't know until later, after the fact. Like, oh shit, you. Okay.
Kenrya: Yeah. Yeah. Now that you say that, I mean I was married to a whole ass cheating husband, so I guess I was. Well now, that's a new perspective. Damn. Okay. Oh, so another thing that we're interested in is, you said that in the very beginning you were trying to figure out was this going to be present day, historical, was it going to be futuristic. What draws you to like the speculative fiction? And also, part two of that, what draws you to writing about the erotic?
Rebel Miller: Oh, yeah. So, I've always read more of the erotic romances, unfortunately, that was yes, when I was under ten. That's when it started.
Rebel Miller: Don't tell my mother. I didn't know that. You know what it was, why I'm drawn to erotic romance? I have read those romances that are not erotic. And I always felt like I was missing part of the story. That when they faded to black, for example, and you don't get the love scene or if you got the love scene and they kind of glossed over it.
Kenrya: I mean, that's so annoying.
Rebel Miller: I felt like I was missing a big part of the story. So I, without a doubt, knew I was going to write an erotic romance because in my love scenes you're seeing it's not just, boom chicka boom chicka wow wow.
Rebel Miller: Now we just cut from the story and then get back to the story. It's really taking a person from the beginning of the love scene, in an explicit hot, passionate one, to another part of their emotion at the end of it.
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely.
Rebel Miller: So, they can kind of go through a process of development throughout it. So, it's not just the sex, but it is the development of the characters and how they felt from the beginning to the end. So, I knew I wanted to keep that because I thought, sex is a really, really good thing. And it tells you so much. You speak. It's a language on its own that you can kind of can communicate with a partner. And, of course, as a reader you kind of understand more about them and how they interact and you just learn so much more about that way. It's a very intimate part of the whole story.
Rebel Miller: That I don't think...
Kenrya: And it's a time when people are vulnerable in a way that they usually aren't. Right?
Rebel Miller: Yeah. That's right. That's when you usually let down a lot of your guard and show who you really are.
Kenrya: It makes sense to me. And then, the other part of that question is, what drew you to this futuristic setting?
Rebel Miller: I wanted the chance to develop my own world. So, I wanted to be able to create languages, to create a system, a technology, kind of governance and law of cultural kind of references that people like myself who are avid readers can really get immersed into the story even farther. So, it's not just a romance, it's really you're part of something. That, if you're reading this book, you're kind of part of that. You know what the Realm series is about. You get those little quotes when somebody talks about Solomon or something like that, you know?
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Rebel Miller: Like that's what they use for time-lapse when they travel. It kind of brings you together as a community of readers around a particular storyline. So, I thought it was just a great way to immerse the readers in the book even more.
Kenrya: Yeah. It's effective, for sure. So, I'm interested in what you're reading outside of your own work right now.
Rebel Miller: Yeah. So, I read a lot of different things, not necessarily just romance, but like thrillers, you know James Rollins, Dan Brown, stuff like that. But in terms of romance, I was reading Sylvia Day quite a bit, and for more erotic romance, there was some Jane Ryland stuff. I read anything I can get my hands on really.
Rebel Miller: I find, when I'm writing though, it kind of gets slowed down because you're so focused on any time you have to actually get some thoughts on some quote unquote paper.
Kenrya: Yeah, I mean that's kind of the worst part about writing a book is that you don't get to read as much, unless it's something that provides reference for what you're writing.
Rebel Miller: That's so true. That is something that I was like, oh my gosh, now I'm part of the writing of the book. I'm not necessarily reading as many as I used. But, yeah.
Kenrya: Are you able to go back? Like besides all the edits and all of that kind of stuff, are you ever able to just go back and read them for pleasure, your own books?
Rebel Miller: No.
Rebel Miller: I don't. You know what it is? It's like done. I feel like, okay I'm done. Because you'll analyze it, won't you? You know what I mean?
Rebel Miller: And kind of get too picky. So, in preparing for this interview I was like, okay, I'm going to go back to that excerpt that you're referring to. I was like, oh yeah, I remember. That was a good piece.
Erica: I did damn good.
Rebel Miller: That was perfect. But it's just like an actor would say they don't watch their own movies sometimes. I just feel like, no. We're done with that chapter. I'm moving on.
Kenrya: Yeah. I deal with the same thing. I was doing a podcast interview about my latest book and somebody asked me what was the best part of the process. And I was like, I finished. Like it was over. It was fantastic doing it, but, once I was done with that, I was ready to move on to the next thing. And I could appreciate the accomplishment of having finished it. But I think, when you write, you're always eager to get onto the next thing because that's the fun part of it is the dreaming and the creating of the new thing.
Rebel Miller: It is. And when you're writing it, that's the thing... someone said, the hardest part of writing is writing because you've got the whole story in your head, and now you're trying to articulate it in a storyline. And it can kind of be like, oh my gosh, I can't wait to write the next one.
Rebel Miller: And, yeah. You just can't wait. So, I end up having to say, okay. What do I enjoy about it? Having to remind like, what am I enjoying about this scene? And then, it usually kind of helps me get back focused. But, yeah. I get it.
Erica: So, one of the things we do as we're wrapping up our interviews is ask a would you rather question. So-
Rebel Miller: Oh, no.
Erica: Prepare yourself. So, as I read your books... so I'm a huge Harry Potter fan. And so, this is far from Harry Potter but the worlds and the detail, I mean I could totally see myself at a theme park for the Realm. I could probably see myself at the Realm, going into the expo, all of that. So, I imagine this book as portrayed on the screen. So, would you rather have your book adapted into a movie by either Tyler Perry, so think Madea, loud characters, overacting, or the two white dudes that South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. So, do you want a Madea style Realm or a South Park style Realm?
Rebel Miller: So good, this question. Oh my god. You know what? I'm going to say South Park.
Kenrya: Okay. Please explain.
Rebel Miller: Weird. Okay. So, I feel like South Park, I don't watch it often, but I know they've got like an off colored humor every now and then.
Kenrya: Oh, yeah.
Rebel Miller: I feel like they would get the nuances of this erotic romance in a way that... Tyler Perry is like over the top like big time.
Rebel Miller: I don't this movie... it's already a really dense, rich story. South Park would just add like a tongue in cheek to it that would take it over the edge, I think.
Kenrya: I see you.
Erica: I dig it. I dig it.
Rebel Miller: Oh my gosh. That's crazy.
Kenrya: Okay. So, that was awesome and that's a good place for us to end. We want to say thank you so much for joining us. And can you tell us where people can find you and your work?
Rebel Miller: Oh, for sure. You can go to my website, RebelMillerbooks.com. Or you can find me on Amazon, on iBooks, Barnes and Noble, wherever we they sell digital books. And you can also order print books through some of those online retailers too. But definitely check me out on my website. We just have all the information there and on my social media.
Kenrya: Awesome. And those are on Twitter, you're RebelMillerBoox, but it's B-O-O-X.
Rebel Miller: Sounds good.
Kenrya: And, on IG, it's RebelMillerBooks with an S at the end. Yes.
Rebel Miller: Thanks.
Kenrya: Awesome. That wraps up this episode of The Turn On. Thanks everyone for joining us.
Erica: Thank you so much for your time today.
Rebel Miller: Thank you. Thank you for having me. Loved it. I really had a good time.
Erica: All right.
Kenrya: Thanks, so did we.
Kenrya: This week's episode was produced by us, Kenrya and Erica, and edited by B'Lystic. The theme song is from Brazy. Please subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app, follow us on Twitter at TheTurnOnPod, and Instagram at TheTurnOnPodcast, and find links to books, transcripts, guest info, and other fun stuff at TheTurnOnPodcast.com. Bye.
The Turn On
The Turn On is a podcast for Black people who want to get off. To open their minds. To learn. To be part of a community. To show that we love and fuck too, and it doesn't have to be political or scandalous or dirty. Unless we want it to be.