Travel Inspires Writers to Set the Scene

Valerie Miner (photo credit: John Campbell)

Valerie Miner (photo credit: John Campbell)

By Eleni Parashos

Author Valerie Miner, Stanford University professor, lives a life of adventurous journeys. From Asia to Africa her explorations of the world have inspired her literary works and broadened her ideas of people and culture.

On April 16, 2014 Miner’s journey brought her to College of Southern Nevada’s Charleston campus. She shared details on her latest novel, one of 14 works she’s penned.

“The American West has created the currents I write with and against,” Miner said. “London introduced me to ways of thinking, reading and writing during the three years I lived there, and India provokes me in all kinds of ways with its beauty and its challenges.”

CSN English professor Lee Barnes, who is also an author, requested Miner visit the College to offer a reading of her latest novel “Traveling with Spirits” as well as a creative-writing workshop for students to develop their writing processes.

Barnes and Miner share a long history together. As a young student at Arizona State University, Barnes struggled to find an English professor that addressed his concerns as a fiction writer.

“Valerie was one of my mentors at ASU,” Barnes said. “I was actually ready to quit the program after one semester, but I stuck around because a friend of mine convinced me to take one of her workshops.”

Miner loves to teach; she considers it her day job while working on her books.

At the event, Miner shared with the students how her interest in writing stemmed from her mother’s love of storytelling.

“In the kitchen, I listened to my mother’s memories of her native Edinburgh, window shopping along Princes Street, and errands to the corner shop to buy chipped fruit and The News of the World,” Miner said.

There are many ties between Miner’s roving occupational nature and her seaman father who spent months at a time out on the ocean before a long-awaited homecoming. At his return he would bring Miner a doll from each destination he visited. They are the gifts that formed Miner’s burgeoning desire to see the world.

“Just as I knew each one of them had a distinct personality, I knew each personality was related to her place of origin,” Miner said. “Those dolls from Korea and Japan and Holland and Jamaica and the Dominican Republic now sit on my bookcase.”

Throughout her career, Miner has accumulated numerous fellowships and honors that pay tribute to her ability as a writer and professor. She has received awards from organizations including the Rockefeller Foundation, The McKnight Foundation and The National Education Association.

However, Miner is modest when regarding her tremendous accolades.

“I don’t think of achievement as much as secular blessings or gifts from the universe,” Miner said. “I have worked hard as a writer and teacher. And I have been very lucky.”

Miner’s workshop at CSN, appropriately titled “Spirit of Place” concentrated on the importance of setting within a story. The setting is the single-greatest influence on the characters, conflicts, plot lines and resolutions.

This is an idea that is thoughtfully intertwined throughout Miner’s works as the cities she chooses for her novels become lead characters in those stories.

Miner also discussed the idea of an artistic home that writers should establish as a place that offers inspiration, comfort and support for the writing process. She suggests writers travel then come home to their artistic homes to digest and draw from inspiration from their journeys to infuse into their writing. For Miner, it is her desk in California where she writes and reflects on her travels.

“It’s so clear that her adventures in visiting countries have greatly influenced her work,” said CSN student and workshop attendee Ryan McFrazie. “As a writer, she inspires me to go see what’s out there so I have a better frame of reference for a setting.”

Miner is currently working on a book of short stories and plans to instruct a fall 2015 class in Santiago, Chile. Miner’s newly-release novel “Traveling with Spirits” is now available in bookstores.

“My Scottish mother and my seaman father taught me about the differences between being a wanderer and a traveler. And they told me that the difference is the gift of knowing a particular home,” Miner said.

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