Author Interview: Vanessa Miller (Author of The American Queen)

Talking with Vanessa Miller, author of the historical fiction novel The American Queen. This novel is based on actual events that occurred between 1865 – 1889 and shares the unsung history of a Black woman who built a kingdom as a refuge for the courageous people who dared to dream of a different way of life.

Learn more about Vanessa and her books at

The resources Vanessa mentioned to look up the age of words are:

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Vulgar History Podcast

Author Interview: Vanessa Miller (Author of The American Queen)

January 30, 2024

Hello and welcome to Vulgar History, a feminist women’s history comedy podcast. My name is Ann Foster and today I’ve got an author interview to share with you. It’s Vanessa Miller, her book is The American Queen, I don’t want to be coy about it. As soon as I read about this book, and I think I say this in the interview, I was just like, “What is this history? I’m so fascinated.” And so, I read the book and I really loved it, and I was excited when Vanessa agreed to be on the podcast because she’s talking about an era in history that, from what I understand, is not much known, even in the region where it happened, which is North Carolina and South Carolina in the United States. 

We’re going to talk about this in the podcast but what her book, The American Queen, tells the story of is Queen Louella who was the queen of the Kingdom of the Happy Land which was a kingdom that was established near the present-day town of Tuxedo, North Carolina in Henderson County. So, they acquired a whole lot of land, and we’re going to talk about how that happened in this podcast coming up, but their kingdom extended from the state line of South Carolina up onto Flat Rock, an area just south of Asheville, North Carolina where “The region’s mountain peaks, fertile valleys, mountain streams and waterfalls drew wandering soul to the land.” So, this kingdom was around for several decades, I don’t want to spoil the contents of her book and what happens to it, but it’s a forgotten story of Black American history and I was really excited to have Vanessa come and talk to me about it. 

Vanessa herself, she’s a best-selling author, entrepreneur, playwright, and motivational speaker. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and family. She’s so passionate about this story which really comes through when you read it. So, here’s my interview with Vanessa Miller about The American Queen. 


Ann: So, Vanessa Miller, welcome to my podcast! Thank you so much for joining me. 

Vanessa: Thank you for having me.

Ann: I wanted to tell you and I guess the listeners also, I’m always keeping an eye out for new historical fiction books that I think would be interesting for me to read, first of all, but also that I think would be interesting to talk about on the podcast. That’s often people who are lesser known from history but also historical events that are lesser known. And when I read the little blurb about your book, which I have read, but what caught my attention at first was, “What on earth is this story? I’ve never heard anything about this.” So, actually, because I think you write about this in the book, I forget if it’s the prologue or the epilogue but how did you come to learn about this history in the first place?

Vanessa: I came to learn about the Kingdom of the Happy Land people simply by saying thank you to another author who had given me an endorsement on my book, Something Good, Lisa Wingate. I was coming back into traditional publishing, I asked her for an endorsement for my first book Something Good that I did when I came back into traditional publishing and she said, “I understand, I’ve been there, let me take a look at the book.” We sent her the book and she was like, “I loved it, here’s your endorsement.” 

So, I went back to her and was like, “Thank you so much.! And I happened to have just been reading one of her books and I told her how much I enjoyed the book and she said, “I learned about that book from a Facebook friend. Here’s another story that a Facebook friend told me about, you might be interested in it. You live in North Carolina, this event happened in North Carolina.” And so, I said, wait a minute. When she sent it over, I said, “Are you giving this to me for me to look up?” And she said “Yeah, do your research and see if it’s something you want to do,” and I could not believe it. But she is just that giving, just that amazing. Lisa Wingate, I will forever sing her praises because she didn’t have to tell me about this story, not many authors would [laughs] and so, I’m forever grateful for that. And I began to research it and fell in love with this story about King William, Queen Louella. I had to write it.

Ann: I think that’s so fascinating that this is something that happened near where you live and it’s something that you had never heard about.

Vanessa: Correct. And I believe that there are still a lot of people in North Carolina and South Carolina – because they owned land that spanned from one part of North Carolina to South Carolina – I believe there are still a lot of people in both areas that still don’t know about this story. That’s why I can’t wait to get out and tell people about it. 

Ann: Mm-hm. It’s always hard to talk to people about their historical fiction novels because I want to talk about the book, but I don’t want to give spoilers. I thought if we focus on the history and stuff. So, if you could introduce to everybody, maybe explain the way that you discovered it. What was the Kingdom of the Happy Land? How did it come about?

Vanessa: The Kingdom of Happy Land came about as formerly enslaved people left their plantation in Mississippi and they believed that there was a promised land for them, that God had a land that was for them, they didn’t know where it was though. So, their whole journey was a faith journey, basically. As they left Mississippi, they left with about 50 people and during the time of emancipation, people think, “Oh, this was so great, the slaves are free!” But what also happened with that freedom was that you left a lot of people without any place to stay, they didn’t know where they were going to go, what was going to happen next. There was also a lot of fear involved with that. 

So, what began to happen for them, as they journeyed through Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina to get to their promised land in North Carolina, about 200 people attached themselves to them. So, by the time they reached the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina, they had like, 200 and some people and by the height of their kingdom, I believe there was over 400 people that had homes there and things like that. But the journey, it was like found family. So, that also inspired me, just reading about that and learning about the conditions that people were dealing with during that time. If you never researched that time, you just think, “Okay, great,” and yes, great, because they should have been free. But there was really nothing put in place to kind of help them with this new freedom that they had and so, they had to kind of learn as they go and figure their way out. 

So, along comes William and Louella and at this time, they’re not king and queen yet because they haven’t yet found what will become the Kingdom of the Happy Land. But they wanted to help people find their dignity and to find their happy place.

Ann: So, the name of it, you mentioned in the book, was this something you found from your research, how they chose the name? It was based on a song?

Vanessa: I believe it started based on that song and because I can’t go back in history and actually speak with them, as I was researching the book, I discovered this song that was out during that time and it was called “Happy Land” and it was, “There is happy land far, far away.” So, as I began to look at this, because I wondered, “Why would they call it the Happy Land?” This was a song that was not sung by the enslaved though, this was a song they heard the slave owners and their family members singing. So, I imagine that it couldn’t have been too happy for them to hear it. But as they were journeying, I believe that they were like, “Now I understand that song because we’re going and we’re finding our happy land.” So, that’s how I wrote it in the book.

Ann: That’s such a good example of what I imagine is you doing this detective work almost, trying to put together clues and figure out what happened. What sources are there? What were you able to look at to find out what you were able to find out?

Vanessa: For one, I researched the people who sold them the land. Her name was Serepta Davis, her husband was General John Davis, he had already passed away years before the people from the Kingdom of the Happy Land journeyed there. Serepta Davis had all this land and in researching it, I discovered that the minute emancipation occurred, all of the people who were enslaved on her land left but she is described by everyone as this giving woman, this really nice woman. And as you imagine, the fact that during this time, she would be willing to sell all this land to these Black people who showed up on her door. Now, they provided a service for her first, but still, she didn’t have to sell them the land. 

So, I believe the depiction of her as this nice, benevolent woman and that’s why I wrote her as that in the book, but I also wanted people to understand why did all of her formerly enslaved people leave? 

Ann: Yeah!

Vanessa: It is because there is something about being owned, no man or woman should ever be owned by someone else and that is why they couldn’t stay on that land because they had to go out and seek their own freedom. But that is why then other people would come and basically took over the land that was left by formerly enslaved people, but they took it over as free people. So, one thing I researched was Serepta Davis and I got to understand her children, because she had so many children, I want to say at least seven, why none of those children, why didn’t they want this land? So, I had to understand that. 

I researched by going to the deeds office in Hendersonville because, in Hendersonville, there’s actually the deeds that show that the people from the Kingdom of the Happy Land bought this land. During this time, of course, women could not sell land. If you were not married, you could not sell or buy land, so you have to think, Serepta Davis’s husband had already passed away so on the deed, it is her daughter’s name and her daughter’s husband’s name selling the land because she needed a husband in order to sell the land, which was what ended up happening with Queen Louella later on… I don’t want to give that way. I don’t want to tell that part, I’m sorry. [chuckles]

Ann: No, that’s the thing, we don’t want to spoil the actual book.

Vanessa: And there was actually a book that was written on the Kingdom of the Happy Land in 1950. She was a historian out of Hendersonville, and she interviewed descendants of the people from the Happy Land, and it was hard getting a hold of that book. But the only place that has copies of that book, called The Kingdom of the Happy Land, is a library in Hendersonville. So, one of the people, they copied all the pages and sent it to me and then I actually went to that particular library, they have it under lock and key, like opening the vault and I saw the book and I took a picture of it next to my book. So, I studied her book, her name is Sadie Patton Smathers, sometimes I get it mixed up so it might be Sadie Smathers Patton, I get the two mixed up. So, I studied her book. 

There was also articles written in the 1950s out of Asheville, a newspaper. He did a four-part series on the Kingdom of the Happy Land people, and it came out weekly. I was amazed, I was like, “Oh! Okay! This actually ended up in the newspaper at this time.” Outside of that, people didn’t generally know. There was also a court case when there were two kings of the Kingdom of the Happy Land, King William and King Robert, and there was a court case based on King Robert. You find that information out in the book, so I don’t want to tell much about it. So, I was able to find information too and that court case provided even more information that I was able to build the story on. 

So, you know, you have to piece together things when you’re researching history and a lot of times with Black history, going that far back, our information isn’t as readily found as other peoples’ history. But thankfully, I was able to piece together a lot of information and able to write the book with.

Ann: I love the journey of you being given the gift, Lisa Wingate alerting you to this story and giving this to you and then the fact that you were able to find actual things to research and study but still allowing you the room to use your imagination and be the fiction writer that you are to build it up into a story. So, did you always know that Louella was going to be the main character, the person who we see this all through her eyes?

Vanessa: I did. When I first began to write it– Because when I came back into traditional publishing, I came back in as a women’s fiction writer. I have Something Good, What We Found in Hallelujah and my book that just recently released, The Light on Halsey Street, they’re all women’s fiction. So, when I said, okay, I’m going to step into this historical realm, but I wanted it to be historical women’s fiction, so I knew I was going to be dealing with Queen Louella. I didn’t know the title of the book though, I turned it in with “The Kingdom of the Happy Land” [laughs] because I was like, I don’t know what we’re going to call this. My publisher came back and said, “Vanessa how about The American Queen?” And I instantly loved it. I was like, “Actually, that is what the story is. That’s what we wrote.” So, I was like, “Okay, let’s do it.” The American Queen.

Ann: Actually, that brings me to another question it will be good for you to explain. So, they bought this land, they started the Kingdom of the Happy Land. The fact that they called it a kingdom, that it became a kingdom, that had a king and a queen… Do you know from your research or just from figuring it out why they decided to do that instead of calling it, you know, just a city or a regular town? Why they made it a kingdom with a king and a queen?

Vanessa: Right. This is me figuring it out. I believe because… You have to understand that when these people were stolen from their homeland – most of them were born here, the ones who went over to the Kingdom of the Happy Land, but when their ancestors were stolen from their homeland – they were stolen from a place where they saw kings and queens. So, I believe that they understood that history in Africa and so, I think what they wanted to do was kind of replicate a kingdom because they knew that their ancestors came from such a thing. That’s the way I saw it.

Ann: And then, now I forget if this was in some of the extra writing you have in your book or if I just read it somewhere else, but this is one of only two kingdoms that was ever in the American continent, right?

Vanessa: Yes. But you have to understand that the one that was in Hawaii, they were annexed. So, when they came over to America, it was no longer a kingdom, they were a kingdom when they were on their own, so people talk about that kingdom, but you can’t really consider it the first kingdom in America because when we brought them over as part of America, they were no longer a kingdom if that makes sense. So, I consider the Kingdom of the Happy Land, the only kingdom in America.

Ann: I love that, and I love that the king and queen were Black people, the only kingdom in America.

Vanessa: Yes. I loved it. I was amazed when I researched this and just, kind of, taking a look at the history of it, I was amazed at the audacity of these people, formerly enslaved, and you had the audacity to call yourself King and Queen. It just… The whole thing just set a fire under me, I truly believe that The American Queen is the best thing I’ve written and it’s because I was so passionate about it as I– I think this is one of the stories I was born to write as a writer, I absolutely loved it. 

Ann: And you mentioned, because I don’t want to spoil the actual content of the book, but I keep remembering things that are in your afterword and you mention some other historical fiction writers who helped you with this because this was a new genre for you. Is there any pieces of advice you remember being given from some of the people you consulted?

Vanessa: This was a while ago because this book was written a couple years ago. But Vanessa Riley is a historical fiction writer so we would sit and talk about it because we would do, like, monthly group meetings for writers and so we would all be writing on our project, and we would talk about what we’re doing. One of the things in the book where I have Queen Louella, where the women dress her up right before her coronation, Vanessa Riley and I talked about that. She’s the one who writes all of these, with these beautiful gowns and things like that so we talked about it, and she was able to help me with the site where I could– I actually sat for hours studying each layer of the gown that has to be put on. So, I love that. 

And then Lisa Wingate, the thing that she really helped me with was the fact of the… She said “Vanessa really, if there’s any cool words that you want to say while you’re writing this book, they weren’t said during that time. [laughs] So, you have to take them out.” So, Vanessa Riley also gave me a site where I could go and type in a word if I have it in my document and I was able to see if that word had been used during that time period. Every writer who writes historical needs to use that. I’m not going to be able to call it right now, I can get it for you later though.

Ann: Yeah, send me an email. I’ll put it in the show notes afterwards.

Vanessa: But yeah, so I used the one Vanessa Riley gave me and then Chandra Sparks Splond gave me another one and I really like the one she gave me because it gave a little more detail and things like that. So, I’ll send you a link to both of those and they were very helpful. I had to take out so many words [laughs] in the book as I was writing it, but I really think it helped me become better as a historical fiction writer because I really began to understand that I can’t write it as a contemporary women’s fiction writer that I also am. So, it’s like two different hats you have to put on if you’re going to write contemporary or if you’re going to write historical. They’re both very different.

Ann: Yeah, oh that’s so interesting to think about the words that you would instinctively think, and I would imagine, even if you’re like, “This word feels old-fashioned,” it still isn’t old enough. [chuckles]

Vanessa: It’s not old enough. There are some words you think, “Oh, I can put this in here, it’s an older word,” and I would go and look it up and the first time it was used might have been in the 1930s. Well, I’m writing in the 1860s, 1870s, 1880s. I had to take it out. So yeah, there were a lot of words that I wanted to have in a book that did not make the cut.

Ann: Yeah, that’s so interesting. Like you said, that really does kind of… Not forces you in a negative way but forces you in a positive way to really put on that historical fiction writer hat and to really put yourself in this time period and to imagine, how would she have said this if she can’t say it the way that I would have said it? 

So, Louella as a character, without getting into the events of the book, how did you come– Because I think when I read the book, her character comes across very well. I really feel like I understood what she was like as a person and that’s just a credit to your writing. But how did you develop a character when you know some of the events that happened and you know what she did, but how do you turn that into a fully-fledged person? What was that process like?

Vanessa: It was just a lot of… I had to really sit and think about her. The one thing that kept coming up in my research about Queen Louella was that she was a dominant figure. So, I knew that I had to write her, basically as the controlling factor for everything that they did or most things because also, I didn’t want her husband to be a stooge to her. So, I had to have him at times say, “Hold on, wait a minute.” [laughs] Because you know, sometimes that’s how we are as women, we have to be told “Hold on, wait a minute.” [laughs] So, just reading about her life and reading about the different things with her husband and how there was more on him as far as when they were in Mississippi. I understood, I knew that he was a son of a slave owner and so was his brother. I knew that his brother could pass for white, but he couldn’t and things like that. 

But building her was just like, it was something I just had to sit down, and I just built her step by step. I loved everything I was reading about her, so I wanted her to come across as a dominant figure, but I also wanted her to come across as a compassionate person, as a person who really desired good for other people. That is one of the reasons why I began the story as I did because I wanted you to understand her. I wanted the reader to be able to understand why she was the way she was later on in the book when certain people were ready to leave the kingdom and why she said, “Well, you know, this is your free will. You’re able to do that if you want to.” She wasn’t trying to hold people because of what she went through as a younger woman, what she went through as a child. She never wanted people to experience the things that she experienced. 

So, it was a pleasure to build her and to write her because I wanted people to see her great compassion, especially when I learned that their motto was “All for one and one for all.” So, if you have a motto like that, then you must treat people a certain way. So, it was just really, it was a joy to me to write her.

Ann: Are there any physical– Is there any evidence that this was ever there? Were you able to visit the actual land or a street named after them or anything like that?

Vanessa: Absolutely! There is a street that is named Kingdom Drive.

Ann: Oh yeah!

Vanessa: And it is right over where the kingdom once was. I went and took a picture; I held the book up by the sign [Ann laughs] and took a picture of it and I was able to walk the land of the Kingdom of the Happy Land. The owners that are currently there, they were gracious enough to allow me to come on the land and it was like something I’d never experienced because writing the story was one thing but being able to see this… So, I knew that they knocked down all these trees to be able to build their land so when I’m on this land, I look out and I see all these trees that are further, further back, there’s still plenty of trees that were further back and I’m like, “These are the trees that I was talking about. These are part of the ones that were knocked down.” And then I’m able to see this trail that their wagons would drive into the land and out of the land on. It was a beautiful experience. I am just grateful that I was able to go and walk the land. 

Whenever you write historical, if you’re able to go and visit, I think it’s just so important for that. I’m actually taking a visit to Tulsa in March for another story that I’m writing. Even though it’s 100 and some years later, you still want to be able to see it and to kind of say, “Okay. This was the street; this was how this was.” And that was what I was able to do on the Kingdom of the Happy Land, just be able to say, “Okay, this is how the land was. This is how you come into the Kingdom of the Happy Land.” And you know, it was as I described. So, I was very happy about that. 

Ann: It’s so lovely. I had Vanessa Riley on my podcast a while ago when she did her last book about Queen Charlotte– No, Queen… I forget her name, the queen of Haiti, the last one that she just did. 

Vanessa: Queen of Exiles was the book.

Ann: Queen of Exiles, yeah, yeah, yeah. And so, she said she went to London and all these places. So, she travels to the places where her books take place, but I think American history is also important to share in a different way so it’s lovely that you’re able to go see these historical sites that people don’t know about in America! I’m in Canada, so I don’t know a lot about American history but what I hear about are just the same things over and over again. But there are stories like this one, like the Kingdom of the Happy Land, that people don’t know, and you can go to that place and you can share this story and I think that’s so important to fill in those gaps, fill in the blanks of what the history is of this country.

Vanessa: Yes, that’s what I tried to do. I wanted people to be able to picture it. So, we went, and we took tons of pictures. I did a video of me just standing on the land and so I’ve shown it now, I’m sure I’ll reshow it as the book is getting ready to release and things like that because I think it’s important that people know that this was true. They really did own this land and they chose to call it the Kingdom of the Happy Land. The research shows that they really did have thrones and that’s why I put it in the book. Their thrones and they held court and so, it was a kingdom.

Ann: So, this episode is coming out just before… Well, tell everybody when your book is published and then by the time they hear this they’ll be able to buy the book. So, tell everybody when your book is published and what events you’re going to be doing and things like that.

Vanessa: The American Queen releases on January 30, 2024, and I am travelling basically through North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama on my tour for The American Queen. So, all of my dates, and I have a lot scheduled, are on my website. But the first event on January 30th will be at Barnes and Noble at the Pineville Mall in Charlotte, North Carolina. So, if you live in Charlotte, North Carolina, come on out. That event begins at 6:30 PM, I want to see everybody there as much as possible so that we kick off this tour in a great way. I want as many people as possible to know about this great queen, Queen Louella. I keep saying, “Long may she reign in your heart.”

Ann: I’m sure this was intentional but February, Black History Month, this is when your book is coming out. So, I think that’s a time of year when this history is celebrated and I love that because of your research and your book, now there’s this new figure – Louella, but also William, also the Kingdom of the Happy Land – it’s a new story for people to learn about in terms of American Black History.

Vanessa: Absolutely. And that’s why I truly hope that during this time I’m able to get out and able to spread the word about them as much as possible. Even past Black History Month, we have Women’s History Month in March also, so I want to be spreading the word about Queen Louella during Women’s History Month as well.

Ann: Well, thank you so much for joining me today to talk about your book. As I said, I read it and it was so captivating, I think I sat down and read it all in one go. 

Vanessa: Oh wow!

Ann: Yeah. But I was just like, “What’s going to happen next?” The mixture of the history itself, because I never knew that story as I don’t think very many people do, but also, I thought that your writing style and the characterization of Louella, it really all comes together and I’m happy I got to talk to you about it.

Vanessa: Thank you so much, I really appreciate it and I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. It was a joy for me to write this story and I’m sure people can see that through the writing of it.

Ann: Thank you so much for joining me today. 


So, The American Queen by Vanessa Miller is already out when you’re listening to this, publication date was January 30, 2024. So, you can track Vanessa and see where she is at all of these events that she’s going to be doing. Her website is, and all the information is there, you can find it. She’s also on social media. She sent me afterwards the links to those websites she was talking about where you can look up how old a word is, and I put those in the show notes for this podcast if you’re a historical fiction author also and you’re curious to know the age of various different words. 

So, yeah, this podcast, you can keep following us. I’m on Instagram @VulgarHistoryPod. If you want to get in touch with me, if you have a suggestion for an episode, a person you think would be interesting for me to talk to or a historical figure that I should talk about or learn about, you can get in touch with me at or I also have a form on my website which is, there’s a form there where you can email me as well. We also have merch available at or if you’re outside the US the shipping is a bit better if you use 

We also have a Patreon. If you support the podcast on Patreon,, for $1/month you get early, ad-free access to all episodes of this podcast and then if you pledge $5 or more per month you get access to bonus episodes that are only on the Patreon. That’s things like… We have the After Show where sometimes I go a bit deeper with some of the guests who we talked to. I also do Vulgarpiece Theatre where I talk with Allison Epstein and Lana Wood Johnson about costume dramas from history. Our most recent one that we just recorded, by the time you’re hearing this, is Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure which you might think, “Is that a costume drama?” And I would say, why not? Anyway, there are also episodes there talking about terrible men from history in episodes called So This Asshole. That’s all there if you pledge the $5 or more on Patreon. Transcripts of recent episodes are available at, thank you to Aveline Malek for providing these transcripts. 

We’ll be back next week. Actually, I’ll tell you right now, we’ll be back next week and all the month of February basically with more Black History content. So, until next time my friends, keep your pants on and your tits out. 

Vulgar History is hosted, written, and researched by Ann Foster and edited by Cristina Lumague.

Transcribed by Aveline Malek at


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