Interview with Jan Miller

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
In Honors English during my senior year of high school, I put off writing a book report until the last minute...the study hall before class when the report was due. One of my classmates asked me earlier that day if I had the assignment completed and I replied that "I'll think of something". He razzed me pretty good, insisting that I was going to flunk the class. During the study hall, I made up a book title "Queen Elizabeth and the Spanish Armada", made up the author "Antson Hisspants", and the publishing company, and then wrote a short story that served as my synopsis. When I turned it in, my classmate laughed heartily because he had worked for weeks on his paper. The following week when the teacher passed out the grades, I got an "A+" while my classmate got a "B". He went bezerk and wound up getting sent to the office screaming all the way "He made it up. I tell you, he made it up!"
What is your writing process?
My first book was a memoir, so I furiously wrote down everything and everything until I had exhausted the subject. The hard part was to then whittle away at all of the words to eliminate the non-essential parts. I would remove a portion and then read the story without that portion. If the story worked without the portion, I left it out and moved on to the next portion. Next I had my "Second Set of Eyes" team consisting of my wife, son, daughter, and a couple educator friends review the text and submit their critiques to me. I picked my team members because I knew that they not only read constantly, but that they also had keen eyes and sharp opinions. Their brutally honest comments helped me not only flesh out my characters, but also ensured that I didn't treat any characters unfairly.
My fiction works in reverse of the memoir. I start with a very simple premise, and then build upon it. I did have to learn to allow the story to take on its own life and let it take me wherever it may lead.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first story that ever moved me...that jumped off the page and bitch-slapped me right in the face, has to be "The Interlopers" by Saki. Being a devoted fan of "The Twilight Zone", "The Outer Limits" and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents", Saki's tale of the feuding old hunters showed me the power of the short story. Like Henri Cartier-Bresson's "Decisive Moment", Saki delivered a one-word dagger to the heart with "The Interlopers". I wanted to do that...to affect people that way with a short story.
How do you approach cover design?
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to study art and design in my fifties; a point in my life when I could "get it". The cover that I created for "The Boys Next Door" was intended to offer potential readers a photo "book summary", as if the most relevant photos of that band had been tossed on a desk top. Not being a great illustrator, I used what I had on hand to achieve the cover that I wanted.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
While my first year of life was spent in my birthplace, Springfield Ohio. For the next ten years, I lived in rural Lancaster Ohio; and then my family moved thirty miles north to Newark Ohio. In Lancaster, I lived on a block inhabited almost exclusively by girls. My father was on the road quite a bit; and when he was home, he was either in a bar or home hung-over and somewhat bipolar. For those reasons and the fact that I was constantly sick, I spent most of my time alone in my imaginary world. Books and TV were my playground. Dad had a great book collection that included the entire Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the James Fenimore Cooper books, all the Mark Twain books, plus many great biographies. I was a book worm because I loved being transported to other times and places. In school, I naturally migrated to literature, writing, and history.

In the Sixties, the medical world hadn't figured out Attention Deficit Disorder. My grade cards were full of the same comments: "Not working up to his ability", "Seems distracted", "Doesn't really apply himself". True: I was an eternal day-dreamer; but what the teachers didn't understand was that it would take me several attempts to get from the top of a book page to the bottom of it. Other students read two to three times faster than I did. Math was an absolute nightmare for me. But when it came to writing, I zoned out and locked onto the task as if nothing else in the world mattered. There is no doubt in my mind that my creativity stems from my ADD.
What's the story behind your latest book?
My latest book, "Miami or Die Trying" is the second of my "pseudo-memoir" series. Its forerunner, "The Boys Next Door" took the shy reclusive Earl "Dill" Dillon from being a friendless nobody to a high school celebrity as the lead guitarist for his one-hit rock band. At the end of the book, "Dill" is left alone and once again with little social status as his closest friends have all gone off to college or to seek their fortunes as musicians.
"Miami or Die Trying" catches up with "Dill" at age nineteen, miserably living at home and attending a community college. That year was 1972 and for several reasons, it was shaping up to be the worst year of his life until he received a phone call that turned everything around for him: he was given the job opportunity to deliver a motor home to Miami. The story then follows his adventures on that delivery trip.
I think the story shows that in our darkest hour, if we can some how hold on and weather the storm, that "Bright, Sun-Shiny Day" is just around the next corner for us.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Back in the time in which "Miami or Die Trying " takes place, I was having coffee in the lunch room with a couple of other students and two professors...one of the latter just happened to be my Composition professor. We all got into a discussion of why we were at college, how we were paying for it, and what our goals were. I lamented that I was working full time and paying for my school entirely out of my own pocket. My wise old Composition professor shocked me by saying "Jan: you don't want to be here and you don't know where you're going, but you can write. Get out of here and go live a life worth writing about! You can learn the nuances of writing later. We'll still be here when you're ready to write it." He was so right.

I feel that writing justifies my raison d'etre...giving purpose for my being. My life has had so many twists and turns, ups and downs, victories and defeats. All of that life experience aggregates into stories in which I lived, I breathed, I felt.
What do your fans mean to you?
As a story-teller: either through a poem, a short story, a memoir, or even a song lyric; being able to put together a thought that can make a person laugh, think, reflect, or even cry; that is the victory we seek. It isn't a victory over another human being---it is a victory over the mish-mashed jumble of our language and our understanding of it. Humans perish---a good story lives forever.
If one person tells me that I moved them with something that I've written, then I am vindicated...I am justified...I lived.
Published 2014-06-22.
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