Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: Fiction (page 1 of 7)

Book Review: The Next Better Place

Next Better PlaceImagine a young boy and his estranged father on the road traveling across the United States on their way to California. Imagine also, the boy and his father having one adventure after another and along the way, the boy and his father both learn something about themselves and each other. Could anything be more romantic in a post-World War II, Kerouac world?

However, in Michael C. Keith’s brilliant and moving memoirs, The Next Better Place: Memories of my Misspent Youth, a coming-of-age story set in the 1950s, the story is much more complex and poignant.

Keith takes readers on an amazing and memorable journey as father and son leave Albany, New York on their way to California. Their journey is fraught with one misadventure after another as they travel by bus and hitchhike across America in the 1950s. Half Kerouac and half Stephen King’s “Stand by Me” this coming-of-age story is just as much a story about a father and his son having the chance to spend some quality time together as it is about the son’s valuable life lessons he learns on the road.

Along the way, the narrator and his father meet an interesting and colorful assortment of individuals who pose all sorts of problems and windfalls. I love the way Keith wove these characters into the story and how each one’s back story added to the overall story of Keith and his father. One of the more memorable moments in his book (and there were many!) was when they were picked up hitchhiking by a couple and their kids who were on their way to join a carnival. Having worked for a carnival myself, when I was the same age as Keith, I got a kick out of this part of the journey and the story. Their encounter with the family is typical of the many encounters Keith and his father have with various individuals as they criss cross the United States.

Throughout the journey, we see Keith and his father coming to terms with their fragile relationship. There are some awkward and painful moments which underpin their journey, but these moments become a defining moment in their father-son relationship. With each new adventure and in many cases, misadventure, this relationship is tested. The journey is what inextricably links Keith and his father; their survival on the road is dependent on one another if they are ever able to make it across America and eventually back home.

Each of the chapters in this poignant and moving rites of passage saga could be read as a stand-alone story. That’s where the genius of Keith is most noticeable and shines through chapter after chapter. After all, he has made a life out of writing short fiction and he knows how to control this genre/medium to its full potential and power. Readers will most assuredly savor and enjoy each chapter, perhaps even flipping back to enjoy and savor again.

This is a most impressive work from an acclaimed and award-winning author. Even if you haven’t had the chance to experience Keith’s literary achievements, The Next Better Place: Memories of my Misspent Youth is a good place to start. One thing is for certain: after you read his memoirs you are going to want to explore his other writings.

Review of Ice Cream Headache — Boston Literary Magazine

Not since Peyton Place has there been such a merciless exposé of the American experience in all its beauty, fragility, and raw brutal ugliness. Set in the mid-60s in a small town just starting to experience the horror of the Vietnam War, this powerful character-driven novella incorporates all the archetypes: the loving parent, the bully, the simple minded fool, the one who is asleep, the guilty, the angry, the vengeful, the innocent. Each page draws us in, each scene brings us closer to the inevitable final disaster while Jeffrey Miller, ruthlessly in charge of everyone’s fate, presides over our emotions as he decides who will pay the ultimate price for humanity. A literary triumph and a page turner!

Boston Literary Magazine

Ice Cream Headache — Downtown Oglesby

I have this photo of downtown Oglesby, Illinois as my cover photo on my Facebook page. Every time I look at this photo I see Jimmy, Billy, or Johnny–three of the main characters in my novella Ice Cream Headache walking down the street.

Sometimes I just look at the photo to go home.

I also see myself as a young walking down this same street on my way home from Washington Grade School. On the right, is Balconie’s where many kids stopped on their way home. Across the street is where the Oglesby Public Library used to be located. Downstairs was City Hall and the police station.

I can make out the Supreme Dairy on the right just down from the laundromat. I can also see Arkin’s Rexall Drugstore, Clydesdale’s (a furniture store), even the Citgo Gas Station across the street from Venturelli’s Furniture Store where my mother, younger brother, and I lived for six months.

From 1966-1976, this was the center of my universe.

This was one story that I never thought about writing. It was one that just happened.

It’s a story that I was proud to write.

A Korean War Thanksgiving

2uz6z2rNovember 23, 1950

Kunu-ri

 My Dearest Mary,

Good morning and Happy Thanksgiving Honey. Here I am again with all my love to you and Ronnie. It is now Thanksgiving night here in Korea and I am sitting in front of a fire writing this letter to you. I hope this letter finds you and Ronnie both well and I hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving this year with your parents.

The Army went to great lengths to make sure all of us had our Thanksgiving here in the valleys and mountains of Korea. We had our turkey and all the trimmings. It was about as good as it could get for army chow but I think it was more for morale than taste. One of my buddies said it was the best chow he’s had in Korea. I don’t think he was joking because he was angry that he couldn’t have seconds.

Tomorrow we are moving out again but no one knows where. We are all feeling a bit anxious and nervous about what lies ahead for us. We all thought this war would be over by now and that we would be on our way back home. Many of us are still clinging to the hope that we will be out of here by Christmas.

The nights have been very cold and some of us still don’t have enough winter clothes; maybe some people thought we would be home by now and didn’t bother to order enough.

Give my regards and love to everyone and give Ronnie a big kiss and hug for me. I miss you so much my darling. I can just close my eyes and see your sweet, smiling face in front of me and the wonderful memories you and I have as well as our precious and adorable son. The only thing I ask of you, my darling, is to be as brave as you have been these past few months and pray for my speedy return to you and our son.

Until the next time, my darling, I close with all my love.

Your loving and affectionate husband,

Bobby

War Remains, A Korean War Novel

War Remains Wins Top Honors

Last weekend, Saturday, October 2, War Remains won top honors at the annual Military Writers Society of America conference which was held in Pittsburgh, PA.

War Remains won Gold in the Fiction: Literary category and Silver in the Korean War Book Award category.

It is an honor for me to have won in two categories, but what really makes both of these awards sweet is to be recognized by a national organization comprised of military writers and veterans.

I have devoted the past two years of my life to writing and promoting my novel and to be honored like this is overwhelming.

More and more people are realizing just how good a book War Remains is.

The suspense is nerve wracking…

With just under two weeks before the winners are announced at this year’s Military Writers Society of America 2011 Book Awards, and with War Remains nominated for two awards, the suspense has been nerve wracking to say the least.

In many ways, I have already won.

All I can say is that I am very proud of this little book of mine. I am proud of what the book has brought to some people, who are still waiting for their loved ones to come home from this so-called “forgotten war.” I know of two readers who lost a loved one in the opening months of the war and are still waiting for remains recovery or remains identification.

War remains. I knew when I chose this title that it was the right one. Originally, I was going to call the book, “The Long Journey Home from a Forgotten War.” Good thing I changed the title, huh?

Readers have wept when they reached the end of the novel. I do too, every time I read the last two chapters.

It’s a good story. It’s more than just a war story, though. It is about war and remembrance.

Yes, I am proud of this book.

Glowing Praise from the President of Woosong University

The following essay, written by Dr. John Endicott, President of Woosong University and the SolBridge International School of Business, appeared in the Chung Cheong Today, a Korean newspaper in Daejeon. Dr. Endicott, a veteran of the Air Force, was a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.

Something of Value To Both Koreans and Americans

          I am often asked what I like to read, and do I read much in this era of television, Internet, CVDs and countless other distractions that are part of modern life in Korea or America. When asked, I usually respond that I always have some kind of reading material handy to fill any undesignated time. Usually you will find me reading autobiographies, biographies, histories that focus on the rich heritage of the states in Northeast Asia, economic-fiscal- or business-related materials, but hardly ever do I read a novel. No offense to those who write novels, I just want to spend my time enhancing the data that I can use as I go through the life of a very busy university president.

          However, there are exceptions, and today I would like to discuss that exception. Most of my readers know that I teach one course per semester at the University. Many wonder why with all the other things that have to be done by a president that I should be teaching – my answer is why not? This is the most wonderful way to interact with the leaders of the next generation and perhaps leave a little bit of me with them.

          The reason I bring teaching up is my colleague who teaches with me and makes sure the students stay on schedule when I’m called away. His name is Jeffrey Miller and he has been in Asia for the last two decades. He has been a reporter for the Korea Times, in fact, for six-years, and has also been a university lecturer. But, most of all he is a student of the Korean War. Recently he put his love of history, his exposure to numerous Korean and American veterans of the Korean War, and his advanced skill as a writer of the English language together and completed and published his first novel called War Remains.

          When I saw his book, I was immediately taken by the picture of a soldier on the front cover – it is quite impressive –actually a photo of one of the statues in the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C– but I had no idea the story that he unfolds within the covers would be so powerful. Remember, I am a retired Colonel and have seen some very sad things, but I was an Air Force Officer, so my experience is not the experience of a soldier on the ground. It is here that I realized Jeffrey had done his work. His graphic depiction of the intensity and futility of the battles as the Chinese announce their presence on the battle fields with full-blown human wave tactics had an impact I personally was not prepared for. In fact, as I read the book flying back to Georgia for ten days home leave I could not put it down. The only times I stopped were when I could no longer make out the page. My eyes were full of tears.

          Let me give you a slight introduction to the book, but I do not want to ruin it for those who also read it. The story focuses on a soldier, Robert “Bobby” Washkowiak from Illinois, who enters the Army at the time of the Korean War just after he marries the girl of his dreams and ends up struggling to survive the North Koreans, the Chinese and the winter. Which one was worse in 1950 is a good question, but it was the Chinese who finally took his life.

          Of course, in the confusion of war, he could only be identified as “Missing In Action.” This is almost worse than being declared dead as the family has no way to put closure to the event. This is the story of his wife adapting to missing and finally receiving the official word that since seven years had passed her husband was now considered dead — Dead, but no remains, no funeral, and no final good-byes.

          The rest of the story is one of discovery. Son and grandson find his love letters from Korea and begin to intensify the effort to resolve the terms of his passing. Ultimately, word is received and the cold February night of 1951 in a place called Hoengsong is related through a series of fateful encounters with a surviving military buddy. It is a story that unfortunately is one that over 7,000 families of missing veterans relive on a daily basis, but especially at birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, and other special events.

Jeffrey Miller has done a wonderful service to those families, and to all of us who intellectually handle the war, but need to understand how the military from two great nations came to know each other and came to bond in a way unknown to most. It is a restatement of the special bond that exists between America and the people of Korea. And it makes the point that this relationship did not end in 1953 but continues, and continues – unlike any other in the world.

How do I get Nicky Terrando from Point A to Point B?

You know that scene in 1990’s The Hunt for the Red October when Dr. Ryan (Alec Baldwin) is trying to figure out how to get the Soviet sailors off the Red October so Captain First Rank Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) can defect? He runs through all these possibilities until he figures out that…. (I don’t want to give the movie’s ending away, just in case there is someone out there who hasn’t seen the movie yet!)

That is kind of how I feel today with my character Nicky Terrando in When a Hard Rain Falls trying to get him from Point A to Point B in one of the book’s final chapters. I’ve pretty much got a bead on how the novel is going to end, but I’ve been bogged down in one chapter with Nicky.

One of the reasons why I am bogged down is making this chapter believable enough for readers to accept that Nicky, who is a felon would do or not do the things he does in this chapter for the sake of moving the story along, pretty much like Ryan has to with the Soviet sub crew.

I think I’ve got it all figured out now.

War is hell

An excerpt from War Remains:

Remember Washkowiak, we’re just ordinary men thrust into extraordinary circumstances,” Marshall said. “Each one of us deals with this his own way. As for me, I didn’t ask for this shit, but I sure as hell don’t plan on standing in it for too long.”

Bobby wasn’t exactly sure what Marshall had meant with “each one of us deals with this his own way.” He wasn’t sure what “this” was supposed to mean. Did he mean the war itself or men sent into harm’s way must find their own way?

Dammit sarge, what the hell did you mean?

There was a bright flash and explosion as a mortar round landed not far from Bobby and Harold’s foxhole. They both had gotten down in time before hot metal and pulverized earth and ice filled the air.

War Remains Nominated for two MWSA 2011 Book Awards

My Korean War novel, War Remains has been nominated for two awards by MWSA, the Military Writers Society of America: Special Korean War Book Award for 2011 and the Military-Army Award for 2011.

Winners will be announced on October 1st at the MWSA National Conference in Pittsburgh, PA.

I am honored and humbled to be among the list of nominees this year.

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