Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: Invaders from Mars (page 1 of 2)

Ice Cream Headache: My Journey Back to 1968

icecreamCover2I’m a student and a teacher of history and when it comes to writing both become quite evident in what I write.

My first novel, War Remains, A Korean War Novel took me back to the opening months of the Korean War, the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter, Kunu-ri, and the battle at Hoengseong. My interest in the Korean War was in part due to my coverage of Korean War commemorative events in Korea between 2000-2003 for the Korea Times, which also included meeting many veterans.

Although Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm is about my twenty-plus years living and working in Korea, the book is also a personal history of Korea and the changes which have occurred on the peninsula since I came to Korea in 1990. Besides the essays and articles about the Korean War, there is a special section about Panmunjom, including the article I wrote in 2001 about the 25th anniversary of the Panmunjom Ax Murder Incident.

There’s also a lot of history evident in Invaders from Mars and Other Tales of Youthful Angst. Though most of the essays are about growing up in Oglesby, Illinois, a town of 4,200 back in the 1960s and 1970s, there are a number of historical references, including, but not limited to, the Vietnam War, the Apollo space program, and 1960s television. Many of the essays in this collection started out as blog posts which I later revised and expanded. I tell people that if you like Bill Bryson or Dave Barry, you’ll like this collection.

And that brings me to Ice Cream Headache when I travel back in time again, this time back to 1968. I’ve always been fascinated with this year. A lot has to do with my own sort of prepubescent coming of age when I first really became aware of the world around me. Although Johnny Fitzpatrick is the only one directly affected by the historical backdrop, everyone has their own stake in the historical backdrop of the novella.

In many ways the history that ended up in Ice Cream Headache is also me waxing nostalgic about the Illinois Valley. (For those of you not familiar with the Illinois Valley, it is a geographical area approximately 90 miles southwest of Chicago with three main towns located along the Illinois River: LaSalle, Peru, and Oglesby; to the east there’s Utica and Ottawa and to the west Spring Valley.) It’s been over six years since I last was home; the history I remember and write about is also my way of maintaining an umbilical cord to “home.”

Reading Ice Cream Headache, Invaders from Mars and Other Tales of Youthful Angst, and War Remains, is reading me: who I am and where I’ve come from.

Come along for the ride.

It Came from the Fifties: This Island Earth

ThisIslandEarthRemember those Sci-Fi Saturday afternoons as a kid?

If you grew up in the 1960s, you might have had a lot of those Saturday afternoons and a steady diet of the 1950s science fiction movies which featured a trove of themes from atomic experiments gone awry to giant insects and invaders from outer space.

As kids we were able to suspend our disbelief because we believed everything. A giant tarantula terrorizing towns in America’s southwest was possible thanks to testing nuclear bombs in the desert. Strange, big-headed, bug-eyed visitors from outer space was definitely possible because we all believed in flying saucers, one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eaters and little green men.

We (boys) stopped believing I suppose when we started to discover the opposite sex. That was usually around the sixth or seventh grades. Blame our disbelief on puberty.

This Island Earth (1955) was one of the first science fiction movies made in technicolor. At the time of its release, the film was praised for its special effects as well as its well-written script. Of course, by the time we got around to watching it on television in the 1960s (for me it was WFLD, Channel 32 out of Chicago) we didn’t care about the script as much as the special effects and how the heroes (which were usually scientists) would defeat the extra-terrestrials).

Is it just me, or does Exeter (Jeff Morrow) sound a lot like legendary comedian Phil Hartman? Every time Exeter spoke, I wanted to laugh. Maybe it is hard to suspend our disbelief after all.

These movies would be the inspiration for my first story, “Invaders from Mars”, when I was in eighth grade, which I write about as an essay in Invaders from Mars and Other Tales of Youthful Angst.

Ice Cream Headache, Stephen King, and Ray Bradbury

iceCreamHeadache Smash 5Ice Cream Headache, which started off as a poem a few years ago, was bittersweet to write because of the journey the novella took me on, back to Oglesby, Illinois where I grew up as a child from 1966-1976. Although I would later call LaSalle my home, there’s always been a soft spot in my heart for those years in Oglesby and the memories I have carried with me all these years.

Ice Cream Headache is not the first time for me to take a literary journey back to Oglesby. My second book, Invaders from Mars and Other Tales of Youthful Angst, a collection of essays, was also about growing up in Oglesby in the sixties and seventies.

I started Ice Cream Headache in earnest when I was in Laos with my family earlier this year. Late at night, when everyone was asleep I would sit up and write out ideas and outline chapters. At the same time I was reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63 and the journey back in time the protagonist in the novel takes to 1958 was not unlike the one I took back to 1968 remembering the way things were back then. Although King made a name for himself with his tales of horror and the macabre, the way he often captures moments in the past has always been something I have admired most about his writing, the same way that I have admired Ray Bradbury and his depictions of Middle America (Dandelion Wine still ranks as one of my favorite all-time books).

When I look back at the writers who have influenced me the most, King and Bradbury would be at the top of the list. Although I went through my Pynchon-Delillo-Barth phase when I was in graduate school, as I get older and write more than at any time in my life, what matters most to me, is just telling a good story. I want to be a storyteller like King or Bradbury or other writers I admire like Clive Cussler or James Lee Burke. I’ve given up on trying to understand the intricacies of life, to explain the meta-physical mysteries of our universe.

I just want to tell a good story.

 

Interview in Big Al’s Books and Pals

I’m honored and humbled to have been interviewed for Big Al’s Books and Pals’ Author Series. Without question, Big Al’s is the online place to be for book reviews and interviews. How exclusive and important is it? I had to wait for almost a year for my book to be reviewed–the waiting list is that long!

Big Al does a great job promoting authors.

Check out the site when you have the chance.

“The Dry Bridge” — An Excerpt from Invaders from Mars and Other Tales of Youthful Angst

The Dry Bridge

Just down the main drag on Walnut underneath the dry bridge that spanned the railroad trunk line from the Marquette Cement Mill was where most of my elementary school friends and I came of age.

It was where we escaped after school or in the early evening after we had our supper. There, huddled together and out of sight of any grownups or railroad workers was where we had our first smokes, copped our first feels from Sandy Kowalski or Linda Porter and got our first real boners ogling Playboys and nudie cards Denny stole from his older brother who was just back from Nam.

Traffic droned and rumbled above us as we coughed and choked on our first Marlboros that Sammy Mertz stole from his older brother Vince. Sammy was also the kid who stole a pack of rubbers from his brother and passed them around for us to admire and revere.

“How do you get it inside?” Dave McFlintlock asked in all angelic earnest.

“Don’t be such a dufus,” Sammy retorted, fingering the condom inside the cellophane wrapper. “You have to blow it up first.”

“Looks like a balloon,” I giggled. “Can you imagine Sandy or Linda blowing one of these up?”

And then we all giggled before we coughed and choked on another cigarette.

The deck of playing cards with pictures of naked buxom blondes, brunettes, and redheads on the back were passed around hundreds of times until we knew these ladies by heart. Denny said his brother picked them up in San Francisco on his way home from Vietnam. That wasn’t the only thing we envied Mike for: his brother had given him a spent fifty-caliber casing that he wore around his neck on a leather cord.

The copies of Playboy that Denny kept hidden under his bed were the pièce de résistance of our weekly trysts underneath the dry bridge. He was also the one who regaled us with stories how his brother did it with Susie Rogers in the basement.

Things got interesting when Sandy or Linda tagged along for some of our smokes and fun. Between the nudie cards, Playboy centerfolds, and the occasional feel, we copped from Sandy or Linda was how we learned about the birds and the bees—what the birds and the bees had to do with breasts and rubbers we were not too sure, but the incipient stirring in our loins told us that it must be something good.

For other kicks, we’d put pennies, cans and other junk on the tracks waiting until the train rolled by to see how each one would flatten. One time, Sammy found an old baby carriage in the neighborhood and we threw that on the tracks to see what would happen. What happened was that it scared the Bejesus out of the engineers who quickly stopped the train engine and jumped out, swearing at us kids and threatening to call the cops.

The fun was over when the high school kids came with beer, pot and older versions of Sandy and Linda who told us to scram or they’d beat us up.

 

Copyright © Jeffrey Miller 2012 All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.

 

Crossing the Isthmus of Panama with Howard and Other Stories, Part 5 — Coming soon

It’s about time for another installment of my life in Panama 76-78. When the holidays roll around, I often think back to when I was stationed at Howard Air Force Base in the Panama Canal Zone. It was my first time away from home during the holidays and for all the years that I have been away from “home” since those two years, those two years that I was stationed in Panama have always been a yardstick of sorts for dealing with holiday nostalgia and those pangs of homesickness.

Here’s a glimpse of what awaits you. Hopefully, I’ll have the chance to write this up before I leave for Laos in six days.

This is what I remember singing in the back of John Hill’s dune buggy with a group of friends from the 24th CAMS squadron as we sped across the Thatcher Ferry Bridge on our way to our favorite watering holes in Panama City.

“Jingle Bells, Shotgun Shells/Rabbits all the way/Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse Chevrolet….”

More to come soon.

In the meantime, may I suggest picking up a copy of Invaders from Mars and Other Tales of Youthful Angst? I have two Christmas essays which will get you in the mood: “1968, the year I Stopped Believing in Santa Claus” and “Out, Out Damn Tree.”

Kindle

Paperback

Read an eBook Week

 

It’s read an eBook week at Smashwords and to celebrate, I’m offering a 25% discount on my books, War Remains and Invaders from Mars.

Just enter the code RAE25 when checking out.

 

Read a good story and support a good cause

For every book that I sell this month (hardback, paperback, eBook, or PDF) of War Remains or Invaders from Mars, I will donate $1.00 to The March of Dimes.

Now you can read a good story as well as support a very good cause.

On Sale Now!

Where can you find my books?

Lulu

Smashwords

Amazon (Kindle)

Lulu

Smashwords

Amazon (Kindle)

 

Smashwords has eBook platforms for Sony, Apple, and Barnes and Noble

 

Table of Contents for Invaders from Mars

Invaders from Mars and Other Tales of Youthful Angst is now available at Smashwords as well as a Kindle from Amazon.

I’ve been working on getting the manuscript ready for Lulu. It should be on Lulu in a day or two.

In the meantime, here’s the Table of Contents:

Table of Contents

  • Prologue
  • When Chester Died on Combat
  • Ray Rayner and Friends
  • I Love the Smell of a Freshly Made Ditto
  • Five-finger Discount
  • 1968, The Year I Stopped Believing in Santa Claus
  • A Fried Chicken Saturday Night
  • The Dry Bridge
  • Out, out damn tree
  • Saturday afternoons at the Majestic
  • Homer in the Gloamin’
  • Body Count
  • Summer of the Moon
  • Sea Monkeys, X-Ray Vision and Charles Atlas
  • Walking Tall
  • Athletic Supporter
  • Let’s all go to A&W
  • Shop Class with the Mazzutti Brothers and Mr. V.
  • Memorial Day
  • The Swift Completion of my Rounds
  • Corn Detasseling, A Midwest Summer Rite of Passage
  • A Groovy Chick in a Bikini
  • Living Next Door to Alice
  • The Sleepover
  • Crime & Punishment
  • Invaders from Mars
  • M-E-D-I-C-I-N-A-L
  • When the Carnival Came to Town
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