Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: Literary Stylings (page 1 of 9)

Through the Viewfinder — Hoengseong, South Korea

There was a time, many, many years ago when I once dreamed of becoming the next Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, or Martin Scorcese before I started to study film at Southern Illinois University and “Bubbles, the Nudie Dancer” (Damaged Goods) shattered that dream.

Working on this Korean War documentary in Hoengseong this past weekend, reminded me a little of that dream, especially when it came to setting up a shot and blocking the scene and then having to run through a particular shot a few times.

It was a thrill looking through the viewfinder and watching and hearing me talk about the Battle of Hoengseong.

Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm — Number One this Hour

You know how Andy Warhol once said that we would all be famous for fifteen minutes?

Well, I think I had a couple of those minutes today when my latest book, Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm shot up the charts on Amazon’s Hot New Releases’ list to Number One.

It was nice because it was exactly 21 years ago today that I arrived in Korea.

Stopping by a Palace on a Snowy Morning

Waking Up Cover 1

An excerpt from my soon to be published novel about life in Korea.

Snow began to fall on a late Thursday afternoon. By eight that night, when I finished teaching, there was about an inch of snow on the ground. It was coming down hard, wet, and thick and would continue to snow throughout the night. By morning, when I trudged through it, over a small hill from the north gate of Yonsei University where I lived and through a woods on campus, on my way to teach an early morning conversation class, about a foot-and-a-half had fallen and it hadn’t let up.

I knew well enough to bring my camera along to school; a snowy day like this was a rarity in Seoul. As soon as my class finished at 8:30, I hopped in a taxi and headed downtown to Kyongbok Palace.

There are certain images that I have of Korea which are permanently etched into my memory. Some of them I have been able to capture on film to look at and wax nostalgic about my early days in Korea; others are mental snapshots which will forever remind me of what it was like in Korea when I first arrived.

On some of those mornings and afternoons when I had some time on my hands before and after class, I explored the shopping arcade in the subterranean depths of the Kangnam Subway Station. I had my breakfast of a fried egg, toast, and coffee at Paris Croissant; ate lunch at some cold shiktang, where I warmed my hands around a thick plastic cup of bori-cha before being served a piping hot bowl of sundubu-chigae; and stocked up on music (cassette tapes) at one of two music shops. However, during my first full week in Korea, where I spent a lot of time was going through the Christmas cards outside a stationery shop.

In 1990, celebrating Christmas in Korea was by and large limited to exchanging greeting cards and enjoying a decorated Christmas cake (heavy on the lard). After I saw some of the unique cards, I couldn’t wait to buy some of them and to send home to family and friends. Many of cards featured traditional Korean scenes: craggy, pine-covered mountains, cranes flying across the sky, and scenes of children dressed in hanboks playing traditional Korean games—not exactly Christmassy to someone who grew up with Norman Rockwell-like, Currier and Ives holiday cards. However, the ones which caught my eye and made me think of home, at least in the winter scenes depicted on them, were cards with a black and white photograph of a pavilion-looking structure covered with snow.

I bought a bundle of those cards with the snow-covered pavilion and spent a cold, gray afternoon in the Jardin coffeehouse writing out the cards, listening to a Korean version of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” and wondering if Seoul would have a white Christmas.

I suppose most foreigners who come to Asia to live and work harbor, for better or worse, certain images and preconceptions of what one expects to see and experience. I blame some of the tourist literature which perpetuates these images and presumptions. When I went to Japan in 1989, I couldn’t wait to see a snow-covered Mt. Fuji rising up in the distance or walk underneath a crimson maple canopy at Kinkakuji in autumn. Not long after I arrived in Korea, I read an Op-Ed piece in one of the newspapers in Korea from a female expat complaining that Korea wasn’t Asian enough for her, which prompted another expat to fire off a letter to the editor. “What did you expect to see,” the expat wrote, “ox-drawn carts?”

I can’t say that I didn’t have any expectations when I came to Korea, per se; I thought it would be similar to living in Japan.

Boy, was I wrong.

When I started to travel around Korea and fell in love with the country, those endearing images which have marked my passage of time in Korea first came into focus: misty, mountain temples, palace grounds blanketed with bright yellow ginkgo and burnt orange maple leaves, the serene expression of the Seokguram Buddha, the graceful movements of Korean women in colorful hanboks performing Buchaechum, a traditional Korean dance using fans painted with pink peony blossoms, and the energetic Pungmul, or farmer’s band music, with some of the performers wearing sangmo, a hat with a long ribbon attached that the players spun and flipped as they danced.

Still, after all my years in Korea I hadn’t come close to seeing one of the images I desired most to see—the one inspired by that Christmas card in 1990—until that snowy morning in March 2004.

Next to a snowstorm in January 2001, it was the most snow I saw fall in Seoul in all the years I lived in the city. Unlike the snowstorm in January 2001when I was stranded in the teachers’ dormitory on the Yonsei campus, this time I could get out and travel to one of Seoul’s palaces. I’ve always envied those photographers who were at the right place at the right time when it came to capturing those once-in-a-lifetime shots, but now that was about to change.

However, my window of opportunity was narrow—if I wanted to beat the rush of camera bugs seeking the same winter scenes I did. Normally traffic around Yonsei was quite heavy during the morning rush hour with people driving into the city as far away as Ilsan to the northwest, but on this morning the traffic was relatively light.

I knew what I wanted to take a picture of before I even got to the palace fifteen minutes later. It was the same photograph I saw on those Christmas cards fourteen years earlier. Once downtown, not far from Kyongbok Palace, I hurried down a subway entrance, crossed underneath the street, and came out inside the palace grounds. Fortunately, the heavy snowfall kept most people out of downtown, and judging from the dearth of footprints leading toward the back of the palace, only a few hearty souls braved the elements.

One of the most photographed, painted, and sketched structures and buildings with the palace is Hyangwonjeong, a small two-story hexagonal pavilion built in 1873. The name, loosely translated as, “Pavilion of Far-reaching Fragrance” is located on an artificial island in the middle of a small lake (Hyangwonji) and is reached by a wooden bridge, Chwihyanggyo (“Bridge Intoxicated with Fragrance”). The pavilion’s charm is without question its simplicity, but also the serenity of the surroundings; though this serenity was shattered in October 1895, when Empress Myeongseong, wife of King Gojong, was assassinated in her residence north of the pavilion.

As I trudged through the snow toward the pavilion I knew I was in a race against time and the elements if I were to take the photographs I wanted. I was not to be disappointed. As anticipated, photographers were crawling around the edge of the lake taking photographs of the snow-covered pavilion, but not as many as I expected. There was plenty of room and snow for everyone. Some had lugged all kinds of equipment through the snow to ensure they got the best photo. There were Hasselblad cameras set up on tripods, Nikons and Canons swinging around the necks of other professional-looking photographers. My trusty Nikon Coolpix was camera enough for me and I took as many shots as I could before the masses appeared which I knew would be soon. Sure enough, as I headed back across the palace grounds, the palace was crawling with visitors and office workers playing hookey.

I got some good photographs of Hyangwonjeong that day; a couple good enough for a Christmas card or even the cover of a book.

Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm (E-Book)

 

Review in Three Wise Monkeys

War Remains recently got a nice write up in Three Wise Monkeys; immediately it was linked to another Korean website.

It’s nice to see the novel finally getting more press here in Korea and other places. On Amazon, seven readers have left reviews.

Word of mouth.

That’s what it’s all about.

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.

Military Writers Society of America Announces the 2011 book awards and Korean War Book Finalists

Military Writers Society of America Announces the 2011 book awards and Korean War Book Finalists.

My Korean War novel, War Remains has been nominated in two categories, including Korean War Book Award.

Testors Model Paint

The cool thing about the writing is not just the story, but the little details, the verbal brushstrokes you add to the story that sometimes are from your past; in this case, a little “Testors model paint” that I have one of the characters talking about.

It’s just a small detail in the story, but one that adds a bit of “color” if you can excuse the pun.

Remember Testors? I haven’t thought about this paint brand name in years, but there it was right there in my memory bank to use today.

Growing up in the 60s/70s I tried to make a lot of Revell and Aurora model airplanes, cars, and battleships. My models never looked like the ones on the box. Either I used way too much glue or my paint job was horrendous.

But, I’ll let Bill Bryson explain it in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (2006)

Making models was reputed to be hugely enjoyable… But when you got the kit home and opened the box the contents turned out to be of a uniform leaden gray or olive green, consisting of perhaps sixty thousand tiny parts, some no larger than a proton, all attached in some organic, inseparable way to plastic stalks like swizzle sticks. The tubes of glue by contrast were the size of large pastry tubes. No matter how gently you depressed them they would blurp out a pint or so of a clear viscous goo whose one instinct was to attach itself to some foreign object—a human finger, the living-room drapes, the fur of a passing animal—and become an infinitely long string. Any attempt to break the string resulted in the creation of more strings. Within moments you would be attached to hundreds of sagging strands, all connected to something that had nothing to do with model airplanes or World War II. The only thing the glue wouldn’t stick to, interestingly, was a piece of plastic model; then it just became a slippery lubricant that allowed any two pieces of model to glide endlessly over each other, never drying. The upshot was that after about forty minutes of intensive but troubled endeavor you and your immediate surroundings were covered in a glistening spiderweb of glue at the heart of which was a gray fuselage with one wing on upside down and a pilot accidentally but irremediably attached by his flying cap to the cockpit ceiling. Happily by this point you were so high on the glue that you didn’t give a shit about the pilot, the model, or anything else.

When a hard rain falls — with a tip of the hat to Bob Dylan

This could very well be the cover of the book I am now writing.

You might be wondering why I would want to select the cover of the book before I have finished writing  it.

It’s for inspiration. I see the cover and it inspires me, helps me to visualize the story and in some ways keeps me focused.

I’m still searching for a better photograph; I have two (which I will have to spend about $25.00 for) of a rainstorm, but I thought that was too obvious.

The title? Originally, the working title of this book was Undertow, but when I thought more about the story, the characters, and the climax (yes, I already know how the story is going to end) that’s when I changed the title.

And yes, a tip of the hat to Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”.

Writing is easy; Promoting your book is harder

That’s what I’ve been finding out ever since War Remains was published seven months ago.

I’ve done everything that was suggested by authors and indie publishers, from setting up a page on Facebook to having its own blog.

I’ve sent out press releases, have had two newspaper interviews, and have recently entered the novel into a Korean War book competition.

I’ve reviewed Amazon book purchases, such as Cherries: A Vietnam War Novel by John Podlaski and added a hyperlink to my Amazon page.

Unfortunately, the one market I still haven’t been able to make inroads into has been the Korean market. Despite having a major write up and interview in The Korea Times last year, the book is still not available locally.

One thing that writers, especially those of us who self-publish need to do to promote one’s books is persuade buyers to write reviews. It doesn’t have to be much, just a paragraph or two. However, to get folks to do that, is not always easy. Therefore, I’m thinking about having a contest. For everyone who writes a mini-review, I will have a drawing and select one or two names for a free autographed copy of any of my books.

This also works for comments on a blog post about one’s books.

It’s all about getting the word out, isn’t it?

It’s not like Field of Dreams— “if you build it they will come;” it’s more like, if you write it, you’ve got to promote it.

Yikes! $178.05 for a hardcover edition of War Remains!

The other day my friend Dave Steele (author of the Sexton series) sent me an email informing me that a hardcover edition of War Remains was going for $178.05!

“That’s no misprint Jeffrey,” Dave went on to say in his email.

$178.05. I was going to have to check that out for myself.

Dave was right. Not only was a hardcover edition of War Remains going for that exorbitant price, my other two books, Invaders from Mars and Other Tales of Youthful Angst and Damaged Goods also had similarly priced editions.

Turns out some third-party seller is selling the books for this price and making (if someone is foolish enough to pay that kind of money for my books) a lot of money. I wrote to Amazon and they informed me that there was nothing that they can do.

In the meantime, if you want paperback or hardcover editions of any of my books, please go to Lulu. They are much cheaper, I promise you.

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