Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: Writing (page 1 of 5)

10,000 words

Just passed 10,000 words on my current WIP. The first 10,000 words are the always the hardest. I seem to be slowing down a little. Either that, I am taking more time (this is probably the real reason) for writing out particular scenes…and don’t forget I am still writing out the first draft by hand.

My goal is to finish this current novel by the end of this summer. Or as Slim Pickens playing Colonel Kong in Dr. Strangelove put it, “Now let’s get this thing on the hump — we got some flyin’ to do!”

Mojave Green

135449798.vbIpaC5NOf all my short fiction, one of my stories that is near and dear to me is “Mojave Green” which I originally wrote in 1988 for my MA Thesis at Western Illinois University. The story, which takes place in the small town of Adelanto, California outside of George AFB, is about an airman who finds out a troubling secret about his wife and the visit of his wife’s ex who liked to hunt for Mojave Green rattlesnakes.

I cut my teeth as a writer with the story and it will be featured in a collection of short fiction I hope to publish this year. I learned a lot about the craft of writing with this story and the importance of the rewrite.

Mitch moved past me, kicking up some sand as he moved toward his truck.  From the back, he pulled out a cooler.  “Didn’t want Betsy to know I had this.  She used to get really bent out of shape with my drinking.  I don’t think I could have gone another minute without a cold one. Beer?”

“Listen, Mitch, if it’s about—”

“You know why I’m here.”  He pulled out a dripping bottle of Budweiser, opened it on the lip of the truck’s rust-flecked bumper and hoisted it to his lips.  Beer streamed out the corner of his mouth that he wiped away with the back of his hand.  “It’s a hot one today.  I don’t know how you two can still live in this place.  I figured you for base housing, being an E-5 and all.  Betsy probably told you that I was redlined for promotion a couple of times because of my drinking.  No promotion.  No base housing.  That sucked.”

Oh, yeah the photo. That’s the barracks I lived when I was stationed at George from 1978-1980.


Word Count

FullSizeRenderHow many words do you write every day?

Some of my author friends are quite prolific when it comes to the number of words they write each day. Some stick to a daily quota and meet that quota no matter what. Others choose a more manageable and polished quota.

I’m quite happy if I can write 300-500 polished words a day. That might not seem very much, but it’s definitely been more manageable for me. Anyone with little kids running around the house knows exactly what I mean.

Work in Progress: The Roads We Must Travel

500_F_58456380_SPF3r3PB4Bopt5SLe3GbBRpbTSoXaEitFor my next book, I am returning to my roots: the short story.

I am tentatively calling it The Roads We Must Travel.

I’ve been writing some new stories and tweaking some old ones (ones which have already been published in online literary magazines). Unlike my previous self-publishing projects, for this one I plan on submitting it to an indie publisher (keep your fingers crossed).

Currently, I have fifteen stories that I would like to include in this collection. Three short stories, in particular, “Mojave Green,” “Going After Sexton,” and “Black Roses” are stories that I cut my teeth on as a writer when I was in graduate school (1987-1989). These are stories which demand a wider audience: “Mojave Green” takes place at an Air Force base in the Mojave Desert; “Going After Sexton” takes place in Carbondale, Illinois; and “Black Roses” takes place in Chicago. Other stories are set in Cambodia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, and Panama. One story, which I hope makes the cut, takes place on the night of the first night game at Wrigley Field in 1988.

This is a tentative list of stories which I hope to include in the collection:


As Long as I Have my Cokes and Smokes *

What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas *

For Emily

Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell

The Footlocker

Black Roses *

And that’s why they call it the Blues

Greetings from Cambodia

Night Shift

In Autumn, the Ancient Gingko Rains Yellow Tears

The Roads We Must Travel

Maid Rite *

Mojave Green *

Going After Sexton *

(* previously published)

After spending nearly two years writing my last novel, The Panama Affair, it is refreshing to go back to my roots and write some short fiction. Don’t worry, I have already started another novel. It’s a cold case thriller which takes place at Lake Arrowhead, California.

Dealing with Rejection…Again

imagesI received another rejection notice from an online literary magazine that has published my writing before. It’s my second rejection from the magazine in as many months.

Even though rejection is a given is in the nature of the publishing beast, no matter how many times you have been published and no matter how many times people tell you that your writing is good, it still smarts a little when you start reading that email and get to the part where the editor or assistant says something like, “it’s not a right fit for us.”

Rejection. We have all felt its sting and slap. I would be lying to you if I said it doesn’t hurt. The challenge of course, is how to use the rejection to improve your writing?

Now before one immediately starts rewriting their poem or story, one should take another look at that piece of writing and try to understand why it was rejected. It might something as simple as the editor just didn’t like the story for one reason or another. In my case, the editors felt the story hadn’t been developed enough. Fair enough. I can live with that because as a writer we need some feedback that is not from a friend or a family member. Sure, it’s all objective, but objectivity is good and we should try to use it when we take another look at the piece of writing that had been rejected.

KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) Update

The numbers are in, but it’s nothing to get too excited about.

Before Amazon decided to introduce KENP, I was making around $1.35 for each book borrowed. If you are a self-published/indie author that payout was depressing to say the least. Of course, there’s always the chance that if you allow your book to be borrowed that it could give your book more exposure and drive sales–something that a self-published/indie author prays for.

KENP is all about pages read and I can appreciate the logic behind the decision. Last month, one of my books, War Remains, had a total of 3,130 pages read which came out to $18.09. That works out to .0057 per page, which was what Amazon said the payout would be. I’m fine with that. What I would like to know is how many books does that work out to? War Remains is listed as 388 print pages, but KENP uses a different page count. I’m going to play it safe and round off the page count to 500 pages. That works out to almost $3.00 per book, which is not too bad. I can live with that.

On the other hand, only 480 pages were read (170 print pages) for I’ll Be Home for Christmas, which netted me $2.77. That works out to about the same, $1.35 per book that I made before.

I know the numbers are not too encouraging, but for the time being I am going to stick with KENP. It’s better than nothing.

What a Difference a Year Makes

Sometimes all it takes is a little distance.

Last year I participated in the National Book Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) competition for the first time. I’ve known a couple writer friends who have participated in this grueling 30-day challenge/competition and although I have shied away from it in the past, I thought last year I would participate.

I had recently finished and self-published two books, When A Hard Rain Falls and I’ll Be Home for Christmas, so I had a clean slate as it were to try my hand at this competition. I had this one idea in mind, which I thought would be perfect for the competition, but at the last minute I changed my mind and started on Murder in the Moonlight instead. Murder in the Moonlight has been on the back burner for about three years and I thought now as good a time as any to write it (I had a fairly extensive outline for it).

On November 1, 2013 I started and for the next 30 days I wrote feverishly to finish (I did with a few days to spare). The manuscript was a good first draft, but there were a lot of holes in the story. I didn’t think it was complete and it didn’t read right. And to be honest, I didn’t like it. Instead of rewriting it, I shelved it and continued another project, The Panama Affair, which I recently finished.

Not long after I finished my recent book, I happened by chance one day to open the file for Murder in the Moonlight, and I started reading it. This was the first time since last year that I looked at the manuscript. It read a lot differently than it did a year ago. In fact, I was surprised at what I had written.

Sometimes you need to look at a story, paper, or a novel with a fresh pair of eyes and perspective. Sometimes a writer needs some distance for a piece of writing to simmer and percolate.

Guess what I am working on next?

The Writing Process: How Do You Come Up With This Stuff?

How do I come up with the stuff I write about?

Thanks to my friend, Nate Tower, he suggested I answer a few questions to let folks know my writing process. This is where everything begins:

  1. What are you working on?

I just finished my eighth novel, Paradise Lost: Love, Drugs, and War in Panama and now I’m working on two novellas. I’m really excited about this Panama novel because I’ve wanted to tell this story for over 30 years. It is hard for me to work on just one project at a time. In fact, it’s one way of dealing with writer’s block!

  1. How does your work differ from others’ in the same genre?

I guess this is one of those, “does form follow function or function follow form?” questions, so I’ll give it my best shot. I have a story inside my head and I want to tell it. I don’t really think about genre when I sit down and start to write. I just let the story come out naturally the way I would like to hear the story if I were listening to another person tell it. There is one thing to be said about most of my stories, I tend to write about the American Midwest where I grew up, and where I haven’t visited in over seven years, so whether it’s contemporary/literary fiction such as Ice Cream Headache or a thriller, When A Hard Rain Falls,  there is that underpinning nostalgia.

When I was younger and in grad school, I wanted so much to be another John Barth, Don Delillo, or Thomas Pynchon; now, I just want to be Jeffrey Miller.

  1. Why do you write what you do?

It’s the natural storyteller in me, or better yet, it’s Plato’s idea of the need for the examined life.

  1. How does your writing process work?

That’s a good question. With a hectic teaching schedule (this coming semester I have two history classes, two Honor’s English classes, and a reading class) and four kids at home, I write when I can find the time. These days it’s after everyone has gone to bed and early in the morning before everyone gets up. I write every day no matter what. Going a day without writing is like going a day without eating. I have to write.

I have a number of ideas swimming around in my head at the moment and every so often I pluck one out and write out some of the story by hand. I am still old school when it comes to writing, preferring to start every project with pen and paper.


The Writing Process: Listen to your Muse

Xanadu04-800x435Where do you get your inspiration for your short stories and books is a question I am often asked when people learn that I have written eight books and working on two more?

That’s simple. I listen to my Muse.

While my source of inspiration might not be exactly like the Muses depicted in the 1980 film, Xanadu, I am inspired various sources. Sometimes it might be an article I read in a newspaper or a magazine. Other times it might be a snippet of a conversation I overhear. These days I draw inspiration from the memories I have of growing up back in a small town in Illinois in the 1960s and 197os. In fact, the novella I am working on now takes me back to Oglesby, Illinois, a town that I grew up in during this period. The inspiration is probably more of a defense mechanism to combat homesickness as well as  the wave of nostalgia I often feel when I think about back home (I have been living and working in Asia since 1990 and have only been back to the States a dozen times).

There’s always something for me to write about. My real challenge is finding the time to bring these ideas to life.

If you have trouble finding something to write about, my suggestion is to look at the world around you. It might be something that you read or see that can inspire you to write. Draw upon something that is near and dear to you. Choose a memory that has a special place in your heart and bring it to life. Your Muse is that voice inside your head guiding you on the journey you are about to take. Find something that is very special to you and your Muse will do the rest.

Listen to your Muse.

The Writing Process: Don’t Forget to Save the Liver

Save the LiverOne of my favorite Saturday Night Live skits was the one when Dan Aykroyd played Julia Child; while preparing a holiday dish Aykroyd/Child tells viewers not to throw the liver away. What happens next is classic SNL:

Saturday Night Live: Save the Liver

When writing, you should also “save the liver.” In other words, when you are writing your fiction or poetry, don’t discard anything that you write because it “doesn’t work.” For example, I am working on a new novella and there is one chapter that doesn’t seem to fit right now. It reads okay, but I am not sure if I want to keep it or discard it. The novella would work without it, but there are parts of the chapter which I really like, so I don’t want to remove it just yet. The best thing to do is set it aside and see where the story takes me. If I need it, I can always come back to it.

This is true for anything that you write. What doesn’t seem to work right now, could work later, as you revise your story or poem, or could even be a stand alone work.

Don’t throw anything away just because you don’t think you’ll need it now.

Always save the liver.

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