Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: Americana (page 1 of 10)

Roadside Table — One Mile Ahead

Today I was thinking about roadside tables. Remember them? This was not a rest area with all the amenities (grills, restrooms, running water, and a possibly a playground for the kids).

A roadside table was that. Just a picnic table or two and a trashcan. Usually at some junction/intersection where a family could enjoy a picnic lunch before continuing their journey.

Once all the interstates and expressways came in, and folks started whizzing across the United States, there was no need to pack a picnic basket. That’s when the Golden Arches and all the other fast food drive-ins dotted the landscape.

But if you ever took the backroads, you could still find these roadsign tables. This was not life in the fast lane. This was all about taking your time to get somewhere.

My grandparents, if they went anywhere over fifty miles, packed a picnic basket. I suppose, on one hand, it saved money and time looking for someplace to eat.

On the horizon…

523ffb134784123e50fd543a9bc760fcNot one, but three new books coming down the pike.

The first one is a collection of short stories, The Roads We Must Travel, which is being published by the Big Table Publishing Company. I’m really excited to have this collection published by an indie press, especially this one which has published some very good titles the past few years. Two of Big Table’s highly acclaimed titles, Finding the Wow and Fat Girl, Skinny (which has been nominated for a Pulitzer) are at the top of their respective charts.

I’ve also completed my sixth novel, a thriller set in South Korea. I’m keeping this one under wraps until I find some beta readers and it’s been edited, but I can tell you this, it’s about a plot to smuggle 1000 kilos of methamphetamine from North Korea to the United States.

I had toyed around with the idea of publishing it through Inkshares which is this publishing platform combining the best of social networking with publishing to help authors from writing to publishing. One of my former colleagues, Peter Ryan is publishing two books with the company. Check out his first one, Sync City, which is in production now.

I’m not sure if my novel would be a perfect fit for Inkshares because from what I have seen, most of the books that do well are either science fiction or fantasy.

And finally, I’m just about finished with a novella set in the Midwest which is about fracking.

Lots to look forward to in the next coming months.

An Awesome Review of When A Hard Rain Falls

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A rave review of When A Hard Rain Falls:

This wasn’t quite what I expected from the blurb on the front advertising it as a “fast-paced gripping ride” – to describe it in such a way is to do it something of an injustice; When A Hard Rain Falls is much more than that.

The pace of the novel begins quite slowly, giving the reader plenty of time to get to know the character’s two protagonists: Keith, the struggling, divorced father of two who finds himself in a situation this will be all-too-familiar to those who have done no wrong except make a few bad choices; and Nicky, a young man fresh out of prison, rough and happy that way.

Miller does a fantastic job of making these characters fully-developed and relatable. It would be easy for the young ex-con and the single father to be clichés or caricatures, the type seen often on any number of police-related TV shows. Instead, we are given full backgrounds on the two men; what happened to them and how they ended up where they are now. There is a fascinating contrast between the two in that Keith is a good man but questions the choices he has made and makes, while Nicky is cruel and remorseless but never doubts what he does.

The exposition of these two is what makes the climax of the novel, when they finally meet, so interesting. However, they do not meet until the very end of the story, so it would be wrong to expect a story of constant conflict. Instead, Miller slowly builds up the suspense as the two men move closer and closer to the moment they will meet. The reader knows it is going to happen and as each action brings them nearer, the suspense builds until it bursts, much like the banks of the canal in the final scenes.

The storm which causes this is described in wonderful detail, bursting into the story as unexpectedly as it would be to the characters and having a huge influence on what happens. The story ends with some nice intrigue as well, leaving the reader to wonder what will happen to Keith, his sons and everyone else.

All in all, this is an excellently written thriller, full of suspense and bursts of action that never fail to draw you in and keep you entertained. Beneath that, though, is a deeper story of family love, attempted redemption and the tale of how a man can easy fall through the system into deeper darkness. Just don’t expect an episode of 24 with non-stop action; this is more akin to the quality of a show like The Wire, but all the better for being a book!

Thanks, Steve Justice! You just persuaded me to buy my own book!

When A Hard Rain Falls: You CAN judge a book by its cover

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Believe it or not, When A Hard Rain Falls has quickly become one of my best selling books.

Although it does not have the kind of reviews that War Remains and Ice Cream Headache have, it is one of my best selling books on a day-to-day basis.

Inasmuch as it is a good story about a father fighting evil to protect his sons while they are on a camping trip, the cover work by the very multi-talent artist and designer Anna Takahashi proves that you CAN judge a book by its cover.

I just love the cover design and how Anna was able to capture the intensity and the suspense of Keith Mitchell’s story and how an ordinary camping trip becomes one of survival.

This is the second book cover Anna designed for me and it also shows how much we both learned about cover design. First of all the Title font is very strong capturing the story’s suspense. Also the placement of the book blurb is crucial. Your eyes move from the lightning to the title, downward with the rain to the blurb. Finally, the cover is a wrap around design: the back mirrors the front. It is a most appropriate design for the book cover.

Leonard’s Bicycle Shop

c9-56  d22 Img25 Leonard's Mower & Bicycle Shop

 

 

Although I don’t directly mention Leonard’s Bicycle Shop directly in Ice Cream Headache, the bicycle shop plays an important role in the novella. Looking at this photo, it was probably taken right around the time that the story takes place.

Set in a small, industrial town in Illinois in 1968, the lives of five people intertwine on one fateful spring day. Under the low-lying dark cloud of the Vietnam war, these five people act out their personal dramas within a milieu of sadness, regret, guilt, envy, cowardice and bitterness: Ray Jackson, isolated and strong in the face of losing his business and wife; Johnny Fitzpatrick, who has decided to run off to Canada to avoid the draft; Jimmy Smith, who overcomes physical and mental limitations and willing to believe the best about people; Nancy Smith, who has devoted her entire life to raising her only child in the face of great odds; and Earl Jansen who carries the guilt of an accidental shooting two years earlier that forced him off the police force. However there is also in equal measure all-consuming love, courage, loyalty, kindness, mercy, gentleness and the enduring strength of the human spirit. Linked together in conflict, articulate friendship and understanding, their plight as human beings is one we all share.

Captain America and Company in Korea

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I know it’s only a movie, but I hope Kim Jong-un shits a major brick when he finds out that Captain America and company are in Korea.

 

The Flim Flam Man (1967) — A Classic Gem

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The Flim Flam Man (1967)
Starring George C. Scott, Sue Lyon, and Harry Morgan
Written by William Rose
Directed by Irvin Kershner

It’s hard to believe that a film of this pedigree has yet to receive a proper DVD (let alone Blu-Ray) remastering and re-release. Written by William Rose (It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World), directed by Irvin Kershner (Never Say Never Again, The Empire Strikes Back) and featuring a tour de force performance from George C. Scott, this film is on its way to being a great lost classic. I first saw it when it was broadcast on television in the early seventies;  This film never gets old, no matter how times I have seen it.

Mordecai Jones (George C. Scott) is a rural con artist who takes on young army deserter Curley (Michael Sarrazin) as his protégé and teaches him the tricks of the trade. Sheriff Slade (Harry Morgan, of M*A*S*H fame) is in hot pursuit of the pair, and rich girl Bonnie Lee Packard (the stunning Sue Lyon) becomes romantically involved with Curley and helps the fleeing duo stay one step ahead of the sheriff. Playing a con artist allows Scott the opportunity to trot out just about every accent under the sun, and he does so with zest. People primarily familiar with Scott as General George S. Patton, or perhaps Ebeneezer Scrooge, will be amazed at his gift for comedy.

“Sunday, Monday, Happy Days…”

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Forty years ago this week, January 15, 1974, the soon-to-be hit sitcom Happy Days premiered.

Soon, the Fonz and “sit on it” would become part of American pop culture.

Although the show’s initial appeal might have ridden the success of the hit movie American Graffiti, (that’s probably why the producers used Bill Haley and the Comets “Rock Around the Clock” for the theme music) the show itself was based on a segment of Love, American Style. It would turn out to be a fun show at a time when there was a sitcom renaissance which included other shows like M*A*S*H, Barney Miller, Laverne and Shirley, Welcome Back Kotter, as well as All in the Family and Sanford and Son.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

robin-hood-posterIt’s injustice I hate, not the Normans.

There’s a reason why some films are classics, especially those films which stand up with the passage of time because of the actors/actresses, direction, music, and story. With Warner Brothers’ 1938 production of The Adventures of Robin Hood, you get all of those.

It’s been a few years since I last watched this classic Warner Brothers film, but it is the kind of film that you can watch over and over. There’s still something magical about this film–especially the on-screen chemistry between Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland (they would make eight films together)–that has survived the test of time. How many actors and actresses today can say the same?

 

The Seven-Ups (1973)

Seven-Ups.1973.002I love the cop drama movies from the early 1970s; especially those set in New York like The French Connection or The Seven-Ups. There’s just something that the way these movies were filmed: the cold, gray-steel skies, steam rising up from sewers, not to mention that it always seemed cold.

There’s more to this cinematic appeal of this films and others, such as Three Days of the Condor, Taxi Driver, and Rocky filmed in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia and why I have come to grow fonder of them over the years. I think a lot has to do with going to Chicago for the first time in 1972 on a school trip to see musicals such as Godspell and Grease. Not only was it the first times for me to go to the city, but also the first time to do something without parental supervision.

Before we went to the musical, we would have some time to explore the city. It all seemed so foreign and overwhelming to me. I suppose that is why when I have watched these films I am reminded of those early journeys to the city and wandering around The Loop.

On the other hand, there’s also something to be said about the American cinema of the early 70s when many of the films seemed to have gotten grittier, honest and less Hollywood (sanitized). And in many ways, it was still a time when Hollywood was more concerned about the product than the box office–something which would change in the summer of 1975 with Jaws and two years later when Star Wars changed everything.

I’m watching the Seven-Ups today and the film still holds up well. The acting is good, the story is fine, but what still impresses me is how gritty, realistic, and honest the film is.

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