Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: Oglesby (page 1 of 8)

A Boxful of Books

BooksOne of my fondest memories of elementary school was the day the books from the Scholastic Book Services arrived in my classroom. Back in the 1960s/70s when I was in elementary school, there would be a Scholastic Book Services book fair at school or our teachers would hand out a two-four page flyer-like catalog with books that we could order such as The Trolley Car Family, Homer Price, and 100 Pounds of Popcorn. We would take the flyer home, which also included an order form that we would fill out and then bring it back to school with our money. After our teacher collected the money, she would send it off to the Scholastic.

And then we would wait.

And wait.

And wait.

One week would pass; then another week.

Every day we would come to school we would look toward the front of the class to see if the “box of books” had arrived.

Another week passed.

And then one day it was there! Yes, right there on the teacher’s desk! It was like Christmas, the Fourth of July, and our birthdays all wrapped up into one and inside the box. We couldn’t wait for our teacher to arrive and distribute the books. One by the one, our teacher would call our names, and we would march to the front of the class, grinning from ear to ear as our teacher handed us our books. And then we would be back at our desks ooh-ing and aah-ing as we thumbed through our new books.

That’s kind of how I felt today when I received a box of my books. It’s one thing to see your book posted on Amazon or someone’s Facebook page; it’s entirely something else when you see your books that you ordered inside the box. This was the first time that I had a multiple title book order, so there was a lot of ooh-ing and aah-ing when I saw all these titles together in one box.

I’ve come a long way since Washington Grade School in Oglesby, Illinois but one thing remains the same: the thrill I get when I look inside a box and see “my” books.

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.

Don’t be Blinded by Science

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You don’t have to go to great lengths to understand the science behind an ice cream headache.

Really.

It’s all poetry in motion.

Ice Cream Headache.

 

Goodbye Ice Cream Headache

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Well, not exactly good-bye, but now it’s time to get ready for another journey back to the 1960s and 1970s with When A Hard Rain Falls.

I feel a little sad to be moving onto the next book after having spent nearly two years writing it and promoting it. You put so much into it and bare your soul with every word that you write.

Although I wrote When A Hard Rain Falls before I wrote Ice Cream Headache, it was one of those stories that needed a little time to ferment before it was ready to see the light of day. And for the next year, I devoted all my time to Ice Cream Headache.

It’s hard to move on to a new book when you spent so much time devoted to it.  I love Ice Cream Headache. I am glad that I wrote this story. Writing it was a chance for me to go back home; back to 1968 when I was a ten-year-old living in Oglesby. We all need to go back home at one time or another.

If you haven’t journeyed back in time with Ice Cream Headache, you really should.

Ice Cream Headache now on sale at Torri’s Ice Cream Parlor

ICH at Torri's

It’s not the Supreme Dairy Bar, but it’s close.

Now folks in the Illinois Valley and North-Central Illinois can find copies of Ice Cream Headache at Torri’s Ice Cream Parlor in Ladd, Illinois.

Although having an ice cream headache at an ice cream parlor is probably not a good thing for business, having my book on sale at one of the the oldest ice cream parlors (my grandparents used to take me to Torri’s when I was living in nearby Cherry) is quite an honor not to mention pretty cool.

You’ll love this story

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Why Ice Cream Headache?

Why not.

This story works on many different levels, but what I wanted to show with this novella was a microcosm of America in 1968 that had already been turned upside down by the Vietnam War and the assassination of Martin Luther King. And there would be so much more before Apollo 8 circled the moon on Christmas Eve.

There is a lot of history in this novella, but it is not a historical novel per se. It is a drama of sorts keeping in the tradition of Peyton Place. There’s a lot of bad stuff going on behind the scenes; behind closed drapes.

Soda Fountain Drinks

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In Ice Cream Headache, Billy stops in at the Supreme Dairy Bar for a milkshake. While the owner of the dairy bar, Ray, is making the milkshake, Ray thinks back to when he was a child and went to the soda fountain at Adkins’ Drug Store with his father and sister for malts and ice cream sodas.

How many of these fountain drinks have you tried? Are there any I might have left off?

 REPORT
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Soda Fountain Favorites

What are your "ice cream headache" favorites?

1

Cherry Coke

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Cherry Coke
2

Vanilla Malt

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Vanilla Malt
3

Green River

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Green River
4

Black Cow

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Black Cow
5

Root Beer Float

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Root Beer Float
6

New York Egg Cream

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New York Egg Cream
7

Ice Cream Soda

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Ice Cream Soda
8

Chocolate Milkshake

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Chocolate Milkshake
9

Strawberry Milkshake

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Strawberry Milkshake
10

Vanilla Milkshake

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Vanilla Milkshake

Ice Cream Headache and Oglesby, Illinois

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Although there might be some truth to the claim that you can’t go home again, I most certainly did when I wrote Ice Cream Headache. And it’s only fitting, given the number of years that I have lived overseas, that I “return” home  a lot in my stories, especially when I am waxing nostalgic about “back home.”

This photo alone, brings back many memories for me: walking home from Washington Grade School, stopping in at the Supreme Dairy Bar for a milkshake or a Green River, buying candy and comic books at Balconie’s, and going to the library. This was the center of my universe from 1966-1976.

What I tried to do most with Ice Cream Headache was to capture some of the small town flavor that is rapidly disappearing across the United States.

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