- Guest Author -
Welcome to my interview with Gary Miller, an enthusiastic writer who has been inspired by living in the Rocky Mountains.
Welcome, Gary ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
I was a late-bloomer to writing. A career in the automotive service industry occupied the majority of my working years. Living in the Rocky Mountains for sixteen years became the catalyst to life-changing experiences. I’m not certain whether it was the lack of oxygen at altitude, or being that much closer to God. Regardless, I discovered my creative vein as a writer. Essays, short stories, poems, novels, even a song or two––I found pleasure in writing them all, a joy I’ll continue to pursue as long as the Good Lord allows.
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
I dabbled for years, but never considered “writer” as one of my titles. I didn’t begin seriously reading for pleasure until I was in my mid-30s. Reading led to a deeper appreciation of the craft. Inspiration struck in 1999, after watching the film JERIMIAH JOHNSON and completing James Michener’s CENTENNIAL, a novel based upon the setting and historical characters from the mountainous area where I lived. I thought, “I’d like to write a saga like CENTENNIAL. I can loosely base the plot around my family’s history and backdate all the main characters.”
After beginning that task and receiving encouragement from my wife and my father, I enrolled in a Beginning Writing class in 2001, followed by Advanced classes until 2003. The classes exposed a hidden talent and introduced me to my mentor and fellow writers, all of whom became dear friends. In 2003, three classmates and I formed a writing/critique group to further develop our mutual passion. Since then the group’s roster has expanded to over twenty-five members, many of them scattered across the US. We’ve all been writing ever since.
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
Both methods. I have outlined plots for several novels waiting to be written, but I’m also a “pantser”, who can sit down at the computer with a concept in mind for one of my protagonists and then start writing. I’m fortunate to feel a bond with my central characters, as if they sit beside me when I write and share their ideas about their individual roles as fast as I can poke the keys.
4. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
The freedom. The freedom to write about whatever pops into my mind. The freedom to become as wise, mean, caring, conniving, evil, sexy, bold, intuitive, cunning, or heroic as I want through my characters, without having to leave home or suffer the possible consequences associated with any of the aforementioned traits. It’s a blast!
5. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Being a “pantser” can be tough at times. There can be periods when my characters refuse to chat and I have to force them to talk. Also, I have a bad habit of writing and editing at the same time. It’s a rare day when I can sit down and write without simultaneously editing what I’ve written, or what I am about to write. I envy the folks who can sit down and write without interruption––just get it all on down on the page first, and edit later.
6. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
Before becoming a writer I wore many hats. As previously stated, I was a gearhead that expanded into a career as an automotive technician, service manager, parts manager and instructor. Later on I was privileged to become a park ranger with the National Park Service. Writing allowed me to discover many new friends, one a singer, songwriter and musician, who encouraged me to join him, and pick up a bass guitar. We sang, played and wrote together for several years––still do when we have the opportunity.
7. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
Discovering that I’ve been blessed with a gift––writing. Beyond that: Receiving consistent praise from my peers and earning their respect, plus, knowing that I’ve had the good fortune to share my gift by helping many other writers. Of course, seeing my work in print didn’t hurt either.
8. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
My first Detective Ike Barney novel. Prior to this undertaking, Ike and his sweetheart, Arielle, were the primary characters in a seven-part short-story series. After sharing the opening to the eighth installment with my writers group, they insisted I should expand it into a novel. Not what I had in mind, but the journey so far has been wonderful. The good news: I’ve already written the plot lines for seven more Ike Barney novels.
9. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Life inspires me. The daily news is a never-ending source of inspiration that affords fiction writers the opportunity to embellish the truth through their characters. With my poetry, inspiration often strikes after hearing or saying a single word, or small phrase.
10. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
My novels are primarily crime-based. I have two primary protagonists: Randal Murphy, a 1950s Private Eye, and Ike Barney, the contemporary Homicide Detective I previously mentioned. Both characters are based in St. Louis, MO, where I was born and raised. I also love to write poetry––old-fashioned, rhyming poems that feature distinct meter, tell a story and test my vocabulary. While living in Colorado, I wrote many heartfelt Western/Cowboy poems. Two of them were published as Cowboys & Indians Magazine’s online Poem of the Week.
11. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Write! Then, write some more…and more…and more. The most valuable mantra I received from my mentor was, “Writers write.” Although writers may have their preferences, they should never be inhibited by genre–writers write. Enroll in basic writing classes with a reputable instructor. Learn and practice the fundamental “rules” (I prefer to call them guidelines). Find your writer’s voice and stick with it. Connect with other writers via writer/critique groups or similar organizations. Most important: Never stop writing.
12. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Certainly. Just like professional athletes, writers have slumps. Sometimes things just don’t click. The best way to recover? Write! Sure, what you see on the page may read like pure crap, but remember, crap can evolve into diamonds.
13. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
Mornings are most often best for me. My mind is fresh and more focused on the task. But whenever the mood strikes, it’s time to write, even if it’s no more than a paragraph, a phrase or a few lines of prose or poetry.
14. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
My “office”, a space shared with my wife, but dominated by my assorted presence.
15. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Telling a tale and bringing characters and stories to life.
16. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
My favorite author? That’s a difficult question to pin down. If an author has more than one novel and I’ve read most of them, they are definitely one of my favorites. There are two award-winning authors I respect more, however, I suppose because I know both of them and truly enjoy their work. Those folks are Sandi Ault and Craig Johnson––Sandi the author of the WILD Mystery series (Berkley Prime Crime); Craig the creator of the Walt Longmire series, (Viking).
17. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
Jeez, I wish I could write like you.
18. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
Okay, so what’s the point? (This from my wife––my first and most dependable critic and editor.)
19. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Of course. Writers that say otherwise are avoiding the truth. Whether Writer, Postman, Doctor or Refuse Collector, how can a person not be influenced by life events?
20. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
My family, the outdoors, woodworking, playing bass guitar. Similar to writing, each of these affections can provide instant gratification…and/or disappointment––just like life. I suppose life should be foremost on my list. I also love life. Without life, nothing else would matter.
21. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Unfortunately I have yet to achieve the ranks of published novelist, something I intend to change. That said, as previously stated, I have the terrible habit of editing and writing at the same time and perform major editing chores during re-writes. On the other hand, I am not so egotistical as to believe my work is perfection. Unbiased, professional editors will become part of the future for my books.
22. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Waking up, breathing, feeling no pain and realizing all is well. As a writer, however, perfect days are the ones in which I awaken with my head abuzz with fresh ideas for my current project. Ideas that beg to spring onto the page, wondering why I bother choking down breakfast when they are ready to go. There’s more important business to attend to, man! Start pecking at the computer! Those are the productive days, when dialogue and narrative flow as if my characters were in the room speaking the lines as fast as I can type.
23. IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
That person would have to be my wife. She’s the one person who knows me best. The person I can depend upon for all things.
24. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
“WTF! We’re on this planet together; time we started working together, rather than against one another.”
25. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
To live to a ripe old age, continue to write, watch my family grow, continue to write, publish my books, continue to write, travel, continue to write…
26. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
You bet, they are my alter-egos. I believe that most writers find a piece of themselves in their primary characters, both protagonist and antagonist––our way of living vicariously, never suffering the consequences of our actions.
27. DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
It certainly has…which is why I abandoned that pursuit in favor of expanding my writing. Part of that decision was due to poor timing. I was sending queries during a period when the publishing industry here in the US was undergoing major change. E-publishing had opened a new market. Self-publishing had become (and remains) more widely accepted. Those two factors represented rapidly expanding competition the big publishing houses weren’t totally prepared to deal with. Some of the big house went under, merged or at least made major cuts. This is not to say I’ve given up on publishing. Overall, the industry is more stable now. Many small presses have joined the traditional publishing ranks. Self-publishing is a more viable option. E-publishing remains strong. It’s time to finish my current project, review the others and get back into the game.
28. DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
Like most endeavours into new arenas, unless a writer happens to be one of the lucky few and attain instant recognition, he/she can beat his/her head against the wall just so many times before you wonder whether it’s all worth it––ask Stephen King. King is one of the most successful writers around the globe. Yet, in his book ON WRITING, he relates how he had reached a point when he was ready to forget about being a published author and remain a professor. He’d stuffed his first offering, CARRIE, in the trash before his wife and a phone call rescued it, and turned that near miss into publishing history.
29. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
My favorite? All of them. Every manuscript I’ve either started or completed introduces new characters or further develops existing characters, which further develops the series and my writing. Witnessing characters spring to life and expand their horizons on the page is amazingly enjoyable.
30. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER?
Finding satisfaction in what I write and knowing that my writing compares to many best-selling authors’ novels that I’ve read and continue to read. Although publication offers the opportunity for financial success and notoriety––the cherry on top––lack of publication should not be the indicator of a failed or untalented–– “unsuccessful”––writer. Some writers may opt to write for themselves, for the pleasure of writing, not the glory. Regardless, writers write and should never stop writing. Furthering that passion represents their success.
31. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
I write my novels, short stories and poetry to reflect the many facets of life through my characters, captured within an entertaining tale. Like many fiction writers, I attempt to keep it real, with a dash of humor such that readers may chuckle once in a while and maybe learn something along the way. Above all I want readers to be entertained, to finish one of my works with a smile.
32. WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE YOUR BOOKS MADE INTO MOVIES? EVER WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY?
Of course. Although I’ve heard about authors’ disappointments after they viewed their characters inaccurately interpreted on the screen. Then again, every reader knows “the books are always better,” right?
Yes, I’m still working on a screenplay for a friend, his story, not mine. Writing a screenplay is much different from a novel––not a lot of room for flowery prose.
33. HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
Much more than most folks care to think about. Letter font and size used for the title and author’s name; eye-catching imagery; eye-catching colors and color contrast; and the overall arrangement of everything mentioned. Sounds simple, but there’s a fair amount of research involved as well. For the experience and fun of it, I’ve designed covers for my assorted projects, but when it comes down to the finished product, I’ll trust the professionals.
34. WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
Living to a ripe old age after having lived a full and satisfying time on earth, filled with memorable moments shared with family and friends. Too pat of an answer, perhaps? Okay, I’d like to have written and published my novels, received rave reviews and notoriety and then retire to the mountains without a care.
35. WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
Writing is fun. Marketing is work, even with self-publishing, something all writers need to realize and accept. Marketing takes much time and effort, and may be the reason why some writers lose their desire to publish. Major publishing outlets may include publicists to help, but authors still need to meet and greet the public. Book signings, speaking engagements, networking via web sites and social media, contacting libraries (yes, libraries still exist) and newspapers: These are some of the common methods for authors to get the word out about their work.
36. ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
No, although I’ll probably utilize that option with one or more of my projects. Self-publishing no longer carries the “vanity publishing” stigma it did in the past. However, there’s a line I like to use regarding self-publishing: The good thing about self-publishing––anyone can get published; the bad thing about self-publishing––anyone can get published. That thought, however, should not deter the seriously minded author. Many best-selling authors with major publishing houses also utilize the self-publishing market to further their brand.
37. DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
Old-school; optimistic; caring; respectful; humorous
38. WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST?
Inconsiderate, impatient, hypocritical, irresponsible, “entitled” people. The ultimate pisser is when I catch myself displaying any one of those unfavorable qualities.
39. WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
THE HIGHWAYMAN, by Craig Johnson, Viking. Yep, it was another good one, part of Craig’s ongoing Walt Longmire series.
40. WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
Honestly, I don’t want to know or even think about my last sentence. Realizing those final words forecasts finality to my writing…and to me.
41. WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE NOW? CARE TO SHARE?
Unlimited Wi-Fi access! I live in the boonies, where our wireless/internet options are limited…and/or too damned expensive. Unlimited Wi-Fi would make research so-o-o-o-o-o much easier…and completing manuscripts so-o-o much faster.
42. ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Writing is an act of passion and solitude that non-writers seldom comprehend. When a writer suddenly drifts from conversation and stares into the distance as if in a trance, it’s not because they are being deliberately rude, or don’t care. Instead, it’s because they are spellbound by thoughts of their current (or next) project––they’re writing. Be patient, non-writers. Your writer companion will return.
I’d like to thank you, Clancy, for the opportunity to express my thoughts about writing, and to network with folks who share those views. Good writing to you all.
Clancy's comment: Thank you, Gary. I've really enjoyed this interview. Keep going, mate.