TweetJonathan William Miller was born in Owenton, Kentucky, on July 7, 1968, and has lived most of his life in Central Kentucky. He is the youngest of three sons of a Baptist minister father and a schoolteacher mother. He attended public schools in Nicholasville and graduated from the University of Kentucky, majoring in journalism. After college, he worked at various newspapers as a reporter, sportswriter and website developer and producer in Texas, Arkansas and Kentucky. In the mid-1990s he began writing serious fiction.
Time to chat with Jonathan!
What is your latest book?
On Your Own, short stories and vignettes about people who feel alone and disconnected from the world.
What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?
Making sure the reader knows where the story is going early on and making it interesting enough for them to want to go along for the ride.
How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?
Let me answer this by saying I love when characters pop up out of God knows where and start talking. There are no living models for these people. They just appear and I’m really just a vessel for their performance. This is very rare for me. I have a couple of those characters in On Your Own that I’m still wondering where they came from and feel very fortunate that they dropped in for a visit.
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
I would probably be classified as a late bloomer. I didn’t write much when I was young because I didn’t read much. Reading was a chore, especially when the outdoors beckoned. I had older brothers and we played whatever sport was in season. The act of reading meant sacrificing play time and that was not going to happen. At night I was too tired from play to read. My mom challenged me when I was, I think, 10 or 11, to read Where the Red Fern Grows. She wanted to see if I could read a book from start to finish. After a few pages I was hooked. I loved the boy’s friendship with his dogs and the hunting scenes. The ending touched me in a way that embarrassed me but it made me acknowledge that the writer had done something significant enough to produce an emotional response. That was the first time I thought of writing as a noble act. I wrote a few stories for school assignments as a kid but didn’t start writing serious fiction until after college. You are a writer when you write for yourself and for no pay.
Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?
I feel as though I have tough skin and thin skin. I want everyone to enjoy my work but I also know that that is impossible. I would strongly urge all writers to edit their work vigorously until they can’t improve it anymore. If you re-read it and it produces the emotion you are seeking, then that’s all you can ask of yourself. There will be an audience for your work. Those who do not like your style or your subject are simply walking out of your theatre. Hopefully their seat will be occupied by another who enjoys the show.
Are you an early bird writer or night owl?
I like to wake in the morning thinking about the story I’m working on. I picture the character at the beginning of the story, and I walk around with him or her and go through the conflicts and I look for details that might be missing from the manuscript. Then I will prop myself up and take the story off the nightstand and get to work on it. I’ve tried working at different times of the day and it just doesn’t seem to produce the same magic that the morning does.
What have you done to market your novel and what did you find the most effective? The least effective?
Rather than having a book signing at a book store, I decided to throw a book launch event and invited friends and work colleagues. We will have beer and wine, appetizers and live music. It’s not going to be expensive either. We got the hall for free, friends offered to help with the food. And I have lots of musician friends who offered to play the event at no charge. We’re asking each friend to bring a book-loving friend who I don’t know. I have heard about nightmare book signings where very few people show up and books go unsold. I wanted this to be a fun night, a night of celebration. There will be a sign-up sheet for my newsletter, T-shirts with the book’s cover on the front for sale, and, of course, my paperback with the option to have it signed.
How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?
This is an interesting question that I would like to address a little bit differently. There seems to be a lot of tension with traditionally published writers vs. indies, and genre writers vs. literary fiction writers. I would like all writers to take a step back and not be so quick to be judgmental or get their feelings hurt. Whatever genre your natural talent pulls you to, that’s where you belong. If you wish to write in multiple genres, then your talent is guiding you to do that. Writers should not feel they are in competition with other writers. Your only threat is not performing up to your ability. There’s enough audience for all of us. Even if you don’t have a large audience, you still accomplished what you set out to do. So keep at it.
What else have you written?
I’ve written a novel, a screenplay and poetry. I’m not entirely comfortable in any of those forms. I feel the short story is my natural habitat. I wrote the novel just to see if I could do it, but I think critics would say it’s really just a long short story. I like the quirky challenge of the short story, whereas, the novel seems too big and bulky for my arms to get around.
Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?
I’ve written stories both ways, where I knew the ending and when I didn’t. I prefer not knowing the ending. It seems to be more interesting to me if I let the characters and the situations sort themselves out during the process. Of course, during editing, the early version is almost wiped out completely. I’m more of a re-writer than a writer.
The title should come naturally out of the story. If it doesn’t, then you’re probably not thinking clearly.
Are you a fast typist? Does your typing speed (or lack of it) affect your writing?
I compose all of my fiction in longhand. I feel I can hear the characters’ voices better. Pencil on paper is a soothing sound. The tap, tap, tap of a computer keyboard I find to be a major distraction. And, plus, my fingers and hands get tired and my posture suffers. I can write longer (and better) with pencil and paper.
Do you have any advice to a new author if they asked you whether to pursue the traditional route to publishing or to start out as an independent writer?
If it’s important for the writer to be published traditionally, by all means, pursue that route. But if the door is slammed in their face (as it was for me) I would urge that they self-publish. You have to do all of the leg work when you’re an indie, but the reward is so great. There are hurdles upon hurdles to jump to self-publish, but you gain confidence and wisdom after each hurdle is cleared.
How would you define your style of writing?
Simple and precise. At least that’s what I’m aiming for: simplicity and precision. I want the reader to feel as though they’re walking through the story and can see and feel everything that’s going on. I don’t want to attempt acrobatic feats with words or use flowery language or show off an education I don’t possess. I want the reader inside the story to feel like they’re seeing the action and not listening to a story being told to them. The perfect world would be for the reader to be so lost in the story that if they were to see my face on the back of the book they would say, “What is he doing here?”
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?
I don’t think I’ve ever suffered from writer’s block. That may be because I don’t write every day. I write when I can avoid it no longer. This may sound sacrilegious to professional writers who force themselves to write every day. This does not work for me. I write when I feel I must.
I do suffer from story block from time to time. There will be a character or a situation or dialogue or an ending that I’m not happy with and it will bother me until I work it out.
Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?
Lexington, Ky. Hawaii would be nice for a while. I think I would like to live in Europe for a while and bum around there some, but my wife would probably get sick of it before I would.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
I’m a frustratingly good golfer. My wife says I’m good enough to spend too much time and money on it, but not good enough to actually make money at it.
What music soothes your soul?
Whenever I’m upset, disappointed, hurt I turn to Pink Floyd’s best years: Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall. The Beatles and Led Zeppelin are also favorites. I feel as though John Lennon and I would have been very good friends.
What simple pleasure makes you smile?
Watching movies from the 1930s-1950s. The old black and white movies where they film what cities looked like and the way people dressed in the old days really touches the historian in me.
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