This evening in the Library we have John Anthony Miller, who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into his life as an author. You are very welcome, John. Please tell us a little about yourself.
Hello, Pam – and thanks for having me.
I live in the U.S., in southern New Jersey, and my writing is motivated by a life-long love of travel and history. My fifth book, Honour the Dead, a historical murder mystery set in Italy in the 1920’s, has just been published.
Which genre do you write in and what draws you to it?
I like to cross genres, using thrillers, historical fiction, and mysteries, primarily. I think having a multi-genre plot is much more interesting, with unlimited possibilities for subplots and secondary characters that are often as exciting as the protagonist.
Are you an avid reader? Do you prefer books in your own genre or are you happy to explore others?
I am an avid reader – although I read more non-fiction than fiction, primarily to research the books I’m writing. When I do read fiction, I tend to stay in the three genres I typically write in, although if I find an interesting author, or if someone is recommended to me, I may stray a bit.
Are you a self-published/traditional or hybrid author?
I’m traditionally published, represented by Parkeast Literary in the U.S.
Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?
Three writers have had a large influence on me. James A. Michener taught me that the location of a novel is also a character, especially if richly described. Ken Follett taught me how to move a story along, having the action twist or turn every five or six pages, and Ernest Hemingway, especially his early writings, taught me technique – that in many cases, less is really more.
Has your country of origin/culture influenced your writing?
Although I’m from the U.S., I’m fascinated by French and British history, which is reflected in my main characters.
What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? How do you overcome it?
The most difficult part of the process for me is the initial draft. I’m what you might describe as a re-writer, versus a writer, and usually go through at least five or six revisions before sending a manuscript to my agent.
My first draft is such a challenge because I have no discipline whatsoever, and this first effort is really a race to get the plot on paper. I leave myself notes for the next revision – like describe or dialogue or research – because I don’t want to be slowed down while capturing my initial thoughts. (I’ve always admired writers who are very disciplined and start with an outline that they never stray from).
My first draft is 125–150 pages for a novel that will be 350-400 pages when completed, and takes 2 – 4 weeks. I then continually revise it, using index cards to jot down notes about characters or places or references for research.
I get through these early stages by simply plodding ahead, regardless of how bad I might think the writing is. I have confidence in my ability as a re-writer so if I churn out garbage initially, I hope I can eventually turn it into gold.
What was the best piece of writing advice you received when starting out?
I was told by a writing instructor to work every day – even if it’s only thinking about what you may write the next day – and even if you can only manage 15 or 20 minutes.
Do you have a favourite time of day to write?
I’m an early riser, usually up by 5 a.m. (prompted by my cat, Bobcat). Mornings are my most productive time.
If you weren’t an author, what would you be up to?
If I wasn’t an author, I would be a financial analyst or investment manager. I am fascinated by the global stock markets and I like to research the various companies and industries around the world.
If a movie was made of one of your books, who would you like to play the lead roles?
Maybe Caroline Katz or Joanne Froggatt for the female and Cillian Murphy for the male.
If you could live the life of an historical figure for one day, who would you choose and what would you get up to?
I’ve always admired Winston Churchill, especially for his ability to rally the world during the darkest days of WWII. I would like to be him for a day just to see how he stayed so optimistic when the entire world was collapsing.
If you could travel back in time, what era would you go to? What draws you to this particular time?
I would definitely choose late-Victorian through the early part of the twentieth century. I’m drawn to the British Empire, upon which the sun never set, the twilight of Victorian England, the dawn of a new century, the utter destruction of WWI, and the roaring ‘20’s.
You have been chosen as a member of the crew on the first one-way flight to Mars – you are allowed to bring 5 books with you. What would they be?
Centennial – James A. Michener; A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway; Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier; The Orient Express – Agatha Christie; Eye of the Needle – Ken Follett
Please tell us about your latest published work.
My fifth novel, Honour the Dead, has just been issued. It’s a historical murder mystery about six English survivors of WWI who converge on Lake Como, Italy in 1921, four men and two women = one corpse and one killer.
Penelope Jones, a wealthy socialite, is admitted to Lakeside Sanitarium, convinced someone is trying to kill her. Her husband, Alexander Cavendish, a WWI hero, is having an affair with her closest friend and owes gambling debts to Billy Flynn, a London gangster. Her father, Wellington Jones, is fighting the collapse of his business empire, and knows about Cavendish’s affair and gambling debts. Wellington needs money desperately and knows Penelope will inherit Cavendish’s estate, should anything happen to him. Dr. Joseph Barnett, Penelope’s doctor, struggles to control images of a war he can’t forget. He despises Cavendish, having served with him in the war. Barnett doesn’t see a war hero, but a despicable murderer who forced young men to die. Rose Barnett, the doctor’s wife, is a famous poet with a sordid secret. Rose was a nurse in France during the war, where she committed five mercy killings on horrifically wounded soldiers. Cavendish, the only witness, is blackmailing her. Who is the corpse and who is the killer?