Allison's Book Bag

Interview #2 with Stephen Miller

Posted on: January 3, 2014

StevenMillerThis week, I’m featuring two novels by Stephen Miller and two interviews with him. I posted my review of The Santa Claus League yesterday and will post my review of Captain Justo on Saturday. Nestled between those two reviews will be interviews with Stephen Miller, one sent to me as part of his publicity package and one which I held with him through email. Save the dates: January 3-4!

ALLISON: Describe a special family moment from childhood.

STEPHEN: Neither my mother of father enjoyed reading while I was growing up. I love to read and could be found reading in my bedroom almost any night of the year. One day we had a huge storm drop about 6 inches of snow all over our town. I saw the opportunity to make some money so I could buy books. I took advantage of it and earned about $4 which seemed like a lot during those times. I was so happy that night as I filled out the book orders from my grade school scholastic order form and put the money in the little pouch to take to my teacher. The next day as I was leaving for school I told my Dad what I was doing with my money. He looked shocked. “Surely you donʼt want to buy books with that money,” he said confused. “Why donʼt you buy candy with it or buy comic books?” I was really upset about that suggestion and I none too gently shot back. “Itʼs my money, Iʼll do what I want with it!” I did too. I spent every penny on books. That evening my Dad apologized to me. “Iʼm sorry son,” he said tenderly. “You can spend your money on what ever you want. I wouldnʼt have ever thought about buying books with my hard earned money in a million years. Sometimes I ask myself, where did you come from? You certainly didnʼt get those ideas from me!” I love my dad and after apologizing I gave him a hug and were best friends again. My dad never did enjoy reading, but my mother decided to read the books I purchased, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Island of the Blue Dolphins, and The Three Investigators; The Mystery of the Green Ghost. These three books opened up a whole new world for her and she hasnʼt stopped reading since.

ALLISON: What were your favorite outdoor past times as a child? Your favorite indoor pursuits?

STEPHEN: While living in Orem I played baseball day and night. I only had one problem. Iwasnʼt very good at it. I was eleven when we moved to Provo and my dreams of playing baseball ended. Our home was next to the beautiful Provo River. From the day we moved in until they day we moved again all I did was fish and swim and float down the river on rafts. I felt like Huckleberry Fin back then and spent every waking moment I could in the summer in the cool fresh water of Provo River.

My favorite indoor pursuit was always reading. At night in the summer and especially during the winter I would go home and read more books. I would work mowing lawns during the day sometimes and spend my money on more books. I liked collecting books more than borrowing them from the library. When I owned the books I felt connected to them, like they were my friends.

ALLISON: Do you have siblings? If yes, what was your relationship like with them? If not, what was it like being an only child?

STEPHEN: I am the oldest of ten children. My brother Paul was only a year and a half younger than me but he was as undisciplined as a wild goat. Spending time with him always got me in trouble. We grew apart quickly and by Jr. High we barely talked to each other. My next brother was a full three years younger which meant he really wasnʼt in the same social circles. He was always younger and we didnʼt compete at all. I mostly lived my life as the oldest brother of 9 other brothers and sisters. I didnʼt ignore them, but I filled my life with so many activities I wasnʼt around much. I did my fair share of babysitting, chores and dishes, but when the river was safe to swim in after the spring run off, I was gone.

There is a lot of competition for resources in a big family. My wife says I still guard my plate when there is really delicious food on it. Big families make for very independent adults. I only have one sister who lives close by and my other sisters live far away. I have three brothers who still live close and we used to see a lot of each other. Right now we are all working a lot of hours to keep our own families fed and we donʼt hang with each other as much as we would like. Like I said, coming from a large family makes for very independent people.

ALLISON: As a teen you liked debate and won several competitions. What is your most shining moment? Any embarrassing moments?

STEPHEN: Iʼll start with the embarrassing moments. I didnʼt know how to debate when I first started. I attended a summer debate camp to learn the skills necessary to compete in High School competitions. Our school was a State Champion school so training the new kids was a high priority for the presidency of the Debate team. I studied with them for two weeks and then, as practice they scheduled 12 practice debates to give each team as much practice as possible. My first 10 debates were terrible, my partner and I lost every one, and not by a small margin. I didnʼt understand the format, the lingo, or even some of the words. Little by little though I started to understand what was going on. By the time we got to the last debate we won. I know losing 11 debate and only winning 1 seems kind of lame, but for me it was a real victory.

After that my instructor saw how seriously I took the training so he paired me up with a new partner. She was just as determined to win as I was and together we became the power house team of the school. In our first actual competition we took second place. In the following competition we took first place out of hundreds of teams. I would have competed more, but my family decided to move to Payson, a town with one of the weakest debate teams in the state. The move ended up being very good for me however. Several years later I married Miss Payson. I always come up first place eventually.

ALLISON: You have several artistic interests: drama, music, writing. What do you like most about each of them? Have you ever drawn on all of them at once to create a multimedia project?

STEPHEN: I love acting. Remembering my lines is always a struggle, but I enjoy the escape the stage gives the actors. I love music. I have written over a hundred songs and produced a Christmas album. Writing novels is what I do to keep from exploding. I have so many ideas I have to put them somewhere. My characters speak for me. My favorite way to combine all three is to write stage musicals. I have written or have helped in the writing of several Musical Productions, “Chomps the Butterfly”, “Possum City USA”, “Christmas Time Again”, and “The Peddlers Muse.” I have the music written for several other musicals and am just waiting to have the time and money to produce them.

ALLISON: You also have less artistic interests: flying machines, physics, and languages. How do you balance these diverse pursuits?

STEPHEN: I actually donʼt balance things very well. I kind of go on learning sprees. With the internet I can spend several weeks studying and learning about all kinds of amazing things. I have a goal to make a computer language out of music. Of course to do this I have to learn about computer codes and music theory. But hey, I have time. Another dream is to create a usable currency using music as the valuable item traded instead of gold.

ALLISON: Describe a typical day in the life of an Air National Guard.

STEPHEN: I served during peace time. This was back before the first Gulf war. The Berlin wall had just come down and the military was looked at as being the great champions… but now what do we do with them? We still followed the traditions of those who fought before, got up early, showered, ate, got in formation by 7 am and waited for something important to do. Since I was in a construction unit we still had a mission and we did it by putting in new coax cable to all the Air Force Bases around the county. I helped install runway lighting at Ellsworth AFB, Minot AFB, Williams field in Arizona and a National Guard base in Massachusetts. Most of what we did was rewire Hill AFB in Ogden Utah, which always had something for us to do. I enjoyed my service with the Air National Guard. I highly recommend it to any young man looking for adventure.

ALLISON: Captain Justo began as a bedtime story. How did it evolve into a story that you could publish?

STEPHEN: I had to write the story down because over the years the story started to change. My younger kids didnʼt mind the changes, but the older ones didnʼt like it. I decided I had better write it into a book or it would be lost forever. I wrote it for about a year and had a pretty good story going. I showed it to a friend and they liked it, but said it wasnʼt done yet. I put another year into it and tried to get it published. After a lengthy review they too said it was a fun story, but it wasnʼt complete yet. I worked on it another year and sent it back to the publisher and they informed me they didnʼt publish science fiction any more. I moved from Nephi to Orem that year and found out a new friend of mine was a publisher and I asked if they would look at my book. Once again they said it was really good, but not good enough to publish. I worked on it for another year, but this time I had help. After that year I had made so much improvement in the story, the pacing and the final ending that my friend was happy to put his name on it. This whole process took me 15 years.

ALLISON: You spent fifteen years developing Captain Justo from the Planet Is. Did you ever tire of the process? What kept you going?

STEPHEN:: I never got tired of the project even though I couldnʼt work on it all the time. I had seven children to house, feed and clothe and thinking about Captain Justo from the Planet Is kept me entertained like watching TV couldnʼt do. During the most intense phase of writing I lived in Nephi, Utah and commuted to Salt Lake City, more than 80 miles away, every day. I got tired of listening to radio as I drove so thinking about Captain Justo gave me something constructive to do. I have a strong willed mind. I donʼt care how long a project takes as long as I am making constant progress on it. I have finished many big tasks in my life that have taken years to complete. Graduating from High School, finishing almost 5 years of College, serving an LDS Mission and purchasing a home, all of these are big projects that took years to complete, but I completed all of them. Writing a book takes just as much dedication as getting a four year degree sometimes. Writing Captain Justo from the Planet Is was just one more goal I wanted to add to my lives list of accomplishments.

When I get discouraged I think about my grand children reading my books to their own children. I can hear them say, “my grandfather wrote this book and it became a best seller. When you get discouraged, just think about Grandpa Miller and how hard he had to work to accomplish what he did.” Honestly, if those words are ever spoken, I will have lived a fruitful life.Thinking like that can get me through anything.

STEPHEN: How did writing the Santa Claus differ from Captain Justo?

ALLISON: Writing Captain Justo was like writing a marathon. Writing The Santa Claus League was like writing a 50 yard dash. The Santa Claus League came out of my head and on to paper like I was dictating words spoken to me. I barely had to edit. The plot lines resolved themselves like magic where as with Captain Justo I had to think hard and long and cut many parts out to get a well rounded book. I wrote Captain Justo from the Planet Is; I transcribed much of The Santa Claus League.

ALLISON: Whatʼs the best thing about being a grandfather?

STEPHEN: I love to sing to my grandchildren. When one of my grandchildren is born I hold them in my arms and start writing a song. Each of my ten grandchildren have their own personal song I have written for them. I sing it to them every time I see them. They know the song by heart by the time they are three, they can sing it with me. I love it when my little granddaughters beg me to sing it again. I know I have been successful when they beg me to sing for them. I use music as a way to help me remember their names. It also keeps me thinking about them all the time since I sing their songs all the time even when they are not around. I have a new little grandson born. I havenʼt held him yet, but when I fly to Chicago in February, I will be thinking about him and pray that I will be inspired to create for him his song. I know once I hold him his song will come to me as naturally as breathing, so I donʼt worry.

ALLISON: Whatʼs next?

STEPHEN:  I am writing the sequel to The Santa Claus League at the moment. It will be called The Santa Claus Carol: the haunting of Jacob Marley. I have developed a fresh and exciting idea that has already started taking shape.

After that book is completed I will endeavor to write the next book in the Captain Justo Saga. The next book will be called, Captain Justo, The Pirate Prince of Atlantis. Sometime after that I have a comic book series I want to develop about the differences between men and women. I have another story about the next President of the United States who goes crazy while in office. I have another project forming based on my experience living with War Lords in Mogadishu Somalia.  This idea will not be a comedy, but more along the lines of a serious coming of age story like The Island of the Blue Dolphins. As you can see my plate is full and I haven’t even mentioned the Musicals I want to produce, the Opera I want to write and the Rock and Roll band I want to star in. I have more creativity than time. I must take better care of my health so I will live to be a ripe old age. Starring in a rock and roll band may have to wait until I am 90.

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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

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