“In the Water I Am Beautiful.”

This winter was a tough one. It was cold, dark, and went on longer than any I can remember. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Talk to anyone in Pittsburgh (or much of the rest of the East Coast), and the general consensus is the same: this one was “a piece of work.”

During winter I tend to hibernate. It’s a defense mechanism, I guess, or maybe a simple response to a terrifically uninviting climate. I teach, of course, and do things with my friends and family, but I find it much harder to take the initiative to go out, to exercise, to explore and do the little things that often make life richer and more fulfilling. I also tend to see a drastic lull in my creative productivity.

Oddly enough, though, this winter, which basically lasted from late-October until mid-April, did find me productive, at least when it came to writing.

I’m not sure exactly why this was, although I think it may have been an almost intrinsic, almost subconscious need to shelter myself from the combined storm of seasonal affective disorder, personal illnesses, family illnesses, and other stressors that made life a mirror of the weather for the last six months or so. Everyone needs to have a creative outlet, be it cooking, painting, gardening, photography, carpentry, music, etc. The act of creating is celebratory: a celebration of potential, a celebration of self, a celebration of life. It is also purgation, an outlet in times of trouble. Simply put, it is often a way forward.

We see this again and again, played out through Time, both in the lives of the historically famous, and in the lives of those around us. Creativity protects us from the elements of the world that might break us, and in times of crisis, it is often the one thing we hold on to when all else threatens to fade.

There are many examples of this that come to mind. Perhaps the most moving involve people in extremis, who haven’t long to live. Take Warren Zevon, who, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, recorded what was perhaps his greatest album, The Wind. He gathered together a bunch of friends, went into a studio, and knocked out a masterpiece. His rendition of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” which came from those sessions, is better than Dylan’s. Then, after those recording sessions ended and his condition worsened, he went back into the studio, all by himself this time, and recorded his own swan-song, “Keep Me in Your Heart.”

Then there’s Freddie Mercury, one of my heroes, who, in 1991, during the final stage of his struggle with AIDS, called the rest of Queen back into the recording studio, and told them to write whatever they could so he could sing it, leaving them with as much material to use after his death as possible. They did, and he did, and the very last song he ever recorded, “Mother Love,” contains one of the most awe-inspiring vocals I have ever heard. Music was his solace, music was his passion, and in the end, it seemed to bring out his remaining vigor and wellspring of strength the way nothing else in his life could. Only when he became too weak to record did he stop taking the medication that was prolonging his life, and allow himself to slip away.

This brings me to one of my favorite quotes by Kurt Vonnegut, who recognized the great power of the creative outlet better than most, and expressed it better than just about any. He wrote,

“I have been a writer since 1949. I am self-taught. I have no theories about writing that might help others. When I write, I simply become what I seemingly must become. I am six feet two and weigh nearly two hundred pounds and am badly coordinated, except when I swim. All that borrowed meat does the writing. 
In the water I am beautiful.”

And then there’s this succinct quote, by my dear and deeply-missed friend Ray Bradbury: “You fail only if you stop writing.”

So, back to my lousy winter, which now hardly seems worth mentioning in the context of such examples. The long and the short is that it got me down, so I forced myself to write.

This is almost always a recipe for disaster, where my own work is concerned. I wait for the mood to strike, and then I’m off and running, first tentatively, then with a bit more self-assurance, and finally full-throttle. I can control the mood somewhat, make allowances for certain events and stick to a general writing schedule, but when too many cards are stacked against it, the writing either comes out wrong, or doesn’t come at all. Invariably, winter stacks too many cards against it, and this one in particular was worse.

But this time the writing came, and what there was, didn’t just work, but worked well. I returned to my novel, Darkness in the Valley, reacquainted myself with what I’d been doing with it the previous summer, and in three weeks finished the rough draft. After three years of work, the 450-page story finally found its way onto paper, from start to finish, the way it needed to.

Encouraged by this, I hired someone to convert all three of my previous books to Kindle, and made them available on Amazon. At the same time, I formatted The Uncanny Valley for a new paperback edition, which means that all my other works are now available in both Kindle and paperback format; I’m completely back in print, and on my own terms.

Following that, I launched two carefully-planned “free” promotions, first for the Kindle edition of On the Edge of Twilight, then for the Kindle edition of The Uncanny Valley. Both hit the Top Ten Bestseller list for free Kindle books during their promotions, and, along with Scaring the Crows, are still being downloaded briskly. Reader response, especially to The Uncanny Valley, has been wonderfully warm, which is deeply gratifying.

I’m now steadily revising Darkness in the Valley, and the way forward with it, though still challenging, finally seems clear. John York has finished half a dozen preliminary sketches to go along with it, so as I move on toward a final draft, he’ll be right there with me. I hope we will cross the finish line with it together, sometime early in 2015.

Now that spring is here, new challenges have already arisen; they never stop, and so it goes. People have unexpectedly disappointed me; places I thought would last forever have ended up in ruins; Time, which holds us all green and dying, has taken away more that I love. Yet the creative outlet remains a warm and steady candle when so much else grows shadowy and dim. Often, that’s when it seems to glow brightest, to give the most warmth, and to lead in the direction that I need to go.

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Announcing “Crows at Twilight: An Omnibus of Tales”

I’m very pleased to announce that Crows at Twilight: An Omnibus of Tales finally reached publication on Monday, and is now available on Amazon here. And here’s the cover:

CROWS AT TWILIGHT FINAL edit6

Just four months after my previous publisher closed up shop, all the stories from Scaring the Crows and On the Edge of Twilight are now back in print in one 300-page volume, and I couldn’t be happier with it. John York and I have published it under our own “West Arcadia Press” label, and as far as I’m concerned, this is the definitive publication of these stories, and the culmination of years of pleasurable work.

There are several aspects about the new book that are different from the original, separate publications, and in a good way. The first is that John York’s illustrations for the stories in Scaring the Crows, originally reproduced on a very small scale, are now given the full-page treatment, so all the little details John included can finally be fully appreciated. John also created three new “crow” illustrations to space out the stories. Yet his greatest new contribution is the cover, which I believe is his finest yet. It’s hard for me to imagine ever publishing a project without his involvement, and the fact that we are still working (playing) together after five years leaves me both very humbled and very grateful.

Beyond that, this one has larger dimensions, a nice heft, and the interior has been beautifully and painstakingly formatted (and edited) by my dear friend Anne Hardin. So this is the book I always hoped to see in print some day – for better or worse, it’s exactly what I wanted. I hope you enjoy it, too.

Now it’s time to return to writing some new short stories. I’m overdue; I spent the last two summers (and much of the time between, when I had it) working on the prequel to The Uncanny Valley. I’ll let that percolate until next summer, when I plan to finally finish it off…the end is in sight. In the meantime, I have a half-dozen new story ideas that I’m eager to flesh out, and just finished my first short story in over a year, “Magic Things.” The title is from a quote by Eden Phillpotts (but often attributed to Yeats): “The universe is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”

Onward, and Happy Halloween!

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Moving Forward, Part 2

Wow! A February to August leap in entries! What the hell happened?

Well, Stephen King’s “My Pretty Pony” pretty well sums up how I feel about it (and also serves as my lame excuse). We hit “normal time” in mid-life, and it chugs along at a good pace. I honestly can’t believe it’s already August—and not only August, but August 26th—but the good news is that the months since February have been productive ones, and there’s plenty in the pipeline, as far as writing goes.

First off, StoneGarden.net is officially no more. They upped the closing of their doors from September to June 30th, so all three of the books that were contracted with them are now back in my hands. Here’s what’s going to happen to them.

On the Edge of Twilight remains available on kindle, but under my direct ownership. My publisher at StoneGarden was kind enough to supply me with the file, so even though the Amazon listing isn’t attached to the paperback listing, it’s there to be found, and I’ve lowered the price to 99 cents. The reason is simple: I want it to be read. I will also be featuring several “free” download weekends for it, so please grab it, read it, and pass it on. Here you go!

Meanwhile, John York and I have decided to republish Scaring the Crows and On the Edge of Twilight as an omnibus edition in early October. We’re working on it now, and let me tell you, John’s new cover concept is fantastic. That will bring 43 tales under the same covers for a plump, 350-page collection. It may feature a new introduction (depending on whether I feel it’s necessary), and will be available in both paperback and kindle format. This will allow the stories to remain available and “in print” for the foreseeable future. Considering the nature of short story collection sales (always a bit difficult), I hope you agree that taking on the publishing process ourselves is a good one.

That leaves The Uncanny Valley and its in-progress prequel.

The prequel, Darkness in the Valley: An Uncanny Dossier, has now become a full-blown novel, and a complicated one, too. At the beginning of summer, the word count stood at 66,000. By the end, it exceeded 92,000, or roughly 425 pages. Parts 1 and 2 are both completed in rough form, which only leaves Part 3 (already well under way) and the Epilogue. Both are already fully plotted out, after a series of challenging brainstorming sessions; finally, just before the new school year began and my teaching schedule resumed, everything fell into place. Once finished, the novel will certainly exceed 100,000 words. Then the process of revision will begin!

Regarding both Uncanny books, I have several options for publication. At this point I’ve already been offered contracts for them by two small presses, and I could also publish them myself, but I’d like to hold out and try for a larger publisher this time around. The Uncanny Valley is my most successful book, and two of the story-chapters made Ellen Datlow’s “Best Horror of the Year” list. On top of that, I think (and hope) the prequel will also be great fun for readers, so I have high hopes for both. Thus, although things are moving steadily forward, I’m not willing to rush Darkness in the Valley into print before the time is right. I can only hope that when the time comes, you feel the wait was worth it.

In other news…

I enjoyed delving into some great new books this summer, the most satisfying of which were Stephen King’s Joyland, Joe Hill’s NOS4ATU, and Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane (which is achingly, heartbreakingly beautiful). Oh, and Nathaniel Philbrick’s riveting nonfiction book, Bunker Hill.

Speaking of Stephen King, Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining, comes out in less than a month. King says, “If you’re looking for a return to balls-to-the-wall, keep-the-lights-on horror, get ready. And don’t say you weren’t warned.” Music to my ears. I haven’t been this excited about an upcoming novel in a long, long time.

Next time, some more details about Darkness in the Valley, an informal review or two, and my updated list of 31 movies to watch in October.

I can almost smell the burnt pumpkin and wood smoke.

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Moving Forward

Well, the unexpected always rears its head sooner rather than later, and this past Saturday, it took the form of my publisher announcing that after fifteen years in the industry, he’s decided to close up shop.  In September, StoneGarden.net Publishing will be no more.  The contract for the prequel to The Uncanny Valley is gone, and Scaring the Crows, The Uncanny Valley, and On the Edge of Twilight will soon be out of print – temporarily, at least.

I’ve decided to approach this as a positive development…it’s the only way.  After a few rough days, I’m now moving steadily forward in the hunt for a new publisher, and I’m amazed by the kindness, support, and helpfulness that many of my colleagues and friends, both in and out of the writing and publishing community, have already shown me.

So here, now, is the good news as I see it:

To begin, my current publisher is kind enough to allow his writers to terminate their contracts at any point between now and the official disbanding of the company in September.  That means that if I locate a new publisher to reprint my current books and publish my new one, I can move forward immediately; no copyright issues, no delays.

On top of that, my fine illustrator, John Randall York, is still interested in working on our projects together.  All of the illustrations he created for these books, both cover and interior, will be available for reprint editions, and he’s still on board for work on future books, too.  That’s an enormous comfort.

Having the freedom to work with a new publisher may also open up whole new avenues of marketing potential for the existing books, as well as the prequel to The Uncanny Valley.  StoneGarden was excellent on many levels, and I am eternally grateful to them, but perhaps now I can move on to a somewhat larger publisher that offers more advanced marketing, better distribution, and other benefits that aren’t often available to the smaller companies.  Bringing these books to a wider audience would make me incredibly happy.

Right now I’m picking through a copy of The Uncanny Valley with a fine-toothed comb, checking little details, revising here and there.  With any luck, that will be the first of my existing books to find a new home, and the prequel can follow directly—so I want to have it in perfect shape now, should the right person ask to see it.  But I also have ideas for the stories in Scaring the Crows and On the Edge of Twilight, so with any luck, moving forward, everything will soon have a home once again.  Writers live, at least in part, through their work.  Here’s hoping these works, so much a part of who I am, have a fine future ahead of them.

Sometimes, the unexpected isn’t so bad.  Sometimes, maybe even often, it’s actually very good.

Onward.

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Winter Continueth, but Spring Also Cometh

Well! Months have passed, and I’ve been quiet here. I don’t know what it is, but winter tends to do that to me…I generally become a hibernating bear, only rousing myself for the most necessary things (work, family) before grumbling back into low-ebb mode for the rest of the day. The cold does it, and so does the lack of sunshine; I’m sure I suffer at least a little from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

But even if I’ve been a bit hermetic and sluggish in some ways, I’ve still been doing my best to keep busy in others. In addition to my always-present teaching and grading, I’ve managed to continue, slowly but steadily, editing what I’ve written of Darkness in the Valley, which as of this writing has reached 66,000 words. The book has become a fairly complex web of plots and characters, and continues to grow in the telling. Even so, I’m sticking to my goal of having the first two parts of the story completed and in “fighting shape” by the time June rolls around. That way, I can write the third, final part of the book this coming summer with everything else relatively polished, and all the plot points relatively consistent.

I fully expect that the finished draft will end up around 85,000 words; in other words, a full-blown, 400-page novel. In addition, I have some fun plans and ideas for the formatting of the book, which I look forward to working on with my publisher, and John York is beginning to develop his ideas for the cover art. So, things move forward apace, and as spring approaches I’m sure I’ll begin gearing up for the final, big push.

In other writing news, I just learned, very belatedly, that another of my short stories from The Uncanny Valley made Ellen Datlow’s list of the Best Horror of the Year for 2011. “Ms. Jennings’ Family” was included on the list in 2010, and “The Winter Noise” in 2011. It’s a thrill see my work on a list that also includes writing by Stephen King, Joe Hill, and Neil Gaiman, among so many others authors I respect.

Also, reviews for On the Edge of Twilight have begun trickling in, and I’m very pleased with how the book has been received. The one that moved me the most was unquestionably Gabino Iglesias’s article for BuzzyMag.com. He wrote, in part,

“The great Ray Bradbury once said Miller had a ‘bright future.’ With the master of uncanny literature gone, Miller’s work becomes even more relevant. The author is not here to replace Bradbury, who’s simply irreplaceable, but his delightfully strange stories, wild imagination, and simple-yet-elegant prose make him the go-to author for those looking for literature than makes reality dissolve.”

Considering the book is dedicated to Ray’s memory, this is perhaps the greatest complement it, or I, could receive.

Here are links to a few recent reviews and features for it:

Teri Harman’s short but very positive review

BuzzyMag.com’s wonderful review by Gabino Iglesias

A great one from DanielCann.com

A sample story, courtesy of Books and Tales…

…and an interview.

More to come, and sooner rather than later next time!

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Out Today!

Today is the official publication date of On the Edge of Twilight: 22 Tales to Follow You Home.  I’m very happy with how it turned out; everyone involved truly rose to the occasion to create something special.  Seeing these books through to their final form is a great source of satisfaction, and knowing people will soon be reading this one is just as much of a thrill as it was with my first.

I’m currently planning several signings/readings to promote it, especially as Halloween is less than two months away, and most of my stories are October Tales at heart.  I’ve also gained a solid list of interested book reviewers, and still have several more free copies to give away, should anyone else care to write an honest paragraph or two about it on Amazon, Goodreads, in a blog, etc.  So the next few months should see the ball really begin rolling for this one.  Small press promotions are time consuming and require patience…but the rewards are always worth the effort, as, bit by bit, the titles find their way out into the world and into the hands of readers.  I hope there is pleasure to be found in On the Edge of Twilight for everyone.

Oh!  And the Kindle release to accompany the paperback publication is just around the corner…probably in a week or so.  Stay tuned!

Find it on Amazon here.

And here’s the finished cover, by the incredibly talented John Randall York:

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On the Edge of Twilight: 22 Tales to Follow You Home

My 11th year as a teacher is now under way, and along with that, my third StoneGarden.net Publishing book, On the Edge of Twilight: 22 Tales to Follow You Home, is on the cusp of publication!  If all the deadlines are met, On the Edge of Twilight will be available in paperback during the first week of September, and shortly after that on Kindle.

Like my previous two books, it’s a mixed bag of genres; this one includes a few warm stories, some “weird tales,” a handful of all-out screamers, one that happened to me and is completely true (can you guess which?), and even a post-apocalyptic ghost narrative. Hopefully, there’s something in it for everyone to enjoy, and I’m eager to know your thoughts.

And to top it all off, John Randall York, who illustrated Scaring the Crows and The Uncanny Valley, has also offered up his great talents for this one, with beautiful and haunting results.  In addition to the cover (his most detailed yet), John has also completed 13 full-page interior illustrations, all of which capture, through visual metaphor, the heart of the stories he chose.  At this point, I honestly can’t imagine publishing a book without his participation…and for a sneak-peak at his extraordinary cover art, and a few of the interior illustrations, scroll down and click on the gallery.

In a few weeks I’ll receive some extra review copies of On the Edge of Twilight, so if you’re interested in publishing an honest review on a blog, on Amazon.com, or in print, please just drop me a line! Meanwhile, I’m currently setting up several signings and readings in Pittsburgh and State College, just in time for October and Halloween — the time of year all my stories celebrate.

As for 2013?  I see a full-blown novel-form prequel to The Uncanny Valley in the cards.  I have 57,000 words already written, and I’m not finished yet.

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