Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Mary Is Back Again for the First Time

My four-book Mary of the Aether series has had such a long, strange publication history, it's amazing that anyone has been able to find and read it. I wrote the first draft of the first book way back in 2009. In fact, I wrote it so long ago that it was actually technologically outdated. The characters were using flip phones. I mean, other than drug dealers, who uses a flip phone in 2018?

I sold the first book to an indie publisher called Whiskey Creek Press in 2011 and it hit the market in July 2012. Getting that first big box of books was a great feeling, even if I was concerned about the low-quality paper that caused the paperbacks to crumble into oblivion after the very first reading. In the summer if 2013, Mary of the Aether was included on a recommended reading list for Arkansas teachers and received a bunch of free publicity at a regional common core workshop. This resulted in me doing a bunch of creative writing workshops and book readings at schools and libraries.


In the meantime, I churned my way through the entire series, writing three sequels and bringing the series to a dramatic conclusion with Mary of Cosmos. Just as the fourth book reached its publication date, Whiskey Creek Press announced that they were folding up shop and selling their catalog to a company called Start Media. Only select authors were offered contracts by Start, myself included. I made a whopping $200 on the deal. Fortunately, I invested that $200 in an exciting multilevel marketing opportunity and it paid for my fleet of tricked-out Honda Accords.

Just kidding. I did take the $200, as did many (but not all) authors from Whiskey Creek Press. Then the awful silence of God descended upon the earth. Start Media acquired the catalog of books, put out their own versions, and that was it. They didn't do much in the way of publicity. Oddly, they actually introduced some formatting problems to Mary of the Aether, which already had a few typos and formatting problems from Whiskey Creek Press.

Fun times.


Eventually, things got a little bit exciting. Simon & Schuster, the big-time publishing house, bought Start Publishing, which meant my Mary of the Aether series was available on the Simon & Schuster website (ebook only). This should have been a big deal, but sales were as close to negligible as possible without being nil. Also, there was this weird thing that happened where the first three books of my series were listed on one webpage (out of order) while the fourth book was listed on a different webpage. Despite numerous emails, I was never able to get anyone at Simon & Schuster to fix this problem.

Funner times.

This year, I finally reacquired the rights to the whole darn series and decided to self-publish. This gave me a chance to go back through the manuscripts and tidy things up a bit. I corrected the typos and formatting problems introduced back in the day. I streamlined some clunky prose in a few places, added a few small scenes that I felt were lacking, and turned those outdated flip phones into modern smartphones.

Ironically, self-publishing is probably the best thing that has ever happened to the series. Sales for the new and improved self-published version of Mary of Aether are better than they have been in years. The first volume, in particular, is on its way to becoming my second most consistent seller, after Children of the Mechanism.

Things are looking up for good ol' Mary Lanham and her buddies the Devourers.

After finishing her work on Mary of Cosmos, my first editor raved about the series. In one of her final emails to me, she wrote the following:

I have to tell you, I have LOVED working on this series. It is one of my absolute favorites! I could definitely see this series doing well if it just catches on like it should!



Other than the initial interest back in the summer of 2013, maybe it finally has a real chance. People are reading it. If you haven't given the series a chance, let me entice you to do so now with the following review comments for the series:

"Jeffery Aaron Miller once again uses his unique knack for writing about other worlds to draw you in and to have you totally engaged in the story. Jeffery is a wonderful writer who can take you to a fantasy world yet still keep you in touch with the real world and its own conflicts. Mr. Miller just has the knack or ability to create these other worlds that are mixed with our own world, and yet the issues of growing up in this world, poverty, and unpopularity, are intertwined with the lofty goals of the other world. There is so much in his storytelling to admire and to recognize for the youth of today. I find his writing and storytelling abilities to be fascinating.   


"I found this book to be absolutely brilliant! After the first couple of pages it really picked up, and I could hardly put the book down as I felt like I, myself, was in the book alongside Mary!"  


"The story was fresh, the plot nicely paced, and the characters unforgettable!


Okay, ladies and gentlemen, now's your chance to check out the series. Will it be among the best experiences you've ever had in your entire life? I can't say for sure, but why don't we find out? Here is everything you've been waiting for. 




Friday, February 2, 2018

A Sequel to Shadows of Tockland

Yes, I am slowly creating the sequel to Shadows of Tockland. I say slowly because I am super busy at my real job, but occasionally I find time to whittle away at the story. I've written roughly 127 pages of the first draft. I shouldn't give anything away at this point. Suffice it to say, the story finds our intrepid Klown Kroo getting up to some dangerous shenanigans, thanks in large part to the ridiculous behavior of two specific members of the troupe.

Is that vague enough? Perhaps the opening paragraph will wet your whistle. Here it is:

David Morr brushed aside the tiniest curtains in the world, gazed through a window covered in muddy handprints, and saw a naked, pink monster writhing on an orange wool rug. He watched as the nameless animal clawed at its own belly and chest, a glistening tongue poking out from between generous lips to lap at the air. David grunted in disgust and let the curtains fall back into place, but still he saw it in his mind’s eye, all that yardage of hairless skin, the great heaps and mounds of it, distorted into abstract shapes like melting mountains. 

There you go. I'll keep plugging away at the novel. In the meantime, if you haven't read the first book, make it happen. If you have read the first book, read something else, like THIS or THIS or THIS.

Thanks!


Jeff


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Having Too Much Fun with Clowns

I've mentioned before that I enjoy creating chapter titles. I see them as opportunities to pique the interest of readers. My latest project is going to have some of the weirdest and most interesting chapter titles I've ever written. What is that new project?

A sequel to Shadows of Tockland, of course.

Now, if you've never read Shadows of Tockland, I highly recommend you give it a chance. It's hard to think of another book or movie that bears similarity to it. Let's summarize: in a post-apocalyptic version of Arkansas, a young man runs away from home to join a traveling clown troupe. Along the way, they encounter a city full of plague-ridden maniacs and a rampaging army from an empire called Tockland. It's brutal and strange, and the response has been mostly very positive.

Anyway, I've finally gotten around to writing the sequel, which is tentatively titled The Dust-Lords of Tockland. It takes place on the northern border of Nebraska and the future nation of Lakota. Lots of strange and terrible things happen, building to some interesting revelations. Is that vague enough? Well, let's just say Cakey the Jacked-Up Clown and Disturby Dave get up to some dangerous shenanigans while touring a new town.

On to the chapter titles. I've written the first four chapters, and here are the titles:

Chapter One: The One and Only Tiny Barrel-Shaped Lady
Chapter Two: Motel Memories
Chapter Three: Let’s Please Ruin Our Careers
Chapter Four: Everybody Loves a Clown with a Knife

See what I mean? I'm enjoying writing the novel very much, but I'm really looking forward to creating the chapter titles. This story is going in some weird, weird places, friends.

In the meantime, read the original right now, if you haven't already!







Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Terrorizing Real Places with Clowns and Mayhem

I have a tendency to take real-life locations, particularly places I've lived in or visited, and insert them into my works of fiction. I usually take substantial liberties with these locations, playing with the geography and timeline. I enjoy this perhaps more than I should. Let's take a look at a few real-life locations that I've inserted into my novels and discover the terrible things I've done to them.

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This novel contains three real cities (all of them located in Northwest Arkansas) but moves them into a post-apocalyptic world and fills them with danger, violence, clowns, and plague. Isn't that nice?

Mountainburg

This small town has inspired locations in two of my novels: Shadows of Tockland and Mary of the Aether. In Shadows, it becomes a steam-powered, gas-lighted town on the edge of civilization. When the novel opens, a small traveling circus has come to town, and that's where our protagonist first meets our clown heroes.

In reality, it's a small, quiet town with a strange dinosaur park. It's also home to the Dairy Dream, which inspired the Dinky Dairy in Mary of the Aether.




West Fork

In Shadows of Tockland, West Fork is a city of strange hat-wearing, plague-ridden hillbillies. In real life, it a town of about 2,000 people that is chiefly known for Riverside Park, where you can dive off bluffs and splash around in the White River.



Fayetteville

In Shadows of Tockland, Fayetteville has been transformed by plague and war into a walled fortress city trying desperately to keep the sickness of the world at bay. The name has been reduced to Fayette, and the people have become hostile to everyone. In real life, Fayetteville is almost certainly the greatest city in Arkansas and is the fifth-best place to live in the U.S. Much of the action in the novel takes place in and around Dickson Street, so when the plague hits, watch out for Dickson Street, people. It's doomed!




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Bartlesville, Oklahoma

This small Oklahoma town is where I grew up and went to high school. I have strong memories of this place in the years 1987-1991. It has changed a bit since then, with new roads being built and some old businesses disappearing from the face of the earth. The version of it in the novel has had its geography messed with. Tuxedo Trailer Park, the setting of the story, is a fiction. It doesn't really exist, though it is based on a much smaller trailer park where a friend of mine lived. I've also placed a strange alien power in its midst and set it loose to ruin lives, so that's fun.


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Siliven

Since this is a fantasy novel set in a completely different world, you might be surprised to discover that one of the primary locations in the story is based on a real place that I once visited. Siliven is a smallish town designed and built in a grid, where the north-to-south streets are numbered neatly from One to Ten. In the very center of the town, there's a large open plaza that serves as a meeting place. It's where a lot of significant events occur in the book series, and the dominant building there is the local church.

Believe it or not, Siliven is based on the city of La Plata, Argentina. Although La Plata is vastly larger than Siliven, it's layout is the same general idea. As you can see in the photo below, the streets of La Plata were designed and built in a grid. At the heart of the city, there's a large plaza which is dominated by the Cathedral of La Plata. If you took La Plata and shrunk it down significantly and moved it into a vague fantasy setting, you'd get Siliven.



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West Fork is the scene is a brutal struggle with plague-ridden hillbillies. Fayetteville (Fayette) is the sight of a fierce gun battle involving a clown troupe, an army, another army, and a mob of maniacs. Bartlesville is invaded by weird ribbon-like creatures that stir up all kinds of evil, grief, and hatred. Siliven (La Plata) is haunted by ghosts and eventually terrorized by a weird cave-dwelling monster.

See how fun it is?




Monday, May 15, 2017

The Nineties Are Calling You

The summer of 1991 in Bartlesville, Oklahoma was a hot and humid one. Nothing unusual about that. Oklahoma gets its share of hot, humid summers, but this particular year was different.

It all started when a young man by the name of Navin Noe hopped over the fence at the back of Tuxedo Trailer Park and made his way into the overgrown wooded area beyond. He only intended to retrieve his prized baseball, the one he caught during a local high school baseball game.

Unfortunately, the woods were overrun with stray dogs and worse. Something was hidden deep in the hollow of a tree, something waiting to be roused. Once awakened, it's power threatened the whole city.

Who are the young people responsible for stirring up all of this trouble? Let's meet them.

Navin Noe

Navin lives in Tuxedo Trailer Park, in the third trailer from the end, in fact. His mother works the graveyard shift for a janitorial service at the local hospital, so Navin's aunt spends nights with him. During the day, Navin's mother spends most of her time sleeping on the couch in the living room, so he's left to roam with little supervision. Unfortunately, there's not much to do in his immediate vicinity.

Hao

Navin's best friend, Hao, actually lives across the street in a real house. His father owns a small restaurant on the east side of town, though it doesn't have the best reputation. Hao has a game room with multiple video game systems, including an old Atari 2600, an NES, a Sega Master System, and a brand-new Super Nintendo. In the eyes of most trailer park residents, Hao's family is rich.

Jane

The newest resident of Tuxedo Trailer Park, Jane arrives with a strong sense of disgruntlement. She had no desire to move into a trailer park and tried to convince her dad to rent an apartment instead. He didn't listen, and she's not at all pleased. Her old hometown, Plano, was far more exciting, and she's not afraid to make comparisons.

Now, meet our fine city. Bartlesville, the City of Lights! Actually, that's Paris, but for those unfamiliar with Bartlesville, here's a glimpse of downtown:


Cool places the kids like to hang out? Well, there's the Eastland Four. That's the "nice" movie theater in town.


There's also the Penn Twin. It's got an interesting retro vibe. Navin doesn't like it when the movies play off-center and out of focus, though.


There's Washington Park Mall, of course. The old folks prefer Luby's. Navin and Hao make the occasional trip to Aladdin's Castle to play video games. Hao is pretty good at Smash TV. There's also Time Warp Comics, but Navin doesn't really have extra money to spend on comics. He borrows X-Force or Wolverine from Hao sometimes.

So, as you can see, Bartlesville is one of the most exciting towns that 1991 has to offer. Unfortunately, it's all about to come crashing down.

Enjoy the catastrophic adventure!

The Ribbon Tree is available in paperback and on Kindle. Click the book cover and check it out.




Sunday, April 23, 2017

Everyone Loves a Nice Mechanism


Of all my novels, this particular bleak little tale has been selling most consistently the last couple of weeks. I'm not sure why, but I figured I'd talk about it a little bit.

It's one of the bleakest things I've written, set in one of the more evocative settings--a sprawling, windowless factory filled with massive oily machines. Picture it. Smell the grease and the warm metal and the mysterious grimy filth. Within the factory, there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of rooms, most of them sealed behind locked doors. And within these rooms, you'll find the saddest child slaves you've ever imagined, rag-draped Dickensian wretches doing endless menial tasks day after day. 

Cruel robots called Watchers guard them, punish them when they fail to work, and feed them hideous gray food bricks once a day. Doesn't that sound uplifting? I actually think it is one of the more uplifting things I've written.

The book introduces us to four main characters.

Bik, a mostly hairless, tiny thing in the filthiest scrap of a robe you've ever seen. He spends his days polishing mysterious purple rocks using a harsh chemical polish.

Hen, an emotionally disconnected girl who does her best to avoid personal interaction, she spends her days climbing up and down a towering contraption called the Mechanism, like a little bug.

Ekir, a bent-backed boy, much abused by an older supervisor named Ous, he spends his days preparing and serving meals on a nice table in a lush dining room and then cleaning up afterward when nobody eats the food. Nobody ever eats the food.

Kuo, a damaged and possibly disturbed young man who spends his days climbing up and own the enormous fat folds of a headless monster called the Grong, feeding it meat paste from a bucket. He might be losing his mind.

These four eventually cross paths and descend into the bowels of the factory, uncovering secrets and horrors beyond description.

If you've never read the book, let me encourage you to do so. 

For a deeper look at the meaning behind the story, check out this luscious article!

To check out the book, click on the book cover above.




Sunday, April 9, 2017

Embrace the Sadness

I am of the opinion that the best and most effective stories need a few truly sad moments. I don't mean the dainty kind of sadness with a sigh and a single tear. What I'm talking about is a soul-crushing moment of hopeless despair, where we peer into the void. Work a few of those into your story, and people won't soon forget the experience of reading it.

For example, there's the testimony of the ghost from The Vale of Ghosts:

“It happens to all of us. As time passes, everything we ever knew or saw or heard, every person we ever touched or loved, they all drop away, leaving us with nothing but the vague and choking need to escape.”

That's not nearly the saddest moment in the book. Of course, what affects the writer deepest might not affect readers in the same way. For me personally, as I wrote the thing, the saddest moment comes in the basement of a cathedral in Tilieth. Not to give too much away, but it involves our protagonist making an emotional confession.

The bleakest thing I ever wrote is Children of the Mechanism. It's got a few of those horrible, hopeless moments, along with some truly wretched, miserable little characters who suffer far more than they deserve to.

The sad moments start early on. I'd be curious to know which bleak moment of despair hits readers the hardest. For me as the writer, it involved the character of Hen and her tragic interactions with a girl named Tag. And this thought:

I told you to wait, one thought resounding over and over. I told you to wait.

Actually, there's possibly a sadder moment, and it involves a character saying this:

“You were so brave and so strong. I have to do something now, Bik, and don’t you follow me.”

So what is your opinion on sad scenes? Do you enjoy a story with some truly heart-rending bleak moments? What are some scenes from various novels that have deeply affected you?


By the way, the paperback giveaway is still going on! Check out the previous blog entry for details.