Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Joy of Chapter Titles

Although it may seem like a minor aspect of writing a novel, I really enjoy creating chapter titles. I think a good chapter title has a profound effect on the reader. Ideally, it should give some ominous inkling of what is to come without revealing too much. Done right, the reader reaches the end of a chapter, turns the page, sees the title of the next chapter and says, "Uh oh."

For example, in my novel Shadows of Tockland, one of the main characters, an oddball circus performer by the name of Cakey, keeps talking about some terrible impending event called the "ever-night." He is vague about the particulars, but he is convinced this event is coming and that it will be catastrophic. And then, all of a sudden, readers turn a page, and there is the chapter title: Ever-night. *cue ominous music*

In Children of the Mechanism, the characters keep descending deeper and deeper into a massive factory, encountering stranger and more terrible things as they go. Then, all of a sudden, readers turn the page and see the next chapter title: The Bottom of the World. They've reached the bottom. What awful thing will they find there?

It might be something subtle. In my Young Adult novel Mary of Shadows, there is a chapter early on called The Worst Person in the World. My hope is that when readers see it, the title piques their interest--The worst person in the world? Who could that be?--and makes them want to keep reading to find out.

Now, with all of that said, I believe I have just created my own personal favorite chapter title. I can't give any context for it because I'm not done writing the novel. This new story has a little bit of the vibe of Children of the Mechanism, if not quite so bleak and oppressive. But I think maybe the title will be interesting all by itself. Behold:

The Sweet Embrace of a Thousand Monsters

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Another Novel Comes Pouring Out

So I haven't updated the blog in a while, and I wish to rectify that immediately and tout de suite. What am I working on these days, you might ask? Well, I am two chapters into a new novel with the working title Teth of the City. Some of you will be excited (and others disturbed) to hear that it has a similar flavor and feeling to Children of the Mechanism. It is not set in the same world (I don't think; we'll see), and it's not about child labor, but it does have that same dirty, dystopian, claustrophobic feeling.

Imagine a vast, grungy metropolis with massive metal walls and buildings (something like Blade Runner's version of Los Angeles without the flying cars, billboards, neon lights or crowds of people). A haze hangs over everything, turned to luminous fire by the rising and setting sun. In the midst of this sprawling city, there is a vast wall, and set into this wall are thousands of small balconies. Our protagonist, Teth, lives and works on one of these balconies, eking out a living while trying to hide from his tragic past. His life begins to unravel when a new courier shows up one day to make his daily delivery of provisions. Her name is Cera, and she seems to know him. Alarmingly, she remembers his past, and she claims to have secret information about things that happened to him long ago, things he has tried very hard to forget.

So there you go. Without giving away too much, that is the gist of Teth of the City. I really, really like the setting, and the story will have some truly creepy and beautiful moments, I do believe. It has a nice dream-like quality to it, in my opinion. If you liked Children of the Mechanism or even Shadows of Tockland, I think this one will be right up your alley. It's pouring out of my brain pretty fast, so it should be completed and published in a couple of months.

 Cover Art by Wisconsinart |

Cover Art © Wisconsinart |

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Most Compelling Words in the History of Time

Let's play the Opening Paragraph game, folks. It's very simple. I post the opening paragraphs to my various novels, and you decide which one is most compelling and which opening paragraph most makes you want to read the rest of the novel. Sound fun? No? Oh, well, let's play anyway.

Children of the Mechanism 

First came the screaming, the sound of some monstrous thing crying out from the darkness. Then came the babbling, a boy wordlessly pleading for help, and one sound melted into the other. Bik fled from it, fighting his way out of the dream, but the noise chased him, turning at the end into the blare of the morning alarm. Finally, he opened his eyes in the dim, red light and heard it echoing off the metal walls, a singular note, high and harsh.

The Vale of Ghosts

Ann heard screams through the window, though the shutters had been pulled and latched and a pillow shoved into the space behind it. A tortured scream, the scratchy warbling howl of a monster. She was crouched in the dirt beneath the windowsill, jabbing a crooked stick into the ground between her feet and trying to appear like she wasn’t listening, like she hadn’t a care in the world. A ladybug landed on her knee, and she offered it the end of the stick. It climbed onto the stick, and she held it up into the air until it flew away.

Shadows of Tockland

David spotted him first, the old man with the scabs on his head lurching out of his seat on the front row, clapping his big, gnarled hands as he shuffled toward the stage. Bubbles the Clown was the current performer, a petite woman in a loose, silvery costume. She had a bamboo pole balanced on her open palm, a large ceramic plate spinning on top of it. The tent was filled to overflowing, but the attention of most people was drawn upward to the wobbling plate. Consequently, the old man got all the way to the stage without anyone hindering him. He gave one last clap, did a little stutter step on his bare feet, and lunged at Bubbles, snagging one of her billowing pant legs.

Garden of Dust and Thorns 

The shapes of men materialized out of the dust clouds, bodies wreathed in loose cloth of black and gray. Hoods and veils hid their faces, but they moved with purpose, marching in ranks. Though the distance was great, Adhi saw the glint of polished blades, of long silver spears and curved scimitars, catching the heavy rays of the lowering sun as it sank below the ridge in the west. She counted over three dozen men, but there were more of them behind the wall of dust. She saw a hint of movement, as of dozens more, gathering in the open land between the dunes.

Dreams in the Void

A man in a tattered leather jerkin and pale blue doublet writhed in the shadowy space between the rocks, clawing at his clothes. Jeren spotted him from the cliff’s edge as he braced himself against a skeletal tree. The highway ran a twisting course through a steep ravine, winding its way toward the snow-capped peaks in the west. Tumbled rocks lined the road here and there, piled up in some places to create makeshift walls, safe places to camp when the harsh winds howled down from the mountains. It was in one of these places that the man lay, kicking at the rocks and thrashing.

Mary of the Aether

The lunatic in the long, gray cloak dashed out of the forest and ran right up onto the front yard, waving his arms in front of him like a child playing tag. He skirted the porch, paused, turned a complete circle and fell onto his hands and knees. A hood obscured most of his face, but Mary could see the tip of a pointy chin covered in whiskers. She sat at the living room window, leaning against the sill and resting her forehead against the cold glass, transfixed by the sight. The crazy man crawled through the high, un-mowed grass, his face close to the ground, shifting back and forth like a bloodhound chasing a scent. He stopped at the driveway, lifted his head and appeared to sniff at the air. Then he scooped up a handful of gravel and sifted it through his fingers.

Okay, folks, that's a whole passel of opening paragraphs just for you. Which one, based on the paragraph alone, makes you want to read the rest of the book?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Suddenly, Mechanisms!

So if I'm being entirely honest, I'm pretty terrible at self promotion. Lots of writers do a better job at getting their names out there. I see them using book promotions, blog tours, forum posts, paid ads, newsletters, press releases and all manner of interesting tools and online devices to drive sales. I've dabbled in a little bit of all of those without any real sense of whether or not they've helped.

Instead, what tends to happen to me is that all of a sudden one of my books will make a bunch of sales for no particular reason, and then it will taper off. Lately, this has been Children of the Mechanism. For some reason, it has done particular well on the Kindle Unlimited program this past month.

Not sure how to account for that. I haven't really promoted it much, except to mention the new paperback edition I just put out.

So there you go. I suppose if you want to read the book of mine that is getting the most attention lately, this is the one. Ultimately, it is one of my darkest novels, but it has a unique structure and some fairly interesting little characters. Also, lots of weird names like Bik, Hen, Ekir, Kuo, Lus, Tag, Rel.

Just watch out for the Watchers and the Refuse Hole. That's not good times right there, friends. And be sure to feed the Grong while you're at it.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Latest Developments

Various and sundry interesting things are happening in the world of Jeffrey Aaron Miller novels, so let me dive right in. First of all, some of my books are getting new covers and new editions.

Garden of Dust and Thorns is now available as both a Kindle book and in a lovely trade paperback edition. Along with the paperback edition, there is a new cover. Compare and contrast the two, if you will. Which one do you like better?

Old Cover
New Cover

Then there's the new cover for Children of the Mechanism. First, I should explain the recent changes to that book. I got the rights to Children of the Mechanism back from the original publisher. This has given me the opportunity to do some revisions to the story. Nothing major but there were a couple of things I really wanted to change. At the same time, I lost the rights to the original cover art, so I won't reproduce it here. Instead, I cobbled together a new cover, and here it is.

Of course, I already mentioned Dreams in the Void in my previous blog post, so you can scroll down and check that out if you want. In the meantime, I recently published a new novel, which is available for Kindle and in trade paperback. Here it is:

It's the first book in an epic new fantasy series, and I'm already hard at work on book two. More on that one later, so keep checking back, friends. Oh, and feel free to click on any of the covers above to get to the right page for purchase. Thanks!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Dreams Belong in the Void

So let's talk about the novel of mine that has the longest and most tortured history. In it's latest incarnation, it looks like this:

The first novel I ever completed was a smelly mess I cobbled together with rotten scraps of fantasy ideas in the summer after I graduated high school (that's 1991, to be precise). It was the half-baked story of two brothers (who in this first iteration were called Kieves and Redert. Yep.) who discover a mysterious red crystal in a cave that possesses magical powers. They go some places, destroy some things, meet some people, and it all comes to a lame conclusion, leaving room for sequels that will never be.

Anyway, that first version of the story is sitting in a box in a closet forever. I don't even remember the title.

Ten years later, whilst newly married and living in a super tiny apartment with two cats (including one cat who tried to set himself on fire using a lit candle, but that's another story), I decided to try my hand at writing a novel again. I took the germ of an idea from the first novel and made significant changes. It still involved two brothers, but this time they had the slightly improved names of Jaeren and Korli. (I did say slightly improved).

The second time around, it became the story of a mysterious red suit that feeds on angry emotions. Various characters with weirdly spelled names appear and die, and it all ends in dramatic fashion. Thematically, it went from being "random fantasy tale #523" to a focused story about confronting and overcoming tragedy and grief. It almost got published once (by a Canadian publisher), but it wound up in a box in a closet forever. It was called Deep Water.

Despite the utter failure of attempt two, I felt I was onto something, thematically at least. So finally, about three years ago, I sat down and determined to make it work. The brothers became Jeren and Cen, and it became the story of a red suit, a shared dream, and an island nation slowly sinking into madness. It sat around on a hard drive for a while, but eventually I published it as two books: Bloodstone and A Whisper in the Void. It even had a nice hand-drawn map done by my wife.

And here we are, friends. The final iteration of the story. I combined the two volumes into one 187,000-word tome, made various minor additions, and now it is available as both an ebook and a trade paperback called Dreams in the Void. I even added a little pronunciation guide at the end of the book. The thing is heavy enough to be a door stopper.

As a tale about a gradual descent into pain and madness, I think it turned out pretty good, so check it out. There's the Kindle version and the Trade Paperback version to serve all your bookly needs.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Actual Paper for Actual People

So sometimes you just want to hold actual pieces of paper in your hand when you read instead of flipping and flopping imaginary pages on a Kindle device. To that end, I am releasing trade paperback versions of all of my novels that are currently "ebook only."

This includes Shadows of Tockland, my post-apocalyptic science fiction novel with clowns and circus people and plague-ridden zombies and tyrannical overlords. In fact, a nice 5x8" paperback version of that one is already available right HERE.
Then there's Garden of Dust and Thorns, which is a fantasy novel with animals fighting armed soldiers and all sorts of crazy things going on. You can get the paperback to that one HERE.

Deep Water will be next. I'm merging the two volumes of the Deep Water duology into one volume. So Bloodstone and A Whisper in the Void will get combined into a massive 6x9" paperback of 500 pages called Deep Water Dreaming. Look for that one very soon. I have to do some major formatting and such first, but it's coming.

Eventually, the same thing will happen to every ebook I've ever written or will write, so brace yourselves. Actual paper for actual people, just like it was for hundreds of years.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Positive Power of Ghosts

So in the last few months, I've gone through a bit of a change for the better. Specifically, my outlook on life has become more positive as I have dragged myself out of the slime of despondency and disillusionment. That sounds vague, but suffice it to say that I had found myself in a rather dark head space for a few years. Since shortly after the beginning of 2015, I have been revitalized in almost every way: in hope, in faith, in outlook, in self-confidence.

Now, this has led to a time of deep reflection about the kinds of stories I've written. The simple fact is that my writing had become increasingly bleak. From the lighthearted Mary of the Aether, I worked my way to the much darker, more violent, but still ultimately hopeful Shadows of Tockland. From there, I descended into the bleak despair of Children of the Mechanism, which contained some of my most gruesome scenes. And finally I wound up in the savagely hopeless wasteland of Fading Man.

It was not a healthy trajectory.

Right before the sudden rediscovery of a positive outlook on life, I wrote a paranormal fantasy novel called The Vale of Ghosts. It was filled with hopeless gloom and harrowing scenes. Honestly, I didn't know to do with it, and so it sat, complete and ready to go, in a folder on my hard drive.

Well, I finally went back and did some work on it. I didn't want to gut the novel or remove its teeth, but I did want to inject it with glimmers of hope and faith and maybe clip out some of the more indulgently bleak passages.

Having done so, I am now self-publishing that novel. It is the first volume of a planned multi-volume fantasy series called The Archaust Saga. I have no idea what readers will make of it, but I think the rewrite salvaged it. It still contains some truly harrowing scenes, and it still wrestles with despair, but it is not the same story that I wrote last year. It is better in every way.

Anyway, you can read the first chapter at my website, if you'd like. Just click the book cover. The opening chapter is pretty intense.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Audiobooks Saved My Life!

Back in December, production began on audiobook versions of a couple of my novels. The first one, Shadows of Tockland, is now available, and let me just tell you, if you thought it was creepy reading Cakey's words, just wait until you hear him snarling in your ear. The narrator is a guy named R. Paul Matty, and you can check out his website right here.

Now, I developed a special fondness for audiobooks because they saved my life during my early college years. I exaggerate not at all, folks. See, my first three years after high school, I was commuting to a junior college in Tulsa from my hometown of Bartlesville. The drive at that time (before the speed limit was increased to 70) took about an hour, and it was a bland, uneventful drive. Coming home in the afternoon with the sun shining through my windshield made me so very sleepy, especially after hours of hearing lectures. Consciousness was a daily struggle.

To keep myself awake and alive, I used to listen to audiobooks. Unlike music, the audiobooks kept my mind engaged and active. A nice, long unabridged audiobook was the best because it would last for many days. I remember listening to Streets of Laredo by Larry McMurtry, and it got me through many weeks. Terrible things happened to poor Woodrow Call, but it was better listening to the details of his leg getting sawed off than flying off the road into the endless Oklahoma prairie.

So all of that is to say, it's pretty cool to be able to offer some of my books in this format, so those of you with long drives now have a Cakey voice to keep you awake! The first novel that is available is Shadows of Tockland, my post-apocalyptic epic. Check it out here and listen to a free sample. Children of the Mechanism is coming soon, so keep your eye out for that one.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Samples, Samples, and More Samples, Part One

I would like to give you a tiny but delicious sampling of every single novel I've ever written. However, that would make for a blog entry a bit too long. So instead, I will give you a tender sample of a few key novels that I most want you to delight in. Let's start with my first novel and then we'll sample my grimmest novel, shall we?

Mary of the Aether 

“Someone’s at the door,” Mary said, leaning in close.

Papa blinked and his eyes focused on her. “At the door? Yes, all right. Give me a moment to get up and get presentable.”

“I’m not sure—”

And then there came a knock so violent it rattled the door in its frame and echoed down the hallway like a thunderclap. Mary screamed and stumbled backward, clapping a hand over her mouth.

“Oh my,” Papa said, struggling to sit up. “Mary, you best call the police. Go.”

Mary raced out of Papa’s room and back to the kitchen. As she reached for the phone, she heard someone jostling the doorknob, trying to force it to turn. She attempted to dial 911, but her trembling fingers kept missing the buttons.

Another knock, forceful and angry, and Mary heard the crack of wood. She glanced into the living room and saw that part of the door frame had broken loose. She turned back to the phone, held it close to her face and dialed the numbers, forcing herself to go slowly so she would not miss. Then she pressed the phone to her ear.

A click followed by a voice. “911 Emergency. How can I help you?”

“There’s someone at our door—”

The whole house shook with the force of the next blow. Pictures fell from the walls, and the windows rattled. Mary dropped the phone and covered her head as bits of plaster rained down from the ceiling. Before she could recover, there came another crash, and she heard the door splinter. Mary looked down the hallway and saw the front door bowed inward, split right down the middle, jagged edges sticking out like broken bones. A final blow ripped the door hinges out of the frame, tore the bolts loose and sent the door flying into the living room in pieces.

As the pieces settled, Mary saw a man standing in the jagged opening, a tall man in a gray cloak and hood. She ducked back into the kitchen and retrieved the phone, but in her panic, she accidentally hit the ‘Talk’ button and hung it up. She heard the stranger’s feet crunching wood as he entered the house. Mary dropped the phone again and glanced back into the living room to see the stranger sweep his long cloak off his shoulders and stride into Papa’s room.

“Get out of here,” Papa said, trying to shout but managing only a hoarse croak. “There’s nothing for you here.”

“Nothing for me?” The stranger’s voice sounded surprisingly calm and deep. “Are you certain of that, old man? I’ll tell you what I think, I think you’ve got a secret.”

Children of the Mechanism

Kuo sank his hands into the meat trough and scooped up a large mound of the damp, gray paste. He brought it up to the lid of the trough and dumped it into the plastic bucket on the floor between his feet. Some of it slopped onto the floor, but Kuo was careful to pick up every little bit and flick it into the bucket. The grease ran between his fingers and dripped onto his feet, tickling his toes. When the bucket was full, he grabbed the rope handle in both hands, set his feet farther apart, and rose. The bucket was heavy, but Kuo was strong. The only risk was losing his balance.

Kuo turned, saw the line of feeders moving across the room, saw the Watchers beyond them with their mouthless faces and bent arms. Oh, the Watchers were always nearby, weren’t they? Always staring, staring, staring, and sometimes Kuo thought he knew what they were thinking. They looked past the other feeders and fixed their black eyes on Kuo alone.

"I know what you’re doing,” Kuo muttered. “I can read your minds. I know you’re playing the game with me.” 

He glared at them to make sure they got the point. Then Kuo turned toward the Grong. It filled most of the large room, the vast heap of it rising up to the ceiling a hundred feet above. A monstrous mound of flesh piled up in mottled folds like numerous fat bellies, it had no arms or legs, no head or neck or hair, just fat and meat and quivering pale skin. The feeders approaching the bottom looked like ants. All along the surface, the folds of the Grong hung heavy, as if the whole thing were slowly melting into the floor. 

Kuo moved to the back of the line of feeders and shuffled forward, clutching his bucket between his knees. The metal floor transitioned to the soft padding that served as a kind of permanent bed for the Grong. It had a bit of give to it, and Kuo sighed. He liked how the soft floor felt beneath his feet.

A face peeked out of the line ahead of him. Big brown eyes, a curly forelock of black hair, a small and crooked mouth that was smiling, as always.

“Oh, Rel, I see you there,” Kuo shouted. “I see you!”

The feeder in front of him spun around and made a shushing noise. Kuo scowled at the man until he turned away. He might have punched him right in his face, but a Watcher moved up beside him.

“No shouting during the working day,” it said. “Loud noises lead to punishment. Work quietly. Work diligently. Keep your voice down.”

“Voice down,” Kuo said, ducking his head. “Yes, voice down.”

The Watcher turned and went back to its place, and Kuo sent hateful thoughts in its direction. When it was gone, Kuo whipped back around and looked for Rel, but Rel had melted into the crowd.

“I’ll find you,” Kuo muttered. “You can’t hide all the time, Rel. Just you wait and see.”