The Author Story

Welp, it’s been a while again, huh.
Back to it, I guess.

Here’s a piece I wrote about a year ago.
I finished it at a Panera in a grayer part of the state of Illinois, slugging weird hazelnut coffee before speaking to a group of middle school writers.
Have you ever tried to make a group of several hundred 13-year-olds laugh? It’s terrifying.

But nevertheless, I got to share a few jokes and hopefully a tiny bit of what one might call ‘wisdom’. Afterwards an older fella talked to me about his stories from being in the Los Angeles rock and/or roll scene of the late ’80’s…so it all worked out in the end I guess?

So, here’s something I simply titled ‘The Author Story.’

***
Hi, everybody!

I’m Jeff.

I’m a tall guy from Kent, Ohio, I’m a big fan of LeBron James, and – it turns out, I’m an author.

 

An author is someone who is a lot of things.

They are, usually, a very lucky person.

They are a listener and a reader.

They are a hard worker.

They are most likely pretty bad at wearing fancy clothes. Like, right now, the fact that I have to tuck in my shirt is a real struggle for me.

But pretty much, an author is a writer that just hasn’t stopped writing.

Simple, right?

It’s easier said than done, believe me.

But as I look around today, I can tell I’m among fellow authors, so I’d like to share the story of my start as an author.

It begins lifetimes ago….all the way back in…2008.

I was doing something called Americorps.

It is a volunteer program, where members do service work for an entire year.

This type of work includes things like volunteering at food pantries, or at animal rescue shelters, or even helping to clean up state parks.

Service work is work that actually makes you feel good.

Weird idea, I know.

I mean, work is work, and work is sometimes awful, right?

But my year of service made me think differently.

During this year, I was placed on a team with eleven other people. We were all from different parts of the U.S.-

Iowa, Minnesota, California, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin…

Randomly assembled, we became sort of a weird family.

We traveled around in a huge, silver 12-passenger van that I want to say was named Vinny.

For a year, we did everything together.

We went to the movies together.

We built houses together.

We went grocery shopping together.

We made our meals together.

We did the dishes together.

 

You get the idea.

So, with this new family, I was able to see lots of the eastern side of the country, stopping in every state from Connecticut to Louisiana.

In May of 2008, in Maryland, we helped prepare a few Girl Scout Camp campgrounds before the start of summer.

We did repair work on old, wooden cabins, put new siding on a dining hall, and helped clear a few miles of trail.

As a wonderful thank-you gift, we were given boxes upon boxes of what I believe to the best cookies ever. Girl Scout Cookies.

For the next few weeks, our van was packed with boxes of Thin Mints and wide assortment of other goodies.

It was, quite simply, amazing.

I ate them for breakfast…like, a lot.

And so in June, in our van, we travelled to New Orleans, Louisiana.

We were headed to help rebuild houses that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

It had been three years since the storm, and flood damage was still everywhere.

Despite the damaged houses, though, we met undamaged spirits.

Thousands of people offered their school spring break, or just took a week off from their regular lives to help build homes for complete strangers.

Working alongside people from across the country was inspiring.

As a bonus, we all got really, really good at hammering nails…and not our fingers. Although the first week required a lot of thumb bandages.

I think for me personally, though, during this time in New Orleans I also started to lead more often.

Leading, to me, is taking on responsibility of a situation, good or bad.

I’ve learned leading can be scary sometimes, but I feel like it’s worth it.

On most of our construction worksites, there were lots of nails, boards, saws and other dangers, so someone always needed to be in charge.

The person in charge managed the construction worksite, and made sure volunteers didn’t return home after sawing off any arms or legs.

It was usually preferred that people return with all of their limbs.

Some days, though, this person in charge was absent from the worksite, so someone was needed to fill in for the day.

And even though I knew absolutely nothing about building a house, I began to happily offer my help.

I went from just a guy to The Person In Charge with the raise of a hand.

I even learned how to shingle a roof because of my time there.

This was mainly because I gave the wrong instructions, and we had to undo an entire day’s worth of work…but nobody really needs to know about that.

My main takeaway was that while this was frustrating, I learned valuable lessons in owning my mistakes.

Now is probably the time some of you might be thinking…’This guy is supposed to be talking about how he became an author. I think? Is he just going to talk about construction the whole time? Is he at the right conference?’

Stay with me!

Let’s jump ahead to the final month in my year of service.

It’s October.

I’m in New York City.

The leaves on the trees are bursting with color.

It’s the kind of crisp weather that requires you to finally start wearing a jacket.

Me, a van possibly named Vinny, and my weird second family were in New York City to help with a huge day of service.

It was called New York Cares Day, and it helped clean and re-vitalize public schools all over the city. Walls were re-painted, gardens were planted, and basements were cleaned out.

I had been working in a warehouse for about a month, helping teachers as they picked-up paint buckets and tulip bulbs for the big day.

Some of the people on my team had been working at different schools for weeks, but I was only going to be there for a day.

For this huge day of service I was basically going to be a helping hand. I was headed to an elementary school somewhere in Brooklyn to help paint a mural, I think.

But, the day before it was all to happen, a site leader dropped out. For a high school in the Bronx.

For whatever reason, they were unable to be there to lead hundreds of volunteers.

And so, they needed someone to be The Person In Charge.

Guess who raised their hand?
This guy.

And so, on an early Saturday morning, I hopped on a subway train with 4 huge painting canvases, and a gallon of lime green paint.

I showed up to the high school in the Bronx, and greeted hundreds of volunteers as they showed up to help out their community, assuring them I absolutely knew what I was doing. I didn’t.
But together we painted things, we did some light gardening – it was great.

And, when it came time for lunch, most everyone ventured off towards the McDonald’s nearby.

Except for one group.

They were editors, all discussing their new favorite books.

We talked about our shared love of storytelling, I made a few bad jokes I’m sure, and at the end of it I left with a business card.

And eight years later I have three novels, and I get to be here with all of you.

All because I raised my hand.

Now, I’m not sure what to call that.

Did I know leading a group of people painting a school would help me become an author? Not even a little bit.

I imagine there are some big, fancy, probably German words that can be used to describe something such as this…but I like to think that the opportunity to become an author presented itself because I was available to it.

I was OK leading.

I was OK with the responsibility of a good job or a bad job.

And so, my fellow authors, I want to encourage you all to do the same.

Take ownership.

Think with positivity.

Don’t be afraid.

And…maybe don’t eat too many cookies for breakfast. Trust me.

 

3.15.16

Welp, looks like we’ve got some catching up to do, eh?
Apologies to the reader(s?) who have been anxious for more blog posts on invasive carp species and fiction novels.
It’s hard out here for someone who feels going online is best treated as an activity and not a lifestyle. (Basically I’m stuck in 2003, folks. This should come as no surprise by now.)

Hopefully the winter months are behind us, my sweet midwestern angels, and we can return to outdoor jogs and sun-tans. I, for one, am ready.

So until then, figured I’d share my End-Of-Winter-To-Read list, to help get through these last few blustery weeks.

‘Dark Places’ by Gillian Flynn. I’ve just started chapter two and can tell I need to set aside a whole day to keep reading, as there’s no chance of stopping.

‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue. Heard great things about this!

‘Teen Angst? Naaah…’ by Ned Vizzini. Have been re-reading these essays he wrote as a teen himself, and…man, didn’t know him but do I miss Ned Vizzini.

‘More Happy Than Not’ by Adam Silvera. I appreciate an author with a good tall joke in their bio. We’re nature’s lighthouses – we have to stick together.

Plus I’ve got roughly three shelves of books I keep picking up at various thrift stores. I’ll let you know how I fare.

What are you reading these days?

12.7.15

Ahoy hoy, babies!
Guess who’s got a book birthday tomorrow?

This guy!

And probably plenty of other authors that are all amazing, but I’m excited to see my most favorite of NERDY DOZEN adventures in the hands of readers.

Check it out here

I hope readers young and old can find something to laugh about in my new book.
My goal with writing is to remind people that positivity is a choice, but it is one worth making.
And I know that it’s hard to do that. Believe me.

I find myself constantly at battle with having a negative or cynical outlook, but I like writing characters that help remind me that being positive is important.
I also just like writing characters as wacky as Neil Andertol.
He and the rest of THE NERDY DOZEN have come a long, long way.

In their third adventure, they take on the high seas to save every shark from a madwoman.

After growing up on a lake – always in some kind of boat or smelling of some kind of fish/seaweed combination – writing this third installment was like a dream come true. All the pirate adventures I imagined on a freshwater Ohio lake were basically research. A childhood of sandy swimsuits and puckered, raisin-shaped fingers prepared me for 20,000 NERDS UNDER THE SEA.

I’ve hopefully created a middle-grade video game action-adventure, with a bit of a conservationist tilt. Perhaps I can become the John Muir of stories containing poop jokes.

In my third book I was even able to make a reference to Asian Carp.

Now, I’m a man who tries not to hate anyone or anything – but let it be known I hate Asian Carp. Hate hate hate.
They’re basically a fish that eats anything and everything, originally brought to the States to clean fish tanks. Well, if you’ve read or seen ‘Jurassic Park’ you know what happens next. Life has now found a way, and that way is carp destroying the eco-system of the Great Lakes.
All those walleye, my babies!

Efforts are in place to stop them, though, including the creation of a position called ‘Carp Czar.’
Now if I had to choose another profession other than writing, that’s it. I think I would make a terrific Carp Czar.
A just, steadfast and ruthless Carp Czar, really.

My first move would be contracting my friend Evan, who I think would have some real ‘out of the box’ thinking in terms of freelance carp removal.
As Carp Czar my second action would be getting a really sweet hat.

Who knows, maybe being an Author/Carp Czar can still happen.
An author can dream, right?

Anyways, tomorrow is the birth of third book baby. And speaking as a third child, I can assure you this book will always have to sit in the middle of the car’s back seat, but it will also have very lax curfew rules as a teen.

It’s my favorite of THE NERDY DOZEN books, and I’m truly excited to see what readers think.

More tomorrow!

Jeff

9.10.15

Ahoy hoy, dear readers.
What’s the good word?

Today mine is ‘donuts.’
I’m doing some writing at one of my favorite spots, Dinkel’s. It’s a bakery in Chicago that’s been around for a pretty long time. They have great pastries and a refreshing lack of internet.
Being a writer, I’ve found, is all about tricking one’s tiny goblin brain into doing actual work.
Going someplace without Facebarn/videos of people falling down really helps.

The people of Dinkel’s are great, too, and always interested in what I’m writing. Mainly because they probably assumed I was a crazy person at first.

My favorite member of the staff once calmly walked up to me and politely asked “Man, I gotta ask, what do you do here?”
I laughed and explained the book I was writing.
He exclaimed that it was awesome, and he was glad they could help make The Nerdy Dozen series happen.

Books are only made possible from lots of help from really great people. This includes editors, designers, and (especially) the person in charge of your donuts. It’s good to not forget that.

Now, back to the writing. And another old-fashioned!

-Jeff

8.13.15

Happy Thursday, dear readers of this blog – all one of you? Two of you? Maybe you’re an alien species reading this in the future?
At any rate, thanks to all of you – and your seven-eyed king, as always, has my allegiance.

I’m trying my best to keep accountable on blog posts, on topics book and otherwise. I’m thinking I might even post a few pieces I’ve read around town. Only the good ones, though.

But as for today, a random writing post.

This weekend is the Chicago Air Show. It is a huge aircraft demonstration that takes place on the chilly shore of Lake Michigan. This means that today, Blue Angels are making passes over the beer-and-cheese-soaked metropolis I call home. It’s real loud. There are formations.
There are wide turns.
There are low-flying passings-by.
I just went for a jog and felt like Jeremy freaking Renner.

This Air Show is every year, and it reminded me of one from years past.
I was working a crummy coupon job, and stepped outside to speak with my editor at the time. It was the beginning stages of THE NERDY DOZEN, and we talked about our jet-flying characters as actual jets roared all around me.
It was pretty cool.
Now I’m waiting for Book 3 of the series to release in December, which is also pretty cool. Would I have believed that if you’d told me that that day, as I paced outside a corporate office building on my lunch break?
Who knows.
But sometimes the universe offers some noisy reminders to help appreciate the journey.
(Also I bet lots of dogs really hate this weekend. And they only get to see The Grey Angels! Sorry, dogs.)

7.17.15

Well then, babies, it’s been a minute!

How has your summer been? Sprinklers? Ice creams? Swimming holes? Watching blockbusters about extinct species in air conditioned caverns?
Whatever you’ve done, I hope it’s been an enjoyable time.
‘How’s your summer, Jeff?’, one or two of you are might be wondering aloud in a crowded internet cafe?
Well I’ll tell you – not half bad.

I moved to a new part of town.

I performed in a fancy museum on the campus of a prestigious university.
(Inside these hallowed quarters I made jokes about Tom Hanks and films about mermaids. We shall see about an invitation for a return!)

I went camping in the Porcupine Mountains. The state park that shares the mountainous namesake is right on the shores of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
As far as peninsulas go, it’s a pretty beautiful one.

Here is picture of an author gasping for air on a hike:

IMG_0259

We’ve still got plenty of summer left, too, babies. I’m hoping to have a few more adventures to share. Until then!

Jeff

5.19.15

Happy Tuesday, babies!

So this past week was filled with lots of author visits in my home state of Ohio. In the span of seven days, I was able to chat and spend time with over 600 young readers!
Whoa!

And the only time I was nervous was during a dentist visit Tuesday! (No cavities – woot!)

I was truly amazed by the creativity and imagination that was on display. I heard stories about talking zoo animals, elephant spies, hairy lizards, and – most importantly – purple pancakes.

I also discovered a possible future pen name: Harry Armes.

It was a great week, and I look forward to planning a few author visits over the summer, before a TON in the fall.

Now, I just need a summer reading list! Any good recommendations?

Have a great Tuesday, and Happy Birthday to my dear friend Megan!

Jeff

4.30.15

Thursday April 30, 2015

On March 27th, NASA Commander Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko voyaged to space.

They flew to the International Space Station, the ISS, where they will be spending a full year away from Earth. That’s 365 days – 366 if there are leap years in space!

In THE NERDY DOZEN 2: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE NERD KIND, Neil Andertol and his video game-loving friends visit the ISS on a top-secret mission.

Commander Kelly’s mission, however, will be a record-setting trip for an American astronaut.

As it’s a pretty long time away from home, I’m sure the astronauts had some trouble deciding what to pack for the trip.

I can relate – I have difficulty packing for a week-long vacation.

So to help, I figured I would make my own packing list. Maybe we can send a special rocket with any items the astronauts might have forgotten.

So, here are some items that I know these astronauts will need.

Again this is advice from Jeff Miller, author/person with no space experience, who gets nosebleeds at high altitudes, and received a ‘C-’ grade in physics class.

  • Clean undies. I imagine lines could be long at space Laundromats, so you’ll want to have enough clean drawers for a few weeks.
  • A camera. With multiple sunrises and sunsets a day, there will be tons of opportunities for great shots. Earth probably looks better with an Instagram filter, too.
  • A ton of Velcro. Without gravity, you’ll want to make sure things stay where you leave them. I’ve been doing this with my coffee mugs here on Earth and can report it’s been a roaring success.
  • Space toothbrush. You can’t let a lack of gravity stop you from dental hygiene – just keep a safe distance from others while space flossing.
  • A friend’s Netflix password. While I’m sure there will be lots of time spent on scientific research, you can never forget to unwind. Hopefully someone at mission control has Hulu Plus, too.
  • Lastly, a good book. You’ll have plenty of free time, for sure.

Might I suggest purchasing a copy of THE NERDY DOZEN 2: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE NERD KIND. The perfect novel for both young readers and space-dwelling astronauts alike.

And that’s it!

I’m looking forward to watching this experiment unfold, and seeing an American make history.
What would you pack for a year in space? Find me on Twitter @jeffmillerbooks to send me your packing list!