Sunday 21 July 2019

Interview with Chris Miller - By David Kempf

When did you first become interested in writing?

I think the first time was when I was in the neighborhood of 10 years old. I’d already become enamored with storytelling well before that. I loved books, movies, my parents or grandparents (or anyone, really) telling me a story. But I always wanted to “fix” the story they were telling, add my own twists, have it turn out the way I wanted it to. So the bug was formed already, but when I was ten or so, I’d just read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and actually had no idea at the time that it was a whole series of books already. So I thought I’d write a sequel to it! I only got around ten pages or so done, and it was pretty awful, but I realized just how much I really enjoyed to tell a story, even if I wasn’t very good at it yet. I never stopped. I started writing things out, in English and Reading classes in school there were times we had to write essays or stories or keep a journal, all of which I turned into fiction, and even way back then it was always dark, and sometimes darkly humorous. I also realized I was getting better at it too, the more I did it. By the time I was 18, I had decided I wanted to write books or movies or both. Star in them too, though that really was a pipe-dream, lol. In any case, that was the birth of it, and though I’ve strayed from it here and there in my earlier years, I always came back with more stories to tell. For a time, the only thing I wrote was music and lyrics, but even those lyrics were always telling a story. I got serious about writing in 2014, and started pulling out my old short stories and unfinished novels and began reworking them, as well as penning some all-new stuff. I was off to the races then.

How did you get involved in fantasy/horror?

I think the first real horror movie I ever watched was PSYCHO II. My parents never allowed me to watch anything over PG until I was well into my teens, and even then it was rare. So, I’d catch what I could at friends’s houses and such. But PSYCHO (the original) was older, black and white, and with little to no actual gore, so when my grandmother called—who lived just 100 yards up the black top from us—and wanted to know if I could come watch PSYCHO with her, they allowed it. I walked down there in the dark, through the woods, and we fired up the movie.

It wasn’t until it started that she realized it was the sequel to the Hitchcock (and Bloch) classic, and was significantly more violent and gory than the original. But she decided we’d watch it anyway. I loved it! However, upon leaving to go back home through the dark woods, there were roughly ten-thousand Norman Bates’s and other ghouls lurking out there, ready to dine on my spleen, and I got scared out of my wits running home from all the phantoms. When I got home and my parents saw the state I was in, I told them about the mistake in which movie we’d watched. They called and chastised my grandmother—sigh—and allowed me to sleep on the floor in their room since I was so freaked out.

Of course, Norman Bates was also under their bed, so I protected myself by only showing him my backside, which no self-respecting lunatic would ever attack. Still, I didn’t sleep well that night. From then on, I was fascinated with horror and the fantastique, but it was some years before I got the chance to watch another horror picture. When I did, it was actually two horror movies which I watched with some friends at a birthday party sleep-over at my pals house. The movies were TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT and HELLRAISER. I was blown away by both, but especially HELLRAISER, and I think it was there that my fascination with horror and the supernatural was solidified. You should have seen my parents’s reactions when they found out what I’d watched—even though I was in 7th grade, they didn’t think it was appropriate at all. I laugh now, especially as an author of the same kinds of things, but I got into an obscene amount of trouble.

Tell us about your first publisher.

My first publisher was me, actually. Well, sort of. You see, when I finally got my first novel finished, I had put three OLD (see ancient) short stories on Amazon as Kindle books. They sold about 4 copies between them all, and they were poorly done stories. I just wanted something to be out there. I didn’t know any other writers at the time and had zero knowledge of the publishing world. So when I stumbled across a publisher online that offered to professionally publish my book for a fee (all new authors RUN from these types of places!!!) I decided to go for it. I spent a TON of money and while I DID get a professionally manufactured book out of it in the end, I learned a lot about what not to do. Like using a vanity press. I paid them a lot of money, they didn’t deliver on most of what they offered (aside from a book that did look great), and they harassed me for a long time, always calling with offers to get my book on the NY Times list and all these other things for another fee. I declined them all and re-released my book in a different trim with a new cover and formatting as a self-published title. By then I’d met a lot of folks in the industry and figured out how to get covers made that really caught the eye and met formatters and such. It wasn’t until November of 2018 that I got picked up by a small press, Deadman’s Tome, for my first novella. Since then, I’ve worked with them and two other presses, each one bigger than the last, and I’ve actually been made an offer by a really significant press, but that fell through. Still, things continue to snowball bigger and bigger, which I’m really excited about.

How would you classify the genre you write?

I consider myself a “suspense” author. Everything I write is a suspense story. Sometimes that’s been a thriller, other times its been horror. I’ve even written some comedies, though even those are extremely suspenseful. I feel like for any story in any genre, the thing that sets a book apart as a ‘must read’ title is suspense. It’s necessary for virtually ANY kind of tale to really work and really pull the reader in. Conflict is always necessary as we all know, but I think suspense is no less important. However, the bulk of my work would most easily fall into “horror” or “thriller”. All but two of my short stories are horror. Sometimes it’s supernatural, sometimes it’s cosmic, sometimes it’s real-world. I’ve even done some extreme horror short stories. My first novel is a revenge thriller which takes on a supernatural horror element in the latter half, my second novel is a dark crime/noir story with a small element of psychological horror, and my novella is a straight, real-world thriller with a horrifying situation. My new novel, THE DAMNED PLACE, is through and through a horror story, but it’s also got cosmic horror elements and it’s a coming of age story set in 1990 East Texas. Nearly all of my unpublished work falls into the horror realm, but every single thing I write is forged in suspense.

Why do you think horror and fantasy books remain so popular?

We like to be scared. That’s the long and short of it. Human beings enjoy the feeling of fear, of holding our breath to see what’s about to happen next, to feel our hackles rise. So long as we know it’s all make-believe, that is. Something about fear just resonates with us, and I think maybe it’s because we all like to think we have some great courage deep within us that would help us rise to the occasion should we ever find ourselves in a horrifying situation. We also like to see others rise to the occasion, because then we get to live out those heroics vicariously through someone else without ever putting ourselves in harm’s way and there’s never any real danger to us. It’s the moments just after something terrifying happens, or at the end of a story when we finally start breathing again, panting like dog, our heart rates slowly diminishing when it really hits us and we look around and go, “Hell yeah! That was awesome!” It was awesome because we were scared out of our wits and we made it. We, of course, always knew we would, because fiction is ultimately safe, but we were pulled in so much that we forget that for a little while. That’s why thrills connect so well with us. At least, that’s what I think.

What inspires your stories?

Oh, you name it. I’ve been inspired by events in my own life, the ‘what if?’ questions that arise from that, I’ve been inspired by things on the news. I’ve also been inspired by other literary works (I think all writers have) or movies or TV shows. Something will hit me, really connect with me, and then I start mulling over how things COULD HAVE gone, or how I might have told the story differently. In the case of the late, great Jack Ketchum, it was almost always based on something that happened in real life, something that horrified or pissed him off, and then he’d write about that. I’ve done some of that myself, but more often, I’m inspired by other storytellers of all kinds out there, and then my gears get turning and before I know it, I’ve got my own story to tell.

What do you think the difference between American horror and British horror is?

I’m not sure I’m the best judge of this, but I’ll take a shot. I’ve read and watched a LOT more American horror than I have British, mainly because I’m from Texas here in the USA and so it’s more prevalent here. But I’ve watched plenty of foreign films from Britain and elsewhere (I especially like gritty British crime movies) and read a good many horror stories written by and set in the UK. I think the main thing I might could put my finger on—though this is by no means a comprehensive or nuanced answer—is that in America, we seem to have a good deal more retreading of old material. Zombie stories are a perfect example. I can’t think of a single genre or sub-genre that has been more overdone than Zombies. And don’t get me wrong, I like a good Zombie story. I’m a huge fan of Romero, and I loved THE RISING and CITY OF THE DEAD by Brian Keene, as well as a few other titles from lesser known authors. But by and large, if a story is about zombies, it’s hard to pull me in. You have to catch my eye with a really fantastic cover or a blurb that shows me this particular zombie story is something different and special in some way before I’ll consider reading it. Same with zombie movies. It needs to be something different, some way to tell this tired old tale in a way that’s not only unlike what I’ve seen already a thousand times, but that is ALSO interesting. A story about zombies who don’t like to eat brains and would rather drink tea would do nothing for me.

So, in the USA, I see a lot of the same kind of thing hashed out over and over again. While my experience with British horror is far more limited than that of American, I must say I’ve seen less of that problem with our brothers and sisters in the UK. When I read a British horror book or watch a British film, I’m usually in for something a little more unique, which I appreciate. It doesn’t always work, but good examples are movies like 28 Days Later. It takes all the basic, familiar elements of the zombie apocalypse story, but it adds a unique twist to it. It also is filmed in such a way that it really makes you feel like you’re there. And most importantly, it brings in the human element to the story, namely, the human villains, which are far more scary than any of the monsters. While none of this really covers the board all the way across, that’s the main thing I’ve seen. We have plenty of terrific horror novelists and filmmakers over here in the US, but the UK seems to have a larger offering of truly original material.

What are your favorite horror books?

Best I can do here is give a list, which like my answer in the previous question, will not be comprehensive. There’s so much out there I enjoy. But if I had to just pick a few, I’d go with The Shining and IT by Stephen King, Swan Song by Robert McCammon, Psycho by Robert Bloch, Off Season by Jack Ketchum, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay, Children of the Dark by Jonathan Janz, Live Girls and The New Neighbor by Ray Garton, YOU and Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes, At the Mountains of Madness by HP Lovecraft, and Ghoul by Brian Keene. There are many, MANY more, but that’s a snapshot into some of my favorites. And they all connect with me for different reasons. Some are visceral, some are subtle and in the shadows. Others are sweeping in their scope and some are tightly focused and claustrophobic. Some are even humorous, such as both the titles I mentioned by Ms. Kepnes. But they ALL unnerved me in some way or another, and they ALL had characters who came to life on the page and I fell in love with. That’s the foundation and cornerstone of ANY good story, horror or otherwise, in my opinion.

What are some of your favorite horror movies?

THE THING (1982) by John Carpenter is ALWAYS at or near the very top of my list. Fantastic piece of filmmaking. Others would be Halloween (1978), Psycho (1960), Event Horizon (I love sci-fi and cosmic horror, and this one is way underrated), The Exorcist, Slither, Evil Dead (specifically Evil Dead 2, but I like them all), Re-Animator, From Beyond, Alien, Aliens, The Fly (Cronenberg), The Brood, Videodrome, The Shining (Kubrick), Hellraiser, Lord of Illusions, Dawn of the Dead (remake), 28 Days Later, and about 30,000 others. Like with the books, these all connected with me for different reasons, but they are all movies I come back to time and again and keep in my collection at home.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as an author?

just getting published by a small press is a huge thing. A lot of people never even make it that far. But my newest novel, THE DAMNED PLACE, is my greatest literary achievement, I think. It’s much longer, has much more character development, has lots of history and has birthed an entire mythos around it with a pair of overlapping trilogies (all of which are in the pipeline). It’s like I broke through a wall and discovered this entire universe to play in. My previous work I’m very fond of, but this one takes it to a whole new level, and I’m extremely proud of it.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

I’ll rob a line from King here: “read a lot and write a lot”. That’s the main thing. Also, sit your butt in the seat and write as often as you can, no matter how many words you’re able to get down. I don’t get to write every day, so I don’t hammer on folks for that, but make it a priority in your life and carve out as much time for it as you can. Sit down and write. Don’t second guess yourself in the process, just get it out, and once you’ve finished your story, ALWAYS go back over it several times and add, cut, expand, whatever. Fill it in where there isn’t enough, yank out the crap or redundant nonsense. You can always edit a poorly written page, but there isn’t much you can do with a blank one.

What is your opinion of the new self-publishing trend?

I think it’s great in a lot of ways. It’s allowed a lot of new authors—myself being one of them—to get there work out to the market who might never have gotten the chance otherwise. However, there’s a caveat: it has ALSO allowed a LOT of garbage to flood that same market. Many authors either don’t understand or don’t care about polishing their work. They want it out yesterday, so they don’t spend much time revising what they’ve written or they don’t use a professional editor (always, always, always use a professional editor!!!), and the end product shows all of this. There are some gems out there to be sure in the self-published world, and I’m very thankful that the option to self-publish is there. But now we have to sift through a lot of crap to find some decent books in the midst of all of that, and it sort of casts a poor light on the more serious authors who self-publish. Jeff Strand self-publishes much of his work, but he takes it seriously and doesn’t cut any corners. Then you have myriad authors who don’t and for every well-produced self-published book out there, you have about a hundred works of crap. They aren’t art, they aren’t just “not for me”, they’re crap. And that’s unfortunate. All that being said, I’m very thankful that option is out there, though. It’s a foot in the door for many worthy authors who would otherwise go completely unknown without it.

What are your current projects?

I’m finalizing the edits on my follow up novel to THE DAMNED PLACE—which is titled THE DAMNED ONES—as we speak, but the book is written and has had some editing done. My hope is to sell this one to Black Bed Sheet Books, who published THE DAMNED PLACE, when I’ve gone through and approved all the edits and addressed all the suggestions. I’m about to start revisions on a secret novel that will come out next year, though I’m not at liberty to discuss anything else about that one right now. I also recently completed a cosmic horror novella, which I’ll begin revisions on as soon as I finish them on this secret novel, and I plan to start the third Damned book, THE DAMNED TOWN, this fall when all of that is wrapped up. The story is already laid out in my head and has been gestating for a while now, some I’m eager to get it down on paper. It will be my biggest, most sweeping work to date. I’m also working on a couple of short story ideas, though my focus is on all of this other work I just mentioned at the moment.

Please in your own words, write a paragraph about yourself & your work.

So, as you already know, my name is Chris Miller and I’m a suspense/horror/thriller/comedy….hell, I’m an author. My third novel released on July 6th from Black Bed Sheet Books (THE DAMNED PLACE), and I’ve got short stories in 5 anthologies so far, with a few more coming soon that haven’t been released yet. By day I manage the service department for our family-owned water well drilling and service company in East Texas, and I live in the quaint little town of Winnsboro with my slap-your-mamma-she’s-so-damn-beautiful wife Aliana, and our three kids Joanna, Jack, and Sloane. My work has been praised by critics and fans alike, some even giving me the title “master of suspense”, which is both an honor and humbling.

You can find me online at my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Patreon, if you’re so inclined. You can also send me a friend request to my personal account on Facebook if you like, and so long as you’re not a complete weirdo or stalker, I’ll add you and am happy to interact. 😊