Kindle Author Interview: Jeffrey Morrow Miller

Jeffrey Morrow Miller, author of The Binding Returned, discusses his book, his journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about The Binding Returned?

JEFFREY MORROW MILLER: The Binding Returned is the first part of a five book cycle covering the awakening, educating, reorganizing, and preparing of a society, so that it can deal with an external threat. The first of the five Books of Time is in three volumes The Binding Returned, The World Revealed, and The End Of The Nightlord. The subsequent books are The Mastery Of Magic, The Ending War, The Period of Prophecy, and The Time Of Testing.

In The Binding Returned, one of the five Elements of The World, Water, decides the time has come to create a champion who is able to defend The World, and The Underworld, from whatever there is beyond The Edge of The World, which can only be hostile.

For the last one thousand years there has been a static peace maintained within The World by the immortal Nightlords. Nothing has changed during the reign of the Nightlords, since change only brings instability.

According to the teachings of The Covenant, the religion in The Seven Kingdoms of the Nightlords, after The Breaking of Time, The World we live in was separated from The Underworld. If people live according the the rules of The Covenant, it is promised that one day The Lord Binding will return and reunite The World and The Underworld.

People who live in other four lands of The World don't think much of The Covenant, or of the Nightlords, and no one really understands what The Underworld is anyway. It is not the afterlife of any of the religions—where one goes to give an accounting of their lives before The Gods. Young people who read too much, such as Hamish who's story we follow, believe The Underworld is a philosophical metaphor describing all that we feel is missing from The World—the explanations of the 'why' of everything, and the perfect examples of the ideals that are only poorly represented in The World.

With the easy overconfidence only one who is nobly born can have, Hamish proves he is ideally suited to search for a Door into the wherever, as requested by The Lady of The Silver Lake. If it's a Door into a city of the Immortals that no one knew existed across The Silver Lake, then the legends say he'll have to die and become an Immortal to pass through. If it's a Door into The Underworld, then he will become the Lord Binding Returned of a religion he doesn't follow. Either way, it beats going back to his homeland and assuming his inheritance as a peacock Prince allowed to only do what has always been done.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

JEFFREY MORROW MILLER: The five Books of Time cover several generations, and I started by figuring out who's kid I needed next, and how old I needed the kid to be. It all got to perfect. So I then created some life-table simulations which gave me random families for each of my characters. It was then up to me to fit these families into the historical events I had roughly plotted out. Instead of always being the oldest son of each generation, I now had to develop characters that were not simply arising from the easiest beginnings (from the authors POV).

As there are five major cultures in The World, the next problem was naming my characters. Luckily, it turns out that all of the peoples in The World follow some simple naming conventions, with children having names derived from those of their parents.

Once the characters have a name, and a set of circumstances of their birth, I let them run amok. So far they are not doing anything like what I'd originally thought they should be doing, and their personalities are not what I had planned. They have had to deal with their birth order and their siblings, before they can even get to the plot events I need to place them in.

It should be noted that none of my characters are 'bad'. They all want exactly the same thing—what is best for The World and everyone that is in it. After one thousands years of living in a non-expanding society where no one would refuse another food, shelter, and the basics of living, there is very little need for conflict that can't be solved with a quick tongue.

But since within everything there is it's exact opposite, The Lord Binding only has to look into a mirror to find The Breaker. There can't be one without the other—just as we all have two hands which are the same…and yet not.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

JEFFREY MORROW MILLER: I would hope the readers who want to try The Binding Returned would be interested in some of the fundamental problems of philosophy. Fantasy worlds without the trappings of our scientific explanations for everything allow the exploration of the nature of reality, the Magic of events and causation, and the definition of existence, self, and beyond self.

In the second of The Books of Time I want to delve into the nature and scope of knowledge, and differences between learning as the highest aspiration of men, and the debasing of knowledge into technology. The Mastery Of Magic is thought by some to be necessary if it is to be used for the defense of The World.

In the third Book of Time there is a war going on, and the ethics of everyone are going to be tested. The old order of everything has to be swept aside by The Breaker, before The Binding can build something new.

After The Ending War there is The Period Of Prophecy where the survivors have to rebuild The World, without the help of The Lord Binding who has been guiding them. Only through self-creation can The World develop the self-confidence needed for The Time Of Testing when The Union arrives from beyond The Edge of The World and offers the chance to join its omniscient perfection.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

JEFFREY MORROW MILLER: I grew up in San Diego, California, but never spent a summer at home since my father was doing ecological research in the mangroves of Florida and the tundra of Alaska. I started several novels in high school and while at UC Santa Cruz, but they all tended to go sideways after about 100 pages.

I had a chance to go the South Africa after I graduated and helped my father with his field work around Cape Town, and then stayed to complete a Masters degree in Ecology. When it came time to return to the US I decided I'd sail there. In 1984 I bought the Sara B which I am still living on.

I returned to the US, worked for the EPA, and then sailed to Australia where I did a PhD in Ecology. I then sailed to Venice, and realized I didn't want to sail west any further. There was nothing new to be discovered in that direction. So I headed back to India and Malaysia, where I once again had to face the return to the US…and do what?

So I am now doing the 'what'—clearing out my head into a world were anything is possible.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

JEFFREY MORROW MILLER: My work habits, and my ability to stay focused, have always been abysmal. That's why it took me six years to complete a three-year PhD program.

I am now living in a marina where there are not very many other people, in a country where I do not speak the local language. That limits the distractions to a very slow Internet connection.

I've still found I have to set myself a quota of 500 words a day, 6 days a week. That's not fast enough to write 'disposable genre fiction', but seems to be all I'm able to consistently do. I ruthlessly keep track of my progress, and it's now become a bit of a compulsion. If I don't make some progress every day I'm not happy.

I work out an outline, and then create a series of empty chapters to be filled in. I just hope the characters obey, and stay on course.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

JEFFREY MORROW MILLER: Dick Frances' small, tight, thrillers set in the horse racing society of England have always impressed me. It seems obvious that I should be able to write similar things set in the environment of sailors traveling around the world. I should be able to create a whole new category of niche-fiction. Post vampires it's going to be all about sailors. But I'm not having any further inspiration on that front.

Robin Hobbs, with her ability to produce a monster trilogy every few years, is someone whose footsteps I'd like to follow. But I just don't write fast enough.

Authors like Samuel Delany and J. M. Coetzee, who go right over the top of my head, are always inspirations, as are those who manage to hit it big for no obvious reason—such as J. K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer. Everyone knows kids don't read, and don't read humongous books. Anne Rice did vampires to death.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

JEFFREY MORROW MILLER: Something like The Catcher in the Rye would suit me and the 'author persona' I'd like to be. It's 'respected' and 'important' and will probably be remembered for awhile. J. D. Salinger managed to carry on living the life I currently have after publishing.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

JEFFREY MORROW MILLER: I have a younger brother with a PhD in marketing who teaches MBA students. His wife is a very successful brand manager. They have both made gobs of money, while I barely survive in poverty.

I therefore detest marketing.

My marketing plan is to write the books first, and then figure out how to sell them. Having escaped from the 'real world' I would not want to sign a contract promising some publisher I would produce anything to a schedule.

After I produced the Createspace paper version of The Binding Returned, and the Kindle and Nook ebook versions, I waited a whole week before checking on the vast number of sales I knew were happening. I waited so patiently because I have the necessary 'long-term view' all authors should have. It's about building 'The Brand' of yourself and producing an extensive catalog of similar, and yet uniquely interesting books. As readers discover one book they will come back for the rest of the things you've written.

By the end of the week my mom had bought her obligatory copy of my book.

I would like my audience to discover me a little sooner than everyone discovered Philip K Dick.

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

JEFFREY MORROW MILLER: I live on a 34' sailboat that is currently sinking under the weight of all the books I have on board that I really must get to reading some day. Most of the time I sit in front of my computer at a really cramped chart table.

There clearly has to be a better way to read books.

The old-style publishing industry exists because they know they can make money off of their readers if they can force their writers into preconceived marketing niches. The gap between what the buyer pays for a book, and what the author receives is obscene.

Ebooks make the writing-reading process direct. There isn't the time lag, and profit motive of someone else, between the author and the reader.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

JEFFREY MORROW MILLER: The process of direct-publishing on Kindle is amazingly easy. The process of marketing and self-promotion may justify all those dollars between the cover price and the authors royalty, but letting someone else attempt to do it for you is no guarantee it will be done better than you can do for yourself. If you let someone else turn you into a brand you will be squeezed into a form that chases a market that has been, rather than one that might be.

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.


Jeffrey Morrow Miller was born in 1959 in Boulder, Colorado, and then grew up in San Diego, California before attending UC Santa Cruz. After graduating with a degree in Biology he moved to South Africa and worked for the Department of Forestry and completed a Msc in Ecology at the University of Cape Town.

In 1984 he bought a 34ft sloop and sailed from Cape Town to Florida with his wife. After working in the US for a few years they sailed cross the Pacific Ocean to Australia where they both attended the Australian National University.

After completing his PhD in Ecology, Jeffrey started sailing alone, and crossed the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, and spent time in Turkey, Greece, Croatia and Venice. He then decided to turn around and start sailing east, recrossing the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, and is now in Langkawi Malaysia.

Since he has managed to avoid hurricanes, pirates, coral reefs, and corrupt customs officers, Jeffrey doesn't have any material to write adventure novels set in a sailing environment. He is therefore applying his background in ecosystem simulation modeling to fantasy world building. His Books of Time cycle explores the dynamic network of an evolving society that is awakening after a long period of imposed stagnation.

Visit his website and read his blog.

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