This post was written by Doris Booth
An Authorlink Exclusive Interview with John Ramsey Miller
By Doris Booth
Back in 1996, John Ramsey Miller burst onto the New York Times bestseller list at number 16 with his debut suspense novel, THE LAST FAMILY. Readers instantly fell under the spell of his crime novel and eagerly awaited more high-voltage Miller thrillers. Nine years later, John delivers not one, but three novels all published by Dell/RandomHouse INSIDE OUT (May 2005), UPSIDE DOWN (June 2005), and SIDE BY SIDE (Fall 2005). The new series introduces U.S. marshall and single father Winter Massey.
Bantam Dell's vice president and executive editor, Kate Burke Miciak, said the editorial team decided to release all three paperback originals in slam-bam fashion, an almost unheard-of move in the industry. Miller's new books have been compared to the white-hot thrillers of Robert Ludlum.
Here, the unassuming, quite-spoken North Carolina author, talks about his newest works.
"I had written a draft
AUTHORLINK: Why the long hiatus between THE LAST FAMILY and INSIDE OUT?
MILLER: After publishing THE LAST FAMILY, I had written a draft of the second book but my editor didn't think it was as good as THE LAST FAMILY. After a couple of attempts to fix it, Bantam released me from the seven-figure contract. I wrote another book, which was to become INSIDE OUT, and sent it to Beverly and she thought it had potential. While I was working on it, Beverly died suddenly. My agent at the time had sent one other book around but she wasn't having any luck interesting any publishers in the work. After I finished WINTER, my agent sent it around. After several months she had gotten three responses to it. Now three years after publication of THE LAST FAMILY, I determined I needed to rework WINTER one last time and I also decided it was time to change agents. It took me a year to rework the book. I then gave it to Anne Hawkins of John Hawkins & Associates. She sent it out on Thursday. By Monday we had answers from six of the seven editors. That's the difference between agents.
Kate Miciak at Bantam Dell wanted to buy the book, but I had been released from my contract at Bantam, so they were gun shy. [Bantam and Dell are separate imprints under the same publishing division at Random House]. The brass at Bantam Dell said that perhaps Kate would be a perfect editor for me and they agreed to let her take me on. Kate said she would buy the book for Bantam if I would make the changes she wanted for INSIDE OUT and would give her an outline for a follow up book. I agreed and she bought them both. We would eventually add a third book to the deal, bringing it to a total of three books at six-figure advances.
AUTHORLINK: What were some of your challenges in writing book two?
MILLER: I finished the first book for Dell in 2002 and went to work on the second one in the series. Then, I completely rewrote it, changing the characters and plot. Originally, book two was centered around my protagonist finding a 21-year-old man. I changed the main character to a 12-year-old girl in real peril, and rethought the entire story. That book became UPSIDE DOWN.
The secret to making my books work came when I realized that I had to completely visualize the book before writing it. Earlier I had an idea, but I wrote without really knowing my characters intimately, but developing them as I wrote and forcing them into the action. Kate had to break me of bad habits, which she did, and it is amazing to me that she and Bantam believed it was worth the trouble. I felt as if I were taking Writing 101 from Kate Miciak, who spent a lot of time e-mailing back and forth on both books and working through things. It was a lot of work, but when editors who are as good as Beverly Lewis and Kate Miciak offer criticism, I listen. I don't argue if there's a good reason for the change.You have to be flexible. No editor wants to work with somebody who won't listen. Good editors want relationships with writers, and it's a give and take deal or it doesn't work.
AUTHORLINK: Did you have the same experience with THE LAST FAMILY?
MILLER: I had a lot of input from my editor, Beverly, but there were no giant changes.
AUTHORLINK: How long did it take you to finish INSIDE OUT?
MILLER: It seems like it took a lot longer to finish that one than my first book. I completed INSIDE OUT in 2003. When they showed me the cover, I didn't like it. And they kindly agreed to revise the design. While the publisher was working on the cover design for book one in the series, I was working on UPSIDE DOWN.
AUTHORLINK: How has INSIDE OUT changed from your original idea?
MILLER: A major change was in the title. I had originally called it WINTER. Then I changed it to BLIND SIDE. But another author came out with that title, so I changed it to INSIDE OUT.
AUTHORLINK: How did the super release deal unfold?
MILLER: INSIDE OUT was originally slotted for a November 2004 release. But when Dell sent out advanced reading copies, they got such a great response they decided to hold back and make it part of a super release. About that time, I submitted UPSIDE DOWN and they loved it. Since they were working on the first book's cover design, they decided they could do a design that would work for both books at the same time, and also work for a series if I wrote more Massey books. The Dell imprint, as it turned out, had an open slot for a super release in May 2005. If I could do a third book, they would move me from the Bantam imprint to Dell and give me the super slot.
AUTHORLINK: So, you had to write a third book?
MILLER: That's right. I wrote SIDE BY SIDE in two months, and Kate accepted it last Christmas as written.
AUTHORLINK: Wow! What pressure. How did you write it so fast?
MILLER: I outlined the entire book and started from scratch. It was one of those things that just fell together. Luckily I had learned enough about how I should do things from the first and second books.
AUTHORLINK: What sort of print runs has Dell done?
MILLER: They printed 220,000 copies of INSIDE OUT, and a second printing of 20,000, and recently a third. About 260,000 copies of UPSIDE DOWN were printed, and it was reprinted again a few weeks ago. The print run for SIDE BY SIDE was almost 300,000.
"I could write longer chapters, but I believe it's easier for people to read short ones."
AUTHORLINK: You write about organized crime with what seems to be deadly authenticity, yet you've never been a mobster. How do you do that?
MILLER: I have studied a lot about crime, and I have read extensively. I have friends who are FBI and CIA agents, so I have had access to procedures. I also have my crime-fighting friends read the books for accuracy. Sometimes I change the rules for the sake of drama, but I know what the rules are before I break them.
AUTHORLINK: You write in very short chapters, often with each chapter in a different viewpoint. Why?
MILLER: I like switching back and forth between characters. I could write longer chapters, but I believe it's easier for people to read short ones. A short chapter doesn't tie you down. It helps with short attention spans, which we all have these days. Some of my chapters are longer, but I do this for a specific reason. I never create a chapter that fails to advance the plot. I am writing for emotional impact, but I try to make my characters feel real so my readers will want to follow them.
AUTHORLINK: It seems you write as easily from a female pont of view as from the male perspective. How do you achieve such authenticity?
MILLER: I have no idea! Kate tells me that I write better women characters than most women do. I try to put myself into their perspective. I've been married for almost 30 years to a strong, gentle, intelligent, and complex woman (very much like Sean Massey). I have three sons, a daughter-in-law, and four grandchildren. Maybe that helps.
"It is hard to get published, and so easy for an editor to say no."
"I never thought I would give up. I knew where my work stacked up to other people's, and I knew
AUTHORLINK: How did you break into publishing, and was it difficult for you?
MILLER: It was difficult. Had I known just how difficult, I would have thought twice about pursuing writing as a career. It is hard to get published, and so easy for an editor to say no. I remember meeting somebody who worked at Doubleday after I was published. He told me that they talked about my first books, and an editor read passages from one of them aloud generating "good" laughter in the coffee lounge and that everyone had said they thought the work was real good but they didn't know what they'd do with it, and with the dark humor in the book. It's those little things that kill an offer, but it's good when they feel strongly enough to argue about you in the break room. A lot of the rejections I received came with thoughtful suggestions and offers to talk on the phone. Beverly Lewis was one of those editors and after I made some alterations to THE LAST FAMILY she bought it.
AUTHORLINK: Was it difficult to find an agent, and did you have many rejections?
MILLER: I was lucky to sign with the third agent I queried. But I discovered it was a lot more difficult than that. I wrote a total of four books and had 167 rejections before being published, including 41 rejections for THE LAST FAMILY. Using suggestions editors had made, I rewrote the first book . When I did that, my agent sent it to ten other editors who wanted to see it again. Beverly bought it. The book was published in 12 Languages and was a Literary Guild main selection.
It's important to have a good agent. I lucked out in that department An author friend of mine met Anne Hawkins at a conference. He mentioned me to her, told her I was in need of an agent, and told me to contact her. She read THE LAST FAMILY, and I sent her what I was working on. She agreed to take me as a client.
AUTHORLINK: How many rejections did you have for INSIDE OUT?
MILLER: In its original form, I had seven or eight pleasant rejections. Later, when Anne sent it out, I had two editors interested and the others said it wasn't right for their list. For a variety of reasons, I decided to go with Kate at Bantam. First off it was the one house that felt like a home to me. They had dropped me and I wanted to prove I could produce consistent work for them, and because I knew Kate's reputation for being demanding and for getting the best out of authors, and the fact that she wanted to work with me because she saw something there worth the effort–it was a no-brainer.
AUTHORLINK: How long have you been writing?
MILLER: I wrote for my high school newspaper and majored in photojournalism in college. My mother was a history professor. She wrote two nonfiction books and taught history, so I was exposed at a young age.
I began writing fiction in 1991. From 1986 to 1989 I wrote advertising copy, then went to Miami and did features for Tropic Magazine, the Miami Herald's Sunday magazine . I wrote a nonfiction book about censorship and one about the obscenity trial of Two Live Crew. And I sold a screenplay that was never produced. But I wanted to write novels. I wrote four books in four years and got good responses. They were thrillers, but I had included a lot of humor.
AUTHORLINK: What are your writing habits?
MILLER: I get up at dawn, drink coffee, and see what has happened in world, then work until noon. or 2 p.m. For the rest of the day I read or spend time with my family. Life takes up all of my spare time.
AUTHORLINK: Are there more Winter Massey books ont he way?
MILLER: I am working on a book which features characters from the other Winter Massey books. When I am finished with that one, I may write more Winter Massey books. And I am also contracted to write a sequel to THE LAST FAMILY.
AUTHORLINK: Has there ever been a time when you thought about quitting?
MILLER: No. I never thought I would give up. Most published authors will tell you that, aside from talent, persistence is the common denominator among published authors. I knew where my work stacked up to other published authors, and I knew I could do it. I never had any doubts about my writing, though I did have doubts about getting published. The market has always been tough, even in Faulkner's time.The steps leading to having a book published by a legitimate house are a weeding out process. The people who keep hitting the wall will eventually break it down. It's a matter of finding the right editor at the right time.
This post was written by Doris Booth