7 Questions With Author Ian Miller
Born in 1942 at Hokitika, Ian Miller writes fiction that explores the scientific, political, and business ideas formulated during his lifetime of travel, business development, and his career as a theoretical and applied scientist. An original and daring thinker, he sets out to challenge our understanding of both society and the cosmos.
The truth, he asserts, may very occasionally be something quite different from what is generally accepted by scientists today.
His fictional writing is deeply affected by his travel and experiences. In 1968, travel behind the Iron Curtain and culminating in entering Czechoslovakia essentially with the invading forces strongly influenced his views on oppression, while the antics of many before the 1988 stock market crash strongly influenced his views on economics and business.
He is now semiretired, he still consults on business development, while he writes and obeys the demands of Horatio, his chief rodent removal officer, for more cat food and lap time.
In today’s interview, Ian Miller takes us through the challenges of being a writer, from completing the first draft to juggling life and writing.
Esther Rabbit: What’s your own definition of an author / indie author?
For me, an author is someone who writes with the intention of having people he does not know read it. If you are writing something only for friends and relations, or for your own interest, to me that is not being an author.
Being indie means you are responsible for everything between picking up the pen to getting the final product out there. Of course you may subcontract certain work, especially things like cover design, or if you are going for the dead tree publication, you must have a professional printer.
But you are responsible for everything, and you have to pay for all your subcontracts. At the end of the day, the income comes directly to you, less bookshop or distributor commissions.
Esther Rabbit: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I may lie somewhere in between. I always start with a plot, and usually I have some scenes sketched out, and I start by writing the early scenes and join them up consistent with the plan.
But, similarly to military battles, the plan seldom survives in its pristine form after encounter with some action. Then, as an example of my current work in progress, I discarded what I thought was my best scene, the reason being that if I kept it, the story could not end up properly where I wanted it to in a reasonable and balanced way. So, very reluctantly, I ditched it.
Esther Rabbit: How does a day in your author life look?
I start at 6 am by knocking off some emails, and this turns up again through the day. I suspect I really waste too much time doing this. I am a semi-retired research chemist, and sometimes I get a client call, which has to be dealt with, and that can disrupt writing.
I try to get as much as I can of “non-writing work”, and that includes house and section maintenance, done in the morning. Quite often it ends up that I can’t start writing again until mid-afternoon, and sometimes something else totally disrupts it.
Esther Rabbit: What were some major setbacks of this profession?
This is a story in itself. I started writing my first novel as a result of a student challenge. At that time, women tended to be arts students, so I found myself defending science versus arts. My claim was, at least scientists do something – all arts students end up doing is criticizing. (Yep – leading with the jaw here!) Back came the snort – “You couldn’t even think of a plot for a novel.”
Of course I could, but when challenged, I required a couple of days. So off I went and came up with the plot of Gemina. They insisted I write it, so over the summer “vacation”, when I worked in a meat works by day, I tapped away at night. By the time University was restarting, I bundled it up and tried to get it published. It was rejected, four times. I gave up.
Many years later, I pulled it from the drawer, and after reading the first two pages I decided they were awful. I also noticed nobody read past them. However, after a while, I decided it improved greatly, so I sat down and tried rewriting the lot. I could not get a publisher, though.
What I did not realize was that I was entering a time when publishers would not consider something without an agent. At that point, I had the makings of a platform. I was trying to get an industry started to make pyromellitates (a high temperature plastics intermediate) going from a raw material from a synthetic fuels plant, and I was doing this through a series of press releases, etc. (I was working at the national chemistry laboratory.)
The government owned the fuel, and this is a story about why governments should not be involved in commerce, but that is for another time. I also appeared from time to time on nationwide TV offering scientific advice on consumer issues. That came to an unfortunate end when I was on a program about rust on cars. I pointed to a bulge on a rear mudguard of the example car and announced that was rusting through.
The managing director of the company selling that make of cars denied it. What did I know about it? So I punched the area, there was a cloud of rust and a hole the size of a small pumpkin. Great television. Unfortunately, it was the producer’s car.
Anyway, I decided to self-publish. I believed I had a platform, and on top of that, if I spread the payments for printing into two packages across a financial year, the tax department was paying 2/3 the costs. (We had horrible taxes on rather modest income at the time.) So I got the books printed, delivered, then a crisis.
The pyromellitate venture would be financed, as would a laboratory for me to service it if I left for the private sector, BUT only if I stayed totally out of the news. Ever tried to sell books when you cannot even advertise?
The government signed a supply agreement with a company we had put together, but about three years later, and $5 million in the hole, they cancelled the agreement and sold the fuels plant, then came the 1988 financial crash. I was next best thing to ruined.
My only advantage was huge tax losses. I had a bit of spare time, so I resumed writing in it. I started with a futuristic novel in which the Soviet Union collapsed in 2018. I had just finished it when the USSR collapsed. Oops. I tried one on the settlement of Mars, taking into account of financial fraud at the same time, taking advantage of some of what I had seen prior to 1988.
I found an agent, the agent got a tolerably enthusiastic editor of a multi to look at it. The editor then went on vacation, died in an accident and my agent developed health problems. Back to square 1. I was then contacted by an editor of a scientific publishing house.
Would I give them a proposal. I did, to get rid of them, but they accepted it. That involved a huge amount of writing, then they cancelled when they found out I was not a professor with a lot of students who would be forced to purchase.
A bit later Amazon started selling Kindle ebooks, and were looking for authors. I had been trying to find an agent, but they preferred authors who were closer to home. I thought Amazon was a good idea.
At the time, Andy Weir was getting good sales with “The Martian”, and when I bought a copy, there were only four pages or so of science fiction on Amazon. However, Amazon would not take NZ authors unless they had a US bank account, and the US government forbade such accounts.
Eventually I self-published, but by the time NZ was permitted, the rather large number of ebooks were established and the first opportunity was gone.
Esther Rabbit: What’s your definition of the first draft?
I probably don’t have one. My writing style is such that I write the first part very quickly, to get some sort of working skeleton down, but by the time I am about a third of the way into the story, I start asking myself questions like, “While the plot says this happened, maybe I should explain why it happened,” which requires going back and filling in bits.
By the time I get to about three quarters of the way through, parts of the first half might have been rewritten a dozen times. So when I finally finish, the whole is more than a first draft.
Esther Rabbit: Looking back, what advice would you give yourself at the beginning of your journey?
I really don’t know. I sometimes ask myself this about life in general, and while I acknowledge there are many things I could have done better, I do not know what would have happened had I done something else. So my basic attitude is, I did this, now I have to live with the result.
Esther Rabbit: How do you manage to juggle life and writing?
In each day, I allocate much of the morning to the “things that have to be done”. Then so much time is spent on promotion (like this interview), and finally, I allocate about 2.5 hrs I the afternoon to writing.
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And if you’re a fan of Paranormal Romance, check out Lost in Amber:
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A handful of genetically altered humans to be rescued.
Meeting her changed everything.“