A passion for writing

for as long as I can remember

Writing Blog

view:  full / summary

Write Who You Are

Posted by Greg Miller on August 17, 2012 at 7:50 PM Comments comments (1)

The summer of 1969 stands out, apart from the other 43 summers of my life that have since passed and etched impressions on my memory. Two stand out personally: Woodstock and the Apollo 11 moon landing. 1969 had some other memorable events: Ted Kennedy's presidential aspirations went off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, the Manson murders, British troops were sent to Ireland for a few days that turned into decades.

 Maybe everyone feels this way about the transition year from high school to college or their college years. I think the moon walk and Woodstock were some pretty heady watershed years to bank my seminal memories on. The following excerpts are from two ebooks I am working on. The first is a narrative of growing up with the Bruce Springsteen phenomena. The second is from a memoir/nonfiction book about the moon rocks brought back from the Apollo 11 and 17 missions that are now missing.

 Woodstock- from "A Notion Deep Inside"

 The same friend I dragged to that first Springsteen concert at the Nassau Coliseum in 1978 had been to Woodstock. He said that night [June 3, 1978] Bruce was better than anything he had seen at Woodstock. High praise indeed. I never made it to Woodstock for a number of reasons. It's funny when people I talk music with wonder why I never made it to that musical Mecca if I'm so into rock, especially rock from that era. People forget that Woodstock was expensive.


Woodstock took place in August of the summer before my freshman year I college. I was getting paid menial wages for a summer job that relied on the heavy business days of the weekend. It was a health club and locker room of a high end public golf course. Prime time was early Saturday morning to late Saturday night and then early Sunday morning until late Sunday afternoon. Since the facility had to be staffed minimally during the slack weekdays, working hours were only given to the selected few who pulled the long weekend hours.


That summer I was behind the eight ball in my savings for college. As the summer wound down, I still needed to save every penny for college. Earlier that summer, my family took a week's vacation at the bucolic Maine cottage of my older brother's future in-laws. I had to beg the boss for that weekend off from the health club and then promise that I wouldn't take any more days off for the summer or get fired. Fortunately for me, the Maine vacation was the weekend of the Apollo 11 moon walk so instead of waiting hand and foot on golfers, cleaning up after their mess, polishing shoes and cleaning spikes I watched Neil Armstrong make history.

People tend to forget that originally Woodstock was not a free concert. As I remember, you could buy the three-day pass or single-day tickets. The lineup was a rock and roll who's who. Few big names were missing-the Rolling Stones, Dylan-but other than those rock icons, not many other big acts were missing. Even if you wanted to buy a single ticket, the choice of which day to pick was excruciating. The big acts were spread out. The decision became moot because the crowds just overwhelmed the fences and broke in and the famous announcement came over the sound system that declared the concert a "free concert." Magnanimous gesture, yes, practical, absolutely; nobody wanted a full scale riot of a million people.

But at first, the thought of about $15.00 a day or $45.00 for the three days seemed steep. Translate that from 1972 dollars and it was one whopping price tag. A normal concert at the time cost about $4.50. Tickets at Central Park during the summer for many of the same acts cost $2.00. The argument was that $15.00 was steep but very economical for such an all-star lineup of rock and roll acts.

Couple the expense of that concert plus the three days of work that I would miss, about 28 hours at $2.00 an hour, or $56.00, one giant financial hit I would take. Plus, the timing was bad because I still didn't have enough money saved for college and this was in the middle of August. I would have to lay out that money and, getting fired, not have the ability to earn another two paychecks before I'd have to leave for college. Add to the ticket price travel costs, food, gas and parking. It was the perfect storm of rotten luck and I thought that there would be more concerts just like Woodstock. I was wrong.

I remember watching Johnny Carson that weekend Arlo Guthrie, who had performed and had been helicoptered interviewing out because the roads were so jammed, bubbling over with enthusiasm, almost jumping out of his seat declaring "The Thruway, is CLOSED, man." At that point, I realized I had missed the concert event of the century and also possibly the concert event of a lifetime. In a way, Bruce Springsteen made up for all that. I didn't have to lose money, starve, suffer soaked to the bone, hassle with ridiculous crowds, and put up with untold filth. Not that I wouldn't have done it. I just didn't have to put up with all that to listen to the best rock of my age. I'm reminded that "someday we'll look back and it'll all seem funny."

 The moon walk- from "Lost from Space"

Landmark events indelibly mark our memories and we recall years later where we were when the impression was made. I was in seventh grade when our principal, tears streaming down her face, burst into our classroom and stunned us with the news that President Kennedy had been shot. Six years later, by the time Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins had been strapped into their Apollo command module that Friday in July, 1969, I had probably finished tossing the last items in the family station wagon for the trip to a Maine beach house for the week. There were a number of parallels.

My brother met his future wife in college as a sophomore and his fiancé's parents had a charming but Spartan cottage on a small peninsula on the southern coast of Maine near Kennebunkport, called Biddeford Pool. The oceanfront structure was separated from the surf by about 100 yards of tall, waving dune grass and walking that deserted, pristine shore line was both therapeutic and cathartic. I was either too young or had too few issues to take full advantage of the cathartic properties but a walk for a mile or two in either direction while only meeting a handful of people allowed plenty of time for thinking.

I remember working at my summer job in the golf course club house and seeing the Apollo rocket lift off and then the boss barking at us to get back to work. While the astronauts were starting their 60 orbits and 240,000-mile journey to the moon, I was working my last day before going home, sleeping, and putting the finishing touches on the vacation packing.

To get to Maine was a process of deciding what to take without overloading the family Chevy; all five of us and everybody's stuff had to fit, allowing for everyone's comfort over an 8-hour drive. We were travelling into the unknown; we had never before stayed in a tiny Maine beach house.

The journey was smooth but cramped and we were delighted by the sight of the cute red cottage and the chance to stretch our legs, the drive made longer by the excitement of anticipation. The entrance door opened into the tiniest of foyers and immediately into the galley kitchen with a counter open to a small dining room that transitioned into a Lilliputian living room, a fireplace anchoring the far end. On one side of the knotty pine-paneled room was a large window that displayed the ocean and dunes as a neatly detailed picture. On the small table, just to the side of the window, a tiny black and white television set with rabbit ear antennae stared back at us. I didn't recall ever seeing TV sets that small but we were on vacation in Maine so network programming wasn't the foremost thing on our minds. Sparse technology in either the kitchen or the bathroom would be more of a problem. I recall being relieved because I knew that this rustic retreat at least had something to view the lunar landing, not sure what exactly that viewing would be.

At some point, that Maine television was finally turned on and after seeing the reassuring TV spokesman, Walter Cronkite, at his table explaining things with a collection of plastic models, we settled back for what we thought would be an exciting evening of watching men finally walk on the moon.

Nobody had told us, until Walter confided, that we would not "see" the landing and that once the craft touched down, the astronauts would sleep for six hours before actually getting out and walking around. We thought that this would be just like Flash Gordon. The rocket touches down, they turn off the engine, open the door, scramble down the ladder, and with space guns pointing in several directions, they take a look around.

What we really got was different by huge measures. On the screen was this gray drawing of nothing, really, sometimes a vague shot of the Lunar Excursion Module (LM) with its spidery legs and other times dotted flight lines showing where they came from. These shadowy drawings were presented with a soundtrack of the radio transmissions from Houston to the LM, now descending to the lunar surface from 60 nautical miles above. For all we knew, these crude clever artworks were probably gray on color TV sets and why in the world do you use nautical miles in space?

The transmission went exactly like this:


CC: That's affirmative.


LMP: Like - AGS to PGNS align. Over.


CC: Say again?


LMP: Like an AGS to PGNS align. Over.


CC: Roger. We're standing by for it.


LMP: ....quantity...


CC: Eagle, Houston. You are STAY for T2. Over.


CC: Correction, you're - -


LMP: Roger. STAY for T2. We thank you.


CC: Roger, Sir.


CC: Tranquility Base, Houston. We recommend you exit P12. Over.


CDR: Hey, Houston, that may have seemed like a very long final phase.


The AUTO targeting was taking us right into a football-field size


- football-field sized crater, with a large number of big boulders


and rocks for about... one or two crater diameters around it, and it


required a ... in P66 and flying manually over the rock field to find


a reasonably good area.


CC: Roger. We copy. It was beautiful from here, Tranquility. Over.


LMP: We'll get to the details of what's around here, but it looks like a


collection of just about every variety of shape, angularity, granularity,


about every variety of rock you could find. The colors - Well, it


varies pretty much depending on how you're looking relative to the


zero-phase point. There doesn't appear to be too much of a general color


at all. However, it looks as though some of the rocks and boulders, of


which there are quite a few in the near area, it looks as though they're


going to have some interesting colors to them. Over.


CC: Roger. Copy. Sounds good to us, Tranquility. We'll let you press on


through the simulated countdown, and we'll talk to you later. Over.


CDR: Roger.


The techno-geek speech was exciting. We were listening to conversations that we had no idea what was being said and, in that moment, wrapped up in probably the most dramatic exploration experience since Columbus clanked ashore wearing equipment as heavy as these astronauts. This was about as exhilarating as it could get. In comparison, none of the networks were there on San Salvador Island in the Caribbean to interview Columbus and he had no ability to twitter anyone so we'll be left guessing as to what really happened.


That touchdown was stunning and exciting, a lot like few other moments that just we supposed couldn't be happening, similar to beating the Russian hockey team in 1980 but without Al Michaels yelling, "Do you believe in miracles....Yes!"

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.

Back on the moon, our guys assured us that there were no little green men and no evidence of any green cheese anywhere; we were staring out at what was called "magnificent desolation" and the endless expanses of gray, with dots of distant craters and boulders was fascinating, especially to all those viewers who thought a trip to a Maine beach was a big deal. This was heady stuff. The next day 60 percent of the world news coverage concerned the landing.


The first day, we were treated to cartoon pictures and plastic models juggled by Cronkite, a bit like Andy playing with Woody and Buzz Lightyear and we were entranced. The promise of more than that type of viewing brought us back the next day when the astronauts would actually leave the vehicle on the first ever, Extra Vehicular Activity- EVA. They took hours to get dressed, longer than your high school prom date, but Armstrong eventually made it down the ladder to plant his paw print and we were riveted, watching all this unfold.


The first descriptions satisfied years of pent-up curiosity and at about the 28th gray rock being described probably 30 percent of that world audience went back to the killing and famines and whatever the particular horror the day was and rest of us continued be frozen in front of the tube.


I imagined that people were sitting in front of their sets like it was fourth down and inches, yelling at the coach to go for it; just pick up the damn rocks. What if something weird like a solar flare up or that monster-in-the-sand's fin could be seen? They would have had to scramble back up the ladder, get back in the LM, blast off and get out of there without having anything to bring back.


That weekend, I walked the extremely wide expanses of the beach, trying to wrap my mind around what had just happened, looking for different shades of sea glass and shells, occasionally popping them into a pocket, eventually discarding the first pretty ones for even more pretty ones. I had some ideas in back of my head what I would do with them when I got back to New Jersey but they were rather vague plans, easily discarded a day after returning from vacation, when my attention was recaptured by the daily routine of working and living day to day. Eventually those highly- regarded-at-the-time objects would be located in a forgotten part of the rock garden. Where those shells were forty years later, I couldn't tell you. That was another parallel I had with Neil and Buzz but that explanation's a bit complicated.


Both events, Woodstock and the moon landing, left lasting impressions that I am reminded of every time their anniversaries come up. Those events fuel my imagination and I enjoy the opportunity they give me to write about how they affect me and my outlook on life. This is rather a dictum of not "write what you know" but rather "write who you are."

Fellow Prisoners of Rock and Roll

Posted by Greg Miller on August 4, 2012 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Conditions were perfect for an outdoor evening concert at Ramapo College last night but the cherry on top was the B Street Band, the longest running Bruce Springsteen tribute band, bringing life to selections from Springsteen’s repertoire. Every so often, at day’s end, you characterize the past 24 hours as one of your better days.


Since I work four-day weeks—four long days—Thursday nights are my Friday nights. Knowing I wouldn’t have to drag my carcass out of bed this morning, combined with wonderful music, the Boss’ music, fantastic weather—the moon didn’t need to be full, but it was—and the company of good friends, saturated this Thursday night experience with good karma.


I worked my way around the back of the band shell moments after the performance, located the open door, waded through backstage clutter, and found the band unplugging and packing for their next gig. There was no need this time to wheedle my way through layers of security using a press pass and fast talking.


 William Forte


I finally got to meet William Forte, owner-performer of the B Street Band, face to face and he graciously introduced me to the lead singer, Bruce-mimic, Glenn Stuart. I had been exchanging emails with the band and had explained although my Springsteen ebook is temporarily moth-balled, I want to finish the few remaining interviews. The urgency to get the book out is waning but, before I put A Notion Deep Inside into suspended animation, I need to complete the writing.


I also know how hard these guys work and how busy their schedule is—too much to even think of interviewing them before or after a gig. I only wanted to connect the faces, meet an email connection, and lay the groundwork for future interviews with them.


The first thing you need to know is when I walked onto the stage last night their joy was palatable. My first impression was how envious I was that these people were loving what they do to the point where you felt the joy envelope you as if you walked into a wet mist. Sweat was pouring off William’s head but he was beaming like a Buddha, having ridden the high of a 2-hour concert.


“Great performance,” I said, pumping his outstretched hand.


“Could you hear us out there?” William said, worrying about their projection.


I was seated two-thirds of the way back in the audience and had no problem with the sound so I assured him it was just fine. Their rendition of Jungleland had the full wall of sound familiar to Springsteen fans, yet I could clearly make out Stuart’s elocution of Bruce’s raspy, throaty style above the boom of the drums and the wail of the saxophone.



Glenn Stuart


Glenn bounded across the stage. “This is the guy writing the book?” As he extended his handshake, I was a bit surprised that he could still bounce like that after two hours singing with no break. He looked like he could do two more.


“Greg Miller,” I said, barely omitting “Bergen Record,” the standing greeting from the old days. (There is always a conscious need as a reporter to identify yourself immediately so that, one, you warn them everything they say from that point on might be “on the record” and, two, you want them to know, from the start, exactly where their utterances might appear, as opposed to appearing in a free shopper, a small, weekly newspaper, personal blog or website. In this case, they immediately connected me to my purpose but “Bergen Record,” as it was called in the old days, almost slipped out from habit. I had this déjà vu of my old reporting days, a warm fuzzy familiar feeling that never lose when I interview. In this case, it was neither of the two warnings.)


Besides personal time travel, last night also allowed me to stockpile questions for their future interviews. The last time I had seen them perform was the summer of 2010 at same venue. At the time, I had no idea I would write a 70,000-word ebook on Springsteen, so I was delighted when my friend, Donna reminded me last week they were playing again at Ramapo.


I told Glenn the story about the first time Bruce had played Madison Square Garden, a performance that came during the Darkness tour in 1978. I hadn’t remembered that performance until last night when the band started into Jungleland and sang the opening lines, “The Rangers had a homecoming.” It brought me back to 1978 and a booming thunderous response at the Garden, home to ice hockey’s New York Rangers.


Glenn looked at me and said, with a twinkle in his eye, “I was at that performance!”


“And you remember that, right?”


“Yeah, yes I do,” he said. A repeat of the common bond all Springsteen fans have, of having been at the same performance and having felt the same emotions. We were both prisoners of rock and roll.


Last night alerted me to all the conveniences of a B Street Band concert. Getting to Ramapo was so easy. Parking wasn’t frenzied. You could sit anywhere and on anything (I suppose if you brought a pickup truck nobody would object to unloading a couch and end tables. Some dinner spreads had everything but the candelabra.) You could bring in whatever you wanted to eat or drink. And, huge bonus, last night’s concert was free. Last night, you didn’t need a ticket, you just got on board.



The B Street Band


Even if you are not a devoted Springsteen fan, you must see the B Street Band perform. Please visit their website: http://www.bstreetband.com/ to view their performance schedule. Click to add text, images, and other content

Write the Query Letter First

Posted by Greg Miller on July 7, 2012 at 8:55 AM Comments comments (0)

I have finally come to an epiphany about starting a novel. I am within a few words of finishing my third. I personally think the key is the query letter. The key, that is, if you want your novel published. Self-publishing is a whole other consideration.


My first novel was a whopping 121,000 words and I found it very difficult to boil all that down to the 250-275 words total that would be the limit for a query letter. My second novel was 90,000 words. I had the same problem. My third, almost finished is 55,000 with about 10,000 words to go. My forth is planned for about 95,000 words.


The query letter needs to introduce the key items of the plot without giving away the climax and the solution. The key highlight is pointing out what is at stake for the protagonist and what are the obstacles that he/she must overcome. That differs depending on the genre, but the query letter must have that in the most economic number of words and the letter must contain the best writing of your life.


Think of the query letter as being the ultimate “show-don’t tell.” If the letter is poorly written, has typos, and contains mistakes in spelling, the agent or publishing house has to assume the manuscript is just like the query letter. You have 250 words and maybe 30 seconds. They will know immediately if it is for them. They are under a crunch for time so unless the idea is obviously spectacular and unique, they are looking for ways to disqualify the submission and might not even finish reading to the end of your letter. Sounds cruel, but it’s the fact of life. No matter how engaging your letter is − your story about zombie − werewolf teenagers biting classmates’ necks on a date - if you send it to the wrong place or if it reads like a10-year-old who can’t spell, you’re done.


I’ve droned on enough about the nature of the query letter, but here is the real key: write the query letter first, AND THEN write the novel. Sounds backwards but I have found it so much easier. You distill your idea down to its essence and you have a clear picture of what your story is and what’s at stake. You might change things in the actual writing but then you can easily go back a tweak the query letter.


If someone asks you what you are writing about, you can relate the story right back to them without hemming and hawing and tangents. In 30 seconds, they know all they need to know. If they want details, they will ask you questions and you can clarify. This is also a good exercise in verbal pitching. Think about it − if you don’t know exactly what you’re writing about and are not able to verbalize it simply and in a straight forward manner, you can hardly expect anyone else, specifically agents and publishers, to want to read your novel.


Now, sit down, and write that query letter.

More on the Book Trailer for The Fastnacht League

Posted by Greg Miller on June 30, 2012 at 6:15 PM Comments comments (0)

This has been quite a week in my writing life. For reasons I'll save for later, this is a week that I may look back forever and say it marked a turning point.

I had an opportunity to show the book trailer to my local chamber of Commerce. My daughter and I had collaborated on a video mash up promoting Baltimore as a place to retire (Inner Harbor). We took two dogs of a video, and combined the best scenes, substituted some of our own original photography, and video swapped out the pathetic sound track with an appropriate killer track, and boom, we had a great video. We showed our local chamber that this is the kind of video we could create for our town.

As an example of the video editing prowess of my daughter, Liz, I showed them the two minute book trailer for The Fastnacht League, my book. Now I need to remind you that there are a number of flaws in that video. But those flaws are known only to Liz and me because we have seen the video countless number of times.

For instance, we know that in one instance the words do not match the image. We also know that one of the clips we used is too short to convey what we want. But these things are known only to Liz and me. When we showed the video to the group, they were absolutely blown away.

I am starting to understand another problem with book trailers. The first problem, and the one made known to me by my writing mentor, was that book trailers attempt to mimic movie trailers and give away too much information. We were very, very careful with this video NOT to do that. In fact, we were too subtle in the first versions; nobody could understand what we were talking about. That all changed when we put the 1873 baseball game shots into the video story. The second problem seems to be that the video was too effective, if that is at all possible.

They wanted to know when the movie was coming out. A little voice inside of me was laughing his head off. Another little guy in my head was wishing I had this full-length movie all completed. I immediately came right back to earth when the next question was asked: How much will it cost to do this for us?


You can view the trailer at www.amishandbaseball.com on the trailer tab.



Making the Book Trailer for the Fastnacht League

Posted by Greg Miller on June 25, 2012 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (0)

I am far from being an expert on the subject but, having just gone through the excruciating process of creating my first book trailer, I am sure any advice I pass along could be valuable.


There are a number of reasons why making a book trailer can be beneficial to your writing, even if you never post it on the net. One benefit is that it forces you to focus on the key elements of your writing. My trailer is for a fiction novel.


When I finished my novel and then had to write a query letter, I ran into all sorts of problems. I had to condense the plot of an 88,000-word novel into a single page of less than 250 words. It took me eight weeks and about that many emails to my mentor to get it to the point where I considered it acceptable. I was lucky to have a great mentor and he kept rejecting it until I was forced to get it right. In fact, after the first month and four tries I was so angry and frustrated that I gave it a rest for about six weeks. Then my mentor and I started the arguments again. The second round I was finally on the right track and the last three revisions were just fine tuning.


I thought this post was about constructing the book trailer? It is. I found out that the book trailer is pretty much like the query letter but even more condensed. In fact, it gives even less away. In a query letter, you don’t give away the whole plot, just enough essentials to make the agent or publisher curious enough to ask for some or all of the manuscript.


It’s the same thing with the book trailer. How many times have you sat in the theatre and watched movie previews that gave away everything? So many times I’ve sat there and thought to myself that I didn’t need to see the movie now that I had seen the trailer.


I’d also venture to say that a picture is worth a thousand implied words. A quick count of the words in the trailer reveals that I used only 58 words, 66 if you include the title and my by line. So from 88,000 to 275 to 58. Quite a distillation.


Here is how I made it. From the query letter I picked out what images I would need to highlight the main points of the plot. In my case, it involved farm scenes of plowed fields, corn and hay. So I drove the three hours to the farm area where I grew up and filmed lots of field images. By luck, some people and objects (I don’t want to spoil the trailer, unless you want to view it first and then come back to this discussion) wandered into view and I was able to capture them on film. I drove to the actual setting of the book and got some real specific images.


After a review of what was usable, I located some background music. This beta version of the trailer on my website will not be used in the final or in the YouTube version. I will use a very simple piano part that I own the rights to. Find a friend and get them to tinkle on the keyboards, hook Audacity up to your recorder, iPhone, and video camera, whatever and download it so it’s digitized. I then moved the images around to match the music.


I wrote all the word slides which are basically parts of the query letter that I wanted to feature. I moved them around with the pictures until they made sense and used fades and overlays.

After my family watched the trailer several times I used their feedback to rearrange some of the images and change some of the timing and punctuation of the word slides. Something was missing and we figured out that there were no people in the movie. Because of another spoiler alert, I can’t tell you exactly what it was but we found out a particular event would be taking place in our town in three days, and that event would supply all the people images we would need. I immediately sent emails to the two organizations asking permission to film them. I told them exactly what we were doing and how the images were going to be used. That’s real important – to be open and honest with them. They gave me much more access than I dreamed possible.


Then I added those images to the third try of the trailer and that is what I put up on the book website. Three tries and about eight weeks of fiddling and the beta was good enough to put on the website. I still need a little bit of music tweaking and maybe a small change or two (depending on what my writer friends tell me will improve it) and I’ll put it on YouTube and Facebook and put links on Twitter.


Making the trailer was not easy but it’s not impossible. I am amazed, looking back, how much making it forced me to focus on the essence of the story. I now think that if you can’t think of actual real life images that match your novel, than you cannot expect readers to imagine your plot. This could be the ultimate “show, don’t tell.”


I am doing research for a novel that I plan to start writing sometime in September. I decided to take some advice that I heard over and over but didn’t heed because I didn’t understand it: write the query letter first, and then write the novel. I did write the query and now I have a clear direction where I need to do my research and what to focus on.


You don’t need to be a slave to the plot in the query letter. Why not revise the query as you go along? Then make a movie. Nobody ever said you had to show it to anyone. It might be too hard to make the trailer first but what a focusing tool that would be!


The trailer for my novel, The Fastnacht League, can be easily found on my book website www.AmishandBaseball.com . Any constructive feedback is very welcome and feel free to ask any questions. By the way, until you make one, you have no idea how much fun making a movie can be!


Springsteen e-Book Update

Posted by Greg Miller on May 21, 2012 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)

 Setting deadlines, whether you meet them or not, is important. If you have no target how would you know if you hit, missed or came close? I find that I have to establish a plan and then strive towards it otherwise I meander and make little progress. I was pretty sure I had this eBook all figured out and it would be published by Memorial Day.

 Stuff happened; additional responsibilities and side entertainments encroached on my time, sometimes with my complete complicity. One interviewee for the Bruce book was discussing the different friends that he knew who approximated his enthusiasm level. I said it would be great to interview them but the book might never get out. One interview pointed to another and another, and then I’d be issuing this book at Chirstmas. He stopped me dead in my tracks and asked, "What’s the rush?" My reason at the time was that I loved writing this but I had other projects I wanted to get to and I wanted to finish one completely.

 That’s still true to an extent. I like the way the book is finishing. I am starting to believe that non-fiction books might have an aspect to them that there will always be something more you can add and the trick is drawing a finish line. One more interview, one more photo. Yes I want to get this out and, yes, I’m trying to be careful and make this the best book it can be, the best writing I am capable of, but I also understand I want a certain amount of closure.

Except for the last few interviews, the book is finished. There is still some more editing and I know I’ll add another photo or two but, basically, it’s done. The problem right now is that I still have three interviews left to do. Two are in Baltimore so I have to clear my schedule, sync it with the people I am interviewing, get down there and then get back and write it up. The last interviewee is hard to catch, [my fault, not his] so I’ll give myself until mid-July to catch up and then after that throw convenience to the wind. I could do this hard-to-catch guy over the phone but it would never be as good as face-to-face.

There is one other short [but important] interview but I can write that up after I make a few e-mails, place a 5-minute phone call and wrap it up.

There are several other good reasons to finish this. One is that I’m pretty excited to share this whole story and like a little kid on Christmas I can’t wait to publish this. Other people who have read excerpts enjoyed them and they are waiting, patiently, I hope. I’d had some wildly excited, dedicated Bruce fans, chopping at the bit and I don’t want to get them all worked up and then disappear on them. “Say, what happened to that guy who said he was writing a book about the Boss?”

Last week I received this great response from a Springsteen website offering to review the book. Turns out one reason they are excited is that they have done several Bruce book reviews but this is their first e-book review. I replied that, in addition, this might be the first inter-active Bruce e-book. If you’re going to do something new-ish then you might as well make it ground-breaking. I like the ring of it: “The first inter-active Bruce e-book. Cool!” I might add that to my provisional tag lines for the book – “the one Bruce book you cannot live without” and “everybody has a hungry heart −and a Bruce story.”

 Mine will be out before Labor Day. I promise.

eBook Update: Starkness on the Edge of Town

Posted by Greg Miller on April 23, 2012 at 2:15 PM Comments comments (0)

This past week I conducted two interviews for my eBook. I had forgotten how much fun interviews were and I also channeled my “retired” reporter and returned to the scene of that literary crime. I only say that because of early experiences with the rewrite editor at the Record, who seemed to delight in revising my sentences as I called them in.

The first interview was a huge Springsteen fan and had attended 57 concerts, adding a few more on this “Wrecking Ball” tour. He is connecting me to a friend who has been to 500+ concerts, including 180 from the “Darkness” tour alone. That ought to be interesting.

The second interview was a guy who grew up in Lakewood as a neighbor of some of the Springsteen family. He told me a major figure (I won’t spoil it) in one of Bruce’s songs was based on his Little League coach. This interviewee was such an insider that I’m having second thoughts about using some of the interview because it’s too personal. I want this book to be fun not an exposé. One of the reasons I left journalism was that some of the investigative work was a little too “down and dirty” for me to get involved.

These interviews are getting interesting because they are pointing me to other people who might make good interviews. I could do interviews for months but in the interest of getting the book out I have to cut them off at some point. With an eBook, I can always add them later.

Another idea rounding into shape is the book cover. I am now reconsidering the title because the thumbnail will be so small, a long title will not work. The beauty of black and white photos is that they appear the same way in different eBook formats. I have an excellent black and white stage photo and I am considering a black cover with copy dropped out to white to compliment the starkness. Caught by accident in the photo, is the outline of Clarence Clemens’ sax.

As I get closer to publication date, the whole process is getting more interesting and, in a way, a shame to end. I am committed to finishing this for no other reason than I want to move on and epublishing makes this a bit easier because of the revision process. In a way, epublishing is never final.

Progress Report on the eBook ?Following the Runaway American Dream: A personal journal of experiencing the Bruce Springsteen phenomenon?

Posted by Greg Miller on March 29, 2012 at 1:25 PM Comments comments (0)

I am about 75% finished on the first draft of the Springsteen eBook. The last major part is scheduling the interviews that I want to include. That’s becoming a bit of a logistics problem, getting my schedule to jibe with a few others. It’ll happened but it’ll be an interesting April. March is nearly gone and I’ve pretty much finished the guts of the book. After the interviews, the to do list includes: fact checking some critical incidents as to time and date (memory plays tricks), a once-through to make sure there are no little things I left out, editing my reference pages to makes sure all the references are complete, set up a book website so that readers can make comments on the book and submit additional stories, and a simple index. Then there will be a final edit. And then a few days later a nervous second “final” edit. Then, probably the edit after I wake up in the middle of the night fearing that I have forgotten something. That edit.

I know that sounds like a lot and it is but I am committed to getting this book released by about Memorial Day, this year!

Once the final file is completed and I upload the data into a converter and hold my breath that the formatting holds true to my design, then the marketing starts. There are long lists of sites that distribute and list the book. The majors - Apple, Barnes and Noble, Amazon and the different readers, like Sony need special attention since they will be the main avenues of access. There are also a number of sites that provide reviews of eBooks. This will all take time.

One nice thing that plays in my favor is that an eBook can be revised any number of times. Understandably you don’t want to do that too much. I would rush to revise it if I saw something extremely wrong but I expect that I might wait and take care of a few small items in a one shot deal maybe within the first week and then go in a month later of I find something else.

This whole crazy exercise was brought on by my feeling that I needed to have an eBook. I wanted to avoid throwing something shoddy up on the net but, having toiled as hard and sincerely as I have on this project, I am confident I have produced something of quality.

When we last left those two guys

Posted by Greg Miller on March 26, 2012 at 6:35 PM Comments comments (0)



There are so many different methods of writing, doing what works for you trumps the best methods of any other writers. I admit I am fascinated listening to what established writers do to get inspired, to write, to persevere, and to blow off steam. I am fascinated but know most of these methods are not for me. I think when you start writing, knowing other possible methods is helpful but in the end you’ll discover and adopt your own best personal practices.

The pattern you settle into will either work or eventually you must change to something more efficient.

People make such a big deal over writer’s block. I don’t because, for the moment and foreseeable future, that hasn’t been my problem. I continually wonder why and I think I understand that when I was first starting out, working for a weekly newspaper, I had to fill up about four pages of news per week as well as provide three to four photographs. The coverage area of this weekly mandate was nine towns in a 25 to 30 square mile area that makes up the Pascack Valley, in northern New Jersey.

That might sound like a lot of different human interest stories going on simultaneously but given a slow news week, the fire department rescuing a cat from a tree could be a front page photo and a feature inside on the department’s new ladder truck. Anything that moves becomes fair game for a story plus you are constantly trying to anticipate when situations might present themselves in a way that the dots can be connected to a bigger story. Do this for ten years and the seeds of your imagination can be harvested for a lifetime. Now, I have many characters and stories to drawn upon.

I respect two types of acknowledgements from an author. The first is the author who admits the characters are possible composites of several people although nobody in particular. Points for being honest and up front. Kurt Vonnegut had my all-time favorite disclaimer: “The names have not been changed to protect the innocent as God protects the innocent as a matter of heavenly routine.” Got to love that idea.

The authors who crack me up try to explain that their characters are not drawn on any particular person from real life. Yes, that was me who just came in off the turnip truck and now my one leg is slightly longer than the other. No particular person? You expect me to believe that? The golden opportunity of evening up a score with that guy who mashed your sandwich in cafeteria or the recreation program coaches who unfairly stretched rules or loaded their teams – pass that up?

Returning to the subject of writing methods, there are writers who are riveted to one project at a time. They put the famous “butt in chair” and emerge months later with a first draft, and not seeing their shadow, go back into the hole and emerge months later with their edited opus. These are the full timers. I’m a part time writer, at the moment. I have all sorts of demands pulling me like taffy in nine different directions. That’s a bit how I write, too. I work on one main project but then constantly work on several others at the same time.

Wouldn’t that mean priority number one will take longer to finish? Maybe slightly more, but probably not. I have too many eclectic interests to narrow focus on one and I love them all, passionately, too. Another reason is that I write fiction and nonfiction. I was in for a rude awakening when I tried to write nonfiction under a deadline where only the physical writing time counted. It was much like the annual November novel frenzy writing. This challenge was to write at least an hour a day. Actual writing, not editing or research, or rewriting. Sounded easy until I discovered that for every hour writing, I was spending three to four hours checking facts, looking up time lines, making sure spelling was correct and words were used in their correct context. What made this time drain ridiculous was that most of the work was based on a memoir of growing up during American’s Space Race, so wouldn’t you think that if it is a memoir, that I would know the facts inside and out? Nope.

The whole writing exercise reminded me of the first time I attempted to run the 125-yard high hurdles in college. That’s a longer story, so don’t ask. The point is that the first three hurdles are easy unless it’s your first time, it’s in a college meet, and college high hurdles are just under waste-high in a very dangerous area if you miss. In desperation, you take your lead foot and step on the very top flat part of the hurdle and “step it down” – you don’t have to jump over it. You just have to get past it by going over the darn thing. If it wasn’t so time-consuming you could crawl up and over each one being careful to leave your innerds intact. The high hurdles event is not designed for your safety but set up as a completion to see who can get by ten of them in a 125-yard distance. You’re on the clock. Crawlers come in last.

The first few days of the writing challenge I was going over those first three hurdles, but by the time hurdles four though ten came up, I was wildly behind on my time. All those ancillary activities that supported that one single hour of writing caught up to me. I was drowning. I took a rain check on that project and although I add information from time to time, I’m itching to get back to writing about space and history in a full-time effort. When I have the proper time and enough of the side research done, I’ll go back. In a way, getting back to writing that story is a form of the carrot to my horse. If I can finish some of these other projects, I can get back to writing about rockets, space and the moon.

Recently an article I wrote, a short story in historical fiction, was accepted for publication in a bi-monthly magazine. I have no idea why I decided to write historical fiction. I love reading American history, especially McCullough, Fleming, Goodwin, and Ellis. I never read historical fiction but I sat down and churned out a story set in Revolution-era Bergen County, New Jersey. The story came out of nowhere and my writing group enjoyed it so I decided to write another. I am actively writing two other projects, so pausing to grind out a story in a completely different genre seemed par for the course.

I just started another historical fiction short story (unrelated to the first), and not to tip off too much, two young men are riding down a path in northern New Jersey on their way to meet with a high ranking American officer. They are arguing how they will present their proposal as they get nearer to the encampment. I can imagine them as if I were watching a movie. I sketched out almost 500 words by the time I arrived at work (I word process on the train) and I put it aside until I take the train to work tomorrow. I’ll probably finish it in other one or two hours of writing and then go back to my other projects. Writing about something totally different gives me a break and serves like an absence as in” absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I can’t wait to resume my number one priority and will dive into it with renewed vigor, as well as keeping that eye open on the other two on-going projects.

Those characters are so vivid in my mind. When I get back to them they will still be riding down that path, a wide grassy road with wheel ruts from a few wagons, not too well-traveled. The trees will be in full leaf and canopy the trail. It’s early morning and the sun is trying to make its way through the foliage. The path is still dappled with the streams of sunlight breaking up pockets of shade. I wonder how far they got down that path? Or, maybe they are still where I left them.

Oh, about that part discussing the acknowledgements and the recreation program coaches, forget I ever mentioned them.


Sometimes people like what you write

Posted by Greg Miller on March 1, 2012 at 8:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Writing my new eBook turned from having immense fun to slowing to a slog. I think the reason was repetition. I was into a routine that got so automatic that somewhere along the way, my brain and all the muscle with any sort of memory left, realized I was settling into a routine. Subliminally, I hate a routine, and I am absolutely sure it has nothing to do with being a Gemini.

I had this chore, duty, semi-obligation to perform. At least that’s how it started out. I received this chirpy email from the sports promotion arm of my college alma mater that Loyola University was having a great basketball season. I am conditioned to mediocre seasons and less-than-impressive teams down through the years so a chirpy (I like that word because it perfectly described the tone of the email) notion that Loyola was having a “great” season did not impress.

I responded with the norm for me in that situation, a bit snarky and sarcastic about how my heart had ripped out too often by inflated expectations and admonished them to get back to me when they were 10-1 or so. I usually can’t leave well enough alone so in my email I dropped a hint of a long-forgotten and probably never repeated historic gem. I have this incredible memory for detail that drives people to distraction, especially my wife when I return from the store with this blank look, having forgotten a key item on the list and my cell phone, which might have come in handy.

A return email played to my vanity so I threw out another folklore gem from the short list of revolving items at the tip of my memory, ready for dispensing on demand. Then an odd thing happened. I told one particular story and the person on the other end of the conversation forwarded it to a contemporary who not only verified it as absolutely true but filled in the other half of the story. It was the other half that I could not have possibly known about and it solved a nagging question that I had been jangling around in my brain for the past 43 years.

So now it was declared that I had to come down for the alumni basketball weekend. I figured that 48 hours out of my life, about $80.00 in gas and tolls, and about $150.00 in hotel and incidentals would not be the worst thing and I might have some fun. I did another thing that turned what constitutes an “interesting” trip into whatever are the next three levels on the have-a-good-time meter – I sent a file with a chapter from my eBook about an incident that happened at Loyola during my college years.

That did it. That file was passed along to the relevant college basketball community and then some. By the time I meekly arrived, I was being introduced to a host of people as “the guy who wrote the Springsteen article.” Watching their eyes light up, my head swelled, my ego inflated, I was gratified, and all because the talcum powder of appreciative praise was generously sprinkled all over me. All for something I wrote.

I returned from what I thought would be a lost weekend in Baltimore to a whole new place in my writing. I remind myself when I find the right words to use on the right subject, the reaction of people who read my nonsense compels me to feel like I should be continuing to do this, write my stories, tell my tales, and enjoy what I do so much. I filed it away for those rough writing stretches to serve as the handy, go-to reminder that “it’s no sin to be glad you’re alive.”