When I met John Jackson Miller at MidSouthCon in 2012, I was immediately taken by him. He started with Star Wars and went through his list until he got to something that I really liked – Iron Man. But it was how he treated fellow writer Janine Spendlove that got me all googly-eyed over him – when he found out she worked in Washington, he started showing her a story line that took place in the very rooms she worked in – and then gave her a copy of each of the comics. (She later took them and read them in several locations around the world.) I’ve said it before – I like writers for the people behind the books (or comic books) and this is no exception. Because of that, I bought a comic on the spot and it’s one of my most treasured posessions.
Anyway, before I get all mushy, here he is…
Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
I am John Jackson Miller. Greetings.
Tell us (briefly) about you…
For many years I was the editor of the trade magazine for the comic book industry. Ten years ago I began writing comic books on the side, and for the last five years I’ve been writing comics, fiction, and games full-time.
…and a bit about what you’ve written…
I am the author of two Star Wars prose books: the Knight Errant novel and the Lost Tribe of the Sith short story anthology. I’ve also written more than 100 comic books which have been collected into a few dozen graphic novels. Those comics range from Star Wars to Indiana Jones to Iron Man to Mass Effect.
…and what you’re working on right now.
Releasing this fall we have the Star Wars Lost Tribe of the Sith – Spiral comic series from Dark Horse. This is the comics sequel to the prose book available now from Del Rey. I also have been working on a number of Simpsons comics stories, with a couple of them coming out this fall and more next year. I also have a number of other fiction projects that I’m working on including a couple of things of my own, and some other things I’ve still got under wraps. People can find out more about what I’ve been doing on my website, http://www.farawaypress.com.
I am also a researcher into comic book circulation history, and my research can be found on my Comichron website: http://www.comichron.com.
What are your earliest book-related memories?
My mother was a grade school librarian and so we always have had books around. I always joke that where other people’s mothers threw their comic books away, my mother encouraged me to put mine in alphabetical order. Then there was one summer during which I got to help her organize a school library that had previously fallen to ruin, and so spent almost the entire time hiding in a corner reading this book or that one. It was a great way to spend the summer!
What are your three favorite books?
Oh, that’s not a fair question… I don’t think I can narrow things down to that degree. There were certainly books that I was obsessed with that one time or another in my life. Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010, for example, is one of the reasons that I took Russian in college. I’m a big fan of the novel and movie Contact by Carl Sagan. In college, I was on a serious Tom Clancy kick. I adore the Horatio Hornblower novels. I love all the books by P.G. Wodehouse. And that doesn’t even get in the comic books. So it’s hard to narrow down.
How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I have a terrible habit of switching between books. I have about 20 different books that I’m in the middle of and I return to them depending on my mood at the end of the day. So when I do dig into a book that I can’t put down, that means it’s pretty special. Most recently, the book that I’ve started reading is The Making of the President by Theodore White. I tenderly read a lot more nonfiction than fiction for fun.
Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
…sometimes have a tendency to fall asleep. This is the problem when you reserve most of your reading for bedtime!
To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
There are some books that I’ve reread several times. Generally, that qualifies as comfort reading!
How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Well, the book can get into the line, but there are a lot of other books in the queue already!
How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
I have done it now and again. I am unlikely to recommend a book I haven’t read yet, which may be why I don’t do a whole lot of recommendations. Because I have so many books that I’m still trying to get to, if it’s not often that I’m able to recommend a book in a timeframe that’s helpful for other authors’ marketing.
What do you look for in a good book?
What everybody also is looking for. Engaging characters, an interesting story, and something that will teach me something I don’t know.
Why do you write?
Take the previous sentence and switch all the subjects and objects. Basically, I right for the same reasons that I read.
If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
Is “professional poker player” in the mix? Seriously, I don’t know. They say people switch careers many times over the course of a lifetime, but generally what I’ve been changing is the sort of things that I’m writing or editing books about. That has managed to keep things interesting and fresh for me.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I get a lot of inspiration from reading history books, old newspapers, and magazines. You would be surprised how many old stories are out there that can be used as inspiration for something that you might tell a story about that is set in the far future, or in a galaxy far away.
What has writing taught you about yourself?
I think that I’ve always wanted to be a communicator. Whenever news broke I always wanted to be the person to tell other people about it, or to describe it in my own words. I think that is why I became a journalist years ago. I’m telling different kinds of stories now, but to a large measure it all comes from the same place.
How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
I think my kids wonder what I do all day. Writing is a lot like time travel, in that you can sit down in front of a screen at noon and look up of couple of hours later and realize it’s 8 or 9 o’clock. I sometimes resent the amount of time that takes away from the rest of my life, but I would not give up what I’m doing for anything.
Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
I think a lot of people have the mistaken impression that writers are all solitary and antisocial. It is true that we have to stay in isolation while we’re working, but I like nothing more than to get out of the house after I’ve been writing, and to talk to the people that are out there in the real world.
What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
I think people focus too much on the end result of their ambitions. They immediately set their sights on writing for this or that movie franchise or comic book franchise or something, and fall into a trap of not doing the intermediate steps which are not just training, but also our vital for getting a writer seen by editors.
And then, hopefully, getting them to a position where they can work on these bigger properties one day.
I worked as a journalist for more than a decade before I had my first comics story published. A lot of the things that I wrote about were not things that I was particularly interested in, or that were particularly glamorous. I even edited a line of trade magazines for the lumber industry — what I know about lumber would fit into your shoe! But it was important to do that because it established that I could write about anything, if I had to, and that I could make deadlines.
Write about anything, I say. Just write.
Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
It took me a while to make the transition as a prose writer from writing the way I did as a journalist to writing for the fiction reader. One of the things that’s ingrained in reporters is the quote-paraphrase-quote style of writing, where you summarize much longer pieces of dialogue for space economy. My temptation was always to short-circuit long sections of exposition by simply summarizing what was being said — when in fact part of the fun of reading is hearing things in characters’ own voices. So that’s something that I’ve learned to adapt my style for.
Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
Oh, there are all sorts of media properties that I would be interested in working with. I’ve said for many years I would love to write a Die Hard movie script or comic book. But increasingly I’m also focusing on writing my own work. I joy working on licensed properties and will continue to do so but I need to balance out what I’m working on.
You’ve written for some pretty well known characters/franchises – Mass Effect, Star Wars, Iron Man, even the Simpsons! Is it hard to write characters that are so well known?
It isn’t difficult in the sense that I have a familiarity with you the characters in these worlds, and how the characters should speak. The challenge comes with knowing that I’m writing to a group of readers who are particularly savvy about the world I’m writing about, and so they will let me know if I haven’t described something properly. So I try to do my homework whenever possible.
How do you deal with your fan base?
I talk to fans on Twitter and Facebook and on my website, and I also go to conventions as often as I can. There are a few message boards that I also check in on. I enjoy talking with fans and I appreciate their enthusiasm, and very much feed on the energy that they bring to reading the works.
Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
That for some reason, I have a near-encyclopedic knowledge of television network program schedules in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. On second thought, if they’ve been following me on my Facebook page that probably know that already.
Anything else we should know?
Just that interested readers can find more about me on http://www.farawaypress.com, and also can follow me on Twitter at @jjmfaraway