Would you please tell us about yourself and your work?
I am a mid-50-ish husband, father of three daughters, writer, FAA air traffic controller who spent my early days at the Oregon Coast and wading the streams that drained the snow fields of Mt. Hood. Fly fishing fanatic and Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing volunteer. I’ve summited a mountain, ran a marathon, rafted Class V white water, surfed several locations, performed stand-up comedy, and owned a small business, among other things. My writing reflects upon, and draws from, those life experiences.
When did you first discover your passion for writing?
I wrote my first story in 4th grade about a pig that flies around the world to meet other cultures. I continued into college with creative writing courses. I paused for a few years (nearly 20.) After moving to Colorado in 1999, I taught myself fly fishing and over the next 7 years of spending a lot of time fishing alone in the Big Thompson Canyon, I found myself back in the writer’s chair expressing my thoughts, discoveries, and ideas. It’s been nonstop ever since.
What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal? Do you have a day job as well?
I work as an air traffic controller for the FAA, so my “day” job (which rotates various shifts throughout the week) dictates my writing schedule. Mornings, afternoons, and evenings, whenever I can grab enough time to jot down some words. I carry a notebook everywhere so I don’t lose an idea, poem, compelling conversation, or storyline.
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
The first book I purchased with my own money was Richard Bach’s Illusions: The Adventure of a Reluctant Messiah. I had gone to the book store to buy Jonathan Livingston Seagull but it was out of stock. Best backup purchase I’ve made. I loved the story and the poetic advice from the Messiah’s Handbook resonated with me. I read this three to four times throughout the year.
What themes or topics do you like to discuss through your art?
Most often I’m working with spiritual, nature (particularly water), and with my poetry, darker themes of sadness, loneliness, and death. My personal essays revolve around my interaction with the natural world, what it means to my inner self, and occasionally what happens after we die.
What has inspired your poems as of late?
My latest works have been in the forms of Cascading and Acrostic poems. I continue to draw inspiration from the outdoors, self-reflection, and the moments of life that make me smile.
You’ve recently released your first poetry collection, Echoes: Reflections Through Poetry and Verse. Was this book self-published or was it traditionally published?
Echoes was published through Hot Chocolate Press, an independent publisher in Fort Collins, CO.
How did you get connected with this publisher?
Kerrie Flanagan, the owner of Hot Chocolate Press is also the creator of Northern Colorado Writers, of which I am a professional member. We have worked together on many projects, essays, etc. As she was planning on starting Hot Chocolate Press, I was beginning to piece together my first book And Then I Smiled: Reflections on a Life Not Yet Complete. The timing was right and we agreed that And Then I Smiled would be the first book published by Hot Chocolate Press. It was natural to stay with HCP for my first poetry collection. We’ve discussed publishing my first novel as well and I plan to publish through HCP with my next poetry collection, hopefully in 2016.
Can you please tell us about any challenges you faced in connection with getting this book published?
Even after publishing my first book which contained some poetry, feeling my work was publish-ready and having the confidence to put a large body of my poems into a single place was nerve-wracking. Many of the poems hadn’t been published and reached deep in to my personal life. Secondly, finding an agreeable order of the poems took some time.
What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of traditional publishing against self-publishing?
My contracts with Hot Chocolate Press carry a mix of traditional publishing and independent/self-publishing components which allows more individual input and creative ideas on my side but reduces some of the responsibilities I would pay for if I were self-publishing. It’s been a great experience and partnership, and I am working with Hot Chocolate Press with my first novel.
What is this book about? Why should readers buy it?
Echoes: Reflections Through Poetry and Verse covers a diverse range of topics from love, death, life, hope, anguish, recovery, old-age and more. A great feature of the book is the six original sketches by author/illustrator April J. Moore. After selecting the poems she resonated with as an artist, she produced the drawings for the book.
How long did it take to complete this poetry collection?
Echoes contains poems written over 30 years ago, though I wasn’t always writing over the past three decades. Some were written within weeks of publishing the book. Once the decision was made to bring a collection together for publication, the process took a little more than 6 months.
What advice would you give to poets who are looking to publish their first poetry collection?
Patience is key. Setting the order of the poetry is important and often difficult. My original plan was to have four distinct sections, but a beta reader suggested making the entire collection stronger than the four parts, so we set about restructuring the work. The other important aspect is to read your poems aloud, either alone or to others. This is the best way to catch lines/verses that work well and those that don’t.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your book that you would change?
Not really. I had a few poems out for contests/publication that I wished I would have waited to submit, as I couldn’t include them in the book. But otherwise, the final product is something I am proud of releasing.
What are your views on using social media for book marketing?
Social media is a tough mine field to harvest. Over “announcing” is viewed as spam. The best mode seems to be to generate authentic discussion/connections with your circles/readers/intended audience and let the story of your work come out in a more natural way. Being authentic is huge.
Which social network worked best for you?
Facebook seems to connect me to more readers than anything or social platform. I’m finding good connections at readings and other public events as well.
Can you please share with readers a few of the tips you’ve learned? What should authors avoid doing on social networks?
On blogging: this can be a great way to exercise your writing, but have a plan, a crowd you want to reach and don’t overdo it. It’s easy to get caught up in the blogoshpere. Also, don’t overcommit your time with social networks. Choose one to start, hone your skills of communicating in that forum, limit followers/likes to those you have common ground. Don’t horde followers and don’t send them an instant message to “buy my book” right after they’ve chosen to follow you. Honor and respect the writing time you have and create something new every day, even if it’s a title or single idea.
How do you market your work? Beyond social networks, what other avenues work best for your genre?
With my first book, I used numerous techniques to get it in seven countries, international shipping waters, and over 25 states within two months of its release. For Echoes, I’ve been softer on the release efforts. I have the book in several CO book stores, a couple of coffee shops, and an online store with Hot Chocolate Press. It has a presence on Amazon, Kobo and other online retailers. I’m finding better success with Echoes from speaking engagements, readings, and one-to-one contact.
Is there anything else you would like to share with readers about Echoes: Reflections Through Poetry and Verse?
Echoes contains a poem that doesn’t use a single word and also a poem about toilets.
You are a member of Northern Colorado Writers. What is this group about?
The mission statement of NCW is: “providing support and encouragement to writers of all levels and genres in Northern Colorado and beyond.” What I have found within this statement is the trust and respect NCW’s writers have for each other. I’ve worked with Phd.’s and Masters level, critiquing their work and have sat with brand new writers working on their first short story. I’ve met many great friends who I trust to be honest about my work and feel safe that I’ll be treated with honesty and respect. This group is about being successful, whether it’s getting published or finding the right title for your story.
What are a few examples of the opportunities available to writers who are members of NCW?
NCW provides excellent opportunities for all levels of writers. From a wide array of classes, Critique group organization, social events, marketing events, monthly write-ins, a great conference, writing retreats in the mountains, a monthly newsletter and a strong community of support.
Do you think you’ve evolved creatively? If so, how?
After releasing two books, an e-book short, I’ve found new energy in spoken word poetry, collaborating with other artists to combine visual, musical, and other art forms with my poetry. My work is evolving to an organic level. I find myself writing more form the core of my heart and then finding ways to shape that into a poem that touches people. I’m am experimenting with other forms of poetry and working some interesting “visual” aspects of word structure and layout.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
I enjoy helping other writers in various ways, so I have a difficult time saying no to requests. This leads to overloading my writing time, multiple deadlines, and the risk of failing someone who is counting on me. I’m working on developing a schedule with particular projects rather than “shot-gunning” my ideas and then trying to figure out what I’m going to do with the jumbled mess of first drafts.
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
Nothing beats having someone connect with your writing and telling you how you’ve made a difference in their day (or more.) Also, celebrating a new writer’s first success, as well as, my writer friend’s successes. We celebrate together and share the good vibes.
How do you deal with writer’s block? What is your advice?
First option: Go fly fishing. Second option: write something, anything. Third option: Break open the bag of chocolate. I am willing to walk away for a day or two, but after that, I’m raring to get back to the page. I don’t have too many days where I don’t write.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I enjoy time with my wife and the kids when they are in town. Fly fishing is my major hobby that I go to when I need to recharge my batteries. Also, I co-founded and volunteer for a veteran’s support group that uses fly fishing as a means of rehabilitation and connecting.
What books would you recommend to readers?
Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach
Hooking the Sun by John Nizalowski
Writing Begins With The Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice by Laraine Herring
WritingThe Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read & Write Poetry by Sage Cohen
I am beginning to read Colorado poet David Mason and recommend any of his works.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as a writer?
On an online contest I was left a severely scathing review about the entry I submitted. Many people reacted with disgust and sympathy. Fortunately I was able to let my emotions run their course quickly without reacting. I then took the words and read them from outside my personal perspective. Some things were worth hearing, but didn’t need to be stated in the way they were. It was an interesting experience and when all was said and done, I ended up winning the contest. I learned much of patience, humility, holding my anger and tongue and came out a better person for it (though I never thanked the commenter.).
What has been the best compliment?
This compliment from a judge is special: “A seemingly unrelated collection of essays, short reminisces and poetry, And Then I Smiled: Reflections on a Life Not Yet Complete kind of breaks the rules because it also works well as a cohesive whole. Only a deeply thoughtful and careful writer can pull this off, and Dean K. Miller manages admirably. The reader can open this slim volume and start reading any page. These pieces stand on their own and still provide a cumulative emotional punch.” Judge, 22nd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Award. Also, an amazon reviewer said: I don’t think the book blurb completely conveys what this book meant to me. It holds an unique magic, brought to mind the work of Eckhart Tolle and Paulo Coelho, and it was especially welcome at a time when life was difficult. It was a wonderful sharing experience . . .”
What are your goals for your writing career?
Foremost is to continue to study, learn, and improve my craft of writing. I’m working on a fundraising anthology as editor/author and would like to do more of that type of work. There’s a novel that’s under construction and I’ll be looking at late 2016 for its release, along with two new poetry projects I’m writing. I want to continue to share my essays and poetry via live readings, and touch people’s lives in a positive way. Most importantly I want to stay true to myself with my writing and create some smiles along the way.
What have been some of the barriers to achieving your goals?
Self-doubt wracks the soul of many writers, myself included. I’m working around time constraints, looking at retirement planning, over-booking myself. If I take the time to define my goals clearly, I am less likely to stray from their paths.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t take that 20 year break in your writing, be honest to yourself with your words. Never fear criticism and know the world needs your words as only you can write them.
What motto, quote, or saying do you live by? Why?
“I am nothing that I write; and it is everything in me.” This comes from my essay “Solitary by Choice” and defines my belief in life and in writing. All the words I put in paper do not define my being that someone sees. But they (the words) are everything that is inside me, which drives me to create. The body is an illusion, as are the words on the page. But the beauty of the place where those words originate is the reality I know.
Do you have any upcoming projects, tours, events, or announcements that you would like to share with our readers?
I have two essays and one poem appearing in Writing For Peace’s Dovetails: An International Journal of the Arts themed “Nature” out May 1, 2015. I am editor/author of the anthology The Water Holds No Scars: Fly Fishing Stories of Rivers and Rejuvenation due out in September and would love to have poetry submissions for that. I am nominated for 2015 Fort Collins, CO Poet Laureate, of which I am honored.
Can you tell us where people can find you? Website, social media, blog, etc.
I can be found at my website at www.deankmiller.com, on Facebook (DeanKMiller), on Twitter @deankmiller, Instagram Dean K Miller and Pinterest at Dean K Miller – Author.
Thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview. What final thought and/or message would you like to leave with our readers?
We are on this planet for a short time. However, our words last forever. Choose them wisely, share them widely, and always strive to make someone smile.