Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Jedi and John Jackson Miller

Photo used courtesy of John Jackson Miller 2013

“My advice to anyone who wants to write for a living: look at journalism. It teaches you to communicate with readers and on a deadline. I started on a daily newspaper that I had to fill the page every day. You have to hit the deadline and let go of the story. If you don’t let go of the story. No one will ever read it. How many stories have been stillborn on a hard drive because someone gets stuck? It does no one any good if you get stuck and it never gets out.

Fear, you can’t let it dominate you. Rejection, no one ever appreciates it, nobody ever wants it. You have to keep working, knowing there is more than one market. Keep moving forward.”      -John Jackson Miller

John Jackson Miller is the type of guy who takes what life gives him and goes with it.

During his last year of college he was sitting alone in the newspaper office, when his editor walked in and unexpectedly asked him to interview the governor of Tennessee, as in right that second. He didn’t freak out, he didn’t say, “I can’t do this”, he just did it. This opportunity led to a series of articles that helped John become the editor of the campus newspaper. 

You’d think he was the luckiest man alive, but a few short years later, his dissertation for his PhD crumbled with the fall of the Soviet Union. Instead of landing in the pile of rubble with the changing political landscape, John chose to graduate with a Master’s in Political Science from Louisiana State University and instead decided to use his bachelors’ in journalism. His first assignment was working as the editor for a not so glamorous lumber magazine - a job that made him realize he could write about anything.

You might wonder why I give you this information. It’s because John is a sci-fi writer creating in one of the largest and most popular settings, the Star Wars universe. After speaking with him, it was no surprise to me that he writes about Jedi or how he ended up in a cool job that many covet. He has the heart of an adventurer and radiates the nobility of one meant to protect The Galaxy.  

To prepare myself for such an opportunity, I read up on John and purchased Star Wars: Vector which is an offshoot of Star Wars: Knight Errant series. He wrote the first portion highlighting Jedi Zayne Carrick and Celeste Morne. The story was compelling and as a zombie fan, his twist on how victims become “infected” as rakghouls is very intriguing. I also refreshed my terminology with Bad Husband’s old WEGs Star Wars RPG Sourcebook.

I still didn’t feel like I had enough knowledge to talk to John about the “sandbox” he creates in, but I took a couple of deep breaths and talked to him anyway.

What was great about this interview is that John didn’t mind educating me and he understands that there are casual comic book geeks out there. After reading Vectors, I’ve picked Star Wars: Knight Errant #1-3 at The Comic Stop in Redmond, WA.

John writes in a romantic, layered way that gives you action while allowing the complexities of the Jedi way of life shine through. I would recommend his work to anyone from the casual movie fan to the person who owns everything Star Wars. Check out his full length novel “StarWars: Kenobi,” which is due to be released by LucasBooks in August 2013.

Here’s some of our interview:

Katie: Can you tell me about the universe you create? You seem to write a lot of female characters. I read the Vector series with Jedi Celeste, how do you write such good female characters?

John: I don’t think too much about the gender of characters when I’m writing these things in Star Wars. The important questions are not male or female. We have human and wookies. It’s a very diverse galaxy so we don’t think about those things when we’re writing.

You have to think that we are in a galaxy far far away. We don’t use the word earthquake because that pertains to earth. We use groundquake because there is no earth. There are a number of things that we tend to take. We don’t say businessman, we say businessperson. A person is just as likely to be from a species where there is no defined gender roles. That being the case, in a matter of wordsmithing you end up using gender neutral terms. I don’t tend to write farm boys as much as farmers. I had to think about this with my novel coming out later this year, Star Wars: Kenobi. I have a lot of strong females in this book. I had to think about the history of Tatooine because the Women Suffrage didn’t occur because it didn’t need to.

Katie: What do you plan to do in 2013?

John: This year, I’m focusing on prose. I’ve done over 100 comics over the last 8-9 years and I plan to keep doing it. I love comics and even run the comic history site, www.comichron.com.  I’ll always be into comics but I’ve realized I’ve worked in other people’s sandboxes for a really long time. I’ve written over a million words and I only own about 5,000 of those because they are licensed works. I’ve been compensated fairly and it’s all good but I want to develop some things of my own. I have a couple of projects that will be announced over the next year.

Katie: On your independent projects are you considering self-publishing?

John: One project has a publisher and I’m waiting to see where I publish the other. In today’s world, it is sensible to have a variety of approaches. You have to be prepared to do it yourself, be prepared to get an agent, and also be able to negotiate with publishers yourself. The writers who want wants to write full time need to be able to do all those things. And not just to limit to one approach or another. Everybody has their own strategy but this is mine.  Comics work is usually done without agents, which to some degree is different than prose.

Katie: It looks like you’ve been a comic book collector your whole life, how long have you been reading comics?

John: I was six years old and that’s about the same time I started drawing my own… My mother was a grade school librarian so while other kids’ mothers encouraged them to throw out their comics, my mom encouraged me to put them in order. That was the start. I started to keep all my works. I kept everything. I did fanzines in high school with my typewriter and used my dad’s copy machine.

All that time, I saved everything I created. I have a file cabinet that basically goes back to age 10. I bought my son, who’s age 13 a file cabinet so he can save his stuff too. I think what it does is put you in the mindset that you are a creator and producer. You’re writing things that are worth saving.

Katie: How did you get into comic books as your profession?

John: In 1993, I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to be editor of a trade magazine for comics. I moved from Tennessee to Wisconsin. I worked for them as well as Comics Buyer’s Guide which recently folded after 40 years. It was my work on those projects that introduced me to the folks who create the comics. And that lead to almost 10 years ago my first comic series I did for Marvel. My Russian studies degree was even used in that project because I was writing one of the Crimson Dynamos.

John mentions he is going to a major convention that he has attended regularly since he was a teenager, Midsouthcon. He plans to do library events and school lectures on his way down so that he can encourage others to create their own work.

Katie: It sounds like from what you’ve said before, that your parents were incredibly encouraging of your work. What would you say to someone who has not had encouragement from their family or friends?

John: It’s so much different than when I started. When I started with my fanzines, you had to go to the copy shop. It was very visible what you were doing. It was easier for your parents to see you and tell you if they thought you were wasting your time. Today, no one knows if you are writing a story or playing a video game when you are sitting at the computer. It’s also so much easier to self-publish and be read. I don’t know anyone’s parents who would discourage them to write. I imagine they are out there. If someone really wants to write they will do it.

John tells me about how his son wants to design the railroad of the future. John talks joyfully about this and taking him to C2E2. His son found the 3-D printer the most fascinating thing. He encourages his son to follow his bliss.

Star Wars: Kenobi” is available for pre-order now and releases August 2013. If you’ve never read a Star Wars book, John’s are the place to start. His noble Jedi heart and deep knowledge of the Star Wars universe shine through in his writing. Check him out!

Star Wars: Kenobi
Click here to pre-order from Amazon.com

Best Wishes,
Katie Cord

1 comment:

  1. i would wait until it gets to September to download Kenobi: Star Wars on to my nook book tablet here at home instead of at the b&n bookstore. its so much easier at home downloading because i have Wi-Fi and i am able to buy books instead. i would like to read Kenobi during his exile on Tatooine leading to ANH. because it wasn't even told in the first movie in the original trilogy.