5-STAR Fantasy / Sci-Fi

Monday, March 02, 2015

Indie Author Interview: Ben Miller

Indie Author Interview with Ben Miller - Author of the Mystery / Thriller A Bustle in the Hedgerow.

Ben Miller was born in Franklin, Pennsylvania. Since completing residency training in Pediatrics, he has worked as a Pediatric Hospitalist and Diagnostic Specialist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Ben currently resides with his wife and two daughters in a suburb of Pittsburgh. He continues to work on his next novel while practicing and teaching pediatrics.

Interview with Ben Miller

Author Ben Miller
Author Ben Miller
Alan Kealey (Indie Author News): What is your (writing) background?
Ben Miller: I began writing screenplays when I was in middle school, and I began college as a Film Studies major. By my senior year, my inner pragmatist forced me to choose something a little more stable for a career, and I found my calling in medicine. I continued to write screenplays and stage plays throughout medical school and residency training when time permitted (which was rare, unfortunately). The concept of A Bustle in the Hedgerow also began as a screenplay, but I quickly discovered that it lent itself to novel format much more naturally.

Who are your favorite writers, your favorite books, and who or what are your writing influences?
I grew up on a steady diet of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. In my adult years, I have branched out a little more broadly; Mo Hayder, Steig Larsson, Gillian Flynn, John Irving, Dan Brown, and Wally Lamb all have prominent places on my bookshelf or in my Kindle. My all-time favorite books are The Stand by Stephen King, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, and I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb. I try to emulate specific aspects of these influences in my writing: tone and theme from Mo Hayder, plot delivery from John Irving (though I am nowhere near his mastery), and pacing from Dan Brown.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I wrote my first short screenplay in second grade on a manual typewriter. It was a mystery about a stolen bicycle... I think. I don't recall much of the details. I do remember that I consumed two full single-spaced pages with a fist-fight between the law man and the bad guy, and I think the entire story was seven pages long.

"[...] my biggest challenges is finding the time to write."

Tell us about your writing process. Do you have a writing routine?

Like just about every other independently published author, I work in a full-time job outside of the writing/publishing industry. Therefore, one of my biggest challenges is finding the time to write. I do the vast majority of my writing at night, when my wife and I are winding down after our children have gone to bed. I try to maintain some consistency to the schedule, such as 2 nights per week, but life sometimes dictates otherwise. I have found conclusively that the more consistent I am in keeping a schedule, the easier the writing process is.

"When my story surprises me."

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
When my story surprises me. A handful of times I have had some really interesting-- and significant-- plot pieces come together without a prior intention. For example, in A Bustle in the Hedgerow, I needed to create a character in the Washington, DC police force who had some previous connection with the protagonist Jackson Byrne. It occurred to me to have their wives be friends from college, which seemed simple and banal enough to be believable and serve my purpose. Later, in the natural interactions between these two characters, this relationship became very important in developing a plot line. It fell into place quite organically, by just remaining true to the characters, but it provided a surprising and exciting rush.

A Bustle in the Hedgerow (Ben Miller)
Click to Read an Excerpt

Ben, please tell us a little about your Mystery / Thriller A Bustle in the Hedgerow.
A Bustle in the Hedgerow revolves around two cases of child maltreatment in the mid-Atlantic: one occurring in the present time of the book, and the other unfolding via flashbacks from a year prior. The latter, a high-profile case of the abduction and murder of the daughter of a NFL star, has made FBI agent Jackson Byrne a household name. As he completes a tour supporting the true-crime book he published about the case, he gets approached by an old family friend to run for the U.S. Senate. Simultaneously, the current case begins to manifest: a killer dubbed as The Playground Predator has attacked two nine-year-old girls in Pennsylvania and Maryland, leaving behind mysterious clues comprised of phrases in foreign languages. Jack and his specialized FBI team at CASMIRC (Child Abduction and Serial Murder Information Resource Center) are called to investigate. Jack struggles to choose his calling, eventually committing to pursue the career in politics. However, it seems as though the Playground Predator targets Jack himself, and Jack cannot resist being continually pulled back into the case. A Bustle in the Hedgerow strives to tackle themes of ambition, fallibility, and family, while blurring the lines between good and evil and laying bare the true price of fame.

"I have seen countless children affected by abuse [...]"

What inspired you to write the book?
In my day job, I work as a Hospitalist Pediatrician, meaning I take care of children during an acute illness that results in hospitalization. When people who know about my job encounter my novel, they often-- if not always-- ask, "As a pediatrician, how can you write about someone who kills small children? Isn't that incredibly creepy?" My typical response is, "Well... yes. Yes it is." With some additional background, though, it makes more sense. Plus, once people have read through the book, they understand the motivation.
I have seen countless children affected by abuse and/or neglect, and, as a result, I have witnessed several of the short-comings of our child-protection laws and their implementation. I wanted to address these issues in a real way through a fictional story. This novel, while meant to be primarily a source of entertainment, then also serves as an advocacy piece to try to affect change.

"Every parent, grandparent, teacher, doctor, and politician should read this book."

Who do you see as your target audience and where can we buy the book?
I hope anyone who enjoys a riveting mystery/thriller would find this book a worthwhile read. One of my test-readers, a lifelong friend, said, "Every parent, grandparent, teacher, doctor, and politician should read this book." I happen to agree, but we're probably both a little biased.
It is available on Amazon.com in paperback and e-book formats.

What makes your book special?
I like to think that it offers more "bang for your buck" than many mystery/thrillers in that it encompasses two mysteries in one, both equally compelling. It also offers a strong take-home message striving for change for the greater good.
In addition, I tried to create three-dimensional characters, with their own strengths and foibles. I have always been drawn to stories with a flawed protagonist and a memorable yet realistic villain, and I hope I achieved both of those here.

How would you describe the success of your book so far?
I have been pleasantly overwhelmed with the critical support thus far, especially from unbiased sources. Without a doubt the biggest highlight came from Kirkus Reviews, who featured their review of A Bustle in the Hedgerow in their February 2014 print issue, an honor bestowed on only about 8% of independently published works that they review.
Commercially, it has surpassed by initial realistic goal in number of books sold, but I have yet to realize my dream of landing on a bestseller list! I hope to someday be able to write full-time, so I still have a lot of work to do.

How long did it take it to write the book?
I worked through the main concept, structure, and character development off-and-on for about nine years. It took me 21 months to finish the initial draft, and the editing process took about another nine months.

"[The] step of pre-writing was crucial."

Can you give some advice for other Authors regarding the writing process?
To be honest, as a relative neophyte I don't feel qualified to offer much advice. However, I would like to pass along something from a very successful and reputable source that I found helpful.
I initially struggled (for about nine years-- see above) with putting together all the fine details of my story. I thought that this step of pre-writing was crucial. However, I found that many of my pre-conceived notions about how the story would unfold changed as I got into the process of writing, and then again as I solicited feedback from test-readers.
It was around this time that I came across this quote from George R.R. Martin:
“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they're going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there's going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if they have planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don't know how many branches it's going to have. They find out as it grows.”
I have subsequently found that I fit the mold of a "gardener" more so than an "architect," so I am now much more comfortable going into the writing process with planning about broad topics and major plot points without the need to have all the minor details ironed out.

Are you working on another book project? Can you tell us a little about it?
My current project is called The Piper, and it is a sequel to A Bustle in the Hedgerow. It picks up about five months later. Jackson Byrne, his family, and his CASMIRC team are still recovering from the Playground Predator ordeal when a new case surfaces from Boston: young mothers are being attacked near their homes and their infant children kidnapped. The perpetrator earns the nickname The Piper after the child-stealing Pied Piper legend from fourteenth-century Germany. Jack must split his time between Boston and Virginia, as the trial of The Playground Predator is soon to begin. Through a number of twists and turns, both Jack and his investigative team, chiefly sidekick Heath Reilly, get pulled into a murky scene of murder and child abduction that goes deeper than anyone could have imagined.

Do you have a timeline for when The Piper might be available?
I have just finished my initial draft. It has to go through the editing process, which I have ramped up substantially this time around. I hope to have it available by the fall of 2015.

Where do you see the book market in 5 or 10 years? Will there be only eBooks and will book stores disappear like record stores disappeared?
I think large-scale book stores will continue to dwindle. I think e-books will eventually take over the majority of book sales, likely within the next decade. However, I don't think book stores will go away completely, just like record stores haven't. There is a growing legion of audiophiles out there who are supporting a renaissance of sorts in the record industry. In fact, I've read that more vinyl records are produced today than any time in the last 15 years. I think bibliophiles will perform a similar feat in the book industry. While I personally prefer e-books, I don't think the physical hardcover or paperback versions will ever go away, and I think this is a good thing.

How can readers connect with you?
The best way is through my website www.benmillerbooks.com. I also have a Twitter account @benmillerbooks.

Thank you very much for the Interview, Ben.

About the Book A Bustle in the Hedgerow

A Bustle in the Hedgerow (Ben Miller)
Click to Read an Excerpt
The strangled body of a 9-year-old girl is discovered behind a hedgerow bordering her school playground in York, Pennsylvania. The local authorities’ only clue lies in a scrap of paper left in her front pocket, with a short phrase printed on it in an unfamiliar language.

Jackson Byrne, an FBI agent who specializes in investigating crimes against children, has just completed a book tour promoting his best-seller about solving his most recent high-profile case—the abduction and murder of a celebrity’s young daughter. Unexpectedly, Jack receives an invitation from an old family friend and powerful political insider urging him to run for the U.S. Senate. At the same time, his FBI division learns of the murder of another child with a similar mysterious message, launching them into a search for a serial killer given the moniker The Playground Predator. As Jack becomes torn between his excitement about a new career and others’ expectations of a celebrated investigator, he must also continue to deal with demons from his past.

While Jack’s devoted wife, a sycophantic young FBI colleague, and an ambitious and attractive female reporter all try to influence his path, none of them pulls the strings as effectively as the enigmatic Randall, the psychologically disturbed but brilliant Playground Predator himself, who orchestrates his own master plan, eventually dragging Jack into an inevitable showdown.

- "Well developed plot, suspenseful, page turner. I read it on a plane and was disappointed when I came to my destination and had to put it down. Good discussion of the controversies in child abuse and inconsistencies in governmental agencies. " - Reader Review

Links to the Book

Link to the Paperback A Bustle in the Hedgerow with Excerpt on Amazon

Link to the eBook A Bustle in the Hedgerow with Excerpt on Amazon

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