Chuck Miller was born in Ohio, lived in Alabama for many years, and now resides in Norman, Oklahoma. He is a Libra whose interests include monster movies, comic books, music, writing, and getting paid for writing, which is the most elusive beast of them all. He holds a BA in creative writing from the University of South Alabama, and little else.
He is the creator/writer of Tales of the Black Centipede, The Incredible Adventures of Vionna Valis and Mary Jane Kelly, The Bay Phantom Chronicles, and The Mystic Files of Doctor Unknown Junior. He has also written stories featuring such classic characters as Sherlock Holmes, Jill Trent: Science Sleuth, Armless O’Neil, The Griffon, and others.
Interview with Chuck Miller author of Tales of the Black Centipede 5/22/2015
What is your current release and (without spoilers) tell us about the new book or series.
“The Return of Little Precious” will be coming out at some point in the not-too-distant future. It is the first Doctor Unknown Junior novel and the third part of the Moriarty Trilogy. Little Precious is a bizarre cybernetic terrorist, a binary consciousness that inhabits two bodies– a nine-year-old girl named Jessie Von Cosel and a small, ultra-sophisticated robot. She killed two million people worldwide before being deactivated and locked away. Now, eleven years later, the deadly Little Precious persona appears to be coming back online. Doctor Dana Unknown and her partner Jack Christian are called in. Dana is the daughter of the original Doctor Unknown, who was featured prominently in “Black Centipede Confidential,” and Jack is a reckless, alcoholic former superhero kid sidekick. I won’t give away too much, except to say that Moriarty is a part of the story, and there are a few surprises– including the revelation of Dana’s most shocking secret.
I’ve also got a Sherlock Holmes novel coming out from Airship 27, but I don’t know exactly when that will be.
Both. I always have at least a vague idea of where a story is going, and sometimes I have a very detailed one. But they almost always end up going somewhere else. I think some kind of structure in the beginning is essential, so you’ll have something to twist all out of shape. If I think I know where I’m going, I can proceed with more confidence, but I’m always prepared to let random factors change the course. I almost always get to the ending that I originally envisioned, but I arrive there by an unexpected route.
Once you have an idea that sparks your imagination do you research your idea or do any world-building exercises, or do you just begin to write and see where the Muse takes you?
I almost always do some kind of research. Usually a lot. It’s good that you don’t actually have to go anywhere to do research nowadays. Sometimes, in fact, I do too much– I get caught up in something I’m researching, and take all kinds of side roads with it, and forget about the story for a while. And the research itself can play the Muse and lead me in new directions. I use a lot of real-world characters and events in my stuff, and when I’m researching them, I often find things that suggest new wrinkles for the story.
I devote a lot of time to it, possibly more than some people devote to a full-time job, even when they’re there every day. My goal is to one day be able to support myself with it. Which I actually could do now, if I gave up extravagances like food and shelter.
What is your daily writing time like?
I start at about nine every evening and keep going until I can’t continue. Sometimes I only get an hour or two, sometimes twelve or more, depending on how it’s going. Some days I have to force out a few paragraphs, other days I can hardly type fast enough to keep up.
Can you tell us about your publishing experience? Are you Indie, Traditional, or do a bit of both?
Thus far it’s been mostly indie, spread out among several small publishers. Most of my work, all the Black Centipede and related stuff, has been for Pro Se Productions. The new Bay Phantom series is with Airship 27. And I’ve done work for a few other companies.
That’s a tough one to answer. One of the most peculiar true stories that I have incorporated into my work is that of “Count” Carl Von Cosel and Elena de Hoyos. It’s a disturbing tale, even a little bit sickening. To cut a long story short, Von Cosel was working in a hospital in Key West Florida in 1931, when he developed an obsession with Elena, a young tuberculosis victim. After she died, he dug up her body and tried to return her to life. He ended up keeping her in his house for about seven years, performing weird procedures, and replacing her decaying flesh with wax. Eventually, the authorities got wind of it and had her taken away and reburied.
Jessie Von Cosel, aka Little Precious, is Carl’s granddaughter, and Carl and Elena both figure into the story.
Aside from that, I have had stories that were inspired by things like broken toys I’ve found and online mistranslations of phrases.
Can you tell us about some of your other writing (fiction or nonfiction) and any appearances or signings that you have planned?
I’m working on the second installment of the Bay Phantom series from Airship 27. There are a couple of other things that I can’t mention just yet, but one of them is something I’ve wanted to do for about 40 years.
Just keep at it. Use every opportunity you can find or make to get your work out there. Blogs, social networking sites, whatever. Don’t be afraid to approach publishers or other writers. And you have to really want to do it. If you’re looking to get rich in a couple of years, you’d be better off robbing banks. Money has never been a prime consideration of mine– I’m in it for the ego gratification.
Who is your favorite author? Tell us what makes this author stand out in your mind and what book would you recommend to someone new to that author?
There isn’t just one. But if I absolutely had to pick, I’d probably say Flannery O’Connor. Her characters are so relentlessly, brutally human, they can be hard to take at times. They are very starkly ordinary, complete with the horrible thoughts and attitudes that everyone has, but no one wants to think or talk about. She really doesn’t cut the reader any breaks. I try to take the same approach to my own characters. Their flaws are very prominent, and while they do sometimes learn lessons, they never come close to being perfect in any sense. If you want to write honestly, Flannery is an excellent role model. I would recommend one of her short story collections to a new reader, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” or “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” Both, I think, are equally representative of what she does best, more so than either of her novels.
The books that have influenced me most in terms of narrative voice are “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson, “Junkie” by William S. Burroughs, and the Nero Wolfe stories by Rex Stout. Echoes of Archie Goodwin can be heard in the Black Centipede and Doctor Unknown stories.