Please Welcome…The Miller Brothers
(*Originally posted August 2009)
What a joy to have Christian speculative fiction novelists Christopher and Allan Miller as our interview guests this month here at WhereTheMapEnds. (That’s Chris on the left and Allan on the right.)
The Miller Brothers always loved creating stories and art. From early childhood, they were working together on one creative project or another.
Impacted by the books that surrounded them growing up as sons of Christian bookstore owners, they ultimately pursued degrees in computer animation in order to tell great stories. Their lives would take a different turn as God directed them into business together as web designers for ten years, until He opened a door for them into the Christian publishing world.
Working as both authors and illustrators of their books, the Miller Brothers brought their first book series to the market in 2007, the Heroes of Promise series (Warner Press). Since then, they have entered the YA Fantasy Fiction market as the authors and illustrators of The Codebearers Series, capturing the imaginations of tween/teen readers across the CBA and ABA market.
I first met Chris and Allan when the ICRS convention (then called CBA) was in Denver in 2006. We had connected via e-mail before then and I was thrilled to get to meet them in person.
I was impressed with their creative minds and good humor, plus also their obvious artistic talents. They had amazing ideas for new media and we immediately fell into one of those mind meld communications that people who don’t share it find highly irritating. 😉 Happily, there was no one else there to be irritated.
We’ve kept in touch since then and they have made great inroads into publishing.
So without further ado, here’s the interview. (Note that AM: refers to Allan Miller and CM: refers to Christopher Miller.)
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with you. What have you been up to lately?
The Miller Brothers: AM: We just wrapped up the writing and illustrating of our second book in our Codebearers Series back in April Hunter Brown and the Consuming Fire. Now we’re working on the third book while eagerly awaiting the 9/9/09 release date.
CM: It’s also our window of time to explore other possible stories…something I personally love doing. At the last ICRS (International Christian Retailer Show) gathering, we were able to pitch a couple new ideas for YA fiction series. We’re hopeful that one of them will be picked up for this next year. Writing and creating is what we really love doing above all. It would be a dream to get to do this on more of a full-time basis if it can grow into that.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
The Miller Brothers: CM: I always hate questions like this. I’m not one to play favorites, especially in a genre as broad as this that has so many wonderful stories to choose from.
One series that currently has captured my imagination is Peter and the Starcatchers, co-authored by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. As a fellow co-author I have to tip my hat to anyone who can collaborate on a long project together. It takes a special kind of kinship to pull it off.
Another reason I really love the books is that they are full of good ‘ol fashioned childhood magic–the kind that takes you away from this world and lets you dream a little bit while you are still awake. I’m shivering even now as I think of their description of Lord Ombra and the cold chill that accompanies his presence. Great stuff.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
The Miller Brothers: AM: Reading great stories. That’s the seed that eventually grew into my desire to write them myself. A well-crafted story can deliver some of the most important truths that we might otherwise have ignored. I love how a grandly described scene, or a simple line, can stick with you for your lifetime and continue to inspire for a lifetime.
Personally, we’ve really felt inspired to write books with a focus on boys (though it hasn’t stopped the girls from reading too). From our own experience, as boys growing up with books, there was a certain plateau we seemed to reach at around age 11-13. The selection of great, quality books sort of mysteriously thinned out. They became harder to find. When you look around, so many boys today do not enjoy reading…yet. We hope to change that with the stories we tell.
CM: Of course, books are not the only way to tell a great story. Who doesn’t love a great movie? Allan and I have always loved the unique way that a movie can tell a story, and we frequently dreamed of being animators.
That’s one of the original motivations for us both getting computer animation degrees from the Art Institute of Seattle. At the time, we thought we might make a difference in the creative marketplace working on films. As it turns out, our big shot came in producing stories through books, and we’ve found it very rewarding.
I think some of that visual training has really come into play with how we approach our writing style. Many of our readers have even described their experience reading our book as akin to watching a movie. Who knows? Maybe someday they will be eating popcorn under the glow of our work.
WhereTheMapEnds: I sincerely hope so! How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
The Miller Brothers: AM: Well, my first response to Chris when he came to me with the idea of writing a novel was, “You mean like a big, three-hundred page book? Are you kidding?!?” Up until that point, we’d only ventured so far as to write (and illustrate) some children books. A novel seemed like a big jump to take.
In fact, the more we talked about the idea, the more hare-brained it seemed to both of us. A list of reasons why we could not be novelists started to form: we were not old enough, didn’t wear glasses with cardigan sweaters, didn’t smoke pipes, or live in a remote cabin. Okay, so maybe that’s a little stereotypical, but the reality was that we both wrestled with the idea that we might have anything to add.
It might have ended there, except for the small, still voice calling us to step out in obedience and faith. The realization that this was more about following God’s calling than about ourselves was the deciding factor that finally pushed us over the edge.
CM: As far as publishers’ responses, you couldn’t get much better response than we ended up getting. Our first time proposing the Codebearers Series to publishers resulted in two competing offers. I still cannot believe we received that kind of attention on our first effort.
Allan and I agree that it had a lot more to do with what God was doing (and had been doing leading up to it) on our behalf than our talent alone should have earned us. We are simply grateful for the open doors that He gave us and how He led us to ultimately decide to partner with Warner Press as our publisher. It has been a joy to work with them in a joint effort to make a difference through the books. Heart really makes a world of difference.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
The Miller Brothers: AM: My favorite genres to read would probably be spiritual warfare and supernatural thrillers. I guess I’m just a fan of anything that attempts to pull back the veil and let us see into the reality of the spiritual battle being waged around us at any given moment.
I’ll never forget reading through Frank Peretti’s books as a youth and the impact they made on me and my view of life. While I might not fully classify our Codebearers Series as one of those genres, the storyline certainly has hints of their influence.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
The Miller Brothers: CM: I’m very encouraged by what is happening in Christian speculative fiction, particularly in the YA market. We’ve heard it reported that the #1 growing category for booksellers–both in CBA and ABA–is the YA fantasy fiction genre.
Much of that surge is certainly due to the recent widespread interest that books like Harry Potter and Twilight sparked. When we visit schools, private and public alike, we can see it in the kids’ eyes: they’re excited about reading again.
And now all of those readers are hungrily looking for the next great series to engage with. It’s a terrific time to be introducing speculative fiction…there’s an audience!
WhereTheMapEnds: May it be as you have spoken! What have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
The Miller Brothers: AM: Over the last few years that we’ve been engaged with the Christian marketplace, we’ve seen publishers continue to take more risks. And face it, speculative fiction is always a risk. I mean, how can something that’s called “speculative” be anything but a risk, right?
Seriously, though, the door has been opening up for more “outside-the-box” creative efforts, and publishers seem to be genuinely embracing the unique ways that speculative fiction can inspire, teach, and reach Christians and non-Christians alike. They really seem to be getting it.
WhereTheMapEnds: Again, may it be. So, Chris and Allan, what advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
The Miller Brothers: AM: Well, we certainly cannot claim to have a great 3-step approach to becoming a successful published author. Our experience was not one that will often be repeated. But what we can offer is this advice: be willing, be ready.
The ideas, dreams, and talents that you have are given to you as a gift from the original Author. Let Him use them. That means persevering and waiting. We can say from experience you can never go wrong when you let Him lead.
Psalm 90:17 is a verse that we keep pinned to our workstations as a prayer: “May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us, establish the work of our hands for us.” Without His favor we could be the greatest “success” the literary world has ever known, but we’d have failed at what mattered most.
CM: Another practical tip: network. Get involved with other authors at writers’ conferences in your area. We all need each other for encouragement along the way…and you never know where those relationships will lead. Our path to becoming published wound its way through many circuitous routes of relationships. So don’t be afraid to make an effort to know and be known by other people in the industry.
WhereTheMapEnds: Great advice, you guys. What’s the best book or seminar on fiction you know?
The Miller Brothers: CM: Now, we were not paid to say this, but…we’ve really appreciated The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction written by none other than Jeff Gerke (Marcher Lord Press). It’s packed with practical lessons that have been great for keeping our skills fresh.
Most recently, the chapter “Profanity–The Debate” was extremely helpful to us as we worked through a similar touchy subject one of our character’s backstories brought up: namely, how do we handle someone with an alcoholic past in a Christian youth fiction? We needed the character to be real in their struggle while not unnecessarily offending readers. Jeff’s thoughtful perspectives helped us find the balance we needed.
WhereTheMapEnds: Garshk! [blushes] Thanks, gents. Okay, what’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
The Miller Brothers: AM: The lives changed. It can be as simple as hearing back from a parent about how their son, who never liked reading before, now cannot stop reading after being introduced to one of our books.
Even better yet is when we hear from a reader who was able to take a truth from our story and translate it into their own lives–like one boy who wrote us to say how a certain line from our fiction, “By his fear, a man appoints his master,” helped him when battling his own fears and really made a difference for him spiritually.
It’s times like these when we are reminded of what an amazing platform we have been given as writers to influence our readers… and humbly reminds us who deserves the credit for the ultimate success.
WhereTheMapEnds: That’s terrific! What writing project(s) are you working on now?
The Miller Brothers: CM: Some really cool ones! We are working on an “interactive novel” concept that compels the readers to steer the narrative based on key decision points. The whole story plays out like a maze and riddle that readers have to unravel to beat. There’s a whole “graphic novel” element to it told through illustrations too. Exciting stuff.
AM: We’re also developing a futuristic story based around American history. It’s like they say, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It’ll be mostly speculative, with a dash of sci-fi.
WhereTheMapEnds: Sounds very fun. What’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?
The Miller Brothers: If we told you we’d have to kill you.
WhereTheMapEnds: What are you, chicken?
The Miller Brothers: No.
WhereTheMapEnds: Yes, you are.
The Miller Brothers: No, we’re not.
WhereTheMapEnds: Then prove it.
The Miller Brothers: Fine, we will. It’s a short story written from the perspective of a sword, if you must know.
WhereTheMapEnds: A sword?
The Miller Brothers: CM: Yes. But not just any sword, mind you, it is a sword that offers unimaginable power to whoever bears it. As you might expect, once word gets out about its power, the most wicked and vile men seek to claim it.
Ages pass during which the sword is abused and used only for evil. Because of this, the sword wants desperately to find a place to hide from mankind. It gets its wish…sorta. But I won’t spoil the ending.
WhereTheMapEnds: That actually sounds pretty cool. And, you know, thanks for not killing me.
The Miller Brothers: No problem.
That’s All for This Time
What a great interview, huh? Thanks again to Chris and Allan. Be sure to visit the Miller Brothers online.