Jax Miller was born in New York. She’s listed by Publishers Weekly as a top ten thriller of 2015 and was recently nominated for Best Crime Novel for her novel ‘Freedom’s Child’ in the Irish Book Awards. She currently lives in Ireland.
At what age did you realise writing was going to mean something in your life?
It wasn’t until I was an adult, when I was about 23 or 24. I was kicking dope in rehab when one of my counsellors encouraged me to write. I thought it sounded like a stupid idea at the time, but I figured I’d give it a shot. I soon realized I couldn’t not write; it’s what I eat, breathe and sleep.
I’d go in his office, guns blazing and cursing up a storm. He was a very conservative man who’d cringe with every F-bomb I dropped in his office (of which there was plenty). I was very angry during that period of my life. I think he suggested I write so he didn’t have to hear me. He asked me to journal (journaling is something I loathe to this day).
So I tried my hand at fiction. I wrote this shock-value piece, full of F-bombs and sex and violence, just to get a rise out of this guy. You can imagine my surprise when he finished reading my piece and said, “This is the best ****ing thing I ever read.” And so it became a weekly thing. Even after our normal sessions, he would make the next patient wait 10 minutes and take their time so I could read to him. That was how my first (unpublished) novel, ‘The Assassin’s Keeper’ was born. I haven’t stopped since.
What is your writing routine? Has it changed over time?
Against the advice of a lot of professional writers, I do not write every day. I am the poster child of binge-writing, if such a term exists. I’ll go a week or two without a word (which involves a lot of staring at a blank screen, because I do actually try). But then I’ll stay up for nearly three nights until I’m on the brink of insanity and whip out a huge chunk of work. It hasn’t changed, I’ve always been like this. This leads my father to believe that I’m bi-polar… but it works for me.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
What’s more common for me is that I have too many ideas (which I swear is just as bad). I can’t choose which direction I want the story to go and then I get stuck, it’s like the anti-writers block. I’ve had a bout of the block here and there though, usually in the editing process, but I think it’s more of me feeling lazy and procrastinating.
Can you tell us the journey to getting Freedom’s Child published and how you felt when you realised it was really going to happen?
While working on the first novel that I mentioned above, Freedom’s Child was my fling on the side. She was what I wrote on barroom napkins and on my arms, I never planned on that story going anywhere. It was two years after I got clean; I was facing a new dark period of my life. I tried to get out of my own skin and hitchhiked aimlessly around America. I was on the back of a motorcycle when starting Freedom’s Child. Because it was a lonely journey I was on, I needed a companion (which I found in my main character, Freedom Oliver), even if she were imaginary. We grieved together, we laughed together, we went through all the same emotions together (it’s easy to see where I was in my life when I wrote each chapter).
I really had no idea things were going to happen. This was a book I never intended to have an audience for, it was therapeutic and cathartic for me. It was one of those things where I sent it to a friend who sent it to a friend. I literally had a book deal over night, which I swear, I’m still reeling from. Even now, I can see the book on the shelf, but it’s still like it’s happening to someone else.
How long did it take you to write Freedom’s Child?
Because it was a little hobby I did on the side, I didn’t devote a lot of time to it, so it took a couple of years (I was working on other things more seriously). But if you took it all and crunched it together, I’d say I probably worked four to six months on it, if I worked my typical, binge-writing pace.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on ‘Candyland.’ I’m enjoying it a lot because it’s so rich in setting, in the coal regions of central Pennsylvania. It’s a bit slower than Freedom’s Child, but just as dark. Because I’m writing as a woman who was raised Amish, there’s a lot less profanity 😉 The story revolves around a relationship between the mother of a murdered son and the father of the murderer. But, of course, darker secrets lie within.
Did your writing change when you got your book deal? Did you feel more pressure to produce?
Yes. Until I became an ‘author’ (some might argue that terminology), I always thought of myself as a woman who was good at working under pressure. But people’s expectations were high and I fear(ed) that I just couldn’t live up to them. I wrote an entire novel under a lot of pressure between Freedom’s Child and Candyland, but I’ve since scrapped it. I think the pressure showed through to the reader.
That said, because Freedom’s Child was written from such a dark place in my life, it’s a bit out of my system. Being in a much happier place in my life, I don’t have that same fuel, and it does show in my writing. I find with Candyland, I’m relying more on talent and storyline (which improve with practice) as opposed to my at-the-moment emotional state. I am proud so far though, I really believe I’m proving to myself that I can do a lot more than writing the F-word and creating bar fights. This book is much more internal and lyrical, though equally as dark. I think it’s my best work.
What would you say to writers who are struggling for inspiration at the moment?
It comes as soon as you stop looking. Don’t aspire to be like another author, I think it’s important that you start dancing to the beat of your own drum. It’s what makes you unique.
Have you any tips for authors who are on the cusp of getting their own book deal?
Enjoy this moment. There’s nothing quite like writing solely for yourself as opposed to cooks coming into the kitchen. It’s a great experience, sure, getting a book deal. But before book deals, when it’s just you and the paper, those are my fondest memories.
Also, don’t take editors’ notes personal. The work may drag, but if you do (mostly) what they say, you’ll surprise yourself at how much potential your book can have. Even when they tell you to kill your babies, they know what they’re talking about.
What do you like to read?
When actively writing, I don’t read. I have a terrible, unconscious habit of letting other authors’ and narrators’ voices bleed into my own work. But when I do give myself that once-a-month time to read, I love the classics, the stuff I should have read in school but didn’t because I hated school so much. I love it today. And graphic novels. I’m a nerd. But if you ask me about film, I can talk for days. I truly find inspiration in film more so than in books, it’s my true passion in life. This must be blasphemous, coming from a writer.
Where do you write?
I converted a local bank into my personal office in my little town in the Irish countryside. It’s my fortress. That said, I think a lot of the townspeople think I’m some crazy woman. I go out front and smoke and pace a lot, usually with unkempt hair and unmatched clothes (several people have asked if I’ve done hard time because I pace incessantly). I also talk to myself a lot, thinking out loud. I’m too in ‘the zone’ to take notice, but I’m sure I get funny looks. Ha!
LadyNicci comment: I’ve been following Jax’s career for some time now, ever since I read about about her progression to an overnight book deal with Inkwell HQ. For many writers – it is the dream. But behind the success, there is a whole heap of other drafts and works that the author thought would make it. There’s complete manuscripts that have been scrapped. It takes an entire editing process to really bring a book to the shelves. Jax’s comments about not writing for days on end and being inspired by film are very relative to me. How about you? Do you see yourself being a successful published author? Do you think it will change how you write?
How I write is a weekly blog post series published on Sundays on www.ladynicci.com. The posts aim to give a voice to writers, published, unpublished and everywhere in between, to help and encourage other writers. If you would like to take part email firstname.lastname@example.org with How I Write in the subject line.