Did Timothy S. Miller Write the Novel He Was Destined to Create?
An interview with the author of 'City of Hate'
Timothy S. Miller’s mother saw President John F. Kennedy moments before he was assassinated. Did his mom’s experience destine Miller to write a novel infused by that tragic event?
Miller’s debut novel, City of Hate (paid link), is about a man suspected of murder in Dallas at a time when the Virgin Mary’s appearing near the site of Kennedy’s assassination. The book’s described as hardboiled crime noir. And it’s earned comparison with Raymond Chandler’s novel The Long Goodbye.
In the interview below, Timothy S. Miller talks about his growth from all the various jobs he’s worked, why he doesn’t want to write full time, and how editing his first novel led to City of Hate.
If you enjoy this interview, please send it to someone you know. And if you enjoy a unique crime novel, consider getting a copy of City of Hate (paid link).
Interview with Timothy S. Miller
Can you tell us about yourself?
Regardless of what else I do, I am a writer. If you are a writer, you know what I am talking about. I can’t not write. It is what I was born to do.
I’m also a father and a husband. I’m sure there are times that my wife and child wish I would be less of a writer and more of a father and a husband. The trick for all writers is to find the sweet spot where you can be successful at all three.
I am also an instructor, a ghostwriter, and a game builder. I’m also an avid watcher of bad television. I’m not opposed to good television, but I’m an expert at watching bad TV. I also like long walks through my neighborhood. At the end of the day, I like everything about my life. It’s about as good as it gets.
Of all the jobs you’ve had, which did you like the least and why?
The public perception is that writers work other jobs because they can’t support themselves on their writing alone. While there is truth in that, I would never think about quitting my day job. I might work less, perhaps, but I love doing something outside of writing to fill me up creatively. It gives me something to write about.
My instruction to new writers who have fantasies of quitting their day jobs is DON’T. I’ve done the full-time writing thing before, and I get tons more writing done when I have a full-time job. I’m sure that part of it is the security that a full-time job gives you, but I also think that the more you fill your plate, the more you accomplish.
I’ve heard people talking about clearing their schedule for writing. Today, I wrote one thousand words on my next novel, taught two classes, painted my child’s room, took my wife’s car to get it repaired, took a very long walk, and watched Death Wish 1 and 2. If you really want to write, you’ll make time to write.
As far as which jobs I liked the least and which jobs I liked the most, I’m sort of going to give you a cop-out answer. Every job has its ups and its downs. I have my good days and my bad days. But every job I’ve ever had has helped make me the person – and writer – that I am today.
I worked as a ranch hand in Montana while I was in college. It wasn’t necessarily the worst job I’ve ever had, but I was definitely not cut out to be a ranch hand. As far as my favorite job, I’ll always teach in some capacity. Currently, I am a business instructor at the college level. I don’t know that I’ll teach business forever, but I’ll always be a teacher.
I don’t want to stop learning. My students teach me more than I’ll ever teach them. For sure.
When and how did you start writing creatively?
I’ve talked about being a writer since I was in high school and wrote my first one-act play. I probably talked about writing more than I wrote for many years.
I was 30 years old before I started writing daily. At this point in my life, I can’t not write. I’m a writer. Just as much as I am a husband or a father. It’s just who I am. I can’t imagine myself without it.
What inspired your debut novel, City of Hate?
City of Hate is my first published novel. I wrote a literary novel before I wrote City of Hate. My publisher had both books on his desk and wanted to go with City of Hate first. Who knows if I’ll ever publish the other one.
I hesitated to even mention the first unpublished work, but it’s really integral as to why I wrote City of Hate. City of Hate was sort of a response to the first book. And what I mean by that, is that I found myself editing my first book. And by that – not that I didn’t edit the hell out of City of Hate – I mean, I played it safe. I censored myself. I found myself holding back. I also was more interested in the writing than the story. I wanted it to be “literary.”
With City of Hate, I threw all of those ideas out of the window, and wrote what I wanted to write. I literally put a body on the first page and let the novel be as raw as it wanted to be. City of Hate is a noir thriller based on my love of Jim Thompson and other hard-hitting, hard-boiled novelists. But it is also a story of recovery and redemption.
It is set in the nineties, but since one of my main characters is the self-proclaimed bastard son of Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassination of JFK in Dallas plays a prominent role in the book. My mother was at the presidential parade in Downtown Dallas when JFK was killed. She saw him only blocks before he was assassinated, and is actually in at least one very famous photograph of the presidential motorcade.
I always knew that I would find a way to include that in a book. It turns out to play a bigger role than I thought.
What, if any, research did you do for City of Hate?
I did my share of reading about conspiracies concerning the JFK assassination, but City of Hate is clearly a novel. It is a work of fiction.
While I love research, I leave it at the door when I start writing the book. Good research always adds color to a book, but I try to let the work speak for itself. If – and when — the story strays from the “facts,” I’m totally okay with that. A good story will always be more impactful than trying to stick with the cold hard truth.
My JFK research was only a small part of the project. I’ve said before that I’ve been researching this book my whole life. What I mean by that, is that – in my opinion — every book that you write would not be possible without the experiences you’ve lived up to that point.
What did you find most interesting while working on the book?
I knew Hal’s voice right away. It is challenging to tell a story from only one person’s point of view, especially when that person is an unreliable narrator. When a character isn’t necessarily likeable, you risk alienating your readers. But I think Hal has a very interesting way of looking at the world and it was fun to watch him interact with the other characters, and in a sense, breathe life into them as well.
Who are some of your favorite writers, both past and present?
I have a very long list. I have been enlightened, educated, and entertained by a vast amount of voices. Jim Thompson – particularly for this book – was a very important influence. Raymond Chandler, Patricia Highsmith, Elmore Leonard, Stephen King, Sara Gran, Walter Mosley, Dennis Lehane, and Denis Johnson are writers that I care not to live without.
Have you read any good books lately?
I’ve re-read a lot of books lately. When I’m writing, I typically read books that I’ve already read. I save new reading materials for when I’m in between projects.
The writer and reviewer, Jason Henderson, called City of Hate “The Long Goodbye for Dallas.” I don’t know that I had ever read Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, so naturally, I devoured it. And that got me on a Phillip Marlow kick for several weeks.
I recently re-read Sara Gran’s Come Closer. I love her Claire DeWitt books, but there is something very special about Come Closer. I can’t think of anything else like it. And of course, I re-read Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son more than I care to admit.
Any last words for Bidwell Hollow readers?
City of Hate is not your typical crime novel, but if you appreciate noir and you have a penchant for unreliable narrators, I think you are going to enjoy it.
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