Disclaimer: I conducted this interview via IM. If things wander a bit, that's my fault as a newbie interviewer! I had a lot of fun interviewing Sean. Here's a cleaned up transcript of our conversation. (Cleaned up because I'm really awful about asides and tangents, lol)


Cranky: What is your favorite author? Why? And, what is your favorite genre, and why?

SPMiller: I'm most widely-read in speculative fiction, including works categorized as "literature" but are really F/SF/horror. Within spec fic, I prefer to read fantasy and science fiction over horror, but am fine with all three.

My favorite writer is hard to choose.

Cranky: Well, then how about your top three?

SPMiller: That's a little easier. I like Roger Zelazny, George R. R. Martin, and Margaret Ogden--each for slightly different reasons.

Cranky: Can you elaborate? You don't have to write a whole bunch about why, but maybe the biggest reason for each?

SPMiller: Sure. Zelazny is an excellent prose stylist, and he's the wittiest of the three by far. Martin is the best at characterization and plotting. Ogden handles perspective and character-immersion (especially in first person) very well.

Cranky: Would you say any of these three is the biggest literary influence you have? If not, who is? Or do you feel you have one?

SPMiller:I'd have to give that to Zelazny. Certain of his works really connected with me, and as a person he was apparently a hell of a guy.

Cranky: Which one of his works is your favorite, or which do you consider to be his most influential for you?

SPMiller: Well, like many F/SF fans, I discovered him through his amber series. He wrote a number of other novels, of course. He was one of the new wave guys, and although I haven't read all of them, some of them were amazing. I'd have to say it was actually a short story of his that hit me in the gut back in college that got me hooked on him: “The Engine at Heartspring's Center”

Cranky: Do you consider yourself primarily a novelist or a short story writer? Do you prefer one over the other?

SPMiller: I always aspired to be a career novelist. I have a lot of years ahead of me before I achieve that goal, but that's my target. Most of my writing output has been novels, simply due to their length, but I've written dozens of short stories as well. I don't, however, see much in common between those two forms of writing. Novel-length narratives are a totally different beast.

Cranky: What do you see as the main difference? I have my own theories, of course, but this is about you!

SPMiller: I haven't given that question much thought, so my response may be simplistic (and therefore wrong), but I feel shorts are more about style than substance. You don't have much room to build up a strong plot with unique characters and a distinct setting; you basically have to piggyback on genre tropes. So, shorts end up being "idea" fiction taken to an extreme. You have a quick hook into a very brief conflict, then you're done.

Cranky: So, to put it another way...there's more room to maneuver in a novel-length piece, to add more substance/complexity to the story? Is that why you (apparently) prefer writing novels to writing shorts? Or is that just the difference, as you see it?

SPMiller: That is indeed how I see it. I feel like the novel form allows me to really spread my wings as a writer, to use a hackneyed expression. As an addendum to my last response, I want to point out that I often write much darker fiction than most of my peers.

Cranky: Oh? How so? (I'm thinking of your living skeleton guy, by the way, and that was awesome!)

SPMiller: I’m usually struggling to free myself and my stories from the constraints of genre conventions.

Cranky: Can you give me an example? Then I have one last “writerly” question for you.

SPMiller: Well, to use some examples from that very story you mentioned, I wanted to write about an undead character that wasn't a vampire/werewolf/whatever. I had him start out in his coffin as a means of intentionally building up the reader's expectations that he turn out to be a vampire, when he's actually more lich-y. From that point forward, I used blood as a motif, but never in a vampiric sense.

Cranky: Yes, I remember. It was very effective, and definitely different.
SPMiller: I wanted to show how one might use blood in ways other than those often used by writers of vampire fiction.

Cranky: I think you succeeded with that. The story sure stuck with me.

SPMiller: If you want to throw that last writerly question at me, I might take a shot at it.

Cranky: Are you subbing this [the above story] around anywhere? (Gawd, if you aren't, I might have to slap you) And how long have you been writing seriously?

SPMiller: You just may have to slap me, then. I'm an unremorseful perfectionist, and something is missing from Hostus' tale--but once I find out what it is, I'll be subbing that story

Cranky: You'd better, dang it! Would you say that's a pretty fair representation of the work you try to do in your novels?

SPMiller: Yeah, I make a very deliberate effort to avert (if not subvert) spec fic tropes. I like turning convention on its head and showing it for the silliness it is.

Cranky: Oh, what a rich answer THAT was!
SPMiller: I've often said that escapism is too important to spec fic in general, which I'm sure wouldn't endear me to my audience if they knew I said that. And now that I've said it in this interview, it WILL be known!

Going back to your earlier question really quickly, I wrote my first novel when I was in the third grade. That's age nine, for those of you outside the United States.

Cranky: How long was it, and what was it about?

SPMiller: I'm not sure. I filled two spiral notebooks before I reached the end. One of the girls who sat next to me in class got a hold of one of the spirals and couldn't stop laughing. Allow me to assure you it wasn't because I was writing humor.

I've been writing ever since. Sixteen years, I guess. but I didn't get serious about it until October 2007, when I swore that I would lay my ego on the line by making a straightforward, honest attempt at producing a saleable novel.

Cranky: And when do you anticipate (or have you already?) have a novel ready to query agents/publishers with? (And then for the fun questions)

SPMiller: That novel is still out to two beta readers at the moment. I had hoped to have a "final" draft ready by 2009, but I think it'll take a month or two longer than I expected.

Cranky: But then you'll be submitting?

SPMiller: Phew. I wish I felt that confident. Really, I'm nervous, but I intend to submit anyway.

Cranky: Well, good for you. You should. Okay, now...the most important question of them all! Original trilogy, or the "first three" of George Lucas' Star Wars saga?

SPMiller: I have no idea what you're talking about. As far as I know, Lucas only directed A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. This talk of one trilogy, much less two, utterly confuses me.

Cranky: Awesome. Perfect answer. You're a software guy, right? Do you have a favorite techy gadget?

SPMiller: As far as software guys go--well, let's just say I've been called a Luddite. My true loves are language (writing, you see) and mathematics. Don't actually care much for software engineering, but computer science as an academic pursuit interests me. I didn't even get myself a cell phone until about halfway through my cs degree. That wasn't very long ago. Maybe four or five years, If not for my friends bitching me out for not having a cell phone, I probably still wouldn't have one.

Cranky: So, no favorite tech toys? A surprising answer.
SPMiller: I'd say my favorite tech gizmo is... the computer. I like tinkering with them. always have. that's how I ended up in CS. I carry weird tools on my person at all times, as well as a pair of black ink pens.

Cranky: Weird tools? Such as?

SPMiller: The pens are for writing, but the tools are for dealing with whatever odd situations arise whilst working on computers. Well, not all of them would be smiled upon by employers or lab managers if I described them in detail, but they do come in handy at times.

Cranky: Ah, so they're sooper sekrit tools? Fair enough, I won’t pry. LOL So...if you had the ability to do anything at all, what would it be? That can be superhero powers, or anything mundane that you don't know how to do but wish you did.

SPMiller: The ability to do anything? That's broad.

Cranky: Well, let's say if you could have any particular talent, then. and as a companion (and final question) do you have any hidden talents that most people don't know you have?

SPMiller: I'll restrict myself in my response--obviously, choosing to be god would open up all other possibilities.

Cranky: Ah yes, no genie, no god.

SPMiller: Talent. I did okay with music, but I've always been terrible at visual art. Can't draw to save my life. I think in pictures and have a very vivid imagination; it'd be nice to be able to put some of that on paper in some other way than words. If I could choose any particular ability, I'd like to be able to understand other people, what they're thinking/feeling.

Cranky: You'd like to be empathic or telepathic?

SPMiller: To an extent. Not so much that I'd be tempted to eavesdrop directly on their thoughts--that should be sacred--but the ability to better connect with people would really help me out in many ways.

Regarding hidden talents, I'm just not sure. People often know me either through my tech/cs/math skills or my writing skills, and they express shock when I reveal my "other side". I try to hide my video gaming skills, but I don't think that'd count as surprising.

I haven't tried recently, but I could probably burp the alphabet, or read a short story entirely with burps

Now that's an endearing talent, I tell you what.

Cranky: That’s all I’ve got, Sean. Thanks for talking to me!

SPMiller: Not a problem.