Two covers of the same book

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Posted Fri, Mar 19, 2010

J Eric Miller walks into the classroom and, before the film class begins, tells his students a story about having to break into his own office through the roof after leaving the keys inside. He creates a relaxed environment where students aren’t afraid to partake in the conversation. This is just another typical day for his class.

With a master’s in screenwriting and a doctorate in English, Miller is an associate professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver, teaching courses in English, film, creative writing and literature. But that’s only half the story; he is also the author of “Decomposition” and “Animal Rights and Pornography,” controversial books that tend to cause a stir among readers.

Born in 1971, Miller grew up in small miner towns Leadville and Twin Lakes, Colo., and went to high school in an Indian reservation in Montana. When he was young, he would constantly watch Western movies on the satellite dish his father could afford by being a miner.

He enjoyed reading as a kid and went back to his favorite books over and over. By age 12, he was reading all his mother’s paperback novels and the idea of becoming a writer was solidifying in his mind. The author that most motivated him to pursue writing at the time was John Irving.

“That really made want to be a writer for sure. That solidified it, John Irving’s work,” Miller says.

Despite his early love for literature, Miller now knows he wasn’t reading the way he considers to be the right one.

“I wouldn’t read things carefully, I looked for things that were exciting to read as opposed to ‘what can I learn about the world, the author and myself through this; how can it make me grow?’ I didn’t think that way,” he says.

When he began working toward his doctorate, Miller didn’t have a background in fine arts like most other English students. This made graduate school especially testing for him.

“It was a good challenge, it caused me to do a lot of work and I learned so much. I’m really happy with where I am after that,” Miller says.

When the days of listening to audio-books while riding around on his bicycle were over, it was time to take that degree and do something with it.

He followed the path of his colleagues and began working at CBS. The job was financially promising, but Miller didn’t like it. He defaulted into teaching, considering he couldn’t live off just being an author.

“You can hit success, but it’s not going to be wealth,” he says.

Luckily, he likes it. Some professors approach classes like Introduction to Literature using theories and almost forgetting the writer’s voice. This is something Miller tries to avoid.

“Because I’m a writer, probably, I think it’s important that we try to figure what these people are saying to us,” the professor says.

His main goal for these classes is to make better readers. A similar goal is set for his film class, which is focusing on Woody Allen films this semester.

“Not every film is going to work, obviously. It’s got to be a film that has something to say and an interesting way to go about saying it”

Working as a professor has its perks for an author, he says, because he assumes most writers like to have an audience and the students become his “instant audience.” Despite that, he would rather not have his students read his books.

“It’s very hard for a 20 year old to contextualize and understand,” he says.

And with books touching on subjects many may consider obscene like sex and death, it is easy to be taken out of context. An activist at heart, especially for animal rights, Miller makes sure that all his published works have something to say.

It is inevitable for his career as an author to merge with the one in academia. What he does try to avoid is having it come into his personal life. Even the name J Eric Miller in an attempt to keep them separate; at home, he is just Jason.

“No matter what you write, it will always offend your family because they don’t know that person,” Miller says.

Although his books have mixed responses in America, he has found more open-minded readers in France. After a translator decided to translate “Decomposition” into French and found a publisher, Miller was invited to a conference in the country with other prominent authors and was interviewed for Rolling Stone Paris. Not to mention, they paid him more than he was ever offered here.

“Animal Rights and Pornography” will be released in France this April. Miller just finished a controversial fantasy novel and has been doing research on the Old West for the past year as part of his work on a book about a Western serial killer.

A lot of writing doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of publishing. He says he probably has about 20 novels, but they haven’t seen the light.

“Most of them are just adequate and I don’t want to do that. I have to feel like it sort of does something,” he says.

Miller is aware that betting on your odds in an important part of succeeding in writing, as with all other aspects of life. In fact, the publishing of “Decomposition” in America came about after someone read something off his blog and contacted him. How often does that happen?

“Talent is the start and luck is the finish,” is the way he sees it. “You just have to keep putting yourself out there in these various ways.”

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