In this edition of our interview series, we are in conversation with author Kevin D Miller. A first-time author, Kevin tells us a true story based on real-life: real-life drama, real-life hardships, real love, and family. His gritty telling of a scandal the happened generations ago will keep a reader thoroughly engaged.
Read on to hear about his writing journey.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born in Canton, Ohio and moved to Tempe Arizona when I was 6 years old where I grew up and graduated High School. After High School, I spent eight years in the United States Air Force as an Electronic Technician and completed my first college degree, a Bachelor of Science in Electronics Technology from Wayland Baptist University.
I returned to Arizona after I left the military where I went to work for Motorola in Phoenix as an Engineering Technician. 12 years later I completed my second college degree, a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology from the University of Phoenix.
I left Motorola and found a new career as a professional Web Developer and Web Designer for the City of Peoria in Arizona. I spent 14 years at the City and retired early in 2016. I met my wife Annette in 2004 and we have been married for 15 years now. She is a retired Arizona State Trooper.
My wife and I currently live in Burbank, California with our two teenage daughters Emily and Gracie. We moved to California in 2013 to allow our two daughters to pursue acting careers in Hollywood. Emily was 11 years old at the time and Gracie was 6. They are currently 17 and 13 respectively. We spend our time in California helping our daughters with their acting careers and their schooling. Both are gifted students and talented actors.
My wife and I have 9 children between the two of us in our blended family. All of them are adults with families of their own except Emily and Gracie and live spread out across Arizona and Colorado. We are proud grandparents and boast 19 grandchildren and 1 on the way.
What was the inspiration behind your book?
In 1999, I received a call from my Uncle Rick. He told me he was attending a funeral and was handed several old newspaper articles from his cousins who said to him, “You might want to read these.” The newspaper articles spoke of a tragic scandal related to our family. We learned our last name was not the very All-American “Miller” after all. It was instead the very Polish “Puchalski”. None of us had any idea of this fact, not even my Father.
We learned my Grandfather Stanley William Miller had changed our name back in 1920. We didn’t know why. He took his reasons and his family secrets to the grave with him in 1985. Fourteen years before we learned the truth. He and his siblings vowed to keep this family tragedy and the scandal a secret from the generations that would follow them.
On September 13, 1920, it was reported in the Warren Chronicle newspaper that 3 men entered my Grandfather’s farmhouse in Southington, Ohio. They bound and gagged my Great Grandmother Stella, stole $600 in cash and murdered my Great Grandfather George Puchalski by shooting him in the head while he slept. My 12-year-old Grandfather, Stanley was sent to fetch the Sheriff where he desperately ran along an old country road to bring back help.
After about a week my Great Grandmother’s story begins to break down and more details revealed themselves. My Great Grandfather was a rich farmer and “good ole boy” and loved his whiskey. He was a cruel and abusive man and used to beat my Great Grandmother, Stella mercilessly and so often that she lost 6 pregnancies to miscarriage as a direct result of his beatings. He also began cruelly beating my Great Aunt Sophie who was 15-years-old at the time.
After a severe beating of Stella and Sophie, Stella had had enough and conspired with her brother-in-law Frank Olesyski AKA “Syski” to murder George while he slept. She did this to protect her family and my Aunt Sophie. She and Syski were charged with First-Degree Murder and a trial ensued. Syski was found guilty of Second-Degree Murder and was sent to prison for 20 years. My Great Grandmother Stella was found guilty of manslaughter and served 3 years in prison.
My Grandfather Stanley and his four siblings found themselves alone and on their own in an orphanage in Warren, Ohio. Not the best place to be in 1920. Stanley decided to run away from the orphanage with the intent to find work and save enough money to come back and steal his siblings away from the orphanage. He hopped on a train to Chicago and found work as a Bar Catcher in the steel mill and later as a driver for bootleggers. He eventually returns to Warren and steals his siblings away and cares for them until his mother Stella is released from prison.
Later he leaves for Canton, Ohio where he meets the love of his life, my Grandmother Emma Mae and finds his peace and happy ending after coming to terms with his tragic past which caused him many struggles in his life.
My Grandfather is the inspiration for this story. A story that had to be told. I felt compelled to write his story and share his trials and tribulations as an inspiration to anyone who might read this story on how the human spirit, even one so young, can overcome impossible odds to save and protect his family and the many generations that followed. My own father encouraged me to write my Grandfather’s story to honor the man who was the Patriarch of our family and carried such a tremendous burden all his life and into his grave.
Was this your first attempt at writing a book?
I have a great deal of experience as a technical writer during my years in the military, at Motorola and even writing for the Web at the City of Peoria where I was a Web Developer. It didn’t translate necessarily to writing a novel. This is my first attempt at writing a book.
Given that the events in the book took place a long time ago, how did you go about conducting research on the topic?
The research began with the old newspaper articles I obtained from my Uncle. I then further researched archives of newspapers to obtain every article on the subject available. The Trumbull County Library was very helpful at helping me find all the articles related to the case.
I continued my research by researching and gathering legal documents of the court cases against my Great Grandmother Stella and her brother-in-law Syski. I managed to find the court documents of the trials and other legal documents related to the orphanage and to the auctioning off the Puchalski farm and all its animals and farm equipment. The document with the auction inventory provided me with an accurate description of the farm. I found these records at the Trumbull County Records Department in Warren, Ohio. I also located the property deed with the legal description of the farm and have found its actual location in Southington. A vast 98.5-acre farm.
I searched and found birth certificates, marriage certificates and death certificates for both my Great Grandparents, George and Stella. I also gathered old letters written to family members and one particular letter written to my Father by his cousin that contained a great deal of information about my Great Aunt Sophie.
I spent time asking questions, interviewing family members. My Father was a great resource. Even though he has no idea about the scandal or our “real” name, he did piece a lot of valuable information together for me to aid in putting the story together.
I spent time on Ancestry.com researching my father’s line. Learning my actual name is “Puchalski” explained why the name “Miller” ended at my Grandfather Stanley. Learning my actual family name allowed me to continue my search up my Grandfather’s line. Another important fact Ancestry.com revealed to me was the correct spelling of the name Puchalski. The newspapers and many old documents spelled the name incorrectly.
A few years back I submitted my DNA to 23andMe.com to have a DNA analysis completed. Not surprisingly my DNA reflected a 39% Polish heritage and also clued me into the origins and locations of my name in Poland.
Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers when it comes to researching the subject matter?
My advice to writers who research a subject matter is to find great resources. Your local library has many skilled and helpful individuals that take pleasure in helping you find what you need and they can offer you great advice and other information you may not have considered. Spend the time and hours on the Internet finding reliable information on the topic you are researching. Take meticulous notes to refer back to as you put the pieces to a puzzle together that will transform into your story.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
One of my favorite novels I feel is under-appreciated is “Bid Time Return” by Richard Matheson. The well-known film “Somewhere in Time” was based on this novel, but many people do not know about the book. I believe the book has been out of print for some time. I was fortunate enough to locate a copy years ago.
How did you find your writer’s voice?
Simply by writing and being myself. Allowing others to read my work and being open to their critiques and feedback and by reading other works. I believe a writer’s voice is found the moment one begins to tell a story. It evolves from there.
What are some jobs that you’ve worked? Have any of them had an impact on your work?
I spent 8 years as an Electronic Technician with the USAF, 12 years as an Engineering Technician with Motorola and 14 years as a Web Developer and Web Designer with the City of Peoria, Arizona. In all of these jobs, I also spent time as a Technical Writer. The technical writing did help with my new career as a writer but I quickly learned I had a great deal to learn about writing an actual novel. I would add that the many experiences of these jobs had an impact on my writing as a result of all the life experiences and friendships I made.
What is your favorite childhood book?
One of my favorite books I read, when I was a teenager, was “Summer of ‘42” by Herman Raucher. A novelized story of the author’s teen years and his story of friendship and love.
What do you enjoy about your writing style?
I enjoy the freedom to interject my own sense of humor and view of the world. When a reader relates to me how they cried from a tragic scene or how they laughed at a humorous scene or even how they felt the emotions of my character, I am humbled and honored to have touched someone’s heart and spirit with my words. There is no greater reward in writing as far as I am concerned.
What are some unconventional habits you have when it comes to writing?
I am a “Write from the Hip” sort of writer. I wait until that “creative moment” hits me and I just start putting words and thoughts down. I live the moment and translate that into words.
Now that your first novel is out, how do you feel? Do you feel perhaps you should’ve/shouldn’t have added a section?
I wake up every morning thrilled. Like a man who found a ten-pound rock made of solid gold. I’m sure every writer has sections they question or wish they wrote differently and I’m no exception. I question myself, question a passage and when I do, I pass my work over to my amazing Critique Partner who also happens to be my wife and she always has great feedback, suggestions and often just a solid reassurance that my writing is good.
Most writers struggle to get into a flow once the inspiration of the idea has left them. How did you deal
I step away from my story. Sometimes for several days. Then I return and try and read it objectively and new ideas and inspiration begin to flow once again.
Do you have any advice for writers struggling for inspiration?
Love the story you are trying to tell. Live the story you want to tell. Feel all the parts of your story and become those characters.
What are your tips to help find the right publisher?
I have no real tips. I chose to Self-Publish to maintain full control over my story.
Anything else you want to tell our readers?
I designed the cover for Heart of Steel myself since I have a Graphics background associated with my Web Design experience. The young boy on the cover happens to be my own grandson, Joel Miller portraying Stanley, his Great-Great-Grandfather. Another of my grandsons, Kaleb Rhoten was the very talented photographer that took the photo. Also, a Great-Great Grandson of Stanley William Miller (Puchalski).
Since I am a professional Web Developer, I also created my own website for Heart of Steel. It is www.HeartOfSteelBook.com.
Heart Of Steel is available for purchase on Amazon.