KINDRED, N.D. -- As an avid outdoorsman, Jeffrey Miller started writing about his passion in 2016.
Nonfiction, mostly, stories about hunting, fishing, trapping, gathering and even gardening.
When it comes to the outdoors, you name it and Miller’s probably done it.
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At last count, Miller says he’s had 47 stories printed in publications such as the Cass County Reporter in Casselton where he writes a monthly column called “Musings from Cottonwood Bend,” along with Fur, Fish and Game, Midwest Game and Fish and Bowhunter magazines, among others.
Now, Miller, who lives along the Sheyenne River near Kindred with his significant other, Melanie, and four kids – Naomi, Maia, Ivy and Carter – has dipped his feet into the fiction waters with “Klasburg, North Dakota: Collected Stories from the Middle of Nowhere.”
The self-published book, available through Amazon and its digital Kindle platform, features 14 stories and retails for $9.99 paperback and $3.99 digital.
“I kind of wanted to challenge myself a little bit to see if I could do fiction,” Miller, 38, said. “It’s different (than nonfiction) because there’s generally some sort of spark and imagination” that’s required to write fiction.
Director of the Cass County Soil Conservation District in Fargo, Miller says he pitched his first couple of fiction stories to literary magazines, but none of them would bite.
Still, Miller says, he kept plugging away.
“I would sit down if I didn’t have any other assignments and just maybe write a story or two, and then before you knew it, I started having four, five or six,” he said.
Miller decided to base his stories around a fictional town in southeast North Dakota. Like Stephen King’s Castle Rock and Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, Miller has Klasburg.
“I thought it would be fun to do that since there’s nothing like that in North Dakota,” he said. “Almost every story has some sort of – I don’t want to say autobiographical, because that’s the wrong word – but some sort of basis in reality.”
Miller says he thought about trying to find a publisher for his book but decided to go the self-publishing route instead because it didn’t require him to buy hundreds of books that might not sell.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be a book that sells thousands of copies,” he said. Publishing the book through Amazon’s self-publishing platform was easy, he said.
“They actually have templates so you go in there and you download a template,” Miller said. “I copied and pasted (the stories) into the template, and it was really that easy.”
Miller first ordered an editing copy, which his significant other, Melanie, also read.
“We found some errors and made a few little tweaks and then reuploaded it, which was even easier,” he said.
For the cover, they drove around the countryside and took several photos until they found one they thought worked with the title and tone of the book.
“Some pictures had too much dark in them or too much light,” Miller said. “Honestly, once I had everything written, it took me maybe three hours to have it uploaded and everything the way I wanted it.”
While many of the stories have outdoor themes – “The Trespasser” is about a teenage boy named Kyle Johnsrud who befriends an old trapper named Hanson after getting caught trespassing on the old man’s land while trying to set traps – others touch on such heady topics as infidelity, death and divorce.
Every small town has its dark side and Klasburg is no different.
In “The Trespasser,” Hanson teaches his young protege the ins and outs of trapping, and the pair reappear later in the book in a story titled, “In the Dark Water,” which continues the trapping theme.
“I like the fact that (Kyle Johnsrud) is not just sitting playing video games but is out there trying to learn something, but then realizing that trapping is something you can’t just dink around with,” said Miller, himself an avid trapper. “You’ve got to be taught how to do it efficiently and effectively. I like that interplay.”
Hanson and the boy are characters Miller says he definitely will revisit.
“Some of the other stories, they’re kind of a one-off – the story is told,” he said.
The ending for “Alder Lake,” the first story in the book, came to him in a dream, Miller says. Without giving too much away, it’s not a happy ending.
“I woke up and thought, ‘That’s going to be the end’ of the book,” Miller said. “Then I had to work backwards and figure out how to get to that point.”
Miller says he started writing the stories for “Klasburg, North Dakota” during the summer of 2020. Then fall and hunting seasons came around, and he was writing magazine and newspaper stories in the winter.
So it went until his significant other, Melanie, asked Miller last spring if he planned to finish the book. She’d read the first stories and wanted to see more, Miller recalls. Melanie also handled the editing chores.
“It was more of a motivation thing,” Miller said. “I had half of the stories done in a year and finished the rest in about three weeks.”
To date, sales of the book are going “pretty well,” with paperback sales far outpacing Kindle sales, Miller says. Ferguson Books & More stores in Bismarck, Grand Forks and West Fargo also will be carrying the book, he says.
“I’m not going to be buying a new car, that’s for sure,” Miller said of book sales, “but it’s going alright. It seems like it’s at the point now where friends of friends are buying it.
“The nice thing about it is, once a magazine comes out, it’s gone – next month’s issue comes out and it’s something new,” Miller said. “A book, at least, is going to be out there for awhile.”
What: “Klasburg, North Dakota: Collected Stories from the Middle of Nowhere.”
Author: Jeffrey Miller.
Price: $9.99 paperback; $3.99 Kindle.
To order: amazon.com.