Today’s interview is with Eric Kobb Miller, a retired dentist, who has stopped swimming upstream in saliva, gotten out of the mouth and into the world, and traded his drill for a quill to be a literary humorist.
Books & Writing: Do you remember the first story you wrote?
Eric Kobb Miller: I’ve conveniently forgotten the first few. The first one I do remember is the one I titled: “The Great American Novel.” The premise was that when anyone asked who wrote the great American novel, my name would pop up, even though I only wrote a short story by that name — not the real thing.
Books & Writing: Were you inspired by someone or something?
Eric Kobb Miller: Absolutely. My 11th grade high school English teacher had each student in my class select a different American author to read during the school year. We were to read the author’s major works, present book reports to the class, and impersonate the author in group discussions. I was F. Scott Fitzgerald, and to be perfectly honest, the best part of the experience was searching for my Zelda, finding her, and coming to the “author party” on the last day of school dressed as Scott, with Zelda on one arm, and a martini glass in hand. I entered my senior year knowing that, someday, I too would be an author.
Books & Writing: What do you love about writing a story?
Eric Kobb Miller: Mining for the right words, pairing them like food and wine, roasting my failures and toasting my success.
Books & Writing: Can you tell us something about your book “Spit Toon’s Saloon” and the main character Salvatore Spittell Toon?
Eric Kobb Miller: The complete title of the book is Spit Toon’s Saloon — Rinnce and Spit Toon, Proprietors — Sad Songs and Funny Tales on Tap. It is a collection of humorous and sad, prose and poetry vignettes, linked in a memoir styled format. Salvatore Spittell Toon is my alter ego. Everyone calls him Spit, though, except his mother who always called him Salvatore.
Books & Writing: How did you come up with the story for the book?
Eric Kobb Miller: The bookshelves of time are filled with great books of fiction by many physicians. But alas, books by a dentist are pretty much represented by one lone cowboy: Zane Grey. Eric Kobb Miller and Salvatore Spittell Toon decided it was not only time for dentists to start playing catch up, but that there was a story to be told about a dentist wanting to write the great American novel — as funny as that may seem. So, we each looked back on our lives, came up with similar stories, and decided it was a wrap.
Books & Writing: Are you working on something new?
Eric Kobb Miller: My second book, “Overheard at the Bar at Spit Toon’s Saloon,” will be available soon.
Books & Writing: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Eric Kobb Miller: Find your voice, create your niche, build your platform, and keep your day job.
Books & Writing: How did you find your voice?
Eric Kobb Miller: To tell you the truth, and I’m embarrassed to admit it, I never knew it was lost. But when I first heard Holden Caulfield speaking in J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” I recognized how similar his voice was to mine. Over the years, I realized that although our vocal chords were a match, our toons were not quite the same. And ever since, to just make sure I haven’t lost my voice, I go back and listen to his. Some have told me that finding a voice is like pornography: you’ll know one when you hear it and the other when you see it.
Books and Writing: Where can people find you on the internet?
Eric Kobb Miller: I spend most of my time hanging out at the saloon: www.spittoonssaloon.blogspot.com — but I also wander around Amazon and Barnes and Noble quite a bit, just to give the book some cover.
An excerpt from “Spit Toon’s Saloon.”
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to write “the great American novel” and to be inducted into the pantheon of American writers alongside Melville, Twain, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Salinger. An invitation to the literary pantheon not forthcoming, I battled with the demons of low self-esteem. My wife, Rinnce, my dental assistant Saliva Godiva, and my dental hygienist Bidday O’Shea all suggested that I try my hand at “flashing.” I recoiled in revulsion at the thought of running stark naked through life, in very public places, flashing very private parts. They assured me that the flashing to which they referred was writing very short, short stories which could be entered in writing contests. Doing this would get me focused, disciplined, tournament tough, and hopefully published someday.
Alas, the acceptance letters never came, although the rejection slips inundated my mailbox. It disappointed me, to be sure, but the comments about my punctuation just outright enraged me. Editors constantly criticized how I used my colon, as if that were any of their concern. Moreover, they claimed that my semicolons were acting like squatters in places they didn’t belong. As for my commas, they described them as looking like insects randomly stuck between the teeth of a motorcyclist without a face shield — even going so far as to label me a “comma splicer.”
One especially unhappy editor, who thought she was Portia in “The Merchant of Venice,” told me that my quotation marks “droppeth not as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath, but as sleet wrapped irritatingly around the wrong words.” My penchant for not italicizing the French words I liked to sprinkle about in my text really drove some editors crazy, especially because I italicized my poems which were in English. But more than anything, the endless discussions about hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes felt like acupuncture with dull needles. To this day, I still try to crawl into the spaces which are not supposed to be surrounding my em dashes.
However, I kept tap, tap, tapping away at my keyboard to get even in my own personal and special way. Each time my middle finger, that ubiquitous devil, was to hit a key, I did it with just a tad more emphasis: a flourish which never failed to give me the faintest hint of a smile, even though it inserted more colons, semicolons, commas, and quotation marks in all the wrong places, as well as the wrong sized dashes — with inappropriate spaces — between the wrong words.