The plot thickens in youth book series

The third novel in the Milligan Creek Series, which is set in a fictionalized version of Foam Lake, SK. has been released.

The Water War, the latest book in the series, by Kevin Miller who grew up at Foam Lake, is about a unique water gun-based game of Assassin that takes place in the town one hot summer.

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The book was inspired in large part by an article he read in the Yorkton Enterprise newspaper way back in 1984, the author notes he still has the clipping. The article was called ‘Spy vs. Spy: you can shoot or die’.

“My original idea for this novel came from a newspaper article I clipped out of the Yorkton Enterprise newspaper way back in 1984 or 1985. It featured Yorkton residents Rick and Glenn Larson, two students home from university for the summer who decided to start up a game of Assassin, where every player is both hunter and prey,” explained Miller. “At the start of the game, each participant is given their ‘victim’s’ information, including where they live, where they work, and so on. Their job is to hunt and ‘kill’ their victim -- in this case, with a suction cup dart gun -- before they themselves get taken out. If they succeed, they inherit their victim’s target and so on and so on until only one player remains. As you can imagine, that article stimulated my young teenage imagination, though I never did manage to pull my own game of Assassin together.”

But the idea stuck with Miller, who now lives in Kimberley, BC.

“Fast forward a few decades, and when I was looking for ideas for my third novel in the Milligan Creek Series, this seemed like the perfect premise,” he said.

“However, I raised the stakes considerably, shifting from suction cup darts to water. The players start with water pistols, but the more ‘kills’ they make, the more they can upgrade their equipment, both offensively and defensively, incorporating all sorts of water-based assassination devices.

“They can also bring ‘dead’ players onto their team.

“So, as the story progresses, the action and the craziness increase exponentially.

“The upgrading part was inspired by my son’s love of the video game Destiny, which allows you to customize your character. Once I had laid out the rules of the Water War -- my version of Assassin -- we actually tried it out at my son’s birthday party to make sure it worked.”

The author also noted; “I dedicated the book in part to Rick and Glenn.” However, he also noted he has had no success in tracking down the pair, although he would certainly like to.

So what was it about the original germ of an idea that Miller found so enticing?

“This is exactly the sort of story I loved reading when I was in elementary and middle school,” he said. “My biggest inspirations in this genre are Gordon Korman, Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, and Shel Silverstein. All four of these writers combine absurdity with humor and adventure. I strive to do the same thing with my books.

“Of the three books in the series so far, I think The Water War takes these elements the furthest, with all sorts of quirky characters creating increasingly ridiculous situations as they obsessively go after their goal.”

Interesting Miller went off script with his latest book in terms of his approach to writing.

“I took a slightly different approach to writing this book than I have with previous novels,” he said.

“Normally, I spend a lot of time outlining -- breaking the book down into chapters and writing a brief summary of each -- before I begin the manuscript itself. This is a huge help when it comes to the writing process.

“However, with this book, I only outlined the first few chapters or so. I also knew roughly how I wanted the story to end, but I wasn’t sure how to get there. But I threw caution to the wind and sat down each day not really knowing where I was going to go next. But doing that actually gave me -- and my characters -- a lot of freedom to follow the story as it developed. I often say my characters have way better ideas than I do, so, this being the third novel in the series, I just put my characters into difficult situations and then ran alongside taking notes as they tried to figure things out.

“This approach also allowed for a lot of growth in terms of the cast, with several ‘walk-on’ characters taking on unexpectedly bigger roles as the story developed. It was an exciting, gratifying process that often surprised me. Hopefully, that leads to lots of fun surprises for readers as well.”

The resulting book did end being more intricate in its storyline, perhaps in part because of the more free-flowing writing process.

“This novel is a bit more complex than previous instalments in that, at one point, the plot diverges into a number of parallel storylines, so I had to keep track of the various timelines and also figure out the most effective moments to cut from one storyline to the next and back again,” said Miller. “I also spent a lot of time brainstorming and researching innovative and funny ways to ‘kill’ people with water. It’s harder than you think.”

But the method of the madness became the best aspect of the book too.

“I think the best aspect of the book is the extremes to which the characters go to win the game or to prove a point to themselves or others,” said Miller. “Extreme characters make for great action and comedy, and this book is full of extremists.”

And the final story is one the author is very satisfied with.

“Yes, I’m very satisfied with the story,” offered Miller. “I was at a writing workshop the other day when the instructor asked us why we write. One person replied that he got a dopamine rush every time he created something good. I feel the same way. I am so excited to get this novel into the hands of kids -- and adults -- who enjoy this type of fiction.”

While a range of ages may find the book enjoyable, The Water War, like other books in the Milligan Creek Series, is aimed at kids ages 8-12.

“I always say you can skew that range up or down depending on the reader,” said Miller. “The books--Unlimited and The Water War in particular--also have some fun story lines involving adults, so I think adults will enjoy the books as well.”

And there is more to come for the characters Miller has created.

“The next title in the series is The Great Grain Elevator Incident. I’ve already outlined the novel and am about to start writing it, with plans to release it in late summer/early fall 2019,” said Miller.

“In the meantime, I’m going to spend the next several months touring across Western Canada doing writing workshops at various schools and conferences and introducing myself and my books to young readers everywhere.”

Readers can keep up with Miller and his work at www.kevinmillerxi.com. His books, including the earlier titles in the series; Up the Creek! and Unlimited are available through Chapters/Indigo/Coles and Amazon.ca as well as his website.

© Copyright Yorkton This Week

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