Monday, December 27, 2010

Interview with Author J. Steve Miller

J. Steve Miller - educator, investor, entrepreneur, and speaker - has taught audiences from Atlanta to Moscow. He’s known for drawing practical wisdom from serious research and communicating it in accessible, unforgettable ways. This is an award-winning book, geared to 16 - 30 year olds. Steve is happily married to Cherie and has seven sons.

"Had I read this book in my 20’s, I’d be financially independent today. It’s a remarkable blend of fabulous research with clear and lively writing. You’d pay an expert quite a sum for this caliber of counsel. That’s why I say that the best investment you make this year just might be this book. Your second best investment will be the copies you buy for your children." (Dr. Dwight "Ike" Reighard, Former Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer of HomeBanc) 

Hello Steve. Wow! Seven sons and no daughters? Now that’s quite an accomplishment. My husband and I did quite the opposite. We had six daughters and no sons. Okay, tell us about yourself and why you wrote this book.

Six daughters? That had to have been more challenging than raising seven sons!

My life circumstances motivated me to write the book. I’m not the guy who worked a big time corporate job all his life and just needed to learn how to choose between the best investments for retirement. I’m the guy who worked high impact, low-paying jobs that were very fulfilling, but didn’t bring in much money. In fact, I worked my way down the corporate ladder from pastor to youth minister to missionary to writer. I’ve had to constantly struggle with how to make it on small salaries.

Then, while we were living in Slovakia training youth workers, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. She died four years later, leaving me with four young boys to raise. I later married Cherie, who was raising three boys on her own. I quickly realized that if we couldn’t get all these boys independent, we would all sink. So I began to study personal finance in depth – reading all the respected gurus of personal money management, plus adding the wisdom I’d gleaned from a lifetime of reading biographies of remarkable people. So I can identify with people who are struggling, both emotionally and financially.

Today I help with my mom and grandmom (104 years-old), who live next door, so I understand some of the challenges of caretaking for the elderly as well.

This sounds like it would help my children in their lives. Where did you get your inspiration for your book? Did you get your ideas from your own experiences?

It’s actually written more like a screenplay, which gives it more white space, making the story move along faster. With five or more characters constantly interacting, it became tedious repeating “said Akashi,” “said James,” etc. The screenplay format solved that problem. Most readers seem to like it. None of the characters are patterned after any specific people, but aspects of people I’ve known are all over it.

My parents were huge role models for me in personal finance and life in general. So much of the wisdom of the eccentric mentor, Mrs. Kramer, comes from my parents. My dad worked hard during the week, but didn’t make his vocation his god. My mom was very frugal, but generous with giving.

I think the main thing my parents did right was to resist adult peer pressure – the pressure to wear the right clothes and drive the right cars to show off your success. They were counterculture in that sense, which gave inspiration to calling the group of characters “The Counterculture Club.” To this day, although she retired well, mom buys her clothes from resale stores. It’s not that she’s so disciplined that she can resist the urge to spend; she relishes saving and can’t stand to overpay.

I know how your mother feels. I hate to overpay. A reviewer wrote, “A fast, fun read with practical and often remarkable insights. Should be required reading for every high school senior and every young adult who has landed his or her first full-time job.” (Robert Martin, Lecturer of Accounting, Kennesaw State University) Tell us, how do you make a finance book become a fast and fun read?

Most people hate reading financial books. I mean, who’s waiting with abated breath for their favorite financial author to release his new book so that they can snuggle up with it on a cozy couch for the weekend? For me personal finance is more about people than accounting. People have wildly different personalities, different life goals, different strengths and weaknesses. By telling a story with diverse characters, I could bring out those differences and allow readers to see bits of themselves in the characters. In the process, readers can envision how wise financial principles can apply differently to different people’s lives.

It’s also made interesting by the counterintuitive insights that my research brings out. It’s not just the same old stuff you hear on the radio. Thomas Jefferson was one of our most brilliant presidents, but spent his retirement worrying about his huge debt. The manager of the hugely successful band, Led Zeppelin, ended up their last tour broke. What can we learn from their successes and failures? Often, we find that the answers aren’t what you’d first expect.

What’s the story line?

Four diverse students meet in “In School Suspension.” They’re from different parts of the school culture, so they assume they have nothing in common. But as they talk to avoid studying, they discover that their parents are all hopeless at personal finance and it hurts their families. They want to do better. So they meet Mrs. Kramer each Saturday morning for breakfast. She tells stories of interesting people and encourages wide open discussions with the students.

While it targets 16-30 year-olds, I get great reviews from people in their 50’s and 60’s who love the wisdom and format. Parents read it, then pass it on to their children or give it away for Christmas, New Years’ goals and resolutions, and graduation/weddings. 

What does your family think about your writing?

My wife’s a writer as well, so it’s incredibly fun running stuff by each other. She and my mom are my first-line editors. I also run ideas past my children.

Writing has allowed me to be a stay at home dad and caretaker for my grandmom, while Cherie works in a Masters program at Kennesaw State University. I think the kids appreciate having regular meals and having me around. I’ve certainly enjoyed it. Plus, I’ve kept them from burning down the house, which could have happened on more than one occasion.

This was fun getting to know you, Steve. You have a great sense of humor, but then I guess you have to with seven sons! Okay, tell us something about the real you that we’ll never forget.

Three things:

•I’m scared of heights but I love hiking in the mountains and rappelling. I went zip-lining with the kids last weekend.
•I’m claustrophobic, but I love caving. It’s always an incredible adventure, but I often freak-out at least once on a trip and my kids have to talk me through.
•Our lives got so crazy with seven boys and their friends constantly in and out, that one day I discovered a homeless guy who had been living with us for a couple of weeks. Cherie and I had never noticed. Seriously. 

That is sooooo funny! You must have a lot of kids running around your place to not notice a stranger for two weeks. Okay, now we know the real you: The Acrophobic and Claustrophobic Author whom unknowingly houses homeless friends!

Steve's Website:
Check out his book at Amazon


Steve Miller said...

Thanks for the interview, Linda! Hope you've had a great Christmas. We had a white one here in Atlanta - the first one since 1882. It was really special. One of our boys had acquired a dog sled as a novelty a month ago. We hooked up his Husky and toured the neighborhood. Quite comical in Georgia!

A Korean literary agency asked last week for an option to offer Enjoy Your Money! to Korean publishers. Always exciting to see international interest.

Mary (BookHounds) said...

Hi Linda!

I have this posted on win a book!

Mindie said...

Sounds like a book I could really use. As a single mom I am trying to become more money savvy> I don't have the money to fall in to the peer-pressure problem. It all goes to my kids!!

bsyb100 at gmail dot com

pennyt said...

I'm certainly no longer a teenager, or even a young adult, but I'm always looking for ways to stretch a dollar, so I think I'd enjoy this. Great interview.

Christine H said...

I could really use this book. I don't know how to say a dime, I'd like to read it maybe it could change my ways. My husband on the other hand loves to save, but he ha to put up with me spending. :(

This book sounds great!!! Thanks for the chabce to win it!!

Jennifer said...

Thanks for a great interview. Wow, Steve and his wife had a stranger living in their house for a while and didn't even realize it?? We have always tried to live well within our means - I think we were among the last people in America to get cellphones. Our 18 year old son has just started college and is also working so this would be a very timely book for him.
Thank you,
jryder416 at yahoo dot com

Anonymous said...

"It’s actually written more like a screenplay,..."

Sometimes its hard to get into books on saving money, funding retirement, etc. I think this type of format would make it easier to read and understand.

Mozi Esme said...

Looks interesting!

janemaritz at yahoo dot com

karenk said...

i'm interested in this book...thanks for sharing :)

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

shanaelyse said...

Oh wow...what I wouldn't do for a copy of this book! I try and be as frugal as possible, but in New York City, well, it's not easy. :) I think the idea of avoiding "adult peer pressure" is something we forget about when thinking of budgets and saving our money, and it's great to see this mentioned.

Charlotte Kay said...

I am interested in a copy of this book!
It sounds as if it has such practical advice which I could use!
Thank you for the opportunity to win it!
chakasa58 at gmail dot com

Linda Weaver Clarke said...

Congratulations, Mindie! I know you'll enjoy this book. I know I did. He has some real good advice.