Double Lives: Jim Miller

Basie, meet Paisley. Paisley, meet Basie. This brother and sister twosome have been inked to life by PR man Jim Miller, whose careers perch on the cusp of image and imagination. The 34-year-old father of two does double duty as an account manager at Franco Public Relations Group and as author of the Basie and Paisley children’s book series.

Miller, a publicist for 12 years, spends weekdays on account work, media outreach, and strategic planning for clients in a broad range of industries. His career was launched unintentionally when he accepted an internship offer from marketing and PR firm Publicity Works! during his last semester at Oakland University, where he received a BA degree in communications in 1999. He’d planned to return to school for an elementary education teaching certificate, but passed that up to take the full time offer. “[Teaching] would’ve been my other life,” Miller says.

When Miller left Publicity Works! after 11 years, he had reached the post of public relations manager. “It was a small company and I was forced to be hands-on in every way. It was a great experience.”

Miller now serves on Franco’s Leadership Team, where he mentors younger colleagues and develops new business for the 12-employee firm. “Just going from where I started as an intern in this field to helping Detroit’s oldest PR firm plan for the future, that’s thrilling, and I’m honored and excited to be a part of it.”

Most personally rewarding for him is being sought out to assist with large events, such as chairing the media committee for the Bravo!Bravo! fundraiser at the Detroit Opera House. Most recently he promoted the New Year’s Eve ball drop in downtown Detroit, with nearly 1,000 people in attendance.

Chris Ramos, owner of The Night Move eco-bus service, who worked with Miller to plan marketing and publicity for Bravo!Bravo!, says Miller is Metro Detroit’s go-to PR guy. “If you need to be on the news tomorrow morning, I have a good feeling that he could make it happen.”

This literary-PR simulcast isn’t Miller’s first time on the old one-two shift. A lover of music – from classical to Metallica to Kid Rock – and performance (as a student at Waterford Mott high school he sang with Sesame Street’s Bob McGrath), Miller also spent eight years live on WXOU 88.3, Oakland University’s radio station. As DJ Jimmy Swing he helmed the mic during the late 1990s. “I played a lot of swing and jazz and big bands and Dixie, all that kind of fun stuff,” he recalls. After the station switched to a rock format, Jimmy Swing became Jimmy Diggs on the Friday evening rock-hip-hop blend, “The Top 40 Conspiracy”.

“I’d run home from work on Fridays and grab my music, then I’d run back out to the university.”

He went off the dial when his first daughter was born in 2006. “I wanted to dedicate my time to being a father.”

But his creative itch still needed scratching.

You could say that fatherhood inspired his turn as an author. His first book, A Spider Lives in My Bellybutton, was published in 2009. “I wanted to do something that would outlast me, and that’ll be around when I’m gone.” The project, he hopes, will show his daughters that whatever they wish, it’s possible. “You just have to put your time in.”

A Spider Lives in My Bellybutton follows the discoveries of Basie, a purple hued fellow whose visage is a mix between a boyish Humpty Dumpty and a turnip. Miller, whose favorite children’s authors are Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, intends to stir creativity and imagination in the tadpole set. 

At readings for kids, “I try to tell them, ‘Raise your hand if you have something silly you can think of. Write that down or have your parents write it down and put it away, put it somewhere safe and maybe when you’re older, that can be your own book.’ “

His second volume, A Monstrous Smile, celebrates simplicity – what makes Basie’s look-alike sister Paisley smile, like giving a friend a gift, dancing in a field of flowers with a tutu, and playing hide-and-seek.

The books are a collaboration between Miller and his sister, Leslie Kelly, a graphic designer at HoMedics, Inc. and illustrator of the series. “If I was thinking about him as a client, he’s probably the best client I’ve ever worked with because our ideas are kind of similar and he doesn’t make many changes. He kind of lets me run free and do [the illustrations] I want,” Kelly explains.

The first book took three years, from conception to storyline to graphics to printing and copyrights. Self-publishing was initially a fluky affair – an initial run with below par print quality led the partners to switch printing companies – but he wants to stay the course.

“If I went through the route of traditional publishing with an agent, I may never get published or it could be 10 years or whatever, and I’m like, ‘I don’t want to wait. I just want to do it now,’ ” Miller says. “I can make it happen by itself, I can control it and this way… things are produced here in our own country. It matters to some people; it matters to me.”

Miller and Kelly call their endeavors little more than a hobby, but results would show the pastime is more than just a flight of fancy and indeed has turned into a second vocation for each. The pair distribute the books on Amazon and have made them available in local bookstores for just over a year now, where they’ve been well-received. About 500 copies have sold to date. They’ve yet to break even, but, Miller says, “We’ve been amazed at having to restock the stores.”

Two more titles are in progress. The Moose in the Basement, with a projected summer 2011 release, brings out a new player, Willoughby, who’s modeled after a wallaby. And a holiday-themed tale should print before the holidays, to coincide with Miller’s annual reading at the Union General Store in downtown Clarkston.

Duality means a more well-rounded life, Miller says. “It brings a balance. I get to do what I do at work, which involves creativity and, what have you, strategic thinking, but at the same time I also get to do that for my Basie and Paisley children’s books. If anything, it builds upon skill sets for what you do as a career.”

Miller’s authoring pursuits are one of his most engaging aspects, Ramos, the owner of The Night Move, feels. “In 2010 and 2011, it seems like everyone kind of had to diversify, so it’s almost only smart to do that. And whether you’re still within your realm or if you really go out… in left field, and [publish] a children’s book, more power to you!”

Tanya Muzumdar is a freelance writer, the managing editor of Research Corridor and the assistant editor for Metromode and Concentrate. Her previous story was The Home Court Advantage.

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All Photos by David Lewinski Photography