When Joyce A. Miller turned 60, her curiosity fueled the writing for her debut historical fiction novel, Joe Harris, the Moon, based on her granduncle’s life at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Her cousin, Bob Harris, who is a huge baseball fan and cares deeply about their family history, did most of the research for the story. It was a joy for Miller to piggyback on his research and dig deeper into the history of southwestern Pennsylvania and the baseball world. She wanted to unravel the truth of Joe Harris’ story through fiction.
Miller retired at 60 and moved to the Church Hill section of Richmond, Virginia. She moved to Richmond to be closer to her adult children, who went to college at VCU and never returned home. She lives in renovated, red brick building that was once a 1910 industrial brush factory. Miller can almost see her Uncle Joe as a young man leaning against the massive twelve-inch by twelve-inch oak wooden pillars in her living room.
Miller lives with her husband, Alan, and her retired racing greyhound, Coheed. Coheed, like all racing greyhounds, was registered with a racing name. The breeder gave him and his littermates the names of rock and roll bands, and he became CoheedandCambria. Miller just kept the Coheed part. Miller wonders if Coheed could name her, would he keep “Joyce” or name her something else.
Before Miller retired to write full time, she worked as a mechanical designer at Jefferson Lab, a nuclear physics laboratory, in Newport News, VA for over thirty years. How does a little girl born in southwestern Pennsylvania grow up to work at a state-of-the-art, cutting edge nuclear physics laboratory? She always loved to draw but was also good at math. Her dad told her to “learn a trade.” So, after a short stint at college to study German, she switched to a technical school and became a draftsman. Miller believes she had the same wanderlust that her granduncle Joe had. Her first job, where she was the only woman draftsman, was at a vacuum products company in Pittsburgh where most of their archived drawings had been destroyed in a flood. Her job, since her hand lettering was so neat, was to lay a piece of vellum over the wrinkled and water stained drawings and trace them. She learned about vacuum drying systems like freeze dryers for coffee, rotary dryers for pharmaceuticals and autoclave dryers for impregnating telephone poles with creosote. Because she had gained a little vacuum experience, her next job was at a German company that produced vacuum vane pumps in the United States. Miller’s job was to translate the German drawings into English. When she moved to Virginia, she worked for a ship design company making waste and oily wastewater piping drawings for Navy frigates. And with that accumulated experience of vacuum and piping, Miller got the job at the nuclear physics laboratory designing cryogenics piping, vacuum systems and superconducting magnets.
It was at the physics laboratory where she met several French colleagues who came to the laboratory to do their experiments. As their work relationship blossomed into friendship, Miller traveled with them to unique areas of France about once every three years or so. They introduced her to great wine, stinky cheese and gourmet food. One day, Miller will have them take her to the Argonne Forest where Joe fought in the trenches.
When Miller is not writing, her friends say that she intentionally curates experiences for them. She still likes to draw and paint like she did when she was a child. In 2001, Miller adopted her first ex-racing greyhound named A Bar Kit and trained her to be a therapy dog. She and Kit visited the local library where kids would read to Kit. A friend suggested to Miller that she should try canine freestyle, also called dog dancing, with Kit. Canine freestyle is a dog sport where one teaches the dog to do certain tricks which are then choreographed to a piece of music; and it looks like the dog and handler are dancing. So, when Miller turned 50 years old, she signed up for an adult tap and jazz class so she could be a better dog dancer with her greyhounds. She likes to tap dance because it makes such a joyful noise. She continues to train dogs and volunteers with the greyhound adoption group.
She likes to practice yoga and swim at the beach now and then. But if Miller really had to swim to save her life, she would just perish.