Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Talk with Terin Miller :)

A writer, an editor, Terin Miller, is a vivacious person. His all-time favourite quotation, from a book called "Nowhere Men," author unremembered, about refugees "between the wars" in Europe:
"Men look so peaceful when they sleep..."

Here he talks more about his journey into the field of writing:

1. What made you want to become a writer?

I wrote my first short story—one page long—when I was 7. I just wanted to tell a story, so I wrote a kind of episode from my favourite television show, The Mod Squad, and imagined me and my friends as the characters of the show: Pete, Link and Julie. And it all sort of unrolled like a movie or show in my head as I wrote it down. So, I guess I felt the need to try and put what was in my head on paper, and that’s what made me want to become a writer.

2. What are some things you like to do when you’re not writing?

That’s a great question! Let’s see. I’m a pretty good motorcycle mechanic. As I’ve told others, if I couldn’t write I think I’d be happy being a mechanic. I like making things run. Which is why I purchased a barely running, used motorcycle a few years ago and now it runs almost as if it were new. 
I also enjoy fishing—fly fishing, particularly—and I’m a fourth-degree certified Master Taekwondo Instructor. I like teaching, and practicing, Taekwondo.
And I like camping, hiking, horseback riding, cooking, eating, and reading. Also I especially enjoy getting together with friends, particularly creative friends: writers, actors, musicians, painters, sculptors, etc, and discussing both similarities and differences in arts, and sharing ideas.

3. Why did you choose Author’s Empire?

Again, a great question. In a way, Author’s Empire chose me. Quite literally, I’d been trying for years to get publishers in the United States to consider publishing my novels and stories, particularly those set in India, without luck. I even had a literary agent—my first—try and sell American publishers on the idea, but at the time, none were interested. It seems to always take a first, break-through book, and many major publishers just aren’t that interested in taking a risk. They’d much rather have a bunch of writers who “write like” everyone they’ve ever known who has sold millions of books, so they could guarantee their income. I had self-published a couple of my novels set in India when a colleague, an Indian-American, who read my first one and got her relatives to all read it, lamented with me over drinks at a Cuban bar in Manhattan that I should really try to market my books in India. About a month later, the CEO of Author’s Empire, Mr. Kunal Marathe, contacted me on Facebook and we began discussing publishing my books in India!

4. Is there a key person or group that has inspired you in the process of writing?

Yes. I’ve most of my life been particularly drawn to the “literary” writers of the 1920s—Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Hugh Mottram—and, except for Fitzgerald, the idea of stripping novels and language of superlatives and adornment, which had been used in propaganda to get young men to fight in World War I for monarchs and others whose interests they didn’t really share, really, really struck me. I had lived through the Bangladesh war and seen propaganda from both sides enflame passions to the point where it seemed to me dangerous, and that also means I’d lived through the escalation of the U.S. war in Vietnam and known many of my sister’s high school class who had gone to war filled with the passion and excitement and either not come back, or not comeback completely. I determined that if I were to write about the stories and events and people that interested me—love, death, what we sometimes call the “hard” questions—I would try and do it as honestly as I possibly could, trying to avoid either glamorizing it or people to the point where reality disappeared. I also really liked Joseph Conrad’s stories, especially Tuan Jim, and Narcissus, and Kipling despite his propaganda streak, more his humorous satirical streak, as in his description of a widow “taking that pukka step” and using her husband’s ashes as so much phosphorus for gardening…

That’s also what led me to journalism, in fact. Most of the writers whose style I admired had learned at some point working on newspapers. I became a journalist for two reasons: to learn how to write well, I thought, and to have experiences from which to write about. And I’ve done both to my satisfaction. The stripping of adornment and potential falsely coloring language is also what attracted me to wireservices, where I’ve spent at least half my now more than 30 year career in journalism. If you want to learn how to ‘write tight,’ there is no better experience than learning to economize on words for a wireservice.

5. What do you think is your biggest strength when it comes to writing?

Description and dialogue. I have been either blessed or cursed with a near-photographic memory. I say near because I’ve come to realize that no two human beings even ever remember the same incident exactly the same. There will be some common points—the date, the clothes they wore, maybe what they ate—but there will be differences as well. It was raining. It was dry. I’d just come from the gym. I’d just taken a shower. Which is why I write fiction, instead of memoir. Because ultimately, I contend, all memoir has some element of fiction. And nobody can tell me “that didn’t happen that way,” because either they’re dead, or I can simply say “I know. It’s fiction. I made it up!”

6. What message do you want to convey to your audience through your book?

Wow. That must be the one single best question I’ve EVER been asked. Well, I guess, for Kashi, I want to convey to my audience through my book that everyone has a different way of seeing things, of behaving, and that my being essentially a fan of individuality, and personal freedoms, I try not to judge others. But often, especially young people seem to either forget or not realize or perhaps not really care, that as we parents like to say, “with freedom comes responsibility.” In some societies, for instance, it is considered acceptable, or even admirable, for men to have multiple sexual partners and adventures. Yet, in those same societies, it is forbidden for women. And the women who enjoy the company of such men are suspected of improper behaviour. Yet, generally speaking, it isn’t possible for a woman to get pregnant without some man being involved.  Why should men be free to be profligate, while women are condemned or worse for the same behaviour? Because they get pregnant? With freedom comes responsibility. I was taught that from my teen years. Because my parents had lived through The Great Depression, and essentially raised themselves from the age of 10 at that time, and even the mere conscience of my mother would never allow me to get someone pregnant and think, “wow. What a bummer. For her.”

7. What process did you go through to build the narrative of your book?

Memory. Essentially, my writing involves going back into my brain, being where I first encountered the story or the conditions or the characters, and recalling. I often describe to friends my process of writing is almost more like being a reporter and taking notes. I am an unrepented copious notetaker. I can read back to you conversations I had years ago. Verbatim. With no mistakes in accuracy. I can describe people and places the same way. I once helped a young reporter out upon his return to our newspaper office after a plane crash. I asked him what he saw—not the television version of “what did you feel?” In his notes, he’d instinctually and professionally jotted down things like “a baseball cap on the ground near the body” or something. “Did the baseball cap say anything?” I asked. “Yeah. Yeah, it did. I wrote it down…” And it turned out to be the airport jetfuel spot where the pilot had filled up his plane, which gave us the pilot’s name, and then we were able to talk to authorities about the pilot filing a flight plan and learn how many others were on board and even their names (it was, sadly, the pilot’s family) and ages, before accident investigators even had most of it. From a good note and great observation from a rookie reporter. 

8. Are you planning a sequel of this book?

Yes. Actually, there are two. The stories of John Colson, the narrator, have become a triology. But you’ll have to talk to my publisher to learn more about that, because I don’t want to give away any surprises…

9. Some tips for the budding writers?

The best advice I ever received came from my first literary agent, Ray Puechner, of Peeker Literary Agency. He told me to “write as if you’re writing a letter to a friend.” And learn. Read and analyse. Don’t just read because you like the story. Try and figure out why. Why do you like the story? Do you like how the paragraphs, the sentences are written? Is it the writing, or the story, that is keeping you reading? And read LOTS of people and styles. Even languages. I couldn’t believe it the first novel I read of Juan Benito Perez Galdos’, a Spanish writer of the 1870s-80s. The first novel of his I ever read was Dona Perfecta. And in it, in some of the most descriptive and yet precise Spanish I’ve ever read, he tells a story that includes religious and political elements in it that were essentially the conflicts that formed the basis of The Spanish Civil War. More than 60 years later.  And then there’s journalism: learn how to write a simple declarative sentence. “One true thing,” as Ernest Hemingway said. It forms the basis of everything that comes after it. Hemingway is famous for writing a short story in six words. “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” And Hemingway himself loved the most powerful sentence in the Bible: “Christ wept.”

The Bhagavagita and Upanishads are FILLED with powerful sentences. Often, the shortest are the most powerful. I hope readers discover that is also true of novels packed with short unadorned sentences, as opposed to filled with page after page of vague, non-specific words that ultimately convey nothing other than that either the writer, or the publisher, thought words had to cover more pages…


Kashi is a tale of clashes of cultures, relationship experiments and religious and moral differences in the holiest of Hindu cities, just at the time India’s second generation of independence comes to adulthood in the form of Sumita “Meetha” Sharma.
Meetha Sharma, educated, attractive, worldly, the daughter of a wealthy import-export businessman in the nascent new Indian middle-class, desires to be like her American and other expatriate friends. She chafes at “old world” ideas of behavior and conformity and longs to be seen as an equal in society. But her desires have consequences she doesn’t fully realize, especially for the traditional Hindu musician to whom she was promised when she was 13.
A story of a generation of Indians unlike any that has come before them—born in a free and independent country, a country only granted its freedom after much effort and sacrifice by their forebears, a country only granted the opportunity to rise in the world as its former colonial status fades into history.
First self-published in the United States as ‘From Where The Rivers Come’, Kashi won in the category of Multicultural Fiction in the Best Books 2010 contest, sponsored by USA Book News.
It has also received honorable mention recognition in Writer’s Digest 2010 International Self-Published Book Awards, the 2010 Paris Book Festival and Beach Book Festival in the fiction category and the 2009 New York Festival, the London Book Festival and New England Book Festival.  

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