G. Wayne Miller is a staff writer at The Providence Journal, a documentary filmmaker, and the author of three horror/mystery novels, a sci-fi/horror short story collection and seven books of non-fiction, including THE XENO CHROICLES: Two Years on the Frontier of Medicine Inside Harvard’s Transplant Research Lab and KING OF HEARTS: The True Story of the Maverick Who Pioneered Open Heart Surgery, which is in Hollywood development. He has been honored for his writing more than 40 times and was a member of the Providence Journal team that was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in Public Service. Three documentaries he wrote and co-produced have been broadcast on PBS, including The Providence Journal’s COMING HOME, about veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nominated in 2012 for a New England Emmy and winner of a regional Edward R. Murrow Award. Miller is Visiting Fellow at Salve Regina University’s Pell Center, in Newport, Rhode Island, where he is co-director of the Story in the Public Square program, www.publicstory.org. Visit Miller at www.gwaynemiller.com
The Thunder Rise trilogy:
–– Thunder Rise
–– Summer Place
Since the Sky Blew Off: The Essential G. Wayne Miller Fiction, Vol. 1
(Volumes 2 and 3 will be published by Cross Road Press)
The Work of Human Hands: Hardy Hendren and Surgical Wonder at Children’s Hospital
Coming of Age: The True Adventures of Two American Teens
Toy Wars: The Epic Struggle Between G.I. Joe, Barbie and the Companies That Make Them
King of Hearts: The True Story of the Maverick Who Pioneered Open Heart Surgery
Men and Speed: A Wild Ride Through NASCAR’s Breakout Season
The Xeno Chronicles: Two Years on the Frontier of Medicine Inside Harvard’s Transplant Research Lab
An Uncommon Man: The Life and Times of Senator Claiborne Pell
Writer and co-producer
On the Lake: Life and Love in a Distant Place
Behind the Hedgerow: Eileen Slocum and the Meaning of Newport Society
Bishop Bob (with Drew Smith)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOU TO START WRITING?
My love of reading and my parents, Roger and Mary Miller, both of whom also loved reading and had great respect for the written word. My airplane-mechanic father was a newspaper man –– read two dailies, the local Wakefield (Mass.) Daily Item and The Boston Globe, pretty much every day of his life until he died. In fact, one of his last conscious acts, on his hospital death bed, as I sat with a laptop writing his eulogy (which I wish now I had let him see), was reading the Globe’s sports pages (see: http://gwaynemiller.blogspot.com/2012/12/my-dad-and-airplanes.html).
My mother was more into books. She loved the dictionary, and had me reading it from a young age. We had little money growing up, but she scrimped to buy me books, including volumes of a children’s encyclopedia –– one at a time, every week from the local A&P. And she insisted on me learning proper spelling, grammar and pronunciation, which could be a pain at the age of six or seven, but in hindsight has served me very well. I wrote my first short story in fifth grade or so, on my own; it was about creatures living under the sea. I talk about all of this in more detail at the final interview on http://www.gwaynemiller.com/inter.htm -- starts about halfway down that page.
AS YOU'VE MENTIONED IN OUR MESSAGES, YOU'VE MADE YOUR LIVING WRITING NON FICTION. HOW DOES THAT DIFFER FROM WRITING FICTION IN REGARDS TO YOUR ROUTINE?
Routine is no different, really: up very early, a cup of Early Grey/green tea and straight to the keyboard. Write, write, write, throughout much of the day –– also regularly in my head, where what’s been called “prewriting” takes place. This is my passion, and I love it (it can annoy the shit out of people around you, I would add, not proudly). Method and means, of course, are different: fiction and non-fiction. Non-fiction generally requires much more outreach, to people and places such as libraries and archives. Fiction-writing is generally more isolating. You can almost literally disappear into your head. That’s a whole other discussion.
WHAT KIND OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE A WRITER THAT’S JUST STARTING OUT?
Absorb Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, first published in 1959 and still the gospel. Be sparing with adjectives and adverbs, as White and Strunk advise. Use active, not passive, construction. Dialogue is critical. Don’t let momentary rejection and failure defeat you, they’re part of the game. Listen to trusted friends and colleagues who read your stuff –– listen, and then decide what makes sense. Don’t bullshit yourself. Don’t be grandiose. Don’t be cute. Don’t envy other writers. Disregard sycophants and naysayers. Don’t do it for money or fame. Be patient –– if you’re serious, you’re in it for the (very) long haul.
And once more: Write, write, write. Then rewrite. There is no magic formula, but magic can emerge from an active and curious mind, a vigorous and well-practiced imagination, from energy and desire to work hard, and discipline. The old 99 percent perspiration v. 1 percent inspiration thing really is true.
Above all, tell a story, emphasizing character, emotion and narrative. Your goal is to elicit a one-word response from your readers: “Wow.”
TELL EVERYBODY ABOUT YOUR NEW PROJECTS.
Wrapping up two more collections of horror/mystery/sci-fi short stories, completing a novel, a non-fiction book due out in the fall from Simon & Schuster, trying to get a project to the big screen, and an ongoing series about the impact of digital technology on our lives for The Providence Journal, http://gwaynemiller.blogspot.com/2013/04/ewave-digital-revolution-projo-series.html. That’s enough on my plate, right?
IF YOU HAD THE POWER, WHAT DEAD CELEBRITY WOULD YOU BRING BACK TO LIFE AND WHAT USE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THEM?
I’d choose three “celebrities” –– religious figures all. I’d bring back Muhammad, the Buddha and Jesus, getting them together in one room for a roundtable discussion. These three “celebrities” have influenced human thought and history more than any others, of course. And I’d want to include Mary, Joan of Arc and Mother Teresa in the discussion.
WE WHO ARE HIS FOLLOWERS IS DEFINITELY ONE OF MY FAVORITE STORIES. WHEN I FIRST READ IT IN HORROR SHOW MAGAZINE IN THE LATE EIGHTIES, IT BLEW ME AWAY. WHAT INFLUENCED YOU WRITE THAT STORY?
This was during the dying days of the Soviet Union, when the Cold War still haunted America and the threat of nuclear annihilation was real, albeit less dire than during my 1960s childhood, when it was a sword hanging over us all (even children felt it). So for some time, I’d been fascinated with real-life dystopian and post-apocalyptic themes –– and then I read Stephen King’s short story Night Surf, a masterpiece that, to use your phrase (and to make a bad pun), blew me away. I haven’t read it in years, but its imagery remains strong in my head. King was influenced me more than any other writer –– in both my fiction and non-fiction. But I digress…
So Night Surf motivated me to try my own stories in that genre. And I wrote many of them, some published in my first collection, Since the Sky Blew Off (the title story is indeed post-apoc, along with We Who are His Followers) and some due in v. 2, Vapors, due out this summer from Crossroad Press, and v. 3, as yet untitled.
I brought something fresh to Followers, and that was the religious absolutism, a long-simmering result, I am sure, of my strict Catholic upbringing and parochial school years. Just look at the old Baltimore Catechism, with its rigidity, repressed sexuality, harsh and unforgiving god, relentless fear-mongering (of eternal damnation, for example), etc. In various ways, and still to this day, I have struggled with separating the extraordinary message of Christ, which is compassion, charity and love, from the unbending orthodoxy that flows from the
I have high hopes for the humble Francis, patron of the poor and sick). You’re
getting me going here!
Let’s leave it that I have great respect and admiration for the good work of the many good and decent followers of Christ today, whether clerical or lay person, male or female. I have come to really love contemporary Catholic nuns, including my dear sister friends at a nearby Carmelite monastery and the Sisters of Mercy, notably those who run Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., where I am visiting fellow and co-director of the Story in the Public Square program, a site and forum and conferences to celebrate storytelling in all its forms,http://www.publicstory.org/ (yes, that’s a pitch, check us out).
WHO’S YOUR FAVORITE CRIMINAL OR CRIME COMMITTED, HISTORICALLY?
Can’t name just one. I am fascinated by Lizzie Borden, Albert DeSalvo (“the Boston Strangler”), Charles Manson, Charles Starkweather (because of his fictionalized portrayal in Badlands, one of my favorite films) and a 19th-century Wyoming outlaw named George “Big Nose” Parrott, whose nose really was big and whose skin was made into a pair of shoes that you can still see in a museum out there. True story.
WHAT’S THE BEST AND WORST BOOK YOU’VE EVER READ AND IT’S OK TO TELL US YOU’RE GUILTY PLEASURE AS AFAR AS BOOKS OR OTHER ENTERTAINMENT.
I wouldn’t disparage a fellow writer by naming her/his book the “worst.” And I would have a difficult time naming the “best” –– really, this is all so subjective. I can tell you that my favorite writers include Poe, Lovecraft and King (no surprise), Jonathan Harr, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Dan Barry and Gail Collins of The New York Times, and the list goes on… My guilty pleasure is Showtime.
IT SEEMS I’M FINDING CERTAIN MAGAZINES ANYMORE RELY ON A FORMULA. SUCH AS ELLERY QUEEN AND ALFRED HITCHCOCK MYSTERY MAGAZINE, NOT TAKING CHANCES LIKE THEY USED TO. HAVE YOU NOTICED THAT AND WAS IT HARD TO BREAK INTO THOSE MARKETS?
I think mainstream publications do try to play it safe more than before. Back when I was trying to break into those publications, it was very difficult –– way more rejections than sales. Which brings us back to the importance of accepting “failure.” I just kept writing, and submitting, and as I kept writing, my mastery of the craft improved and eventually outsiders noticed. The good news is that with the internet and e-books, and self-publishing, way more opportunities exist today. Still, at the end of the day, the quality of the story is what makes or breaks a writer.
WAYNE, I HAVE TO TELL YOU, I WAS AWAKEN BY A SPIRIT IN THE NIGHT AND IT VIOLENTLY MADE ME PROMISE TO ASK YOU THIS QUESTION OR IT IS CURTAINS FOR ME. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE JERRY LEWIS MOVIE?
Easy: The Nutty Professor.
LISTEN TO WAYNE'S STORY ON DARK DREAMS "WE WHO ARE HIS FOLLOWERS" AND MAKE SURE YOU LISTEN TO "ALL MY CHILDREN" THAT IS FEATURED IN THE BAD TRIPS DEPARTMENT OF EPISODE 3 OF BLACKOUT CITY.