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Can you tell us a little about yourself? Your profession and your hobbies!!
I’ve been a working professional journalist since 1980 when I began my career as a part-time reporter/correspondent (“stringer”) for TIME magazine. I have been a writer/reporter/foreign correspondent/bureau chief/manager and, for much of the last 17 years, editor, since 1992. After TIME, my next professional assignment was as a “stringer” covering a trial in Varanasi for The Associated Press. Then I went to work on newspapers from Texas to South Carolina, with a year at The Associated Press in North Dakota in between, and some freelancing for The Milwaukee Sentinel/Journal as well. But I got into journalism to learn how to be a better writer, as writing fiction is what I’ve wanted to do since I was 17 years old, graduating from high school, and was taken under the wing of a literary agent who liked one of my short stories published in our high school “literary magazine.” Hobbies: I’m a fourth-degree “Master” in Taekwondo, and have always been interested in/trained in martial arts since I was a teenager. I also love fishing; I enjoy very much camping with my son and his Boy Scount troop, as I love the outdoors, having spent most of my youth in Wisconsin where, many people will tell you, a love for the outdoors will save you from “cabin fever”—feeling trapped inside four walls by inclement weather! I love skiing and ice skating, playing baseball with my son, and I loved playing American football in high school, as well as being a competitive diver back then, and soccer for The American International School in New Delhi in 6th and 7th grades. I also was a drummer both in the U.S. and India: my first overseas performance was with a rock band in 1970 called “The Mystiks,” which played at the Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi where we stayed when we first arrived for my father’s job as Resident Director of the American Institute of Indian Studies. I will never forget to play/to rehearse with them at the age of 11, with a swirling “psychedelic/hypnotic” black and white disk spinning behind me…American Woman, by The Guess Who, was the song they liked me to perform on with them with the most..:-). I had another overseas performance—at a bar the name of which I cannot recall now, in Darjeeling, with my American International School middle school best friend Paul Bollenbeck. Who since has gone on to become a very well known, respected, and admired jazz guitarist, who performs all over the world and teaches at Peabody school of music in Maryland, among other places.
Questionnaire with Terin Miller
1. How did you first get involved in with writing, are you an imaginative person?
I first got involved with writing probably because I guess, like many children, I had a pretty vivid imagination. And my parents loaned me a portable manual typewriter, an Olivetti “Princess,” when I was still in elementary school. My first ever “short story” was a one-page or so attempt at writing an episode of my favorite television show from the 1960s in America, The Mod Squad. I naturally identified with the characters—disaffected American youth who wound up working for the local police force to try and help other “kids” like themselves keep out of trouble. And I saw my friends at the time—a girl I had a crush on from elementary school, and a pal from elementary school—as also characters in the show. The show had three main characters: a woman, played by the jaw-droppingly (I thought at the time) beautiful blonde Peggy Lipton, named “Julie,” a sort of rough-around-the-edges white guy named “Pete,” and an African-American guy named “Link” or “Linc.” So, naturally, I saw myself as ‘Pete,’ my pal as ‘Link’ (even though he was white, like me, but different, like me, in that when I would answer where else I’ve lived as India, he’d answer Denmark) and the girl who similarly to Peggy Lipton parted her long blonde hair in the middle as ‘Julie.’ Am I an imaginative person? J. I think I needed an outlet for some of the memories and experiences I’d already had, having lived in India first (in the hill districts, while my parents were doing anthropology work with Tibetan refugees) before I’d even been to kindergarten in the U.S.
2. What do you find most challenging about your writing?
That is, finding the exact right word, “lot just,” the French would say, to express exactly what I want to express, to describe exactly what I want to describe and to do it exactly how I think I should. It used to be spelling. Spelling correctly in American English used to be my greatest challenge in writing, because I still had English (from India) spellings in my head. My mother suggested this was only an excuse, but I stick by my story. The other challenge about writing for me is time: finding time to actually sit down and think, concentrate, and create and express. It can be VERY time consuming, and it means putting time into it not being put elsewhere, such as my hobbies, or with my family.
3. What do you do when you are not writing?
When I’m not writing? When, exactly, is that? I am writing when I wake up; I’m writing as I go through my day; I’m writing as I fall asleep and when I dream. Part of my brain, I guess, is always working on writing. Even when I read. But when I’m not writing, I read. I love to read. Especially really good writing. Writing I aspire to equal, or best. I am actually very competitive, and part of writing for me is to be the best I possibly can, and hopefully, that means better than some others I know and respect and admire who are or have been “the best.” I also like to work on my motorcycle or any other problem that I can fix preferably with my hands.
4. Where do you see yourself in the next 6 months, and 5 years down the road?
In the next 6 months? Hopefully with The Other Country becoming an international best seller. And I wouldn’t mind it being made into a movie. Five years down the road? Hopefully with a few more books out, and working on another…J.
5. How do you keep coming up with material/content for your story?
Well, for one thing, I do not view it as ‘content.’ That is a term that has in fact, in my opinion, cheapened writing and journalism. Content is what you fill web pages and sites on the internet with. It is what you attract people to your website and the internet with. It could be nonsense in Latin. I don’t write that. I write stories. How do I keep coming up with them? I got into journalism to learn how to write and to have experiences from which to write stories. I’ve been a journalist more than 30 years. I’ve got stuff I only hope I live long enough to get to…as long as you’re alive, and you’re paying attention, and absorbing experiences and details and understanding, that is, learning, I don’t see how anyone can ever “run out” of material for stories. Life is each person’s story. My goal is to write stories reflecting either my life or others, to help someone perhaps without the experience or knowledge or understanding to be able to navigate or somehow better deal with their own life.
6. Any specific tips you have for new writers who want to make it big in the world of published books?
Tips for new writers “wanting to make it big in the world of published books”? Well, there’s one tip plenty of people have given me, that I haven’t been able to bring myself to just flat out do: write what sells. That’s how you make it big in the world of published books. It’s not literature. It’s not art. It’s giving people what they want. It’s sales. That’s how you make it big in the world of published books. I’d love as I said before to be an international best-selling writer. Not to “make it big,” but to have written what I want and found people want to read it, rather than writing what everyone knows people want just to provide “content” for some publisher. You want to write a book to make it big in the world of published books, just read what’s out there, and write something just like it. I’m actually working on a novel now where the character has already made it big and is contemplating his next work, which is probably about a vampire/zombie transvestite teen negotiating the world of drugs and relationships.
7. What’s the best thing a writer can give to his readers?
The best thing a writer can give to his readers? First, why do we assume the writer will be a male? Second: the truth. I write fiction. But that does not mean there is no truth to what I write. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. Don’t lie badly. If you lie well, no one will know what is true and what is fiction in your writing. Sometimes a lie can be truer than what people tell you is the truth. For instance: who is John Colson, the narrator of my three books—the third being The Other Country? While the latest book is a “fictional memoir,” it contains a lot of truth, and a few lies, but as long as it all rings true, it’ll read like a memoir. Which is what I set out to do when I wrote it. To write a character’s memoir. Filled with researchable, verifiable truths.
8. A lot of people are interested in writing for the money earning potential. What are some tips for people interesting in making money from writing? What are some realistic expectations in regards to what can be made?
I am without question the wrong person to ask for tips on writing for the money earning potential. I’ve already given away the big secret of advice on how to make it big, that I’ve never tried to follow; I am not interested in writing for its money earning potential. I think people who are will be easily duped, deluded and disappointed. It’s like wanting to make it big as a rockstar: first, you need to learn to play an instrument, and sing, or write catchy lyrics, and perform and get people to like or want to hear you more. You don’t go from one day sitting on your charpai and thinking: “Oh, this’ll make me rich!” If you do, any Mongoose wallah or fortune teller can take your money with a promise. Though, as a seasoned journalist, I will say: there are a number of careers outside of fiction that value good writing. And they may not make you rich, but they will certainly provide you with an income you might not otherwise qualify for if your only skills are making decent chai. Read. Insatiably. Learn. Before you ever try to put a word on a page. I’ll never forget a rickshaw wallah I met in Varanasi who with some others took a bunch of us University of Wisconsin students to Sarnath one day. Like all ricks, he was waiting for us in the seat of his rickshaw, with the canopy up, when we returned from exploring the place. But unlike all ricks, he wasn’t napping. He wasn’t smoking. He was reading. A novel. In English.
Realistic expectations in regards to what can be made? Well, if people like what you like enough to buy it, you can make a percentage of your work sold for every person that buys it. If enough people buy it and encourage others to, it can add up to everywhere from, say, 10% of every book sold, to every book out of thousands. But you have to realize the sad facts: few people, few writers, ever make enough money off of their writing (fiction, this is) to support themselves. Better, if you’re truly interested in writing, as was I, to get an income in a career that involves writing, than expecting to become rich and famous writing. Even, for instance, F. Scott Fitzgerald, the writer of the internationally famous novel ‘The Great Gatsby,’ which has been made into movies and plays several times, sold only 40,000 copies (a small number compared to others) in its first printing, and died in debt believing himself a failure. Compared to his friend, Ernest Hemingway, who sold something like 267,000 copies of the first printing of his debut novel, The Sun Also Rises, and whose name and fame and books keep making money. Wouldn’t it be better to aspire to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, like Rabindranath Tagore, to actually try and help or change peoples’ lives, and perceptions, than to get rich writing?
9. What motivates you most in life?
Love. Seriously. Love for my family, my friends, my wife, my son, and, truth be told, for humanity. It also, by the way, is the thing that too often depresses me…
My strategy for creating visibility for myself and my writing? Writing. And publishing. And, hopefully, having people discussing my writing. On social media (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Amazon) and anywhere else that is interested. Like this interview…J.
The most challenging moment in my ‘writing content development process’—well, as noted, I don’t write ‘content.’ So I don’t develop ‘content.’ But the most challenging moment in writing has occurred more than once: it is when either someone offers to publish it, or represent it, but wants to change it significantly to make more money off of it for themselves, or convincing someone that people will, in fact, be willing to pay some of their hard earned money to read my stories, because they’re that good, they’re good enough as they are (content-wise) to publish or sell.
I don’t understand this question. I am not a blogger. I don’t have a favorite or least favorite post. Though I will say, killing people over things they post is, in my opinion, infantile.
Writers who I look up to? Pat Conroy just died. His ability to transfer the sound of the ocean on the South Carolina coast in his writing has been, in my opinion, unmatched. I admire Robert Olen Butler for his ability to tell the truth, or several truths, in fiction; I admire Jacquelyn Mitchard for the same reason, and Philip Caputo. Of the writers who have been gone some time, whose work I admire most, I’d have to say Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, and the French writers Emile Zola and Victor Hugo, Balzac, and Prevost. The Spanish writers Federico Garcia Lorca and Juan Benito Perez Galdos, and Argentinian Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And the Russians Mihail Lehrmontov, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. Why? Because all those mentioned have found a way to reveal something about the human condition with an idea of pointing out the need for change, for improvement, for particularly social reform and justice. See? You want to be a writer, read.
10. What is the story behind the name of your book?No one has ever asked me that. So, I’ll tell you. In the early 1920s, Ernest Hemingway wrote a series of short stories dealing with his experiences in World War I. He’d only been in the war, really, about a month, if that. But he wrote a short story called: “In Another Country,” that really stuck with me throughout my youth, as did most of his writing following my experiences in India as a preteen and teenager. I’d avoided writing much about it, getting as close to the truth as possible, most of my adult life because I felt, compared to most, my experiences were too brief, too fleeting, to really have any concept of the subject: the attraction of war to children, particularly boys, and men who have never seen it. And the danger it poses because of that attraction to those people. And then I reread “In Another Country.” And I had my title. The writing was honestly pretty easy after that.
A genre that “gets the raw deal”? Great fiction is written by women that get labeled “Chic-Lit” or “Women’s Fiction.” Flahnerry O’Connor was a brilliant writer. Eudora Welty. Jane Austen. Mary Shelley. Marie Belloc Lowndes. Jackie Mitchard. Caroline Leavitt. So many women writing great fiction now. If you like a book, look to see who the author is. But don’t decide whether or not to read something based on whether the author is a man or a woman, or if the subject matter seems to be about love as opposed to war. One of the best books I’ve read in a long time, fiction, was “The Merrill Diaries,” by Susan Tepper. Yes, the main character is a woman. Yes, there’s much about relationships in it. But it is really, truly, a character study of the experiences and inside the head of a “modern” woman. It’s brilliant. It’s literature. Literary art. Not just “a book by a woman for women.” Any man worth his salt will not only find Merrill attractive but understand why.
11. Five adjectives to describe me? Passionate. Fearless. Devoted. Dedicated. Self-confident.
The book that has without question made the biggest impact on me, and in a good way, since high school would unquestionably be and I’m sure my close friends from that time will agree: The Sun Also Rises. It was heartbreaking, and beautiful, with a clear, honest, simplicity of language, not trying to trick you or convince you or do anything to you other than take you on a trip to another country with people who were as out-of-time and out-of-place as I often felt.
Easily provoked by positive/negative comments? Probably. We’ll see.
Yes. I certainly plan to write more books. I’m working on one now, and I’ve got an idea for one after it; I’ve got lots of ideas, still, and no time to write them all. It’s just as a Western person might say they need more than one life just to read all the things that interest them: I need I’m sure more than one life just to write everything I want to.
Am I a judgmental person, do I prefer to take sides instead of standing neutral? Yes.
A genre that attracts me the most? “Literary Fiction.” That is fiction that resonates so well on the human condition it will be read long after the writer is dead and gone. Which genre do I avoid? In most cases, I would say, I avoid “fantasy” and “fan-fiction.” I love mysteries. From my first reading of The Hound of the Baskervilles. I love “social fiction,” like particularly Galdos’s “Marianela” and “Dona Perfecta,” and Joyce’s “The Dead.” I love biography, particularly those by Amanda Vaill. And I love non-fiction about everything from macroeconomics to social history. I love “Magical Realism,” when it's something is done as well as, say, Salman Rushdie’s ‘Shame,’ or Marquez’s “100 Years of Solitude.”
My views on increasing plagiarism? Don’t do it. It’s cheating. If you’re any good, you never have a need to plagiarize someone else’s hard work. And if you’re not that good, stealing someone else’s writing and passing it off as your own might get you a better grade in college, but you’ll never be as good as you claim if it isn’t even your work.
12. The best thing a writer can give his (or her) readers?
A sense of having been on, or accompanying, a journey with characters who become people you know by name and feel may actually have lived, or you may actually have been somehow involved with. And, hopefully, thoughts about how the story might relate to your own experiences or circle, and what steps you might take to make your or even one other person’s life, if not better, perhaps at the very least a bit less hard just for once.
13. The majority of the readers tend to take sides due to religion and such other considerations?
They should not. People are of course entitled to their beliefs. But that means all people, including those you disagree with. You cannot place your beliefs on someone else’s. As my mother often said of religion: who’s to say whose medicine is stronger? The proof of faith is not in life, anyway. It is in death. Until then, why take away someone else’s belief if it helps them survive? Is your (a reader’s) faith, or belief system, so thin that someone else’s view, that you disagree with, might actually threaten your own?