Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Open Book interviews K.D.Miller

Over at Open Book Toronto, Thom Vernon interviews K. D. Miller about Brown Dwarf, Alice Munro, writing, and much else.

I've been stalking K.D. Miller since pretty soon after I arrived in Toronto and came upon her "Semper Alicia" — a short story about an Alice Munro book club in southwestern Ontario — in New Quarterly. Although I've never actually met K.D. face-à-face, she is quite gracious and has, so far, always answered my emails. I'm thrilled that she was willing to let me in on murder, e-books and passing the sugar.

1. Mind telling us about yourself? Where do you come from and what part, if any, does this play in your writing?

I was born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1951. I would almost be tempted to say that those bits of information – where and when – brand me. What could possibly affect us more than time and place? Not that I am in any way limited to writing about or as a Recovering Hamiltonian Baby Boomer. I do have an imagination, and it is free to roam. But there is no doubt that I mine my own past for fictional material, and that I keep returning to it. And I confess that I am puzzled by writers who claim to put “nothing personal” into their writing, to make it all up out of whole cloth. Excuse me? Cloth is a weave. Where did the warp and weft come from?

2. You make juggling hilarity (Semper Alicia) & suspense (Brown Dwarf) look easy, what’s your secret?

Humour is all about suspense. Timing – or lack of it – can make or break a joke. And when you’re waiting for a punch line, you’re tense – even a little scared. I would compare it to the feeling of waiting to be caught in a game of hide-and-go-seek. Another thing the two have in common, from the standpoint of writing a funny or suspenseful scene, is difficulty and delicacy. They’re like a dance, or a balancing act. One false step...
As for my secret, well, I was very lucky to grow up in a household where the atmosphere alternated between hilarious and scary. (I suspect now that one of my parents was bipolar.) Not the most tranquil of upbringings, but a goldmine for a writer.

3. 1962 was a big year: Cuban Missiles erupted, Marilyn Monroe died and Bernstein dissed Gould at the Philharmonic. What gives about that year and Brown Dwarf?

It’s that Baby-Boomer thing again, I’m afraid. Oh, I know – every generation thinks that its own coming-of-age year was the year. But in 1962, I really was more or less the age of the two girls in Brown Dwarf. And twelve is a very important age. While I was writing the book, I had a stick-note on the wall above my desk that said, THEY ARE TWELVE. Whenever things started to veer into what seemed improbable or even just unlikely (the two of them going hunting for a serial killer, for example) I would look up at my stick-note, and just carry on. When you’re twelve, anything is possible.
As for the importance of 1962 globally, it was very much a cusp year. Soon, the Beatles would explode on the scene. Soon, Kennedy would be dead. For Boomers at least, two defining phenomena.

for the rest, please go here.

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