Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Entitled Interview with D. D. Miller

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D. D. Miller (photo credit: Neil Gunner)

Roller derby is one of the fastest growing and most unique sports in the world right now. The game has spawned an active, vocal, international community, and D. D. Miller, in his role as "the Derby Nerd" has become an essential part of that community. Travelling across North America and covering the sport that fascinates him inspired Miller to write Eight-Wheeled Freedom: The Derby Nerd’s Short History to Flat Track Roller Derby (Wolsak & Wynn), which introduces new players and fans to the game as well as its rapid rise from niche hobby to multi-league success. He takes readers through the Riot Grrrl and DIY culture out of which roller derby grew, bringing to life the fierce joy of a new, feminist sport.

We're thrilled to speak to Miller on Open Book today, as part of our Entitled series. He delves into the book's eye-catching title, telling us about roller derby's feminist roots, learning to recognize the title within the piece, and his new foray into speculative fiction.

Open Book:

Tell us about the title of your newest book and how you came to it.

D. D. Miller:

Eight-Wheeled Freedom was initially a title of a chapter and it was the recommendation of my editor (Noelle Allen) that it be the title of the book.

Part of the argument that my book makes is that flat track roller derby is the first feminist sport, and I thought that the title captured that without bluntly stating it.

Unfortunately, I’ve lost the original source of the title: It was a late 19th century satirical article about how the popularity of roller skating among women was dangerous because the eight wheels allowed them the freedom to skate away from suitors. But variations of the phrase kept popping up. This is from a Carolyn Storms’ article: “These young Victorian women felt a deep sense of freedom as they strapped on eight wheels.”


What, in your opinion, is most important function of a title?


I think a title should capture the essence of the book, but also draw the reader in. A perfect title for me is one that is intriguing enough on its own to draw my interest but that also reveals more of itself over the course of actually reading the book (or story, poem, etc). I only truly judge a title once I’ve finished reading the piece.


What is your favourite title that you've ever come up with and why? (For any kind of piece, short or long.)


I always thought that I was bad with titles, but it turned out I’m just bad at recognizing them. My first book was a story collection called David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide, which was originally a line from a story in the collection. My editor (Paul Vermeersch) recommended that the line be pulled from the story and used as its title (which was the right decision) and then eventually the title of the book (also the right decision).

The line itself was clunky (and blunt) in the story and removing it and using it as the title allowed readers to come to that conclusion themselves when the moment warranted it: that David Foster Wallace had ruined the protagonist’s suicide. It’s a spoiler actually, but one that is baffling enough that hopefully kept readers wondering what it meant.


What about your favourite title as a reader, from someone else's work?


The first title that came to mind was Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, which seems so bizarre and intriguing but is actually revealed to be a fairly blunt description of the book.

I remember a long time ago scoffing at the title of Dave Egger’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and then reading it and thinking to myself that it really couldn’t have been named anything else. So I guess I like long, bold titles that live up to their promise.


Did you consider any other titles for your current book and if so what were they? Why did you decide to go with the title you eventually picked?


I personally hadn’t come up with any, but we’d thrown around a lot of ideas. They were mostly “punny” (for example, Derby Little Secret was one based on another line from the book), but I wanted to avoid that playfulness as the book is also about how flat track roller derby had moved beyond being a cheeky lifestyle movement into something a little more athletic or competitive. Those elements are still there in the game, but there has definitely been a shift away from that overt playfulness and I thought the title we eventually landed on worked that way.


What are you working on now?


I’m working on a novel. I would say that it is the third draft of a novel I’ve been working on for awhile, but aside from the working title (MeWorld 5.0), it is so far removed from how it began that it is a completely different book: it began as a pseudo-sci-fi story that took place in the very near future and has become one that is completely speculative and that takes place hundreds of years into the future. It’s been frustrating in a way (to have gotten so far only to scrap virtually everything), but also liberating in that I am now truly telling the story I want to tell.

D. D. Miller is originally from Nova Scotia but has lived, worked and studied all across the country. His work has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies including The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, Eleven Eleven: Journal of Literature and Art, and Dinosaur Porn. As the Derby Nerd, Miller is known around North America for his writing and commentary on roller derby, one of the world’s fastest growing sports.

A graduate of Mount Allison University, the University of Victoria and the University of Guelph (where he completed his MFA), Miller currently lives in Toronto where he works as a college English instructor. He also announced at both the 2011 and 2014 Roller Derby World Cups and was part of the ESPN's broadcast crew for the 2015 WFTDA Championships.

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