Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with DD Miller, in Celebration of New Buckrider Imprint!

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D.D. Miller (photo credit Neil Gunner)

D.D. Miller's short story collection David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide & Other Stories (Wolsak & Wynn) is a book of firsts. Not only is it the author's debut, but it was also selected to launch Wolsak & Wynn's brand new fiction imprint, Buckrider Books, as part of the imprint's first season. The new imprint will be headed up by Wolsak & Wynn editor and acclaimed poet Paul Vermeersch. Since being founded in 1983, Wolsak & Wynn has published non-fiction and poetry titles, and is now expanding to publish fiction under the Buckrider banner.

D.D. Miller speaks to Open Book about how it feels to be part of the first season of a new imprint, how roller derby made its way into his collection and the simple writing rule that works for him.

You can catch D.D. in person at the Wolsak & Wynn spring launch on April 16, 2014 at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. The event begins at 7:00pm in the Gladstone Ballroom.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide & Other Stories.

D.D. Miller:

David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide and Other Stories is a twelve-story collection focusing on male protagonists attempting (and mostly failing) to thrive in the early 21st century.

OB:

Your book is amongst the first in Wolsak & Wynn's new Buckrider imprint. How does it feel to be part of something at the very beginning in this way?

DDM:

Honestly, it’s quite an honour, but also a responsibility, to be part of the launch of this imprint. It’s been exciting watching what Noelle (Allen) has done with Wolsak & Wynn in recent years, and since Paul (Vermeersch) came aboard and announced the Buckrider Books imprint, that buzz has continued to grow.

OB:

Roller derby, on which you're quite an authority, makes it into the collection. Are there other real-life interests that seeped in? In terms of subject matter, what did you find most difficult to write about?

DDM:

Roller derby plays a big role in the title story. However, thematically, that story is inline with the rest in its exploration of post-millennial gender relations, and how we interact with social media and the Internet. Both major themes throughout.

Although in many ways, my relationship with the sport of roller derby — and my interactions with the women and men who are involved in it — has certainly helped to shape my views of gender; it has strengthened my respect for the fluidity of gender roles and even the fluidity of gender itself.

Many of my narrators are stumbling their way through life, perhaps a little ignorant, but also capable of change; others, however, were not as malleable, and it could be challenging to work with them.

Often I had to work through this challenge in first drafts where I have a tendency to overwrite and exaggerate, and in a specific case getting into the mind of a misogynist — of someone who is unaware of his misogyny — was challenging. But then the process of finding a way “in” to this character in subsequent drafts was hard too. It’s challenging to find those shared points of humanity between potentially unlikeable narrators and yourself. Hard, but essential, because if you want your readers to sympathize with your characters in some way, they must first empathize with them; and if you can’t find that empathy yourself, it will not exist in the text.

OB:

Do you have any writing rituals or talismans that are a part of your process?

DDM:

I don’t, unless making a cup of coffee before sitting down to write is a ritual!

My rules for myself are pretty simple: that I write (something!) at least five days a week.

OB:

How did the stories come together for you? Did you always know they would become a collection or did you begin them as separate pieces?

DDM:

I certainly always knew that I wanted to put together a collection, but finding the collection within my stories was the greatest challenge. The oldest story in this book was first published ten years ago and of course many stories have been written since. In its earliest form, this book was a fifteen-story collection without much focus or shape.

Working with Paul, my editor, really helped to define the focus and voice of the collection. Finding the twelve stories that worked within this focus, that worked together to form a narrative — and I do feel there is a narrative arc in the collection — was a very exciting part of the experience for me. I don’t solely write the types of stories that made it into this collection, but I think limiting the type of stories in the book made it a sharper collection, and made it a stronger work as a whole.

OB:

What was your approach when you hit rough patches while writing?

DDM:

On the small scale — if I’m working through a challenging edit, writing through a scene that isn’t clicking, or if I just feel overwhelmed (or underwhelmed) with possibilities some morning — I’ll go for a run. I’ve been running for a long time now and work through a lot when I do.

On a larger scale — if I’m having trouble getting something started, or just generally fumbling through a story or manuscript — I’ll simply try to write through it. I’ve written a lot of words and a lot of pages that will never be read by anyone, but usually in that process, I’ll find what I’m looking for.

OB:

Canadians seem to have something special when it comes to crafting short fiction. What do you look for in a short story, and what do you like about writing in this form?

DDM:

I couldn’t agree more. And not only that, I think we are going through somewhat of a Golden Age, or maybe a second Golden Age. I personally feel exhilarated by the debut collections we’ve seen in recent years from the likes of Sarah Selecky, David Derry, Elisabeth De Mariaffi, Nancy Jo Cullen and Spencer Gordon (to name just a few). The form is in good hands.

What I love about the form (and it is my favourite literary form in terms of writing and reading) is the ability to convey lifetimes in such constrained spaces. I always strive to say as much as I can while telling as little as possible. For example, I have a tendency to overwrite and then chisel away until I’ve pared back to the core. A 2500-3000 word story for me usually begins around 7000 words. Because of this, my stories have a tendency to take place over very limited timelines (a few in the collection play out in real time), or in very contained or defined places (a car, for example, or on a beach blanket or while sitting around a table).

OB:

What are you working on now?

DDM:

Currently, I am deep into the third (and hopefully final!) draft of a novel. It’s set in Toronto in an undefined near future where half the population has become addicted to a life-like online virtual community.

I am also working on a non-fiction book about roller derby. The central idea is to chart the rise of the sport’s movement toward legitimacy, while at the same time providing a history of the game in general and its grass-roots evolution in Canada in particular.


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.

David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide and Other Stories is his first book.

Check out all the On Writing interviews in our archives.

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