In “(No) Satisfaction” (Issue 2), Leslie F. Miller tells of her decision to live… and how the notes of a song became a mantra she could live by. In her interview, Miller discusses her creative process, mosaics, and the word “fuck.”
Leslie F. Miller likes to break things and put them back together in a random, yet tasteful, order. She is the author of the nonfiction book Let Me Eat Cake: A Celebration of Flour, Sugar, Butter, Eggs, Vanilla, Baking Powder, and a Pinch of Salt (Simon & Schuster, 2009) and the poetry collection BOYGIRLBOYGIRL (Finishing Line Press, 2012). Though her poetry, essays, and stories have appeared everywhere, she is still satisfaction-less in Baltimore.
How would you characterize your creative process as you worked on this piece? Nonfiction is pretty simple storytelling for me. Things start and end in a certain spot, so I can tell the story from start to finish, then figure out where I want the piece to really begin, and then I start moving things around.
What writing or other artistic expression has had a profound impact on your writing? I am a photographer, and I do that more than I write. Unfortunately, the profound impact is that when I take a lot of pictures, I do little writing. That picture being worth a thousand words seems to deprive me of that many. I’m a mosaic artist, too, and that probably does as much damage. I’m always pulling things out of the linear narrative and sticking them in another random, yet tasteful, place.
Where do you create? Tell us about your workspace. I can write at the kitchen table, on my bed, in a restaurant, in a museum, in the car, or in my work cubicle. If a phrase comes to me, that’s where it happens. It’s like giving birth, only less painful. At least until the reviews are out. With poetry, though, I often wait until the whole thing has formed in my head before I start to put it down. I can’t make it happen until it’s ready (also like giving birth).
What do you do to help yourself get over a creative block? I write a Facebook poem. I ask friends to provide one word each, and when I have about ten, I use them to write a poem. I put one of the friend-supplied words per line, so I end up with a 10-line poem. I get the words, then let them stew in my head for a few days, and then the poem comes together in a miraculous way. I don’t get how it works. My mom always says, “How do you do that?” I don’t know.
What living writer would you recommend other nonfiction writers read? Lots of people will disagree with me. And it’s easy to talk about John McPhee’s beautiful prose or Mary Roach’s humor. But dang—Erik Larson? He can take a subject nobody cares about and stick an irresistible story in there, and you can’t stop reading. You learn in spite of yourself. It may be formulaic, but I wish I had that formula. It works.
What uniqueness do you think being a mosaic artist brings to your writing? Being a mosaic artist is almost the same as being a writer. My first mosaic project was a backsplash. I bought a bunch of tiles and plates, and I wrapped them in towels, set them on the back porch, and hit them with a hammer. Then I assembled them in a way I thought was pleasing. And sure, with writing, there’s a right and a wrong way to put word next to word, but I have these shards, and some go better together than others. Some don’t even go in the piece at all. But it’s about putting one shard/one word carefully next to another. That’s the way I construct both.
We asked Leslie to dip into the “Proust Questionnaire” and select a few fun (less writing-related) questions to answer.This probing set of questions originated as a 19th-century parlor game popularized by contemporaries of Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist, who believed that an individual’s answers reveal his or her true nature.
When and where were you happiest? I have never been what you call “happy.” But I enjoyed age 34. I was thin that year. But I had phenomenally good feelings in Barcelona, especially at Park Güell. It’s my Mecca.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? Perhaps I overuse the word “perhaps.” I say fuck a lot, but I don’t think it’s possible to overuse it. I don’t mind the word “moist,” and the fact that others do makes me want to say it more often.
What is your greatest extravagance? I love beer and live music. I don’t think I would have much of a life without either one. But extravagant? Nah. I am, however, a bootist. I love boots. My last purchase was in Spain—some $550 leather booties in metallic silver.
Which talent would you most like to have? If I could sing like Heart’s Ann Wilson or Brandi Carlile, I’d do nothing else.
What is your motto? I live by Rabbi Hillel’s words: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
Can you explain why you don’t think it’s possible to overuse the word “fuck”? Fuck is a perfect word. It can be just about every part of speech. I have a mug that says, “Fuck you, you fucking fuck!” I don’t like that the handle is a gun, but the words are nice. You can say it when you’re mad. You can say it when you’re happy. It’s just about the most enthusastic word in the world, and when you hear it, you know by the tone of the user what’s happening.
My middle name, by the way, is Fuquinay. It’s all about the enthusiasm.
This interview was curated by Erika Williams, Proximity‘s Interview Series Coordinator and a creative writing student at Ohio University.