“I think the plasticity of the novel is its greatest challenge.… There are endless possibilities, infinite choices…. When I'm trying to think about these things, I often make notes, lots of notes, and sometimes the answer emerges from them, from a kind of talking to myself I do on the page. Other times I read certain people I admire to get a sense of the possibilities, to make myself feel it can be done. It helps to give myself permission to make mistakes. It helps to think of what I put down on paper as provisional. (I think writing the first draft in longhand is useful in that regard.) But finally, you just have to step off into the unknown and trust that somehow you will get to where you wanted to go.”-- Sue Miller, quoted in Jennifer Haupt, “Interview with Author Sue Miller,” Psychology Today (“One True Thing: Life's Questions, Big and Small” blog, posted May 31, 2011
Yesterday marked the 70th birthday of novelist Sue Miller. Born in Chicago, she has set much of her fiction in the Boston area, which is now her home. Though most famous for The Good Mother, made into a very fine 1988 film starring Diane Keaton as the titular character, it is not the only one of her books adapted by Hollywood. Inventing the Abbotts starred Jennifer Connelly and Billy Crudup, while Family Pictures was made into a TV mini-series with Anjelica Huston and Sam Neill.
In 1990, when Family Pictures was published, I attended her reading from the novel at a New York bookstore, then had her autograph my copy. She was the soul of graciousness to myself and other fans, and her reading perfectly complemented her precise, elegant prose about domestic life.
It is a comfort to me to know that an author as accomplished as Miller is, by her own admission, not terribly well-organized, as she explained in an interview with Eugenia Williamson of the Boston Globe this past summer. For those of us who find it hard to carve out a sizable slot of time for writing, it helps to know that someone with her considerable credits has still managed to produce work simply by force of will that allows her to seize the moment as it arises.