by Mark Miller
Please welcome Mark Miller to the Writers Journey Blog this week with his hilarious journey!
What a Journey!
I wrote my first short story when I was in the 6th grade. It was about a stuntman who was bad at his job. I had been inspired to write it by the weird kid next door who always carried around a notebook in which he would write stories and sometimes add to his long list of ways to kill people and not get caught.
In retrospect, he seemed to anticipate many breakthroughs in the field of forensics. I eventually talked him out of being a sociopath, and we became friends. His attention to detail and planning would inspire me to become anxious and paranoid in my adult life. But one benefit is that I map stories out in fine detail when I am drafting. The stuntman story would have likely benefitted from better planning. As I recall, there were two instances in which he lost his penis in accidents, and frankly, that should have been a one-off.
I continued writing in high school and took poetry and fiction classes in college. Then I decided that I had not suffered enough to be a writer and moved to Lubbock, Texas to attend grad school at Texas Tech. The suffering worked.
I wrote for many years under an assumed name, publishing poems in dozens of journals and winning a few awards here and there that made me feel like success was imminent. It was not. After that I sold a film script under yet another name, and it even made it to the big screen. I watched the premiere, which was a cool feeling and also made me feel like success was right around the corner. Wrong again.
Mark Miller is my real name. You can trust me. My first book, The Librarian at the End of the World, was published by Montag Press in 2019. I ended up getting a fair amount of critical praise about the book and was pleased to be compared to some of my literary heroes. I made enough money in sales to pay some of my bills one month. It became clear that I need to write much more normal stuff or rethink my concept of success.
I will not be writing more normal stuff. Soon normal stuff will only be written by AI. The future is weird.
My forthcoming, The Two-Headed Lady at the End of the World (Montag 2022) is a more accessible book than the last but is at least twice as weird. It is not a sequel but is set in the same universe and features some of the same characters running amok in the background.
Oddly, it started as a straight-up romance novel about twins returning to their 10-year high school reunion. I only wrote it because the kid who used to live next door said, “Hey, why don’t I fly into Chicago this weekend, and we can write a romance novel.”
We wrote it over the course of that three-day weekend. And then it sat on various hard drives for many years. But after writing Librarian, I started thinking about how fun it is to write books that span genres and do weird things with plot and structure. That led me to learn that the people who do that--the people whose books I have always most loved--were being called “slipstream authors” because they slip between genres.
So I dug up the romance novel and decided to go big on the strangeness. No one had ever written a romance novel about conjoined twins before, and I felt like that would make for a really funny book, especially if they found different kinds of men attractive. Every sex scene could be part critique! It expanded beyond that original idea to become a time-hopping, sci-fi, absurdist epic spanning 50 years.
As I was writing the book, the world around me was spinning out of control. Donald Trump poked his head out of the black hole of the eighties and was suddenly in the news again. The Supreme Court and various sociopathic strongmen like Ron Desantis were trying to set us back 50 years. Global warming was (IS!) accelerating. AI and nuclear Armageddon are realistic concerns. Some of the battles we fought and won over the last 50 years were slipping out of our hands. Some of the crises we’ve been worrying about for thirty years are upon us and accelerating exponentially. So, the novel became a bit of a maelstrom, taking on all these crazy social issues and anxieties. But it fits neatly in a romance-novel sized teacup.
Ultimately this book is an exploration of whether a romance novel can challenge heteronormativity, monogamy, and stereotypes about patriotism, bravery, strength, and masculinity/femininity. Many of those ideas are embedded very deeply in the structure and themes of the genre. So far, reviews have been exceedingly encouraging, and a lot of reviewers are finding themselves more than a little surprised by the places this book goes. For now, that is successful enough for me.
BIO: Mark Miller is a freelance shepherd living in Chicago. He tends goats on the roof of the Sears Tower. The goats refuse to call the tower by its new name. They are well fed and armed. This is not a fight you want to have.
Click the cover to write to Mark, browse or buy the book.
Early Review: Mark Miller’s The Two-Headed Lady at the End of the World is an absurdist romp that ties together conjoined twins, mad gay love in underground nuclear bunkers, Yugos, sentient CPUs, the 1980s, and the tribulations of young romance when you’re two girls in one body. With rock-solid prose, Miller’s tale comes off like a direct descendant of Dr. Strangelove and Catch 22. And there’s a distinctly subversive whiff of Terry Southern in there somehow. Maybe even a little Tom Wolfe at his unruly, pre-fiction best. The convolutions are many, and the jokes range from subtle to over the top. The robust, unpretentious prose never lets the story slip out of focus, and the sheer plenitude of imagination is stirring. This is brave writing by a brave mind. --Polly Schattel, author of Shadowd