Spotlight on Lynn C. Miller
Updated: Mar 14, 2020
Lynn C. Miller is a writer, a playwright, a performer, an instructor, the cofounder of a magazine, and so much more. Her life in the performing and literary arts shines a bright light not only on her own creativity but also on the creativity of the several women whose stories she has written and/or converted into stage adaptions. Hers is the kind of curious and empathetic mind that makes such feats possible—and such a pleasure for readers and theatre audiences.
In addition to teaching writing, you have also taught performance. In fact, you have a Ph.D. in performance. Does a true understanding of communication through acting enable you to give your fictional characters more free rein? How does it affect character development?
For a long time I adapted fiction for the stage and directed the adaptations as well as teaching the stories and novels in class. The adaptation process really allowed me to see how a story is put together, separate the voices in the fiction (including the inner voices of the characters vs. what they spoke out loud), and imagine the work on the space of the stage. I’m not sure it allowed the characters more free rein, but it did allow me to appreciate the psychological aspects of character and how dialogue functions as action.
I had a brilliant professor of adaptation at Northwestern University, Robert Breen, and he taught me more about structure and character and voice than anyone. He developed a form called Chamber Theatre, adaptations of stories in which the narration becomes a character or characters in addition to the dialogue of the characters. Most of all I learned the concept of audience: who is speaking, what are their motivations, and how to satisfy the expectations of the audience that are prompted by the writer and later, the director.
You have adapted and directed stage performances based on several American women writers from the late nineteenth and early twentiety centuries? I imagine the experience requires a full immersion into each person’s life. Does some part of each of the women linger and impact you as a writer or you as a woman generally? What is that exchange like?
The first solo performance I toured featured Gertrude Stein. Her verve and experimental form made a big impression on me. I’d have to say performing such a confident person, who declared that she invented the new twentieth-century literature, gave me courage as a writer. “I write for myself and strangers,” she said. Even as she craved an audience, she didn’t compromise her project. She also explored lesbian sexuality in coded (and not so coded) ways in her work, which made me aware in a new way of how gender and sexuality intersect. I was influenced in my writer’s journey as well by Edith Wharton, another performance I developed and toured. Her work shows a masterful appreciation of plot and scaffolding, by which I mean how images and subplots support the main narrative. She also was a woman of originality and courage. I actually developed a performance based on how these two women were literary mentors, so definitely they have lingered in my consciousness as well as appeared in my fiction.
bosque, the magazine you started upon “retirement,” has provided a platform for so many wonderful writers, artists and photographers. How difficult was it to start a magazine, to find distribution, etc. It began as a New Mexico publication. Do you intend to expand distribution outside of the state?
bosque has been a labor of love from the first when the late Lisa Lenard-Cook and I founded it in 2011. We wanted to give writers a platform to reach readers and to develop a community of writers here in Albuquerque. “Creating community in New Mexico for writers everywhere” was our goal as well as a slogan on our website. We publish writers from all over the country and sometimes internationally, but we’ve struggled with distribution beyond a certain point. Our annual fiction contest and Hilda Raz’s amazing reach as poetry editor have drawn in excellent writers. But I don’t foresee us getting any bigger than we are.
What is your new novel about and when will it launch?
The new novel, The Unmasking, interweaves mystery, women’s history, and academic satire. Its main characters also appeared in two of my other novels, The Fool’s Journey and Death of a Department Chair. In this one, the characters journey to Silver City, NM to participate in performances of famous women from history: Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton (here those two appear again getting back to your second question!), Virginia Woolf, Mabel Dodge Luhan, and Victoria Woodhull. Hanging over them is the suspicious death of their college dean, an event they conclude was a murder. Complications ensue when the dean’s widow and her lover attend the festival. The book is a lively twist on the locked-room mystery as the characters are thrown together in the close confines of the lodge. The figures in the past have conflicts that shadow the characters in the present.
It launches in the fall of 2020. I’m pleased about that date as it marks the hundredth anniversary of women’s suffrage. One of the figures performed is Victoria Woodhull, who was the first woman in the U.S. to run for President in 1872. The lives of women are front and center in the novel.
Lynn C. Miller’s fourth novel, The Unmasking, is due out from UNM Press in the fall of 2020. Her third novel, The Day After Death, was named a 2017 Lambda Literary Award finalist and a finalist for the 2017 Lascaux Fiction Prize. Prior published novels are The Fool’s Journey and Death of a Department. Chair. Co-author of Find Your Story, Write Your Memoir, Miller has performed and directed the work of women writers including Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, and Katherine Anne Porter. Short pieces have appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, Hawaii Review, Phoebe, Text and Performance Quarterly, Writer’s Forum, Apple Valley Review, and Chautauqua Journal where the short story “Words Shimmer” was runner-up for the Editors Prize and nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2016. Her adaptation of Gertrude Stein’s “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene” was performed at the 2019 International Gay Theatre Festival in Dublin in May. Miller taught performance studies and writing at the University of California, Penn State, and the University of Texas at Austin where she was Professor of Theater and Dance until 2007. She edits the literary journal bosque, is the written word editor of ABQ InPrint, and lives in Albuquerque, NM.