#104 Amber Rae + Madeline Miller
I LOVE this pairing. I just have to say that at the outset.
Speaking with Amber Rae and Madeline Miller was an incredible privilege. I think you'll find this week's episode filled with Wonder, which is no surprise given the title of Amber Rae's book, Choose Wonder Over Worry. But this theme is woven through both conversations, from Amber's process surrendering to the way her book wanted to be written despite the outline she had carefully planned before starting. And Madeline Miller talks about the 5-year process she has learned it takes her to try everything out, hit the "trench of despair" and then let go to find the true voice. This became the book that is Circe.
I doubt either of these guests would be disappointed to hear that I found them to be sorceresses like Circe in their own right, spinning gold onto paper, with Amber revealing dark parts of her life and how she came out the other side and Madeline going inside one of the most misunderstood characters in modern mythology and finding a heroine in the exiled goddess most famous for turning Odysseus's men into pigs. (Spoiler alert: they TOTALLY deserved it.)
This episode is a knockout. Cannot wait for you to hear it. Happy listening!
Discussed in Episode 104 with Amber Rae:
“Write what needs to be written first.”
On a big, messy first draft.
“What you write is not necessarily what everyone’s going to read.”
On not editing your first draft while you write it.
“Giving myself permission to write for myself has been so liberating.”
On writing a personal first draft and not worrying about the reader, yet.
Daily, honest, journaling is the space in which to build the muscle of vulnerability, safely, without any readers.
Our emotions are not problems. It’s the stories we hang on them - and then sit with - that are the problems.
“Observing your life can be writing.”
On looking at your feelings as you’re having them, instead of trying to intellectualize them.
Sold book proposal and was asked to write the book in two and a half months.
Proposal felt like the “safe” version of the book.
Went to Bali to hole up in a hut to just write it.
Ignored the proposal and outline in the beginning and just started with the stories.
“What is the story that I’m aching to tell?”
On starting to write the book.
Elle Luna, The Crossroads of Should & Must
Decided to be sober for the 2.5 months of writing the book.
The book changed greatly from the proposal to the delivered book.
“I was, actually, terrified...they’re going to want their money back.”
On turning in a draft that was so different from the proposal.
Editor was very encouraging of her to write the book she wanted to write, regardless of what the proposal said.
“What drew me to every book that I’ve loved is how open and vulnerable the author got with me so I felt like I was able to enter into their world and go on a journey with them.”
On writing and connecting with stories of vulnerability.
“I had to keep seeing the fear and the resistance and the anxiety and the worry as a signal of what I exactly must do.”
On using ‘negative’ emotions as north stars.
“The resistance and the fear and the worry are going to be there, but I’m going to let wonder lead, just a little bit more.”
On making the decision to write. Now. Even in the face of resistance.
The 100 Day Project
Reactions to her book have been polarizing. At first criticisms were tough to take. Now she’s able to sit with them and share how she’s processing the criticisms with her community.
“The parts that I was so afraid of were not as bad as I imagined.”
On hearing negative feedback on her book.
“If I’m terrified to share it, it means that I must.”
On why she had to write it anyway.
Discussed in Episode 104 with Madeline Miller:
"It was a lot of wrong turns.”
On taking five years to find the voice of Circe.
On starting both books she knew where she wanted the ending to go. But was unclear what the beginning was.
“I could see my target but I didn’t know where I was standing.”
On knowing the ending of a story but not the beginning.
“The point for me is always to make the emotional journey satisfying.”
On writing a story that’s already known to many readers.
Experience of directing Shakespeare plays - where most audience members will know the story - gave her the perspective to focus on the emotional journey rather than just the plot.
Multiple versions of Circe’s story exist in myth and Madeline played with all them to figure out just who her Circe would be. For example, in some stories she has two siblings and in others she has three.
“I thought if I started adding jumps in time, as well as divinities and monsters, it would be too much.”
On making mythology narrative accessible.
“For me I have to write the scene, I can’t just think it.”
On brainstorming on the page.
“I think my process is that I just have to go down every wrong path.”
On having to write every possible scene before finding her way.
Took a break from Circe to work on Shakespeare’s Tempest. Came back to it and saw her way through.
Had her ‘aha’ moment at the same time she found out she was pregnant. Knew she had 9 months to knock out a first draft, so she spent 8 hours a day writing for those nine months.
Her teaching of the classics to students informed her writing of these novels in that she wanted them to be approachable even with no background in the classics.
Circe, in a male storyteller’s version, is often both a man’s greatest fear and greatest fantasy.
“Part of what I wanted to do was take away that male gaze.”
On writing a Circe who feels more real than fantastical.
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