Welcome to my new interview series featuring some of the brightest and most hard-working women I know. My goal for this series is to collect stories from women in all levels of their career. The hope is that their journey and their advice will trigger something in you, and help you take the jump you need to achieve your personal level of success. Whether they are freelancers, founders of their own business, corporate employees, or students, this #LadiesWhoHustle series will showcase their unique talents and help you unveil yours.
I am excited to announce that the next #LadiesWhoHustle interview is with an author I truly connected with. I read her book Circe, a greek mythology inspired novel, and immediately fell in love with the characters and her style of writing. The second I was finished, I knew I needed more, and I need to learn more about this inspiring women.
Madeline Miller has her Masters degree in Classics and is the author of two novels, The Song of Achilles and Circe. She taught Greek Latin and Shakespeare to high school students for twenty years and also has a background in theater - she is a director of Shakespeare plays. She currently lives outside of Philadelphia, where she grew up.
Writer, teacher and director.
Why do you do what you do?
Empathy is one of humanity's most vital and precious abilities. And stories are a catalyst for empathy. You are learning how to live in someone else's life, how to see the world through their eyes. I feel passionately about telling the stories of those who haven't had the chance to speak.
What career would you have if you weren't a writer?
A teacher or a director! (I know that's kind of cheating, since those are actual other careers I have, but it's true. I love them both.)
What interests you most about Greek mythology and why have you decided to write about it?
The trappings of culture have changed, but human nature is the same as it ever was - we still go to war, grieve, despair, love, hope, fear... What has always moved me about these stories is how incredibly resonant they feel to modern life. Gods and monsters aside, the story of the Iliad is the story of a young man coming to terms with his own death and the death of those he loves, and the Odyssey is the story of an exhausted war veteran who is desperate to get home. I wanted to tell these stories, but from the point of view of those who haven't had the spotlight before.
What's one thing that people get wrong about Greek mythology?
We talk about Achilles and Odysseus as heroes, but the word means something different today than it did to the ancients. Today we mean someone who is morally exemplar, someone who is virtuous and altruistic. In the ancient world, heroes made terrible mistakes, had faults as big as their strengths, and often caused destruction wherever they went. I think it makes them all the more interesting to recognize those faults and complexities.
If you could be any character in your novel, which character would you be and why?
This is tough when you're talking Greek Myth, since so many of these stories have significant tragedy to them. But I think I do have to go with Circe. Magic powers and pet lions? Count me in!
What has been your biggest career win so far?
In terms of my resume, winning the Orange Prize for Fiction for The Song of Achilles. But in terms of a life change, I think it was selling The Song of Achilles in the first place. My whole life I had wanted to be a writer; I had worked on the book for ten years. Knowing that someone wanted to put it out into the world as a real book was absolutely astonishing and thrilling. I'm still grateful!
And your biggest career struggle?
Understanding that writing is filled with daily failures. The Song of Achilles took me ten years to write, and went through a lot of bad drafts, which I tortured myself over. I had to learn that those bad drafts are part of the process. I don't torture myself (much) anymore, I just get back to work.
What advice would you give to those looking to have a career as an author?
As I said, don't give up just because you don't like what you've written. Take a writing workshop, read good books, keep trying. Write the story that you are absolutely obsessed with, that you can't get out of your head. If you're passionate about it, the reader will feel that.
Take us through the process of writing a book. How is it for you?
My favourite part is getting to the final draft, and seeing everything you've worked so hard on all coming together! (And fixing those last things that haven't come together, so they do). When I get stuck, I read research on ancient myths - there's always something there that inspires me. The most important ritual I have is to work out every writing day. Moving my body helps to keep my thoughts moving too.
Have you always been a true creative, or has it taken practice to perfect?
Lots and lots of practice! But I've always wanted to write, and tell stories. When I was a child, I dreamed of writing a book.
What is your favourite genre to read and what's your favourite book?
I can't pick just one! So many favourites, old and new: The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, Euphoria by Lily King, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (anything by James Baldwin), Watership Down by Richard Adams, The Aeneid by Vergil. I could go on, but I won't!
When do you feel the most confident?
When I'm walking, or in front of a classroom.
What career aspirations do you have that you still haven't fulfilled?
I'd love to get back in the director's chair! Directing for a major professional theater would be a dream. And of course, I haven't written my next book. I want there to be a next, and a next after that.
What happened to make you realize you've "made it" in your chosen career as an author?
Maybe it's the perfectionist in me, but I don't know if I'll ever think I've made it. I always want to keep working, keep improving, book by book. That said, looking out into the audience at events and seeing a packed house is incredibly exciting and gratifying.
Congratulations on Circe becoming a #1 New York Times Bestseller! how do you celebrate these kinds of wins?
I love to rock climb - I get a babysitter, and my husband and I go out for the evening to climb!
How do you relax?
Reading, of course. Walking. Talking to friends, and hanging with my family.
Get in touch with Madeline:
Know anyone that would be great to feature in the #LadiesWhoHustle series? Connect with me on Instagram to nominate them - or yourself!