An Interview with Meredith Miller (How We Learned to Lie)

I grew up on Long Island in the 1970s and 80s. So that was weird. I worked in advertising photography in the city until one day an art director subjected me to a diatribe about how mink teddy bears were unethical. The thing is, the art director was wearing alligator shoes at the time. It seemed like a good moment to leave New York. I went to live on the beach in Oregon for a little while, and then to New Orleans for a longer while. Now I live in England. One time, a santero told me if I missed my chance to make a decision about where I wanted to live I would wind up wandering the world for the rest of my life. That turned out to be true. I’ve done a few degrees in English Literature and published some academic books. I’ve been an angry performance poet and learned to swallow fire. I’ve done itinerant farm work and been a cleaner in a leather bar. More about Author – Here

What was the reason you became a writer in the first place?

I first started writing before I could write.  My parents were away at a conference and I dictated a poem to my sister.  I was four years old.  She wrote it down for me and we folded it up and put it in a little toy mailbox I had.  When my parents got home they gave me lots of good feedback!  I think that helped me be proud of writing and see myself as someone who could write imaginative things.

Listening to Bob Dylan’s early lyrics, on albums like Bringing It All Back Home made me fall in love with language.  The writing was so strange and wonderful and rich, it made me think, I want to do that!

What is your favorite aspect about reading and writing young adult fiction?

That one is easy.  My favorite thing is when a young person writes to me and says, ‘Thank you for writing this.  It mattered to me.’  There is no better feeling than that: that I have communicated something and maybe it did someone some good.  One reader wrote to me to say that after reading Little Wrecks she felt more powerful and was apologizing for herself less.  To have helped someone feel that way makes it all worthwhile.

Can you tell our readers what the background is to the title of your story, “How we learned to lie”?

Well, my working title was A Hundred Light Around, from a song by the Slits called ‘FM’. “I live in a town with a hundred lights around/ My head is like a radio set/ I’m waiting to hear, what problem is next?/ What problem is next?   There was something about the view from Daisy’s attic window and the period in which the novel is set and the way Daisy and Joan feel about their town, that seemed to be described perfectly by those lines.  Also, there is a lot about electricity and networks and because Daisy is a hacker I thought at one point that he was going to shut off all the lights in the town.

Anyway, my working titles never make it all the way through! My second title for How We Learned to Lie was Dogfish, for reasons which will be obvious when you read the novel.  Eventually, my (amazing, wonderful) editor Emilia Rhodes and I started kicking titles around looking for something we both liked.  We were emailing back and forth and every time we came up with a new list of possibles Emilia would take them into our managing editor’s office.  Emilia went through the whole novel and pulled out words and phrases she thought were interesting and resonant.  Eventually, I sent back a list of ideas where one item was “How We Learned to Lie (this is my current favorite)” on it.  Both Emilia and Jennifer Klonsky liked it, too! So we went with that.

Just the other day a paper here in the UK wrote a little piece about titles, claiming that this year’s title buzzword was LIE.  So we must have been feeling the zeitgeist!

By the way, this whole process of coming up with a title by consensus is pretty coming in books and film and TV.  I’ve heard of film production companies giving out a bottle of champagne to the person who finally comes up with the right title.

Which character in the book (How we learned to lie) do you most associate with and why?

Oh, wow, this is a tough question! I love Joan and Daisy so much. It was so hard to let go of them when the book was finished. Arthur Harris is probably the most like me, being an academic type and a bit of an overly earnest rebel.  Daisy’s mother moves me and makes me feel so sad.  I knew so many women like her growing up and I think I understand them better now.

Nope, I can’t decide!   I always fall in love with all of my characters.

Aside from it being a good read, is there anything you hope this book will do?

Well, it’s a book about friendship, about hanging onto people when the world wants to tear you away.  It’s about love and loss.  I hope it might make people think about how much they value the people who surround them everyday, how much they might be taking those people for granted and how painful it would be to lose them.  Friends are everything, aren’t they?

About How we learned to lieHERE

Interview : YA SH3LF

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