Madeline Miller is the author of The Song of Achilles, a retelling of the Iliad. I love Greek mythology, so I was delighted when Madeline dropped by the virtual offices to tell us more about her book.
[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
[Madeline Miller] Teacher, writer, director, reader, in any order. Flusterable yet determined, a hang-on-I-need-to-think-about-it type. Adventure lover.
[Manga Maniac Café] Can you tell us a little about The Song of Achilles?
[Madeline Miller] The Song of Achilles is a retelling of the myths around the Greek hero Achilles, narrated by his closest friend and lover, Patroclus. The story begins with the two meeting as boys and continues up through the events of Homer’s Iliad and beyond.
[Manga Maniac Café] What drew you to Patroclus and made you want to tell his story?
[Madeline Miller] What initially got me interested in Patroclus wasn’t the man himself—he’s actually a very minor character in the Iliad—but Achilles’ intense and shocking reaction to his death. The great hero, when he hears that Patroclus has been killed, is plunged into utter, grief-stricken despair. I was very moved by that, and also intrigued. Why does Patroclus mean so much to Achilles?
The more I learned about him, the more interested I was. He is a fascinating person, from his disastrous childhood, to his devotion to Achilles, to his characterization as “always gentle.” I became determined to give him the chance to speak for himself.
[Manga Maniac Café] Did you feel any apprehension when you started to tackle this project?
[Madeline Miller] I should have! But at the time I was too entranced with the story. I felt almost like a scribe, sitting down to take Patroclus’ dictation. Little did I know that it would be ten years of writing and re-writing before I would be finished.
[Manga Maniac Café] What was the most challenging aspect of writing The Song of Achilles?
[Madeline Miller] Finding Patroclus’ voice. From the beginning Patroclus’ personality and perspective were very clear to me—they were the bedrock of my story. But figuring out his diction and speech patterns was very challenging. I actually wrote a full draft of the story and ended up throwing it out and rewriting it from scratch, because I wasn’t happy with how I had him speaking. Finally, after lots of blundering around, I found something that felt right.
[Manga Maniac Café] Why do you think Homer’s works have endured over the centuries?
[Madeline Miller] Homer is timeless because his work is built on the universal truths of human experience. Take away the trappings of divinity and royalty and his characters emerge as utterly real—just like us in their flaws, follies and virtues. And, of course, they are also great stories, full of adventure and action.
[Manga Maniac Café] What three things do you need in order to write?
[Madeline Miller] Though I do sometimes jot down a sentence or two on paper, I need my computer for serious writing. My longhand isn’t fast enough to keep up with my thoughts, but my typing is!
I have never been one of those people who can listen to music while I write. I need total quiet to be able to hear my own thoughts.
No internet. If my browser is open, it’s so easy to fall down the internet rabbit-hole rather than work. I do best when I just turn off the house’s wifi for a while.
[Manga Maniac Café] Other than The Iliad and The Odyssey, can you share some books that turned you on to reading?
[Madeline Miller] I absolutely loved and read to pieces this old series of books by Walter R. Brooks called “Freddy the Pig.” I cannot recommend it highly enough—they are amazing.
Reading “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in eighth grade was a revelation. I am sure that most of it went right over my head, but what I did understand completely wrecked me.
One of my favorite books of all time is “Watership Down.” The Iliad and Odyssey and Aeneid with Rabbits.
In high school, discovering Lorrie Moore’s books was a life-changing experience for me as a reader and writer both. Ditto, Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar.”
My senior year of high school, I picked up “Moby-Dick,” expecting it to be terrible and boring, and was shocked to find it not only totally engaging but hilarious as well. That will teach me to judge a book by its ponderous reputation! I just had a similar experience a year ago when I started reading “Middlemarch.” Why hadn’t anyone told me George Eliot was so funny?
[Manga Maniac Café] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
[Madeline Miller] I like to be active—taking walks or hikes, exercising, even just puttering around the house. Visiting with friends, playing games, traveling. And, of course, reading!
[Manga Maniac Café] Thanks!
You can learn more about Madeline by visiting the following websites:
Facebook: Madeline Miller
Facebook: The Song of Achilles
The Song of Achilles is available in print and digital format. You can order a copy from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below: