new england writers at work

Sue Miller’s unregimented work routine

jonathan wiggs/globe staff

The perennially best-selling novelist Sue Miller, renowned for her complex characters, has lived in the South End since the ’80s. The Boston University alumna’s career has spanned just as long — she published her first novel, “The Good Mother,” in 1986. Since then, she has written nine other books, most famous among them the Oprah’s Book Club selection “While I Was Gone.” She writes in an airy office adorned with dramatic paintings and family photos; she is at work on a new novel about small-town arson.

GOING MOBILE: I write all over the house. Because I write in longhand, I can go anywhere I want . . . I have some notebooks here and there, and then I type it in and pull it out, and I do the revisions all over the place.

SOUNDPROOF: My husband used to have a space in a separate place. In order to afford this place, we had to sell his office. We moved into this space a year ago, and we’re still worried about [proximity] . . . Soundproofing was really essential — we even put special seals on the doors so when we’re in our studies, we can’t hear each other at all.


OFFICE MATES: My dogs are always in here. They like to be in this room more than in my husband’s study across the hall. One is a terrier, and one’s a PBGB — a petit basset griffon Vendeen. There’s a third one that’s in the hospital — he ripped his ACL out, or whatever the dog equivalent is.

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DOGGIE DISTRACTION: There’s a dog park right below my window, and sometimes [the dogs there] go crazy. I’ll have been hearing them barking all along, and then I’ll suddenly be so aware of them and I’ll get so angry . . . My dogs don’t go to the dog park because two of them are poop eaters, and the other one is a frightened dog because he grew up in a cage.

BOOK FUEL: There is a very odd collection of books [in my office]. There are ones that have to do with the new manuscript, and there are ones that speak to my heart. There are some on volunteer fire departments and how they’re organized . . . [and the others] are books that I get excited by when I read them. I use them as fuel. There are a couple of books by a writer named Brian Morton and [some by] Helen Garner, an Australian writer who wrote a wonderful book called “The Children’s Bach” that’s very short and compressed. I don’t write that way at all, and it’s very exciting to me. I’ve read them so many times. I let them fall open; I read passages; and I feel thrilled and encouraged — I feel like I’m engaged in an enterprise that might result in something worthwhile.

TIME MANAGEMENT: I’m not very good at [keeping set hours], and I never have been. I was a single parent for a long time, and I worked, so I always fit [writing] in around other things. . . . At a certain point, I was able just to write, but even now I have a granddaughter, and sometimes I spend the day with her instead of maintaining a schedule.

GETTING RIGHT TO WORK: I try to work in the mornings. Usually, I write in my pajamas and slowly assemble myself. I don’t get organized and sit down and get dressed. I do the laundry. I drift in and out of writing. I feel as though I’m using the time that I break away to stop and think about something, rather than sitting here and making it happen. I think I’m less disciplined than a lot of other people, I’m afraid, but on the other hand, I’ve written a lot of books.

Eugenia Williamson, a writer and editor living in Somerville, can be reached eugenia.williamson