Alumnus E. Ce Miller Publishes Her Story A Shock to the System in SIXFOLD Fiction
Ex Libris caught up with E. Ce Miller to congratulate her on her recent publication in SIXFOLD. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her thrilling story A Shock to the System, her process, and how the MAWP program at DePaul helped her accomplish her goals. Read A Schock to the System at SIXFOLD by clicking here.
Ex Libris: Can you speak a little bit about your process for the piece?
E. Ce Miller: This was the first piece I ever wrote in graduate school and it began as a seed in my brain about a year before that. So for a six page story I’d estimate that averages to about two words a day for three years.
I remember being fairly indignant about the editing process–in that I didn’t want there to be one. But you get over that at some point and, at least in my experience, editing can become the best part of the writing process. As is most writing, this little story was about ten percent creation of new material and ninety percent editing.
Ex Libris: In what ways were the professors at DePaul particularly helpful in regards to A Shock to the System?
E. Ce Miller: DePaul’s MAWP program is exceptional for so many reasons, not least of all the number of experienced, brilliant and diverse professors who teach in the program. I have specific expressions of gratitude for all of them, but on this particular piece, I worked with Professor Harvey, who was and is endlessly helpful. When I entered the MAWP program, I was really struggling with having just left what I thought was going to be life-long profession in gang-intervention, social work. Trying to become a writer felt very self-indulgent. Professor Harvey was really the first person who affirmed my hope that writing is a phenomenally significant way to contribute to justice, to create positive change, to alter people’s worldviews. He lives that, so you know it’s not just talk.
He was also very transparent regarding what he thought of my writing; and that taught me to look at my writing as a reader would. He wasn’t afraid to return the same piece of writing five, ten, fifteen times, with editing marks on it. I appreciated that committed investment in my writing, as well as that honesty. After going through that back-and-forth process, when he tells you something is working in a piece, you know it must really be working. He taught me to be intensely critical of my own work, but he also taught me to know when to celebrate it.
Ex Libris: What were some of the particular challenges you had with this piece?
E. Ce Miller: The piece began as nonfiction, but ultimately that’s not how it wanted to be told. It’s one of those pieces for which fiction allows for more truth than fact would have. (That I learned from Professor Morano and Professor Borich. If you want to give yourself a moral dilemma to struggle with forever, ask each of your professors to discuss their thoughts on fact and truth, then try to reconcile their responses).
I also struggled with turning very real people I’ve known in my life into composite characters. A lot of my writing deals with issues of social justice, and by writing real people as composite characters I worry it makes the conflicts I address seem like isolated incidents, rather than the systemic issues that they are. I think you have to constantly ask yourself what you’re writing towards–write to make people see themselves differently, to see the world differently; write to bear witness; write to make the world better, even if it’s just the tiniest corner of it.
Ex Libris: Were there any eureka moments during your process?
E. Ce Miller: Around the seventh time Professor Harvey said there wasn’t enough story in my story–he said it more eloquently than that–I thought: “Well fine, I guess I’ll start making things up.” That’s when I began to think about taking several stories I’d witnessed, and compositing them into one story of two brothers. I tend to be afraid of fiction, because I want readers to understand: these things happened to someone. I want to hold readers accountable, I want them to understand the world a little differently after reading something I’ve written. I’m still learning that fiction can do that, but this piece was the start.
Ex Libris: Were there any lessons learned in the publishing process that current students may find useful?
E. Ce Miller: Sixfold is unique in terms of publishing, and I highly recommend it as a first venture into the process. It advertises itself as a “democratically compiled” journal; everyone who submits contributes to the selection process for what is ultimately published. The turn-around time (from submission to print) is very quick, and you get tons of written feedback on your piece. So in terms of publishing, it sets expectations that I think few other journals can meet right now. But it’s a great place to start if you’re new to publishing. This was the first piece I ever submitted anywhere, and Sixfold acted as a gentle welcome into an intimidating industry.
Also, research whatever name you’re planning to market yourself under. Google it relentlessly. If I had started publishing as “Emily Miller”, I’d forever be mistaken for that insufferable, gun-toting terror from The Washington Times.
My biggest piece of advice is more general, and that would be to savor every single damn second you spend doing this work. Appreciate. Experience awe. Be intensely grateful. Express that gratitude. Don’t sit in coffee shops all afternoon and loudly proclaim resentment of the work. Don’t complain about to-do lists filled with manuscript editing on the internet. Don’t bemoan the submission deadlines of prestigious journals on the internet. Don’t share the fact that you were up all night struggling with that one stubborn sentence on the internet. Your life’s work is to create. Know your privilege. Celebrate. You’re living the dream.