From time to time I like to feature a writer on my blog and social media pages to help him or her get the word out about an intriguing new book. I call this “Shared Space.” Today on Shared Space I am focusing on Jen A. Miller, the author of a brand-new memoir, Running: A Love Story, published by Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Miller, 35, lives in a small New Jersey town across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.
Q. You’ve said that you didn’t plan on being a writer, and you didn’t anticipate becoming a running enthusiast, either. What did you expect you would be doing at this point in your life?
A. I don’t want to sound too depressing, but I figured I’d try the writing thing for a few years and when that didn’t work out, that I’d get a boring office job. I never thought I’d have stuck it out with freelancing for more than 11 years, or write a book like this (or: convince someone to pay me to write a book like this). It’s a pleasant surprise.
As for physical activity, that was a bit fuzzier. I maybe saw myself having something to do with walking or hiking with dogs. Which hey I do right now anyway!
Q.Clearly, your book is intended for a wide audience, not “just” running enthusiasts. Who do you envision as a typical reader of this book, and why?
A.Anyone who has been somewhere dark and come out on the other side. It’s a lot about perseverance, and also the changing roles of women and how, because I found a lot of strength in myself, I was able to make the right decisions, even if I was course correcting for wrong turns.
The book is being marketed female – which makes sense since more women read than men and more women finish road races in the U.S. than men – but it’s gender neutral, I think. While I was writing it, a male friend who was just coming out of a divorce read it. He had the same reaction that a lot of women had. I’ve had non-runners read it too and told me it was just a good story. That was really the goal: to tell my story in a way a lot of people would understand and maybe see a bit of themselves too.
Q. Writing a memoir is notoriously challenging because it’s so personal and revealing. How have your parents, siblings, and former boyfriends reacted to the book?
A. I spoke to family members individually about what was coming. In some cases, I didn’t want them to be surprised. In others, I wanted to clarify details since memory can be fuzzy. My parents – that was the hardest part. My mom read through it in four hours. I told her she would decide if my father should read it (and she said yes!). I should point out that my parents are divorced. I’m lucky they’re still friends.
No word yet on the former boyfriends (though a few were interviewed at length during the writing process). My current boyfriend read it when it was still a Word document – though we weren’t dating then. So he knew what he was getting into!
Q. In the book, you seem especially close to your mother. Why does she inspire you?
A.She’s an incredible person. I don’t know any other way to describe it. It’s not really a spoiler alert to say that by the end of the book, my mom is running too. She picked it up at age 58. She wasn’t allowed to run in high school because she was a girl, and now she’s run 15 5ks, a 10 miler, done two triathlons and will be running her first half marathon in May. That’s the kind of determination this woman has. Almost everyone has cried at the same moment in the book, and it involves her. I cried writing it too.
Q.In addition to your mother, there’s another character in the book that has seen you through thick and thin – your dog, Emily. Does Emily run with you, or does she show her support in other ways?
A. Oh Emily! My little 14-year-old Jack Russell Terrier with a patch of fur the shape of a heart on her side. Emily used to run with me before we found out she has a heart murmur, so that was the end of that. Now she enjoys lying outside in the sunshine and long walks in the park near my house. Every night around 5 p.m. she forces me to stop work, walk her, then sit down so she can sit on my lap – and for that I am grateful. Emily’s first owner beat the heck out of her, and my goal has been to give her the life she deserves. Ten years and counting, and I think I’ve done just that.
To learn more about Jen, check out http://www.runningalovestory.com
or http://www.jenamiller.com. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.