Miller, Almeda Glenn 1960–
Miller, Almeda Glenn 1960–
PERSONAL: Born 1960. Education: Eastern Washington University, B.F.A., M.F.A.
CAREER: Writer, novelist, educator, and business owner. Selkirk College, Castlegar, British Columbia, Canada, instructor in English; Goldrush Books, Rossland, CA, former owner. Works as a creative-writing teacher.
Tiger Dreams (novel), Publishers Group West (Berkeley, CA), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Novelist and former bookstore owner Almeda Glenn Miller is a creative-writing teacher at Selkirk College in British Columbia, Canada. Her debut novel, Tiger Dreams, reflects her own Anglo-Indian ancestry and draws upon a family history in which her grandfather once served as Gandhi's jailer.
Like Miller herself, Claire Spencer, the protagonist of Tiger Dreams, knows that her grandfather, Denzil, was a civil servant in India who worked as jailer to the great Indian political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi. Apart from that, Claire, a documentary filmmaker, knows little else about her family history except a few fragmented stories. Intrigued by her grandfather's role, and the recipient of a fresh grant to make a film on the shared histories of India and Canada in relation to Britain, she decides to make his story the subject of her second film. In doing so, she also hopes to reconcile her feelings about her dead father, an authoritarian figure who never forged a close relationship with his daughter while he was alive. Perhaps there are clues to her father's behavior somewhere in the genealogical record.
Claire travels to Pune, India, to meet with her only known surviving relative, a cousin named Charlotte. Concerted research into her family background reveals an even more alarming possibility for Claire: she has a rare and probably genetic heart disease that will eventually threaten her life. She sees the possibility of some answers in the life and mysterious death of her grandmother, Alice, who hunted tigers with Denzil in the years prior to Indian independence.
Using a variety of narrative techniques such as dream sequences, second-person narration, sections of film script, and commentary from Nur, a sixteenth-century empress, Miller shapes the story of Claire's search for her father's background and her grandparents' vivid history in the waning days of colonial India. Claire laments the disappearing tiger population in India, which mirrors "another disappearing breed, namely the Anglo-Indians, or the mixed race of British-Indian people," observed Uma Parameswaran in Herizons. A visit from a tiger provides pivotal clues in Claire's searches, and she eventually recreates a history of her family in India from 1910 to 1932. "In the fictionalized history, small incidents provide cameo glimpses of Gandhi's greatness, of train travel in India and of the anglicized lifestyles of civil servants under the British," Parameswaran remarked.
Miller told CA: "Story comes to me out of the corner of my eye—something startling will cause me to drop everything I'm doing, whether it be adding the cumin seeds to the mustard seeds in a few tablespoons of oil, plucking the pigweed from around the strawberries, adding the last metal flashing to my daughter's tree fort, or helping my man hang drywall in the new addition—you know, all the common everyday experiences that make us human. I can't just write it into a notebook for future reference anymore. Either my notes are too cryptic or my memory is going (women tell me it'll come back to me in my fifties), but what I have to do is sit down immediately and hash out the details of what appeared in the corner of my eye.
"I'd love to say that it is a fully realized plot, but that is never the case. My stories come to me in spasms—little shivers of action and character emerge through layers of vague and labored prose. I dance, sing, draw maps, quilt, play the piano in an attempt to find out what and why the story needs to be told. I love exploring the tensions in metaphors but what is really challenging (and probably the most rewarding) is building characters that live, eat, and breathe on their own. I am completely enraptured when they surprise me.
"My first love and occupation was the theatre and I carry many of the lessons of performance into developing character. I know I have a propensity for the tragic—I always did as an actress—Lady Macbeth, Ophelia, Laura from The Glass Menagerie, or St. Joan from George Bernard Shaw's play St. Joan but I also know what it means to allow the audience to feel rather than to do all the suffering for them. I try to translate this experience on to the page. How do I get my reader to feel this right to their bloody core?
"My next novel is about possibilities and I worry for myself in its process. What if I never finish exploring all the possibilities about the possibilities I'm writing about? What then?"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Herizons, summer, 2003, Uma Parameswaran, review of Tiger Dreams, p. 35.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2005, review of Tiger Dreams, p. 309.