Donald Miller is one of my favorite authors (and bloggers). His latest, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life, is my new favorite of his, and that says a lot. Miller made a name for himself about 6-7 years ago with his memoir Blue Like Jazz, which gained a large following in the under-35, Christian but bored with evangelicalism, politically liberal crowd. Miller’s books are typically written in a rambling, confessional essay-type style, and populated with his strange collection of Christian and bohemian friends from Portland (“Keep Portland Weird” as the city’s merchants tell us). Through his deeply personal writing, Miller has always had the ability to bring his readers to emotional highs as well as deep depressing depths.
Miller’s books subsequent to Blue like Jazz were less successful (though I happened to regard his Searching for God Knows What as his best work), and having achieved a life goal of being a New York Times best selling author in his early 30s, Miller went into a deep funk. Feeling directionless in career and a failure in relationships, he was stuck. He was snapped out of it when two indie filmmakers contacted him about making Jazz into a movie. Skeptical at first, Miller said yes, and what he discovered while putting the film together was that the movie “Don” was a far more interesting character than the real thing. Wanting to know why this was so, he dove into learning screenwriting and character development, even taking the infamous Robert Mckee writers seminar (as seen in the movie Adaptation). What Don learned about good screenwriting and creating a character for film he channels into life lessons, with great results for his own life and hopefully for the readers too. Incited by his film writing experience, he seeks out the father who left his family 30 years prior, inspired by a young woman he wants to impress, he gets himself in good enough shape to hike the Inca Trail, and finally, in the hopes of creating an epic story, he founds a church-based mentoring program for other fatherless boys, and bikes across the U.S. to raise money for freshwater wells in Africa (I remember this and actually donated money at the time).
Like most of Miller’s works, A Million Miles is engaging, funny, and tear-jerking as well. Don, his Portland friends, filmmakers Steve and Ben, and master storyteller Bob Goff will have you laughing at their bizarre antics. Don may be able to draw some tears when he writes about losing his uncle, who served as a father-figure for troubled youth, and about the man losing his wife to cancer. If you’re a writer, you’ll pick up some good tips about creating characters and a compelling narrative. And if you read closely, you’ll see Don has actually structured the book like a screenplay, with three acts, inciting incidents, and positive and negative turns. Clever devil, I see what you did there! (Note also what Don says about the ancient playwrights on comedy vs tragedy and then read the chapter on his uncle’s death again–I see what you did there!). This was a great book to start off the new year. Highly recommended.