Author Donald Miller Says Nice Things About Nashville, Moves Here

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  • Laura Dart
One of my favorite parts of being a journalist is stumbling upon something unexpected about a subject's life or personality during an interview. Provided I've done my homework, I typically have a loose sense of how things will go — I'm asking the questions, after all — and, depending on my word count, sometimes I'm just looking for the subject to provide intimate color to facts already known. Occasionally, though, a popular author like Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz, Searching for God Knows What) chooses to share big news about his life when you ask a question that hits close to home.

In advance of writing a piece on Miller and his Storyline Conference, which lands at Belmont University this weekend, I asked Miller about his relationship to Nashville. The city is home to his publisher, Thomas Nelson, and Miller mentions Nashville often in his most recent book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which introduces readers to many of the principles behind Storyline. (Read my colleague Steven Hale's feature from 2010 for more examples of the Miller/Nashville zeitgeist at work.) In other words, the signs were in place when Miller revealed that he'd recently made the move from Portland to our fair city:

I've been coming in and out of Nashville for the last 10 years. My publisher is here, and my company is now here. It's a place I've always wanted to live, for many reasons. Traveling out of the Pacific Northwest is taxing, and traveling out of Nashville is easy. But the Northwest hung onto me for a decade. There's a vibe there that Nashville is beginning to find, and there's a vibe here that Portland could use a dose of. Nashville has a better sense of community than Portland. Nashville is a bit of a showbiz town, but beneath all of that, the folks who have fallen out of the bottom are close to the bone, honest, committed to each other and understand the beauty of sharing. I've always wanted to live beneath this town, I guess, because its foundation is one of the best things America has going. The fluff at the top is a bit silly, but it all sits on the hard rock of failed fantasies that have led to fulfilled dreams. So a couple weeks ago I moved here. I'm getting married soon and so Betsy and I bought a house. We don't have the keys yet and she's still living in D.C., so I literally sleep on a foam pad behind my desk at the office. We got a little place in Edgehill Village and me and the guys have set up shop in the midst of the amazing smells of Bella Napoli and Taco Mamacita. The other night I walked my dog in the rain, talking to Betsy on the phone. I came back to an empty office, unfolded my foam pad and laid down feeling like the most blessed man in the world. This really is a wonderful town and I'm grateful to be here.

Ultimately Miller's sentiments about Nashville were irrelevant to my piece, so they hit the cutting room floor. That's also where a fun anecdote about Miller interacting with the creative writing guru Robert McKee (played with true grit by Brian Cox in the Spike Jonze film Adaptation) landed. Miller writes of attending a McKee conference in A Million Miles and consulted with the famously brisk speaker during the writing of the book. I asked him about that second encounter:

It was truly an amazing conversation. McKee is arguably the world’s leading expert on story structure. Tens of thousands of screenwriters have learned from him. He also happens to be a cantankerous character and has been known to yell at his audiences. I mentioned this in my book and even told a story about him yelling at me. I said he looked at me and threatened to "slam my head in a door." The truth is, though, that never happened. He yelled at me, but he didn't take it that far. So when I sent him the book to approve the line, he insisted we talk on the phone. I was very nervous. I put on a suit just to talk to him, and I never wear a suit. He called, and about an hour into the conversation, which was rough, he finally got around to the line. I was prepared to apologize and fully explain myself when he finally said "Here's why I yelled that at you … " I breathed a huge sigh of relief. If he thought he said it, it was good enough for me. Ultimately, it was an amazing conversation and he's nothing short of brilliant. I could have talked to him all day. Or listened, I should say.

Storyline Conference is at Belmont this Saturday and Sunday.

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