By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Michael Dallas Miller is one of those students I’ve never forgotten.
It wasn’t that he was the greatest athlete on the McNary High School varsity basketball team, but he wasn’t any slouch. It wasn’t that I thoroughly enjoyed the antics he and the other member of the Celtic Kiltic Crew, a group of McNary superfans, would put on. It was that I could always count on him for a usable quote and usually more than one. To a reporter, such things are priceless. He was one of those kids that I thought about frequently after he graduated from McNary’s hallowed halls. It was in fate’s weird, twisting way that we’ve run into to each other repeatedly in the past several months after he returned to the area post-graduation from Seattle Pacific University.
Given that his quotes were the thing I remembered him for, it probably shouldn’t have surprised me that he decided to pursue writing as a career, but it was an unexpected path even for him.
“I never read much of anything in high school, never enjoyed reading much of anything. My first year in college, I tried everything from psychology to education and took all the other courses I just needed to get out of the way,” Miller said.
A combination of a conversation with his father and encouragement from a Seattle Pacific professor, Luke Reinsma, prompted him to take his writing efforts more seriously.
“My dad asked me what I wanted to try to be good at and, in that moment, I wanted to get something published that enough people, however small, thought was good enough to be seen by their readers,” Miller said.
Reinsma introduced him to the work of Joseph Mitchell and that sealed the deal.
“I think it was also that he took the time to talk to me about my writing and my projects despite all the other things he had to do,” Miller said.
Miller started small and scored some gigs writing album reviews for Web sites.
“You get free records and you get to be an expert six paragraphs at a time,” Miller said. “I also got to talk with a lot of musicians I admired.”
His first interview lasted only about nine minutes, but he soon found that profiling individuals and place has an allure all its own and a part-time job at an infused olive oil shop at Pike Place Market supplied an endless array of characters.
“I spent four hours every other day talking to people. If you want to meet characters there’s not another place like it,” Miller said.
One particularly evocative piece about on of his regular haunts in Seattle, Hoki’s, and its demise, is available to read online at burnsidewriters.com.
His first paycheck job ended up being a piece recounting an experience in Ireland of listening to music in a pub in Ireland. It was picked up by an alternative Christian magazine in Canada,
“It only paid $75, but it felt really good,” he said.
Since returning to the area, Miller’s been making ends meet between hosting and busing duties at Wild Pear in downtown Salem and freelance work rewriting class descriptions for a local athletic club.
Given the uncertain economic landscape, he’s willing to bide his time to pursue his passion.
“I would love to make a living writing, whether it’s marketing stuff or whatever. I just want to be good enough to write whatever I wanted and create a habit in my life,” Miller said.
That attitude is enough to keep driving through the not-so-fun aspects of the craft, which is most of it, as far as he is concerned.
“Most of the writing I have done has not been fun, but I loved having done it. When I recently finished the Portland Marathon, someone asked me if I would do it again. The answer was a quick, ‘well, yeah.’ That is what writing is like. It’s no fun. It’s hard. It makes no money. But if someone asked me, do you want to do it again and again and again. The answer is always a quick, ‘well, yeah,’” he said.
At the end of the day, he attributes that mentality to growing up in Keizer’s supportive landscape.
“No one ever told me I couldn’t do anything. Every one of my teachers and coaches, like [Jim] Litchfield, would have been behind me if I told them I wanted to be a writer,” he said. “Now, I’m going to do it regardless.”