Travelin’ Man

Tom Miller’s writing career has sent him around the world, from Cuba to Spain and throughout the American Southwest. After nearly 50 years of underground journalism and travel writing, Tucson resident Miller’s latest project looks inward. Where Was I? A Travel Writer’s Memoir documents Miller’s exploits from the 1968 Democratic National Convention to the chaos of Nigeria. As much as it is a personal memoir, Miller says the book also serves as a guide for travel writers, and writers in general.

The book is both essay and journalism, drawing from documents, notes, memory, and stories from friends and family. After all, as Miller explains in the book’s introduction, he’s never cared for the distinction between writer and journalist; a good journalist should use literary allusions when called for, a good writer should observe well, and a good reader should appreciate both.

“There’s no particular rules I want to adhere to. The rules of writing are to be broken, and I did that a few times in this book,” Miller said. “I made it a point of not looking at other memoirs, because I was afraid I might copy their techniques. But I had a general framework for a memoir and I followed that.”

Though the book documents decades of travel, it opens with a more modern development: Miller listing his daily struggles with Parkinson’s Disease. Miller explained that the disease “takes the travel out of travel writing” and eventually he was unable to do basically any travel at all. But in an effort to continue writing, he decided to write about his own history. Despite the memoir being bookended by the disease, he says overall it is an optimistic book.

“I say ‘optimistic,’ because I was able to pull it off, so to speak,” Miller said. “At a certain point a few years ago, I looked forward and realized there was very little to look forward to. But when I looked backward I saw there was an entire career to write about. So I was optimistic about the approach, and saw that it worked.”

While some of the chapters are explicitly based around a location, such as “Colorado” or “South Africa” or “Tucson,” others are based on his work for The New York Times, freelancing, and travel writing. For lessons on travel writing, Miller explains that the best of it gets under the skin of a locale to sense its rhythm. He says to distrust any travel writing that opens with a cabby driving in from the airport or closes quoting a bartender at last call. Or, more generally, “avoid cliches like the plague, like the plague.”

“There’s a certain continuity both geographic and literary in the book. And those weren’t written goals, but those two approaches were always in my mind,” Miller said. “It’s not just from one end of Speedway to another, it’s the entire Western Hemisphere and even further. This book isn’t just written for people in Tucson, but people in Tucson will certainly appreciate it from a literary level.” 

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