"The Song of Achilles" by Madeline Miller

Nina Subin,Harper Collins
The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller
Harper Collins, Nina Subin

Jeff Glor talks to Madeline Miller about "The Song of Achilles."

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?

Madeline Miller: I've always been fascinated by Achilles and the Trojan War. In particular, I found myself constantly drawn to the terrible moment in the Iliad where Achilles loses his closest companion Patroclus, and is utterly consumed by grief and rage. It was incredibly moving to me, and also intriguing, because up until then Patroclus has been a very minor character. I wanted to understand why this man was so important to Achilles -- who was it who could utterly undo the greatest of the Greeks? Writing "The Song of Achilles" was my way of answering that question.

JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?

MM: There were several surprises, but two stand out. The first was just how must time it would take me to finish the book. When I started writing, I had no idea that it would be ten years before I was done. In this case, ignorance was definitely bliss!

The other surprise had to do with adapting such hallowed, beloved characters. Originally, I was quite intimidated to work with Odysseus. But the wily prince of Ithaca turned out to be one of my favorite characters to write. Given that he's been winning people over for the past three thousand years, I probably shouldn't have been surprised.

JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?

MM: Teaching Latin and Greek to high school students, and directing Shakespeare. Not only do I love both of these just as much as I love writing, but I think that they are instrumental to my creative process. Being a good director is all about story-telling, and I continue to learn so much about pacing, scenes, and dialogue from plays. Likewise, my students are a constant inspiration to me -- they always challenge me to be my best self, and teach me far more than I ever teach them.

JG: What else are you reading right now?

MM: I have just started Jeanette Winterson's memoir "Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?" which is terrific so far. I am a huge admirer of her writing -- her "Written on the Body" was a revelation for me when I read it in college. I also just finished the amazing "Sisters Brothers" by Patrick DeWitt which completely blew my mind. Full of incredible characters, comedy, and some very dark, disturbing tragedy.

JG: What's next for you?

MM: I would love to stay in Homer's world for one more book, and am fascinated in particular by the women of the Odyssey, like the witch Circe and Odysseus' wife Penelope. I'm very much looking forward to exploring their experiences, along with Odysseus' continuing adventures.

For more on "The Song of Achilles," visit the Harper Collins website.

  • Jeff Glor

    Jeff Glor was named anchor of the Sunday edition of the "CBS Evening News" in January 2012 and Special Correspondent for "CBS This Morning" in November 2011.