Cate Miller's Resilient Journey to Becoming a Published Author
At age 69, Cate Miller translated a lifetime of writing into realizing her dream of becoming a published author. In 2020, she published her first children’s book, Everything You Say About Me That’s Wonderful Is True, which received a Feathered Quill award. Now, at 71, she is releasing a YA novel, From Wags to Riches. Along the way, Miller has learned about herself and her capacity to see her creative visions through from nascence to completion, despite challenges.
Miller’s beginnings as a writer were in childhood, “penning puppet show scripts” for neighborhood performances. She then translated her love of writing into stints writing for school newspapers. In 1969, Miller was the first female sports editor of her high school newspaper. In adulthood, she was at times a contributor for media outlets including the Shepherd Express and Milwaukee Magazine. Then, in the 1990’s, through an experience in a publishing workshop at Woodland Pattern, she had the opportunity to curate, edit, and publish a collection of short stories called Dreams and Secrets along with other workshop participants. Years after the workshop, Miller discovered the independent publisher Orange Hat Publishing, based in Waukesha, WI. Connecting with these organizations, combined with her own journey towards self-discovery and wellness, inspired her to seek to publish her own works.
Her new release, From Wags to Riches, comes out May 22. It is a humorous novel for children about a dog that escapes from a puppy mill and returns to liberate the other puppies from their inhumane circumstances.
“I never thought I could write a novel,” she admitted. For years, Miller was a professional PR and fundraising executive, but she was dogged by mental health challenges that made her work life difficult to navigate and sustain. At the age of 45, she was finally given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder— allowing her to receive treatment that gave her a sense of stability that she had not been able to find while being treated for depression alone.
“One of the things that is challenging about bipolar is that sometimes it’s hard to finish things. I am very proud of these two books because they are evidence that I am well. I am a calm, tranquil person … but I didn’t know that when mania was overrunning my body,” explained Miller. For years, she was treating depression and inadvertently exacerbating her mania.
“It’s hard to get to get a diagnosis, because we don’t have tests for mental health. We have to talk, we have to communicate, and we’re not all good communicators. And when you’re affected by mental illness, you’re embarrassed by it—it’s often hard to talk about it, even with professionals,” she shared.
With the confidence-building experience of publishing under her belt, and the stability and clarity gained from her mental health treatment, Miller was empowered to finally pursue her dream of publishing a novel.
“Orange Hat Publishing specializes in working with indie writers, and they do a very good job. I found out that they were accepting manuscripts. I had one finished, so I submitted it—and they accepted it. It gave me so much encouragement that I returned to working on my novel.”
For both her publications, Miller drew from her own experience of raising and witnessing the resilience of rescue dogs.
“I have had rescue dogs since I was a little kid. All of the rescue dogs I’ve had went into the character Wags. I have had a number of Yorkies—they are high spirited.”
Miller continues to seek inspiration and support from Woodland Pattern—which she credits as one of the most impactful Milwaukee arts organizations in her life. “It has been such a marvelous home for poets. I’m in a workshop right now about personal cartography. I’m not even paying for it. It’s really nice because they have a variety of programs at different cost levels, so there’s something for everyone there.” Miller also has been driven to share about her mental health journey through storyslams hosted by Ex Fabula. “Arts organizations have given me avenues for talking about mental illness,” she remarked.
Over the years, Miller has endured other serious health challenges, including surviving cancer. She is still negotiating living with chronic pain, but she doesn’t let her conditions overwhelm her drive to produce.
“Like many people my age, I have multiple health conditions that affect my life,” said Miller. Though she can no longer participate in beloved activities like walking her dogs, she channels her creativity and spark into her writing. “I can sit in my chair, and I can write,” she said. Miller also draws on humor in both her writing and life to help her cope. She tries to infuse her writings with levity, and finds both life and writing to be improved by humor. “The sillier, the better,” she said.
Miller also revels in opportunities to meet and be inspired by other Milwaukee creatives. In November of 2021, she was a participant in Imagine MKE’s Creative Summit, which connected her to local theater groups. At the summit, Miller was inspired to share her first ever play, written during the pandemic, with some of the contacts she made there.
I asked her what she hopes readers will take away from the story of From Wags to Riches.
“I hope they will take away the spirit, the courage, the resourcefulness, and the success of a small animal. I’ve seen all my rescues end up in a pretty happy place.”
Miller will celebrate the publication of her second book, From Wags to Riches, on May 22, with an event at the Hounds and Tap from 2-4 PM, which will feature dog tricks and a reading from the book. Humans are free (proof of vaccination is required) and dogs are $10.
You can order From Wags to Riches at Orange Hat Publishing's website.