Born on June 12, 1954, the youngest of three children of a stern Irish-Catholic mother and a more gentle airplane mechanic who converted to Catholicism from the Methodist religion of his upbringing, I grew up in Wakefield, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. I spent eight years at St. Joseph parochial school, then went to St. John's Prep in Danvers, Mass., a wonderful, intellectually challenging school run by the Xaverian Brothers order that in many ways opened my eyes to the world. I loved it there. Hockey was an important part of my life, but I also had a strong interest in biology and medicine, and I simultaneously got ever-more deeply into writing, which had interested me since about third grade. I was co-editor of the St. John's Prep student paper and it was during that period that I developed a serious interest in short stories and allegedly humorous essays. I use the word "allegedly" quite deliberately. I also was responsible for some of the worst poems ever written in the English language, although they seemed profound at the time. Hey, I was 16.
After graduating cum laude from Harvard College in 1976 and doing the obligatory living-abroad find-yourself thing for several months, I worked as a baggage-smasher for Delta Airlines (the value of a Harvard degree!) while freelancing, including a cover piece for The Boston Globe magazine about the possibility of someone making an atomic bomb (and this was decades before 9/11). I then landed a job as a reporter at the North Adams Transcript, a small daily newspaper in North Adams, Mass. God knows why I was hired, for I had virtually zero experience and hadn't so much as stuck my nose inside a journalism classroom. Whipped into shape by a great editor, the legendary Rod Doherty, executive editor of the Dover, New Hampshire paper Foster's Daily Democrat, I learned the journalistic ropes and, in less than a year, took a staff writer position at the larger Cape Cod Times in Hyannis.
Two and a half years later, I went to The Providence Journal, which had won several Pulitzer Prizes and had a reputation as a "writer's paper." A reputation well-deserved, I discovered first-hand, especially under the guidance of my new mentor, Joel Rawson, who was metro managing editor when I arrived and was until his retirement as executive editor. I have been chairman of the paper's writing committee, have won a bunch of awards (including an American Society of Newspaper Editors prize for feature writing), and for many years have specialized in long-term projects and series, several of which have been the basis for books. I like to think my forte is story-telling, tales in which interesting things happen to interesting people. I am also a regular book reviewer for our Sunday Books section (my tastes, as with my own work, are eclectic). My journalistic passion has been mental health,
which I have reported on since the mid 1980s. My hope has been that in some small way, my writing and filmmaking here have helped people and worked to reduce discrimination and stigma.
At one point, I became intrigued with online serial fiction, and wrote the first chapters of three short stories -- for Halloween and Christmas, 1999, and the summer of 2000 -- that Journal and projo.com readers have finished in writing contests.
My love of early Stephen King, of all people, inspired me to begin seriously writing fiction. I succeeded in having several horror/mystery stories published in magazines and hardcover and paperback collections, and, in 1988, sold my first book, a novel, THUNDER RISE (hardcover, 1989; paperback, 1992), to William Morrow. It got some good reviews and some bad; it's an entertaining book with several of my favorite fictional characters, and my daughters think it's cool, which is good enough for me. Meanwhile, through one of those weird twists of fate that keep life interesting, a young new editor at Random House out of the blue wrote me a letter asking if I had any non-fiction book ideas. This editor, Jon Karp, now publisher of Simon & Schuster, had worked briefly as a Journal reporter, but we were hardly friends; my only real contact with him was one day when he was a contributing reporter for a Page One story I wrote on deadline about a gruesome triple-murder/homicide involving a mother and her kids. Jon did a swell job watching the meat wagon remove dead Mom from her $20-a-night motel room. Anyway, I did have an idea: Hardy Hendren, chief of surgery at Boston's Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School professor, and protagonist of THE WORK OF HUMAN HANDS (hardcover, 1993; paperback, 1999), which received excellent reviews and pleased Jon enough that Random House bought two more titles. COMING OF AGE (1995) is a fast-moving tale. COMING OF AGE is set inside an ordinary American public high school... ordinary, that is, until the craziness starts.
TOY WARS brought me to yet another place normally closed to journalists, never mind the public at large: deep inside a Fortune 500 company, Hasbro Inc., manufacturer of G.I. Joe, Mr. Potato Head, Batman, Star Wars and many other toys. I have never spent so much time on a project -- almost five years, when all was said and done. That's because what I envisioned as a fairly straightforward story about the creation of a toy became, once I'd found my bearings, a saga in which jobs, reputations and billions and billions of dollars were at stake. Of all my books, Toy Wars has the strongest narrative and many of my most compelling characters, starting with CEO Alan Hassenfeld, a complicated and unconventional but admirable man who is unlike anyone I know. I wrote Toy Wars as I would a novel, with the hope that readers would get drawn in deeply at the opening scene and not let go until the very last word. You, of course, will be the judge of whether I succeeded.
I followed King of Hearts with a six-part Providence Journal look into a rarely-visited world of old money: namely, the high-society world of Newport, Rhode Island, home of mansions, millionaires, and fascinating people who rarely, if ever, make their way into print. Click here to read A NEARLY PERFECT SUMMER: Travels Through Old-Money Newport.
My seventh book, a look at pioneering medicine, THE XENO CHRONICLES, got nice reviews after it was published in June 2005.
My 2006 non-fiction project was ``The Growing Season,'' the story of Frank Beazley, a remarkable man, that ran 12 consecutive days (September 24, 2006, through October 5, 2006) in The Providence Journal. The reader response was overwhelming.
The fall of 2007 brought an unprecedented behind-the-scenes journey through the life and world of a prominent American Catholic bishop, the Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin. This is a story of a man, born to humble circumstances, who became one of the youngest American bishops ever - and now leads one of the country's major dioceses. AN AMERICAN BISHOP: Inside the World of One Cathedral Square started Sunday, October 21, 2007, and continued the next four Sundays, concluding with an epilogue on Monday, November 19, 2007. Check out the extensive online presentation.
And the fall of 2011 brought my 16th major newspaper series: THE WAR ON TERROR: Coming Home,a seven-part series about returning veterans of the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, starting Sunday, October 2, 2011, continuing on Monday, Oct. 3, and then five successive Sundays, concluding Sunday, November 6, 2011.
My eighth book, published in September 2011 by University Press of New England, AN UNCOMMON MAN: The Life and Times of Senator Claiborne Pell is about the late Pell, the Newport, R.I. politician, born into great wealth, whose distinguished 36-year career in Washington included creation of the Pell Grants education-assistance program, establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities.
I am married to Y. T. Gabrielle, an extraordinary woman who keeps a lower public profile than I do, a true love and best friend -- I feel lucky and blessed.
I have three children: the oldest of whom, Rachel Miller, a registered nurse, is a mother of two beautiful daughters, Isabella Katherine Bernier, my first grandchild, and Olivia Grace Bernier, my second; the middle of whom, Katherine Linwood (Miller) Chu, graduated in June 2009 from Harvard College, is the mother of Vivienne Linwood Chu, and is Communications Coordinator for Rhode Island Kids Count, and has her own website; and the youngest of whom is Calvin, a wise and wonderful young man who lives in a Buddhist temple in Japan.
Among my community passions are donating blood and libraries. From 1997 until June 2009, when I moved to Warwick, R.I., I was the chairman of the board of trustees of Burrillville's principal library, the Jesse Smith Memorial Library. I joined the board as a regular member in 1995. The library we ran all those early years was badly overcrowded, and so after joining the town's new library building committee we began construction in 2006 on a new $9 million library that is a comfortable and exciting place for reading, viewing and performing. The new library opened on March 31, 2008 -- a place where arts,
entertainment, and writing is celebrated. It is also the centerpiece of the Stillwater Mills revitalization project, transformed a blighted area in the heart of Burrillville into a vibrant civic, commercial and residential area. We had our Grand Opening on Sunday, April 27, 2008. The summer of 2008 saw the debut of Riverwalk Times, an annual outdoor theater, music, and arts series that I founded. I am now a trustee emeritus of the Smith Library.
I wrote and co-produced two independent documentary movies. The first, ON THE LAKE: Life and Love in a Distant Place, , tells the story of the late Frank Beazley's home, Zambarano State Hospital, which began as the Rhode Island State Sanatorium -- and also the larger international story of TB, the number-one killer in the early 1900s and still a global threat today. Please visit the official site to watch the trailer and read the OTL blog. The movie premiered on Feb. 13, 2009, at the beautifully restored Stadium theatre in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. PBS brodcast and a New England Emmy nomination followed.
The second was Behind the Hedgerow: Eileen Slocum and the Meaning of Newport Society, which premiered in 2010 and was broadcast on PBS in 2011. It was based on the central character of The Providence Journal series A Nearly Perfect Summer. I now make documentary movies on staff at The Providence Journal.
In 2011, I co-produced and wrote Coming Home, The Providence Journal's first feature-length documentary. It premiered online December 29, 2011, and was broadcast on Rhode Island PBS on March 26, 2012, and later dates. Photographed by my Journal colleague John Freidah and edited by The Journal's Cecilia Prestamo, COMING HOME won a 2012 Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association and is nominated as oustanding documentary in the 35th annual New England Emmy Awards.
In 2012, I became visiting fellow at Salve Regina University's Pell Center, where I am co-founder and director of Story in the Public Square, a year-round initiative to study and celebrate public story telling. Our maiden event, a day-long conference on April 12, 2013, featured a keynote address by Gary Hart and the awarding of the first Pell Center Prize for Story in the Public Square to Dana Priest, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Washington Post staff writer.
By 2021, I had published more books, bringing the total number of titles in print to 19. Find them on my books page.
Coming Home, premiered online December 29, 2011, and broadcast on Rhode Island PBS on March 26, 2012 and later dates, The Providence Journal's first feature-length documentary, co-producer and writer. Photographed by my Journal colleague John Freidah and edited by The Journal's Cecilia Prestamo, COMING HOME won a 2012 Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association and is nominated as oustanding documentary in the 35th annual New England Emmy Awards.
Fatal Foam, with the late Peter B. Lord, a four-part series on the dangers of polyurethane foam in household furniture and beds, September 28 - October 1, 2003. The series was part of an effort by several Journal journalists that was a Pulitzer Prize finalist Public Service in 2004.
Society for Features Journalism, second place, Series/Project, 2012, with John Freidah, for THE WAR ON TERROR: Coming Home, an eight-part Providence Journal series, with six videos, on veterans of the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. My 16th major newspaper series, it began on October 2, 2011, and ran through November 7, 2011.
New England Associated Press News Executives Association, first place, with staff, business/consumer news, 2012.
The Rhode Island International Film Festival’s Roger Williams Independent Voice Award, 2013, honoring “an outstanding individual whose vision promotes tolerance, compassion and understanding.”
Rhode Island Press Association, 2014, Investigative/Analytical News Story or Series, with Providence Journal colleagues Paul Davis and Paul Parker, first place for “Mental Health in Rhode Island.”
Bell of Hope: Mental Health Hero Award. Mental Health Association of Rhode Island, April 30, 2015, presented at a ceremony at the Rhode Island State House.
Rhode Island Press Association, 2015, Single-topic Series, third place for “The Deteriorating State of Mental Health Care in Rhode Island.”
Generation Citizen, Civic Change Maker Award, 2015, with Providence Journal colleagues, second place for “Race in Rhode Island.”
Best in Business Award 2015 for breaking news, newspapers with circulation up to 150,000, Society of American Business Editors and Writers, part of team effort for “PawSox Stadium Site,” published Feb. 24, 2015.
Metcalf Award for Diversity in the Media, Series/Multimedia category, 2016, with Providence Journal colleagues, for “Race in Rhode Island,” the 2015 “hard-hitting series, a year-long, multimedia exploration through print, online and community features covering many of the most important issues facing our state today.”
National Association of Black Journalists Salute to Excellence award, newspaper series, under 150,000 circulation, with Providence Journal colleagues, for “Race in Rhode Island,” 2016.
Lila M. Sapinsley Community Service Award, from Butler Hospital, 2016. "This annual award honors a member of the community for his or her personal achievements and contributions to the field of mental health and behavioral health care in Rhode Island. Miller is honored for his longtime advocacy for individuals affected by mental health, developmental disabilities and other areas of brain health."
Metcalf Award for Diversity in the Media, Print Daily Award, 2017, for the three-part 2016 Providence Journal series "Saving Rob."
First place, Local Personality Profile, New England Newspaper & Press Association Better Newspaper Competition, for the three-part 2017 Providence Journal series "Before the Fall," about General Michael Flynn's years in Newport and Middletown, Rhode Island.
Leadership Rhode Island's 2018 Inspiring "Leaders As Hosts" award, with Jim Ludes, for the weekly Story in the Public Square PBS/SiriusXM Satellite Radio program.
Metcalf Award for Diversity in the Media, Print Daily Award, 2018, Lifetime achievement.
April 2019, awards from the Rhode Island Press Association for work in 2018: Science/health care story, second place for “The wellness gap”; Profile or personality story, second place, for “Spirit of strength”; Feature story (short), second place for “Growing hope”; Distinguished journalist, honorable mention.
Three awards in the 2020 annual New England Better Newspaper Competition, sponsored by the New England Newspaper & Press Association: First place, human interest feature story, for “Redemption”; second place, digital strategy excellence, a category including all newspaper types, for “The Beast is Dead,” story, audio and video, with other Providence Journal staff; and second place, multimedia coverage, “Redemption,” story, audio and video, with other Journal staff.
Three awards in the 2019 Rhode Island Press Association awards, announced on Oct. 2, 2020: Distinguished journalist, second; Single-topic series, second, for "State of Rhode Island’s Health”; and Science/health care story, second, for “The Beast Is Dead.”