Phyllis Zimbler Miller
They had their whole lives to look forward to if only their husbands could survive Vietnam. In the spring of 1970 – right after the Kent State National Guard shootings and President Nixon’s two-month incursion into Cambodia – four newly married young women come together at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, when their husbands go on active duty as officers in the U.S. Army. Different as these four women are, they have one thing in common: Their overwhelming fear that, right after these nine weeks of training, their husbands could be shipped out to Vietnam – and they could become war widows. Sharon is a Northern Jewish anti-war protester who fell in love with an ROTC cadet; Kim is a Southern Baptist whose husband is intensely jealous; Donna is a Puerto Rican who grew up in an enlisted man’s family; and Wendy is a Southern black whose parents have sheltered her from the brutal reality of racism in America. Read MRS. LIEUTENANT to discover what happens as these women overcome their prejudices, reveal their darkest secrets, and are initiated into their new lives as army officers’ wives during the turbulent Vietnam War period.
“Mrs. Lieutenant” is the only published novel I’ve written. I self-published it at the time that it was named an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award semi-finalist. (Many years ago I wrote a series of mystery novels that my agent couldn’t sell.) And I have just self-published “Four Comedy Screenplays” – two of which I wrote with my husband Mitchell R. Miller and two I wrote myself. I self-published in April of 2008 (see http://www.mrslieutenant.com/
) and I wish I knew then what I know now about social media. This is why I often write book marketing posts — to help other authors.
Can you tell us a little about Mrs Lieutenant?
The novel is based on the experiences I had as a new Mrs. Lieutenant at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, in the spring of 1970 during the Vietnam War. I’ve mashed together people from that time and other times to create the fictional characters.
Mrs Lieutenant is a fictional story based on a real event – the Vietnam war – yet you proclaim to be anti-war so why write about a war that happened forty years ago?
I am not anti-war; my fictional character Sharon Gold starts out as an anti-war protester. And although she is the novel’s character most like me, I am an active online supporter of our U.S. troops today.
I wrote the novel to preserve a very specific slice of women’s social history at the beginning of the women’s liberation movement in the U.S.
How does it compare with other novels in its genre?
I tried to make my novel very realistic in order to give readers a better understanding of military life. And I told the story from the point of view of four young women in order to avoid a single perspective.
How hard did you find switching view-point?
I didn’t find it especially hard to actually switch viewpoints once I started to write each chapter. That is, once I finally understood point of view. What was hard was figuring out how to make the different chapters mesh together in a coherent timeline.
Ultimately I hired a writing consultant to figure out the “one thing missing” that people who read the manuscript commented on but couldn’t put their finger on. His most important contribution was that the timeline wasn’t clear.
To solve this problem I made a copy of the exact days of that period in 1970 and used that calendar to coordinate the different viewpoint chapters.
How much research did it involve? Are you a historian at heart?
I didn’t have to do much outside research as I had kept all my original documents from that period. I did do research on actual news events during the timeline of the novel’s action. (I’m probably an archivist at heart.)
So, how much of the novel is true?
A great deal of the novel is true but not necessarily to those characters at Ft. Knox. For example, a “story” that I assigned to one main character was actually connected to people we met when we were stationed in Munich, Germany. I “appropriated” pieces of people’s stories and meshed them together. Then in some cases I extended out what I thought the natural consequences of their actions might be.
What audience is the book intended?
Adult, although this novel could be very good for high school history or social studies classes learning about the Vietnam War or about racial prejudice in the U.S. The novel is also good for book club discussions as the book deals with many issues that have resurfaced today.
How long did it take you to write it, and how many drafts?
About 20 years from the time two film producers optioned the story. They forget about the project by the time I had written the first draft. And then I worked on the novel off and on for the following years.
The film producers were two women I met when I founded the Los Angeles Chapter of Sisters in Crime and who really liked this story of four such different women having to learn to get along during wartime.
Could Mrs Lieutenant still be made into a film?
I still believe the book can be made into a film. I’ve even written the first draft of a screenplay (I took screenwriting courses at UCLA Extension).
Amazing, who would you have to play the four women?
I’m not sure. They are all quite young – 20 to 22. And what’s nice about the women’s appeal is that they include an African-American, a Puerto Rican, a Southern Baptist and a Northern Jew. Would any readers like to make suggestions?
In addition, I’ve given the novel to a woman to read to consider acting in the story as a play. This could be the first step to getting a movie made. There’s a section on the Mrs. Lieutenant website titled “Using Fiction to Teach U.S. History” – http://www.mrslieutenant.com/fiction-teaches-us-history/ – something of which I’m a strong proponent.
I particularly wanted to preserve the point of view of women during the Vietnam War because almost all the books and movies covering that period focus on the point of view of the men fighting.
Do you have a favourite scene in the book? Can we have a snippet?
Some of my favorite scenes would give away important plot points revealed later in the book. Instead I’d like to share the opening because it represents the beginning of the military life journey:
President Nixon announces he is sending U.S. troops into Cambodia … April 30, 1970
“It has been said that when a man acquires a commission, the government has gained not one, but two – the officer and his wife.” Mrs. Lieutenant booklet
SHARON – I – May 4, 1970
They drive around the western edge of Lake Michigan, past the industrial suburbs of Chicago, down into the flat farmland of Indiana, their tiny convertible a bright yellow bug boring through the cornfields.
Sharon Gold moves her cramped right foot, and the Farberware coffeepot bangs against her shin. Then the brown paper grocery bag with its open boxes of cereal and crackers shifts across her seatbelted lap. For the 10th time in the last two hours she glances around the densely packed interior of the Fiat Spider, a car that seemed truly wonderful when Robert bought it last summer, before they had to rely on it as a moving van.
It certainly can’t be said that they have all their earthly possessions with them. When you have a car as small as a Fiat, you take only the barest necessities: Suitcases with summer clothes and bedding tied atop the luggage rack. A few pots and pans and shoes in the minuscule trunk. In the well behind the two seats are stashed a tiny black and white television, already several years old when her parents passed it on to them, and the Singer sewing machine presented in the hope that she might someday learn domestic skills.
Their wedding gifts, their books and her stereo and albums, and the rest of their clothes remain at her parents’ home, moved there from Robert’s one-room apartment on Sheridan Drive they shared after their wedding.
The branch transfer to military intelligence from infantry has come through! Robert’s orders are to report to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for nine weeks of Armor Officers Basic to fulfill the requirement of a combat arms course before military intelligence training. “Why combat arms training?” she asked him when he received his new orders. “Surely you’ll have a desk job. That’s the whole point of getting the branch transfer.” Robert didn’t answer.
Who are you published with?
“Mrs. Lieutenant” was published through Amazon’s BookSurge, which is now merged with Amazon’s CreateSpace
, which I used for “Four Comedy Screenplays.”
Are you a full time writer?
Not at all; I squeeze in time to write fiction although I write several social media marketing blog posts a week.
Do you have any writing experience?
I earned a B.A. in Journalism from Michigan State University and have written as a journalist for years. I’ve also taken several creative writing courses at UCLA Extension here in Los Angeles.
Do you think your eduction has helped you develop as an author? Oh, yes, my education has definitely helped me as an author. Both the formal writing classes I’ve taken and the books on writing I’ve read (mostly Writer’s Digest Books) as well as the novels I’ve read. Years ago a good friend who always believed in this book told me to stop reading only mysteries and read the type of novel I was writing. I listened to her excellent advice and it paid off!
What are you working on now?
I am working on the sequel – “Mrs. Lieutenant in Europe” – because I want to write about being part of an occupation force only 25 years after the end of WWII. I’m about three-fourths along with the first draft. But I’ve suddenly decided to take a different direction with parts of the book and I don’t know if this is going to work. See my recent blog post http://budurl.com/kickinthepants
Miller Mosaic Power Marketing came about because, after my business partner Yael K. Miller and I learned so much about social media marketing, we wanted to share our passion for this form of marketing. What is interesting is that our clients have mostly been businesses rather than book authors. In our experience book authors are not as willing to invest in themselves as business owners are.
We help book authors and business owners identify their Unique Selling Proposition – their USP – what makes them stand out from similar books or businesses. Then we use this branding to create effective social media profiles from which our clients can connect with their prospective target markets. And Yael and I blog about social media marketing and effective websites at www.millermosaicllc.com/blog
What packages do you offer, and what are your charges?
We have a variety of product and service offerings. Recently we created our Quick Start Social Media Track to make it as easy as possible for people to start effectively using social media marketing to get in front of their target markets.
|Author Phyllis Zimbler Miller
Phyllis Zimbler Miller (@ZimblerMiller on Twitter) has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School and is the co-founder of the social media marketing company Miller Mosaic Power Marketing. She is the author of the novel “Mrs. Lieutenant” and the co-author of “Four Comedy Screenplays” and of the Jewish holiday book “Seasons for Celebration.”
Contacts: Phyllis Zimbler Miller, Co-Founder