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Interview with Phyllis Zimbler Miller, Author of Mrs. Lieutenant

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Former Lieutenant Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the co-author of the Jewish holiday book Seasons for Celebration and the author of a success guide for teens. In this interview, Miller talks about her latest book, Mrs. Lieutenant, for which she's touring the blogopshere this month of June.

Thanks for stopping by at Blogcritics, Phyllis. Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

My younger brother and I spent every summer in our small hometown of Elgin, Illinois, reading books as part of the public library’s summer reading program. He usually won the award for “most read” books and I usually came in second. I still have many of my favorite books, including Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series, many of Louisa May Alcott’s books, and the Cherry Ames mystery series by Helen Wells.

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

I’ve wanted to write this book for 38 years, ever since I was a new Mrs. Lieutenant in the spring of 1970 during the Vietnam War. I particularly wanted to preserve this specific slice of women’s social history in the United States. The ‘60s had just ended and people were beginning to think about equality for women. Yet, in the army, an officer’s wife was very much an extension of her husband. I fictionalized the story both to make the events more dramatic as well as to protect identities.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

Neither. Because I started with a framework of nine weeks of Armor Officers Basic, I had definite beginning and end points. I just began to write. Then later I added Sharon Gold’s backstory at the beginning of the book. That version didn’t really work. Instead I wove some of her backstory into the current story.

Did your book require a lot of research?

I have all my original army documents, which I used to supplement my memory. I also did research on the news items that begin each chapter. When I started writing the novel, internet research didn’t exist, so I did my research at the library.

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?

I’ve wanted to tell the story for 38 years. But I didn’t start writing the novel until about 20 years ago when two female film producers optioned the story for a movie. Then they decided I had to write the novel first. By the time I had written a first draft, they had moved on to other projects. I kept rewriting and rewriting while I learned to go from being a journalist — “just the facts” — to writing as a novelist. I had to learn to let go of the truth in order to write a dramatic novel that portrays true events.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

In 1992 my Jewish holiday book Seasons for Celebration — published by Perigee and co-written with Rabbi Karen L. Fox — was released. Karen and I went the traditional book signing route. For Mrs. Lieutenant I’m only focusing on internet book promotion. I can reach more people in one hour of online activity than I could possibly reach in several book signings. I’m currently on a virtual book tour — which I think is a genius marketing tool — planned by Pump Up Your Book Promotion.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Use one telling detail rather than a string of descriptions to portray a character. For example, saying a middle-age man is wearing a white leather belt rather than saying he is wearing a white leather belt, white leather shoes, a brightly colored shirt and red pants. Just the detail of the white leather belt gives a clear picture without boring the reader by the string of descriptions.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

I have both a website and a blog. My website is www.mrslieutenant.com, where you can download the first four chapters as well as book study discussion questions. And my blog is www.mrslieutenant.blogspot.com.

Do you have another book in the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

Besides the sequel to Mrs. Lieutenant – which will be Mrs. Lieutenant in Europe — I’m working on a teen success guide Flipping Burgers and Beyond: Find Your Own Path Through High School. On the upcoming book’s website I have free valuable information – such as detailed instructions for filling out a W-4. I also have a blog that gives advice on college applications, internships and careers. Flipping Burgers is an extension of my M.B.A. from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and my work coaching young people.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.