Phyllis Zimbler Miller

Phyllis Zimbler Miller

Interviewed by: Lauretta Pierce
July 3, 2008

Q.    Who is Phyllis Zimbler Miller?

A.   I'm a 60-year-old who grew up in the Midwest, lived in Germany when my husband was stationed there with the U.S. Army, then lived in Philadelphia from 1972-1980, at which point my husband and I moved to Los Angeles, where we've been ever since.

Q.    What inspired you to write MRS. LIEUTENANT?

A.   The young women I met in the spring of 1970 at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, had stories that I wanted to tell, and I also wanted to tell of our experiences as officers' wives during the Vietnam War.

Q.    Would you give the readers a brief summary of MRS. LIEUTENANT?

A.   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 Jewish anti-war protester from Chicago 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.

Q.    Besides Sharon, Kim, Wendy, and Donna's race, in your opinion, what made each of them unique?

A.   Kim and Donna have experienced prejudice while growing up, whereas Sharon and Wendy are experiencing prejudice now for the first time. How they each handle this "alien" U.S. Army experience is a reflection of who they are up to the moment their husbands went on active army duty.

Q.    Are the photos on the front cover of MRS. LIEUTENANT the actual photos of Sharon, Kim, Wendy, and Donna ?

A.   No they are not -- they're representative of the four women, who are actually composites of several women I knew both at Ft. Knox and later in Munich, Germany.

Q.    What literary elements did you use to convey the relationship amongst the Lieutenant wives?

A.   I used the device of four POVs -- each one of the four women has several chapters in which she is the point of view character, often relating the same event as that in another chapter from someone else's POV. The time sequencing of this took me a great deal of time to work out; I used an actual calendar from that time to plot out the different chapters.

Q.    How long have you been writing?

A.   Since an early age. (I won 2nd place in a poetry content at Girl Scout camp.) I was a journalism major at Michigan State University and worked five days a week on the school's award-winning newspaper. Later I taught newswriting and copyediting courses at Temple University in Philadelphia. Yet it took me years to learn how to write as a novelist rather than a journalist.

Q.    How many books have you written?

A.   I've written several mystery novels that have never been published. I'm the co-author of the published non-fiction book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION. I've recently written a non-fiction book for teens and young people about college applications, internships, jobs and careers, and I plan to publish segments of this book on a website.

Q.    Are you currently working on another book?

A.   I'm working on the sequel to MRS. LIEUTENANT -- MRS. LIEUTENANT IN EUROPE. I also have planned the third book, which will feature Sharon Gold returning to civilian life.

Q.    What message would you like readers to receive from reading MRS. LIEUTENANT?

A.   I would like readers to realize that we all have certain prejudices of people who are different than we are. Yet we can, if we want to, learn to accept these differences and to even appreciate them.