Today I welcome Phyllis Zimbler Miller to my blog, continuing my very popular Writer Wednesday series. I first saw Phyllis on Twitter, where she has a huge following, quite rightly.
Phyllis Zimbler Miller lives in Beverly Hills, California, and is a fiction and nonfiction author who blogs on book topics at www.PhyllisZimblerMiller.com and she is also the co-founder of the online marketing company www.MillerMosaicLLC.com
Please tell us more about yourself, anything you like- interests, background…
I’ve been writing since an early age. During high school I spent an entire summer writing a novel about children living in the White House. (I wrote this on a manual typewriter!) I majored in journalism at Michigan State University and worked as a newspaper reporter for several years.
Please tell us more about the book or books you would like to feature today.
My spy thriller CIA FALL GUY is partly inspired by my husband and I being stationed in Munich, Germany, with the U.S. Army. He was a military intelligence officer and I eventually got a job as a civilian with a security clearance. The bombing of the U.S. Army Officers Club in Frankfurt , which is an important part of the plot of CIA FALL GUY, actually took place.
At the moment I’m trying an experiment on Wattpad – writing chapter by chapter the dystopian thriller THE MOTHER SIEGE. It takes place in 2049, only 36 years from now, and focuses on several questions that we are dealing with today, such as genetic engineering.
- What gave you the idea to write in this genre?
Regarding CIA FALL GUY, I am a huge fan of spy thrillers after working for U.S. Army intelligence in Munich. Although I do read dystopian stories, this genre is not my favorite. The story for THE MOTHER SIEGE came to me in a dream and I resisted writing in this genre. When the story wouldn’t leave me I gave up my resistance and began writing.
- Is there a theme or message in your work that you would like readers to connect with?
As a long-time feminist I have one theme in all my writing: portraying strong female characters. In my women’s friendship novel MRS. LIEUTENANT, which was a 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award semifinalist, I also dealt with prejudice based on race, religion, geography, and class. In THE MOTHER SIEGE I am dealing with questions of genetic engineering, healthcare rationing, and other current topics.
Note from Lily: I am glad you said you are a long time feminist, that has become a ‘dirty word’ but in fact is a perfectly valid belief that I agree with.
- What research did you do, and how? Or does it all come from your own imagination?
Much of what I write first comes from things I know about or have experienced. Then I add in imagination and research. Writing in the era of the Internet makes it so much easier to check facts than when I first started writing.
- What’s the funniest/weirdest thing you’ve done when doing research for your book?
I eavesdrop on people’s conversations wherever I am – this gives me insight into people and possible conversational bits I can use in my writing.
- Do you ever base your characters on people you know?
Many of the characters in MRS. LIEUTENANT are composites of people I knew. And the protagonist in the military thriller LT. COMMANDER MOLLIE SANDERS that I wrote with my husband is based on research into what would be a realistic character for that story.
- Do you make a plan for your novels, or do you just start writing and see where it goes?
I always know what the end of a novel will be. The steps from A to Z, though, I make up as I go along – using the inherent elements of the story to guide me to what comes next.
- Which of your own books/ characters is your favourite and why?
I probably should say Rebecca Stone in the cozy mystery CAST THE FIRST STONE because she has many similarities to me. But the truth is my favorite character is Beth Parsons in CIA FALL GUY because, even though she is not trained as a spy, she has the gumption not to wait for events to overcome her. She takes action into her own hands.
- What has been the most helpful piece of advice you’ve received as a writer?
Good writing is rewriting. And I actually enjoy rewriting – smoothing out plot points, ensuring the story hangs together.
- What books or other projects do you have coming up in future?
Besides my experiment with the novel THE MOTHER SIEGE on Wattpad, I’m also experimenting with a nonfiction project based on being stationed in Germany. TALES OF AN AMERICAN OCCUPYING GERMANY: A COLD WAR MEMOIR is also on Wattpad. (I have all my original documents from that time.) And I’m adapting a screwball romantic comedy screenplay that I wrote with my husband – HOT POTATO – into a short novel.
- Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers?
For me perhaps the hardest part of being an active author on Amazon comes from the occasional nasty review. Often it is clear what axe the reviewer is grinding, and that axe is not necessarily about my book. And when I offer my books free via KDP Select, I get reviews from people who probably do not usually read that genre. For example, CIA FALL GUY is a spy thriller that purposely misleads as to who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. But occasionally a reviewer complains he or she can’t follow this. Well, that is what I am trying to do – until the end when it all becomes clear. At these times I remind myself that not everyone can like a certain type of book.
My Amazon Author Central profile for my fiction books is at www.ZimblerMillerbooks.com
For my nonfiction books – www.amazon.com/author/phylliszmiller
THE MOTHER SIEGE can be read on Wattpad at http://budurl.com/MSintro
TALES OF AN AMERICAN OCCUPYING GERMANY can be read on Wattpad at http://budurl.com/TAintro
My favorite social media platform is Twitter – http://twitter.com/ZimblerMiller
And I’m on Goodreads at www.goodreads.com/pzmiller
West of the Mississippi River – 2049
Natalie first heard the announcement on her Videobook screen hung above the kitchen wash station. Thinking she had misheard, she tapped her Twitterverse earpiece to hear what was trending.
The ceramic cereal container slipped from her hand, smashing into pieces in the stainless steel wash station.
The noise of the smashed container got the attention of her 12-year-old son. Jonah looked up from his home-schooled lesson tablet. “What’s the matter, Mom?”
She made the decision in less than a second. She was already a subversive, although unknown as one to the world-at-large. She would not obey this order.
“Get your sisters, Jonah!” When he didn’t immediately jump up, she yelled, “Now!”
She took deep breaths while her mind raced. She calculated her chances of success at less than 50%, but it was a risk she would take. The alternative was unthinkable.
The 10-year-old twins Jessica and Julie appeared behind Jonah. Natalie motioned the three of them to sit at the kitchen eating station.
She hesitated. The world as they knew it was about to be destroyed.
She sat down and looked at each of them in turn. How she loved them! She had already fought for them. And now –
“The Provisional Government has just announced that 30 days from now all children over the age of six months and younger than 18 are to be removed to group homes.”
All three children started to speak, but she held up her hand.
“Parents will be given visiting rights one day a month.” She paused only for a second before reaching into the drawer under the kitchen eating station and removing an old-fashioned chalkboard found when cleaning out her grandparents’ home.
She wrote: “I will not allow this to happen to you.”
Tears formed in the girls’ eyes; Jonah looked as if he might puke.
Then she wrote: “Say nothing and let’s go for a walk now. Leave all your electronic devices here.”
Natalie unplugged her Twitterverse earpiece and dropped it on the table. The children didn’t yet have these. But they took their personal communication devices off their wrists and placed these next to hers on the kitchen eating station. Then they followed her out of the living unit front door.
Natalie led the children to the nearby outdoor recreational space and motioned them to sit on an outdoor recreational seating arrangement besides a pseudo waterfall.
She stood facing them and began: “Have you ever wondered why the three of you are home schooled?”
Jonah answered. “Because you don’t like what is taught in the Provisional Government school system.”
“That’s true, but not the whole reason.” She hesitated. What she was about to say could mean life-or-death for all four of them.
“What I am about to tell you is for your ears only. Telling anyone else can bring down on all of us the worse sanctions of the Provisional Government.”
Jessica and Julie clasped hands. While not identical twins, they shared many of the same characteristics and often sought comfort from each other.
Again Natalie hesitated. How to say this?
“When Jonah was born, he passed all the newborn screening tests with high marks. As a pediatrician I was allowed to be the doctor of record for his test scores even though I was also the birth mother.
“When Jessica and Julie were born, Jessica passed the screening test but Julie showed a tendency to develop asthma. The Provisional Government policy was to stamp out asthma as a medically expensive condition by eliminating all newborns with that potential. There was no way to falsify the screening tests.”
Natalie saw the horror in the children’s eyes.
“Instead I falsified the birth records. I put Jessica down as a live birth and Julie down as the opposite.”
Now the girls’ hands clenched even tighter. Jonah hunched closer to his sisters.
“Because Julie does not officially exist I have home schooled all of you. And as a pediatrician I have been able to bring home vaccination doses and antibiotics without ever taking Julie to see a doctor.”
Jonah caught on first. “Why are you telling us this now?”
“Because you need to know that I am already a subversive in the Provisional Government’s eyes if anyone knew what I had done. And now I will not allow you to be taken to group homes.”
“What are you going to do, Mom?” Jessica said.
Natalie shook her head. “I need time to think and plan. We have 30 days. Whatever we do, we probably won’t do it until the last minute. I will need you to pretend that we are compiling. You will do your homework, chat with your friends online as if you look forward to being with them. Whatever it takes to evade the authorities monitoring your activities too closely.”
All three children nodded.
“Whenever we talk about this, it will be outside without our devices. Perhaps I will tell you nothing more until we are ready to act. But I will not give you up!”