I had one main driving force behind my decision to self-publish my novel “Mrs. Lieutenant” 38 years after I became a new Mrs. Lieutenant:
I wanted to tell the story of how the military provided active duty personnel and their families a unique opportunity. This unique opportunity was being “thrown together” and having to learn how to accept and cooperate with people you would perhaps have never met otherwise. And all this was during the unpopular Vietnam War.
As a Jewish couple in the U.S. Army in 1970, my husband and I were often the first Jews that other military people had ever met. And, to be totally honest, this was the first time we met Southern Baptists or Puerto Ricans who actually lived in Puerto Rico.
At the same time my manuscript went through the process of being self-published, I entered it in the first Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition – and “Mrs. Lieutenant” was chosen as a semifinalist. This certainly gave me confidence after agents and editors turned down the book because, they said, no one would be interested in a story of four women coming together because of their husbands.
After the book was published it received many, many favorable reviews. Only once did a reviewer miss the point of the novel. That reviewer complained that it was unrealistic to choose as the four protagonists a Northern Jew, a Southern Baptist, a black (the term African-American was not yet used) from the South and a Puerto Rican. The reviewer assumed I was just choosing “characters” and putting them together.
The point of the book is that this group of four such different women is indeed true. In fact, I did volunteer to be the chair of the entertainment committee for the graduation luncheon after the training we went through to learn how to be proper wives of officers. And this was indeed the make-up of our committee plus a fifth member – another Puerto Rican who only spoke Spanish.
Now of course for the purposes of a novel I’ve changed many of the stories of the four women. (FYI – I was NOT a war protester.) And I’ve “borrowed” pieces of the stories of other women I met at that time and “pasted” those pieces onto my four protagonists. But those pieces in most cases are very true.
And I do hope to eventually finish the next book in the planned trilogy – “Mrs. Lieutenant in Europe” – in which I deal with being part of an occupying force only 25 years after the end of World War II.
Teaching U.S. history today through fiction
Many younger people today do not remember a time when there was a draft instead of a volunteer army. These young people often do not learn in school about how divided the nation was during the Vietnam War. Thus I’ve included a news quote at the beginning of each chapter to give historical context for the story of these four women.
I’ve also included a quote at the beginning of each chapter from the $1 booklet “Mrs. Lieutenant” (Third Edition) by Mary Preston Gross that we new officer’s wives bought at the PX in order to learn what was expected of us. Here’s a quote from the booklet that says a great deal about 1970 – right at the beginning of the women’s rights movement:
“It has been said that when a man acquires a commission, the government has gained not one, but two – the officer and his wife.”
I hope my novel “Mrs. Lieutenant” will encourage more young people to learn about the period of the U.S.’s involvement in Vietnam. The www.MrsLieutenant.com website has book club questions comparing then and now on issues such as race. There is also a lesson plan for grade levels 9 – 12 at http://www.mrslieutenant.com/fiction-teaches-us-history/mrs-lieutenant-lesson-plan/
I am particularly interested in helping people learn about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and then seeking help. A free report on recognizing the symptoms of PTSD may be downloaded from my site www.FilmsThatSupportOurTroops.com
In conclusion, I hope that readers of my novel will come to a better understanding of the service and sacrifices of both military personnel and their families in the past and in the present. I also hope that this novel will help demonstrate how people of diverse religions, races, class and geography can learn to accept each other and work together towards a shared goal.
The first four chapters of the novel are available at www.MrsLieutenant.com as well as a link to read the entire novel for free online. There’s also a link to buy the book on Amazon.
I do have one regret about “Mrs. Lieutenant.” Because the book was self-published and thus not returnable through a major book publisher or distributor, the book has not been available in PXs. I do wish there were some way of rectifying this omission because I know that my story of 1970 will resonate with many military-connected women – and men – in 2010.
Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the author of the novel MRS. LIEUTENANT and the co-author of the Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION. Her newest project is www.FilmsThatSupportOurTroops.com.
Phyllis' company MillerMosaicLLC.com does power marketing that combines traditional marketing principles and Internet marketing strategies to put power in your hands.