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Changing Writing Hats When the Need Arises

Today’s guest post is contributed by author Phyllis Zimbler Miller

I met Mitch Miller in January of 1967 when I a freshman and he a junior were both writing for the editorial staff of MSU’s college newspaper, the State News.

During Mitch’s time at MSU he wrote, among other things, articles about the Vietnam War, especially as he was a member of R.O.T.C.  I wrote feature articles, such as on the controversy of a college health clinic giving out birth control pills.

Fast forward ahead:  We married in September 1969, and in May 1970 Mitch went on active duty at Ft. Knox, Kentucky,  for Armor Officers Basic.  I went with him although the Army had not officially invited me.  (For a fictionalized account of my experiences, see my novel Mrs. Lieutenant, which was a 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award semifinalist.)

When we returned to the States in May of 1972, I eventually became a reporter and editor for Philadelphia’s weekly Jewish newspaper, the Exponent.  Mitch went to law school on the GI Bill and then I went to Wharton to get an M.B.A.

In the summer of 1980 we moved to Los Angeles, where we got “bitten” by an interest in writing for the entertainment industry.  We both took several screenwriting courses at UCLA Extension.  And we began writing and  rewriting and writing and rewriting screenplays that did not sell.

Both of us had to learn to go from a newspaper reporting style to a screenplay format where characters’ inner thoughts could not be portrayed.  The only way a screenplay character could convey his/her thoughts was by telling it to someone, talking to himself/herself, or by certain representative body actions.  (Remember when a movie actor would light a cigarette to show nervousness?)

Then I got interested in writing mystery novels – and I again had to learn a new writing style.  I had to write POV (point of view) characters whose thoughts I could convey while being careful not to switch to a different POV in any one section of a novel.

It took me 20 years of writing and rewriting the novel Mrs. Lieutenant, plus hiring an expert to figure out the one thing missing from the story, before I knew the book was ready to go.  And, of course, the book was then rejected by agents and publishers.

I decided to self-publish at the same time I submitted the manuscript to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition. Being named a semifinalist helped convince me that there was a market for this type of book.

And as ebooks exploded from a slow start by Kindle in late 2007, I got an idea.  Why not take Mitch’s and my screenplay “Lt. Commander Mollie Sanders,” which had been a 2005 Nicholls Fellowship quarterfinalist, and combine the script with a prequel script we had written titled “A Needle in a Haystack” in order to create an ebook?

Now I had to change writing styles again, and some people feel there is not enough character development in the book Lt. Commander Mollie Sanders.  (This is why we call the story a technothriller rather than a novel.) This ebook is meant to be an action/adventure story with a female
protagonist rather than the usual male protagonist.

On the other hand, some of the criticism of the character Mollie Sanders has been revealing of other people’s own issues. In fact, it has been so revealing that I felt compelled to write the post “A Fictional Character Is Fiction.”

In the end, though, I am grateful for having the opportunities to learn different writing styles and to then have the option to determine which ones work best  for me and for the stories I’m telling.

And,  oh, yes, who would have thought my journalism undergraduate degree would be so helpful now in writing short blog posts?

Phyllis Zimbler Miller (@ZimblerMiller on Twitter) is the co-founder of the marketing consulting company Miller Mosaic, LLC.
You can learn about her fiction and nonfiction books at

One Comment
  1. i thought this was gonna be a fact reporting post, but it’s a story! nicely done 😉

    have you felt, in the ebook format, that you were able to loosen up your style a bit?

    i’ve read that recently (an ebook by william rice), that the ebook format, being away from traditional publishing, allows some writers to be more than themselves

    i know in painting, i experienced more freedom being away from “the way things should be painted”

    in writing, once i left college, i pretty much started writing the way i wanted, but, still, can definitely “feel” the ebook freedom as i write new commentary & work for the ebooks i have in progress

    anyway, thanks much,


    October 19, 2011

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