GJR: Why did you choose Montana as the setting for Brand New Human Being?
Emily Jeanne Miller (EJM): In 1998, I moved to Missoula, Montana, to get a Master’s in Environmental Studies. I loved it there; the place really captured my heart and my imagination. I hadn’t really started writing fiction yet, then, but a few years later, when I was living in Florida (getting my MFA) and very homesick for the west, I wrote several stories that took place out there, including the one that would eventually become Brand New Human Being.
GJR: I thought going into the book that the redemption part would be the longest part of the book but instead it’s the lead up to the redemption that’s the longest. What made you decide to focus on the buildup instead of the redemption for the majority of the novel?
EJM: I think that what interested me most in writing the story was Logan’s dislocation in his life, the desperation he begins to feel because of it, and the bad decisions he makes as a result. His unraveling is what allows him to grow. I wanted the book’s focus to be that.
GJR: I never doubted Logan’s love for Julie but from the very beginning I did doubt her love for him. Was that your hope for your readers? Did you want us to doubt Julie so that Logan’s journey would seem more rational?
EJM: Yes. I wanted Julie to be complicated, and imperfect (like all of us). She does love him, but she’s also completely fed up with his inertia. She wants their life to move forward, and he’s stuck in the past. Actually, I felt a lot of empathy for Julie, despite the fact that she wasn’t particularly nice.
GJR: Logan seems stuck or at a standstill after the death of his father. I got the feeling that Gus was a good dad but that Logan felt he was still somewhat of an enigma.
EJM: I agree. Gus was a larger-than-life figure to so many people, this great hero; it was hard for Logan not to resent him somewhat, knowing him as a real, flawed—and sometimes selfish, harsh, and inaccessible—person.
GJR: Do you think that Logan taking Owen on his quick exodus from his life will help their relationship in the future? Or is it something that Logan will always remember and will retell Owen because he was just a bit too young to remember it?
EJM: I think that it is something Logan will always look back on as a turning point in his own life, but it’s also something he’ll always feel ashamed about, regarding Owen and what he put him through. I think that when Owen’s older, Logan will try to explain why he did what he did and that at some point, perhaps years into the future when he has his own kids, Owen will understand, and feel empathy for what his father went through when he was four.
GJR: How do you think it shaped Logan and Julie’s relationship/marriage by having them get together and married fairly quickly?
EJM: It left them with a lot still to figure out—about each other, about marriage, and about themselves. Dealing with the death of a parent is hard enough without an infant in the mix—much less one who came into the world in a traumatic way. They didn’t have much of a “honeymoon” phase, is another way to say it; they’re sort of learning about each other as they go.
GJR: Do you think that Logan ever had real feelings for Bennie or do you think it was a schoolboy crush?
EJM: I think it was something in between. His feelings for her were real, but they were complicated; Logan was jealous of Gus—and also of Bennie, for getting so much of Gus’s attention and affection, which he felt he never quite got. So it was complicated—a schoolboy crush, with some Oedipus and Electra thrown into the mix.
GJR: Can you give us a glimpse of who/what your next novel focuses on?
GJR: You’re having an author get-together (aka dinner party): Who’s on the guest list, which recipe would you grab, and why?
EJM: Richard Russo, Michael Connelly, Alice Munro, Kauai Hart Hemmings, and John Cheever’s ghost. I’m not much of a cook, so I’d make lasagna, because they’re very hard to mess up!
GJR: Since this is your first novel, did you have any preconceived notions about writing a book? What is easier or harder than you thought?
EJM: It was harder, I think. I had no illusions about it being easy, but making myself sit down every single day, even when I felt hopeless or lazy or stuck (which was often), that was hard. On the other hand, I finished the whole thing in about a year, which feels pretty quick, in retrospect.
Thanks to Ms. Miller for taking time out of her schedule to answer the Q& A.