Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Herberger, the wonderful author of Miss E. For those of you who missed it, I read Miss E. (and totally loved it!!!). You can check out my review of the book here! Miss E. is a must read for anyone who loves Historical Fiction.
Anywayy… here is my interview with Brian Herberger!
Q: How long have you been writing?
A: I always liked writing in high school and college, and I worked on a couple other YA novels but they were never finished. I was a middle school English teacher for about ten years, and I definitely enjoyed working with students on their writing and getting to read what they wrote. Some incredibly creative and fun stuff. I still work for a school system, but not teaching, I’m working with technology and data… which can still be sort of creative, but not much writing involved other than email. So when I sat down to write Miss E., the book became a great creative outlet, and I always looked forward to working on it.
Q: What inspired you to write? Do you have a muse?
A: I get inspired by a lot of things. I’m fortunate enough to have great family and friends, and two kids who are constantly impressing me with their creativity and questions. They inspire me every day. Even something as unimportant as a Facebook post makes me want to wordsmith and get things just right. There’s a lot of satisfaction that comes from choosing just the right words, and knowing that when someone reads what you’ve written, they’re going to think and feel the same things you did.
Something that really inspired me while I was writing Miss E. was simply the idea of standing up for something you believe in. I’ve always been fascinated by the 60’s and people organizing and demonstrating against a war that they felt was wrong. I was born too late I guess because I missed all that. I did drive a VW bug around the little town I grew up in outside of Buffalo, New York. I’d taped a “NO WAR” sign in the back window and felt pretty good about speaking my two cents.
I also did a lot of research for the character of Miss E. She is based on an amazing woman, who I knew surprisingly little about before I started working on the book. I really enjoyed the research and the chance to learn more about her. I’m trying to avoid a spoiler, so I won’t say too much, but I guess if I had to pick a muse, it would be her.
Q: Tell me about your novel, Miss E. What was the original idea behind it?
A: Miss E. takes place in 1967 California. Bets is the main character. She’s moved to a new town, just started high school, and her father has left for the war in Vietnam. She gets tangled up in an anti-war demonstration, and struggles with her feelings toward the war – wanting to support her father but also beginning to see how wrong the war is. While all that is happening, Bets ends up meeting Miss E. – a woman who lives outside of town and keeps to herself. No one really knows much about her, but Bets eventually figures out who she really is. OK, no spoilers, right? I’ll just say that Miss E. is a real person from American history.
And how I got the original idea? One of my favorite writing stories is the one J K Rowling tells about getting the idea for Harry Potter. Not that I’m comparing myself to her or anything, but it’s a cool story. She was riding a train and suddenly had the idea – “Boy is a wizard, doesn’t know it, goes to wizard school.” And the way she describes it, the idea was just out there and the train went right through it and she happened to be there to catch it. I was driving home from work on a Friday afternoon, and suddenly got an idea – “A girl meets [blank]” Read Miss E. and fill in the blank. I got goosebumps! I started asking all sorts of questions. Where does she meet her? How does she find her? What would it be like to meet her? The more I thought about it, the more I felt that I didn’t just want the story to be about this girl finding [blank]. I wanted the girl to have a story of her own. When I settled on the time period, it made sense to include Vietnam in the story, with her father in the war and Bets getting involved in demonstrations.
Q: Are you working on any writing projects now? If so, what can you tell me about them?
A: I am! I just started writing something new a few weeks ago. At first I was working on an idea for another story similar to Miss E. where a young character meets a historical person, someone with a little mystery around him, where no one else in town really knows who he is. I’m excited about the idea, but before I dug into that story I realized I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to Bets yet. I really fell in love with all the characters when I was writing Miss E. It’s amazing how that happens. Maybe some writers plan everything out and know exactly what their characters are going to be like before they start writing. Not me. I think my way’s much more fun! I had some idea of what I wanted them to be like, but then you put them into a part of the story and they do something surprising or say something new, and you get to know them a little bit more. It’s really like meeting someone for the first time and then gradually growing closer and closer to them as you get to know them better. So I’m really excited to be writing another book about Bets.
People have asked about a sequel to Miss E., and at first I didn’t really think that was an option. Things are pretty wrapped up at the end of the book. But I realized there’s still a lot more to Bets’ story, even if Miss E. is no longer a part of it. We left Bets in 1967, but the war’s still going on, there’s still a lot happening in our country, and she’s still figuring out high school. The next book is going to take place two years later, and a lot has changed for Bets. There’s another adventure coming her way, and thankfully, Emmie is part of it. I’m pretty excited to be writing about Emmie again too!
Q: What is something you want the world to know?
A: Wow. That’s a pretty important question. Something I want the whole world to know? I feel like it should be something serious like world peace or global warming. I guess when it comes to books, the former English teacher in me just wants people to find something to read that inspires them or affects them in some way. That’s my measure of success. I’ve discovered that Miss E. is a story that affects generations, young and old. I heard from a middle school student whose father was in the military and she connected with that part of the story, with Bets saying goodbye, missing her father, and wanting him to come home safely. I heard from an older gentleman, who was a college professor in the 60’s. He remembers protests, tear gas lingering on bushes days later. So he was affected in an entirely different way. That’s what I look for when I sit down with a book. Is this book making me think, prompting me to ask questions or see things differently? Can I connect to the characters and story in some way? Well, it also helps if it’s a good story and it’s fun to read! If Miss E. does any of that for a reader, then I’ve done something right!
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