For the Media

Q & A:

Q: You had been a journalist for many years before you wrote this novel. How is journalism different from fiction writing?

A: Very different.  Journalism is straight-forward and factual, with very little narrative and no
dialogue. A little descriptive color maybe,  if it's a feature story. A journalist interviews people and reports what they say. In a
novel a writer has  to SHOW, not TELL, what each character is doing and feeling
at any given moment. In journalism you detach yourself from the story you're reporting; in fiction you feel what your characters feel. You get into their hearts and minds, you know exactly what makes them tick, and you make damn sure that your readers know it too.

Q: So was it easy for you to switch from reporting news to fiction writing?

A: The transition from fact from fiction wasn't all that simple. Knowing how to write is a good start, naturally. But I was accustomed to a certain kind of writing: find out what's happening, why it's important and how it impacts the readers' lives. If there's a conflict and a controversy involved, all the better. Fiction writing has much more emotionality to it, so from that point of view it was a challenge. But when I realized that I could put words into people's mouths and not get sued for it, I knew I had found my niche :)

Q: Who is your target audience?
A: Women from their 20s up. Teeth in a Pickle Jar is what is commonly referred to as "women's fiction." I always joke that a man would have to grow ovaries and get a good dose of estrogen to appreciate this story. Having said that, I would never stop any man from reading my book. Please!

Q: Let's talk about your characters. Are you at all like Megan, your main character and the book's narrator?

A: Since the book is written in the first person, people naturally ask me that question. The most striking similarities between Megan and myself are that we are both involved in May - December relationships, and we both have an aversion to cooking and household chores. Like Megan, I've had a few turning points of my own. And oh yes, we both speak fluent French.

Q: So how much of the book is based on your own experiences, and how much of it is fiction?

A: Most of it is fiction. Yes, I took certain situations and events from my own life but then I spun a fictional story around them. Common wisdom says you should write about what is familiar to you. That's not necessarily true. You don't have to be abducted by an alien or battle dragons to write about it. As a matter of fact, as a journalist I often was assigned topics I knew very little about and, as I researched the story and interviewed people, I learned and I was able to write it. However, at times drawing on one's own experiences helps  to make the story and characters more real and credible. I'd like my readers to relate to the story and to the characters on an emotional level. Women are good at that.

Q: And what about the Mamma character?

A: I am as far removed from being Italian as can be, but I think we all know the Mamma character and would rather walk barefoot on razorblades than live with her. Actually, Mamma may come across as gruff and overbearing,  but in reality she is wonderfully quirky and wacky. There's an endearing quality to Mamma's idiosyncrasies.

Q: Why did you call your book "Teeth in a Pickle Jar?"

A: The title is a metaphor, but I'd like people to read the book to find out...I wanted an unusual title, one which makes the reader want to pick up the book, turn it around, read the blurb in the back and be hooked. I like thinking out of the box.

Q: You are an experienced writer but your background is journalism. This is your first novel and fiction is notoriously difficult to market if you don't have a big-name publisher behind you. Any thoughts on the difficulties ahead?

A: I know that no-name fiction is difficult — some say nearly impossible -- to market successfully. However, I decided early on not to be discouraged. One of the premises of my book is that one has to take risks in life. How can I write about this and not be ready and willing to go out on a limb myself? Giving up without  even trying was never an option for me. You might say that "Teeth in a Pickle Jar" is my own personal Everest.

Q: Any reader feedback so far?

Yes, I've had a very positive feedback from the media and readers alike. Some are already posted on this website; we'll be posting others as they come. So I guess that Everest is not really that high after all :)

"Teeth in a Pickle Jar" by H.B. Milligan


"Teeth in a Pickle Jar" is a quirky, humorous and touching story of love, laughter, new beginnings, second chances, taking risks, midlife turning points, family ties, and….lots of lasagna!
The book's main character (and narrator), forty-four-year-old Megan, has always been a dutiful and compliant daughter to her quirky, wacky and overbearing Italian "Mamma." One day Megan "meets" Brent in the Internet chat room. He is fourteen years younger and lives a thousand miles away but despite the distance and the age difference the two grow close. As their relationship gains momentum Megan's ties to Mamma begin to unravel, bringing to surface pent-up frustrations and decades-old unresolved conflicts. While trying to come to terms with these emotions, Megan discovers that life, her life, is full of unexpected twists and turns.

"Spunky and upbeat, a terrific piece of work. Great dialogue. I was laughing out loud! I could visualize the characters and I was amazed at how much I became wrapped up in their lives. I even had tears in my eyes at the end. What more can you ask for?"Christina Ferrari, former editor-in-chief of Teen People Magazine.

"Teeth in a Pickle Jar"is very smooth and very human. Helena has a fantastic way with words ." -- Dave Rosso, city editor of Times-Standard, Eureka, CA

H.B. Milligan (Helena Bachmann Milligan) is a graduate of New York University. She majored in journalism and, immediately after graduation, worked as a staff writer at the Herald Statesman in Yonkers, N.Y.

In the 1990s she worked as a European correspondent for USA Today. Her current job (since 1998) is as the Geneva, Switzerland correspondent for Time Magazine.

In addition to the above publications, Helena also wrote freelance articles for Los Angeles Times, N.Y. Newsday, United Press International, Wine Spectator, Science Magazine and others.

She lives in Geneva, Switzerland and Bradenton FL.

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Copyright © 2010 H.B. Milligan
Library of Congress
LCCN 2005933297