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
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
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
"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
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.