Emily Jeanne Miller’s first novel, Brand New Human Being, has just been published and is garnering praise for its “wonderfully real characters” and quick paced exploration of the “struggles of family, marriage, and mid-life identity crisis.” One review christened it an “addictive summer novel.”
Brand New Human Being is the story of Logan Pyle, a lapsed grad student and stay-at-home dad who’s holding it together by a thread. His father, Gus, has died; his wife, Julie, has grown distant; his four-year-old son has gone back to drinking from a bottle. When he finds Julie kissing another man on a pile of coats at a party, the thread snaps. Logan packs a bag, buckles his son into his car seat, and heads north with a 1930s Lousville Slugger in the back of his truck, a maxed-out credit card in his wallet, and revenge in his heart.
After some bad decisions and worse luck, he lands at his father’s old A-frame cabin, where his father’s young widow, Bennie, now lives. She has every reason to turn Logan away, but when she doesn’t, she opens the door to unexpected redemption — for both of them.
Want the Short Answer, or the Truth?
A lot of people have been asking me how long it took to write my new novel, Brand New Human Being, and my short answer is, “About a year.” The longer — and more genuine-feeling—answer is that more than a decade elapsed between the moment I first encountered the people who inspired Brand New Human Being and the time I finished writing it.
One weekend in 1999, when I was living in Missoula, Montana, I visited a hot-springs resort in a remote part of the state, and I spent a few minutes one evening watching a young father carry his very young son into one of the steaming, spring-fed pools. Something about the pair spoke to me; I remember wondering what they were doing there, just the two of them, in this rather bizarre spot in the middle of Montana, so late at night.
I don’t remember thinking about them after the trip, but their image must have lodged itself somewhere in my imagination, because a couple of years later, I wrote a sixteen-page short story for a fiction workshop about them — or rather, the “them” I imagined that father and son to be. That story opened on a Montana highway, with a young man named “Pyle,” in flight from a houseful of problems, driving north with his young son, Owen, in tow. Pyle’s father had recently died and his marriage was faltering. He didn’t know where he was headed. He stopped for the night at a motel with a hot-springs pool.
The story failed in many ways, all too mundane to recount here. (Most of the workshop was devoted to a lively argument over whether such a pool would actually be open in winter, and why or why not.) But the father and son had set up shop in my head, and I rewrote the story — first while I was still in graduate school, and then a year or two later, once I’d moved back to my hometown, Washington, D.C.
By then the story had grown to twenty-one pages and, thinking it finished, I submitted it for publication to journals and magazines. Some editors liked it; none liked it enough to put it in print.
Like all writers who send out their work, I was frustrated. I knew the story had potential, but I was at a loss as to what to do to bring it out. I went back to it again, this time in 2006, and it expanded into a thirty-six-page short story, which I shared with my writing group, one of whose members suggested it felt like a novel. A seasoned writer, her advice was to let it sit for a while — advice I found maddening, given how long I’d been at it already. But I followed it nonetheless, mainly because I didn’t know what else to do. So it sat. I wrote other stories. I taught. I wrote more. And then one day early in the fall of 2009, distraught over another novel I’d been working on, I returned to “Pyle” — by then, “Logan Pyle” — once more.
I won’t claim the writing, that last time, was “easy”, but I will say I felt a new sense of purpose and energy that kept me moving forward through places where, in previous attempts, I’d gotten stuck. I wrote about Logan every day for eleven months, at the end of which I had a three-hundred page first draft. Seven months — and several rewrites — later, the book was sold.
Sometimes I think about how badly I wanted the original story to be published, all those years ago. And then I think of Brand New Human Being, and about how I probably never would have written it if I’d gotten what I was so positive I wanted, then.
Emily Jeanne Miller was born and raised in Washington, D.C. She attended the National Cathedral School and Princeton University, where she studied comparative religions. After graduation, she lived in California and the Rocky Mountains, working as a journalist covering diverse environmental topics such as Indian casinos, nuclear bomb testing, rock climbing bans, and grizzly bears.
While residing in Missoula, Montana she co-edited an anthology of writing from the Clark Fork River basin, The River We Carry With Us, and earned a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana. She also holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Florida. Emily’s short fiction has been published in the North American Review and The Portland Review, and she has received fellowships from Yaddo and the Vermont Studio Center.