Mary Miller was at Greenlight Bookstore to discuss her latest story collection, Always Happy Hour, with Helen Ellis, author of the hilarious story collection American Housewife.
The collection features a number of drinks, and true to the title, many are alcoholic. Ellis took the time to catalog each of the drinks mentioned in the book, and asked Miller her preference in a series of comparisons. The short answers is Miller prefers beer, usually something light. She admits she had a beer at lunch, a wheat beer, but usually she likes Miller Light.
Ellis says she enjoys being alone in other people’s homes, much like several of Miller’s characters. She admits she likes to poke around. “I will look in your medicine cabinet,” Ellis says.
To be alone in other people’s houses was the most exciting thing about babysitting as a child, Miller says. She loved eating their cookies or finding vibrators, but confesses that she was also a scared kid. Usually she would end up calling her brother to ask him to check out the exterior of the house she was babysitting at thinking someone was creeping around in the dark.
A cat sitter Ellis once had over accidentally left behind instructions to a new vibrator. They had been lodged in the cushions of her couch. That cat sitter hasn’t been invited back.
Primarily Miller is interested in finding out what people eat. She says she lives alone and in her house, she mostly has La Croix and Tostitos and maybe some brie.
“A wheel of cheese is dinner,” Ellis says.
Both Ellis and Miller are southern women, and so guns are second nature to them. Ellis says her husband is from the north and never had any guns growing up. Miller’s father wouldn’t allow to have one, although apparently he was willing to hand one over to her sister.
Miller is also a teacher of writing. Her students are writing nonfiction, but a lot of them are trying to do fantastical stuff. “You help the ones you feel you can help,” she admits.
Ellis points to the absence of children in Always Happy Hour, and asks whether this a conscious choice, or just coincidence.
The short stories Miller writes are often based on real life. Since she doesn’t have children, the vast majority of her characters also don’t have children. “I don’t really know what the kids are like,” Miller says.
When writing fictional stories, when drawing on real life, it’s not possible to always remember things accurately. It also isn’t necessary to represent events accurately. Fiction writing is an opportunity to rewrite your life and Miller says she doesn’t care what really happened. Memories, after all, are malleable.