Interview with Wendy Teller

Question: After Mia’s plan to become an architect fails, she is reluctant to study math. Why?

Teller: Because her father is a brilliant scientist, and she wants to avoid being in a similar field. She is afraid she cannot perform at his level. In addition, he is controversial, and Mia wants to avoid having to deal with the issues his name evokes. So she wants a career in an area removed from his.

Question: In the 1960s, was it unusual for a woman to study math, a subject dominated at the time by men?

Teller: Yes. Many people believed woman couldn’t succeed in any of the STEM fields. In particular, I was counseled at the time not to go into math. But Mia was brought up by a feminist, who believed women should be able to support themselves. Mia assumed she would have a career, which was not that common in the early 1960s. Many of the girls in Mia’s high school thought their options were limited to teaching, nursing, secretarial work, or being a wife. This difference in world views caused Mia’s alienation from her high school classmates.

Question: Why did you choose to set the novel in the 1960s?

Teller: The book is based on my experiences as a young adult, which were in the 1960s. Of course, the 1960s changed our culture, so the time period became a character in the book. Berkeley, California also became a character in the book, because it changed so much during that period.

Question: How much of the book is autobiographical?

Teller: The book is true, in the sense that the kinds of events described in the book actually happened. The characters are fictional and the details of the events are fictional. Often I would take an actual event as a starting point and extrapolate, allowing the characters to play roles appropriate to their world view.

Question: But your father, Edward Teller, was a controversial figure. How accurately does Daniel Brower represent him?

Teller: I tried to give an accurate picture of being the daughter of a brilliant and controversial figure. Having said that, I would never claim to tell you what my father thought about policy or politics. He spoke for himself in his memoirs and his other books.

Question: The description of the 1960s in Becoming Mia seems different from that in other recent novels about the period, in which the characters believed the Vietnam War was a mistake.

Teller: True. I tried to show the different reactions to the changing culture and the Vietnam War that I saw at the time. Many people did not know what to believe about the war. I wanted to give every character in Becoming Mia their own voice, let them have their say. There are characters who have very strong opinions in one direction, or the other direction, and other characters who have no idea what to believe. I wanted to be fair to the characters, and fair to the period.

Question: What is your next project?

Teller: Becoming Mia is part of a planned trilogy. One book is based on my grandmother’s life. She was born in Hungary about 1880. Among other amazing activities for an upper-class Austro-Hungarian lady, she translated Huckleberry Finn into Hungarian. The other book is based on my mother’s life, who continued her mother’s quest for women’s rights. Due to these two strong women, Mia and I were able to discover who we wanted to be.