Monday, June 10, 2013

Tanya Mills Spotlight

I am the author of A Night on Moon Hill, a 2012 Whitney Finalist, and The Reckoning. The latter was the 2010 Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Award Winner for Mainstream/Literary Fiction, 2009 Indie Book Award Winner for Multicultural Fiction, and 2008 Whitney Finalist in two categories.
I grew up overseas, in a part of the world that has seen a lot of conflict–the Middle East–so the pacifist in me tends to view the world in terms of what we have in common, not what drives us apart. The stories I write will always reflect that in some fashion. I’m most interested in writing “fiction that bridges cultures.” The cultures may be national, geographical, religious, political, or even social. It doesn’t matter. They all need bridging.
 Most would describe me as serious and thoughtful, but my family and a few close friends know better. All I need is a lack of sleep, a fair amount of M&Ms (plain, not peanut), and a lively game of “Shanghai” late at night, and my guard comes down. I can be as silly as the next person as long as it doesn’t cost me a hand in the card game.
 I grew up in a very vocal family–one in which national and international events were often “discussed” around the dinner table. My mom is a Republican, my dad is a Democrat. Most of the kids followed in Dad’s footsteps politically, but not all…so family get-togethers are still fun and, sometimes, rather charged.
 I have two big weaknesses among many: a lousy memory and an even lousier sense of direction. I have taken to blaming my poor memory on my epilepsy (entirely under control, by the way). As for the bad sense of direction, I understand that’s a common failing among writers. I suppose we can only map things out in our heads, not the real world.
As far as I can remember, these are the main facts of my life thus far (Warning–only read further if you want lots of detail):
 I was born in Libya on an American Air Force base (since obliterated by bombing). Mom says the heat and sandstorms were so bad that she took refuge in the base’s movie theatre. In fact, when she went into labor she was slightly put out that she couldn’t finish watching the film first. No wonder I love movies.
 We lived in Greece (bad economy, earthquakes, and fires), California (bad economy, earthquakes, and fires), Turkey (earthquakes), Virginia (9/11 Pentagon), Iraq (revolutions, war), Maryland (nothing…yet), and Lebanon (civil war, bombings, invasions). I also lived in Italy for a year and a half (parts of the Coliseum are beginning to crumble). Are you seeing a pattern here? I hope my own little family’s move to the Pacific Northwest doesn’t forecast doom and gloom for the region.
 After graduating with a BA in Journalism from BYU, I worked for a PBS affiliate, a Catholic women’s college, a non-profit relief agency, and then got back to writing as Assistant Editor for Trade Publications with Sunset Magazine.
 I met my husband in L.A. and quit the job to start raising a family and begin formulating the plot for what would eventually become The Reckoning. I wrote it while we were living in Riverside, CA but it wasn’t published until after we moved up north to Washington State. My next novel, A Night on Moon Hill (inspired by my son with Asperger’s syndrome), was  published last year by Walnut Springs Press. I am currently at work on the first of an upper middle grade fantasy series set partly in the real world.
 Through it all, I’ve been a proud, stay-at-home “mauthor” with two beautiful children (now grown), two handsome cats, and a husband who supports and spoils me in every way.
Those are the facts to the best of my memory. Then, again, I have a lousy memory. That’s why I write fiction.
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in several foreign countries due to my father's work, enjoying my happiest childhood memories in the Middle East. Even though it's a part of the world that has seen a good deal of conflict, the people there are warm, hospitable, and family-oriented. I've always been creative and enjoyed reading and thought I might end up studying either history (because of the places I've been) or theater (because my family kind of has that tradition). I ended up taking the practical route in college, however, and studied journalism. I live in Richland, WA now with my husband, two children, and two cats.
2. At what point did you decide to become a writer? Was there someone or something that specifically inspired you?
I decided to become a writer in college, but then my intention was a career in journalism. I found I didn't like all the deadlines, however, so I counted myself fortunate to be able to quit my job with Sunset Magazine (I was an Asst. Editor for their Trade Publications) a year or two after I got married. I got an idea for a novel around the same time, but didn't know how to begin it until some 15 years later when I finally gave into my father's long-held desire for me to visit his writing group. There, I took part in a writing exercise that ended up revealing the way into my story. That was in January, 2003. Three months later, after I'd gone back home and found a writing group of my own, I'd finally completed the first draft of what would become my first novel, THE RECKONING. My father had been writing in his spare time since I was a teenager in Beirut, Lebanon. So he was definitely my inspiration, and I dedicated my first book to him.
3. What are you working on now?
I've just completed something entirely different for me--a middle grade fantasy with potential for a series. I'm calling it THE ACADEMY OF THE ANCIENTS, with the first book entitled THE HEYMAN LEGACY. An agent requested the full and I'm hoping this will garner me representation. We'll see. In the meantime, I need to flesh out the rest of the series.
4. How do you write: outline or seat of your pants, and why?
Until now, I've always written by the seat of my pants because it allows the story to grow more organically. I find that once I start with a character in an interesting situation, the story and other characters tend to develop on their own. And it's almost as if something higher is at work in my creative process. For example, in my last novel, A NIGHT ON MOON HILL, I decided I wanted my main character, Daphne, to take a book with her for comfort when she goes to meet young Eric for the first time. I figured that since she was an author who was uncomfortable with strangers, she would take something like that with her. So I had to pick a book. I looked back on my shelf and "randomly" picked out "Look Homeward Angel" by Thomas Wolfe then realized when Eric spies it in Daphne's hands that it's the perfect book to spark a conversation between them because he's passionate about angels. Not only that, but as I wrote the dialogue between them, I had him question the title. That made me do a bit of research so Daphne could tell him where the title came from, which led me to Milton's poem, "Lycidas." It was such a perfect fit for the novel, given its beginning involving a drowning. It was like serendipity! But I know it's more than that. I really do believe that the Spirit assists in the creative process.
Now, however, I'm having to write a series and I simply can't keep everything straight without an outline. I wrote the first book in the series without an outline, for the most part (though I sketched some plot points out in my head as I got 2/3 of the way in), but now I know I'm going to have to re-read that first manuscript, jot down all the questions raised and left unanswered (there aren't too many), and then outline the rest of the series to make certain everything I have in mind is revealed at the right time and nothing is left unanswered at the end. Part of me still fights the outlining, however, and I won't be surprised if I get partway in and then let the story take over.
5. Do you have any advice for others who dream of being an author?
Be humble and patient with yourself. Don't be afraid to go to conferences and retreats and, above all, remember that, in the end, if you want it badly enough and are willing to revise, revise, and revise again, you will get published. Also, getting published is only the beginning, not the end. So be very certain of your goals and motivations.
6. Do you belong to any writing/critique groups? Do you suggest them for authors?
I belong to a wonderful critique group, Writeminded, that meets weekly by Skype at 7 pm each Wednesday. We formed it about three years ago and it's been immensely helpful for each one of the six of us. Before that, when I lived in Southern California, I belonged to a larger critique group (probably too large) which also met weekly. I also belong to ANWA, including a local chapter I began--Columbia River Writers--which meets monthly, LDStorymakers, and LDS Indie Authors. Writing groups are essential for most authors, for we tend to live in our own worlds and we need that kind of contact to keep us grounded and enthusiastic about our craft.
7. State a random fact about yourself that could surprise your readers.
After my mission to Italy and before I got married, I was accepted to Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies for their Middle East Studies program in Bologna, Italy. It turned out to be too expensive, but had I taken out the loans and gone, I have a feeling my life would have turned out entirely differently.
Journalist Theresa Fuller has epilepsy, but this hasn’t slowed her search for stories of injustice to broadcast to the world. When she and her cameraman, Peter Cranston, are captured inside Iraq in August 2002, and imprisoned by the Mukhabarat–Iraq’s secret police–she is cut off from her medication. Seizures resume, and dreams and visions of her childhood in Baghdad begin to haunt her. Tormented by the relentless Colonel Badr, she is forced to focus on her own father’s death years before in a Baghdad prison.
The strain of her own captivity and torture is relieved only by her growing attraction to Tariq al-Awali, the Iraqi captain who took charge of her capture. The more she learns of him and his family, the clearer her troubling dreams become, and the more puzzling her past. Before American bombs begin to fall, throwing Iraq into even darker chaos, Theresa must find a way to escape the cruelty of Colonel Badr and save those she cares for most.
The 2010 Writer’s Digest International Self Published Book Award Winner for
Literary/Mainstream Fiction, the 2009 Indie Book Award Winner for Multicultural Fiction, and a 2008 Whitney Award Finalist, The Reckoning brings home the horrors of political injustice and the courage that it takes to resist despotism in all its forms. It shows what’s possible when people are called upon to find the best in themselves during the darkest of times.
Swimming is Daphne’s one refuge–
Until the night she finds a dead body in her pool.
University professor and renowned author Daphne Lessing has never felt at ease in society. But a disturbance in her once calm and controlled existence suddenly unearths events from her past and thrusts an unusual child into her life.

Without wanting to, Daphne soon finds herself attached to Eric, a ten-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome who is obsessed with fishing and angels. Daphne is faced with a choice: Does she leave him and return to her solitary, ordered life, trusting others to do right by him, or does she allow this bright child to draw her into the world she’s tried to shun?
And what about the man that entered her life with Eric? Will she be able to shut him out as well?


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