Tanya Parker Mills is the author of A Night on Moon Hill, a 2012 Whitney Finalist. I was privileged to meet her at a writers conference recently, bought her book, and was immediately caught up in the story. It kept me riveted until the end.
Synopsis: Swimming is Daphne’s one refuge—until the night she finds a body in her pool.
University professor and renowned author Daphne Lessing has never felt at ease in society. But a disturbing occurrence in her once calm and controlled existence suddenly unearths events from her past and thrusts an unusual child into her life.
Ten-year-old Eric has Asperger’s syndrome and is obsessed with fishing and angels. Soon, Daphne finds herself attached to him—and 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 has tried to shun? And what about the man that came into Daphne’s life with Eric? Will she be able to shut him out as well?
Welcome, Tanya. Tell us where the idea for this story came from.
I noticed on a walk around my neighborhood in Southern California several years ago that more than a few gates to backyard pools appeared to be unlocked and it got me thinking how easy it would be for someone to sneak in for a free swim during the day while the owners were at work. At first, it was going to be a short story with the trespassing swimmer making a shocking discovery, but then I saw that I could weave it into a larger tale involving Asperger’s syndrome—something I wanted to throw more light on because of my son’s diagnosis at age six. Eric was really inspired by my son.
When did you know you were a writer?
I didn’t really feel I was a writer until I finished my first draft of my first novel, THE RECKONING. Up to that point, I’d piddled around with poetry, lyric writing, and magazine and news articles, but once I’d created a whole story, complete with character arcs and subplots, a whole new world opened up to me in terms of expectations for myself.
What or who are your influences for your writing?
My first influence for my writing came from my father, an author himself. He only ever self-published, but he showed me that it could be done and he believed in me. As far as authors I look up to most, I would have to say Barbara Kingsolver for voice (what she did in The Poisonwood Bible with all those different voices was amazing) and Charles Frazier for description. I’ve always been attracted most to literary fiction and particularly when it’s historical. That’s what I’m eventually aspiring to.
You have published another book, The Reckoning, winner of the 2009 Indie Book Award for Multicultural Fiction and the 2010 Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Award for Mainstream/Literary Fiction. Tell us a little about how that book came to be.
I had long had an idea for a coming-of-age type novel set in Baghdad, Iraq based on my own childhood, but I could never seem to find my way into it. Then I attended my father’s writing group with him one weekend and, challenged by him, I decided to try my hand at their writing prompt that day: Write something that includes two true things, one false thing, and throw in a crazy relative. Believe it or not, what I came up with was pretty much the beginning of THE RECKONING (minus the crazy relative), and when his group responded so well to what I had written, I knew I was on my way. This was only three months before the U.S. invaded Iraq, so I wrote that first draft quickly, determined to get the story done about the time of the invasion and use the facts of our attack in the end of the story. By this point, it was no longer a coming-of-age story, but rather a tale of how a grown American woman comes to terms with events from her childhood as the U.S. prepares to bomb Baghdad.
What kinds of books do you like to read?
I read all kinds of books. Right now I’m in the middle of a middle grade novel, “Savvy,” but I’ve also recently finished an historical look at the building of the St. George Temple. I love to read biographies and histories (I recently read a history about the Arabists in the C.I.A., which quoted my father), but mostly I turn to literary fiction and historical fiction. One genre that has never appealed to me is romance, though I’ve come across one or two recently that defied the stereotype and I found worthwhile. Another genre I don’t care for is Horror. I used to indulge in WWII spy novels for what I called my “junk reading,” but I don’t have time for much of it anymore. I do like the action, adventure, and suspense.
What do you find challenging in writing? (And/or) what was the hardest part in writing your books?
My biggest challenge in writing continues to be forcing myself to get going on it on a daily basis. Second to that is doubting myself and whether I truly want to get on what I call the “publishing treadmill” where you then have to produce at least one book a year. I’m a very slow writer (perhaps another reason I admire Barbara Kingsolver) and don’t like to hurry the process.
I’ve been most surprised to find a higher power, if you will—a muse, or divine intervention, even—guiding me and leading me toward the story’s end. Something will occur to me, I’ll put it in the story, and the next thing I know, it has shed a whole new light on some other aspect of the story or led me down an entirely unexpected path. I experienced that a lot in my last book.
Are you working on a new project now?
Yes, I’m doing a final revision on a middle grade fantasy—the first in a series, I hope. I’m nervous because it’s quite different from my other two books, and I’ll probably end up publishing it under a pseudonym. Still, even though it’s fantasy, it’s grounded in reality and it fits with THE RECKONING and A NIGHT ON MOON HILL because it’s fiction that bridges cultures. Given my childhood and background overseas, that’s always a priority for me.