Tanya Parker Mills was one of those “Third Culture Kids”—an American child raised abroad, resulting in a mix, in her case, of east and west—a third culture, so to speak. And her writing, particularly her fiction, reflects this.
“I grew up in the violence of the Middle East,” Mills says, “and yet came away with a real appreciation for all the positive aspects of the Arab culture. Their sense of family ties, their generosity and hospitality. So I tend to write fiction that bridges cultures.”
Mills will be giving two presentations at the Kanab Writers Conference, October 25 and 26—one on “The Do’s and Don’ts of Dialogue” and the other on “The Rhythm of Writing” in the poetry strand. She says she incorporated poetry in her latest work of fiction, A Night on Moon Hill.
“Strangely enough, poetry was my first creative outlet. I never tried writing stories as a child, but instead used verse to capture my observations of the world around me,” Mills says. “First, I tried poems and then turned to writing songs once I picked up the guitar.”
Mills says her road to fiction passed through theater, as well, in high school. Later, as an adult, she tried her hand at writing one-act plays, and even then, she was interested in the clash of culture, whether it was national, geographical, or social.
“I never thought my first finished creative piece would be a novel,” Mills says. “I thought it would be a play. But an idea I’d had in the back of my mind for over a decade finally found its way out as the U.S. got ready to invade Iraq.”
Her first novel, The Reckoning, was a Whitney Finalist in 2008, and won two national awards—the Indie Book Award for Multicultural Fiction in 2009 and the Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Award for Mainstream/Literary Fiction in 2010.
Using some of Mills’s childhood experiences in Baghdad, The Reckoning tells a story of redemption as a female journalist tries to sneak into Iraq before the invasion and is captured by Saddam Hussein’s secret police. Over the weeks that follow, the reporter discovers a connection between one of her captors and the death of her own father in a Baghdad prison years earlier.
“I was trying to bridge east and west in that book,” Mills says. “I was tired of the one-sided picture Americans were seeing when it came to the Arabs, and I wanted to give them a realistic, multi-faceted view of one Iraqi family in particular. There is no black and white when it comes to politics or war. Everything gets a bit muddied.”
Her second novel, A Night on Moon Hill, also a Whitney Finalist, brings together cultures of a different sort, according to Mills.
“I have a son with Asperger’s syndrome,” Mills says. “I’ve long known there’s a kind of division between those on the autistic spectrum and us—the so-called ‘neurotypicals.’ I wanted to write a story that would open our eyes to the challenges a person with Asperger’s can face, but also to the special gifts they often have.”
Until recently, Mills had never been to Kanab, but when she visited her friend and fellow writer, Liz Adair, this past May, she says she fell in love with the magnificent setting.
“Were it not for my son’s needs,” Mills says, “we would probably have moved here. I’ll certainly be happy to visit again in October for the conference, and can’t wait to meet the other authors, aspiring writers, and anyone who enjoys literature.”