So easy to predict the DEMISE of American Democracy these days, except for signs that a RENAISSANCE might just as easily be on its way. This is the uplifted state of mind I enjoyed after finally watching Lin-Manuel Miranda’s interview with PBS’ Jeffrey Brown. In researching for and drafting Those Bones at Goliad in 2011, I wondered whether info I’d learned about a key non-fictional character could work into my narrative—Thomas Weeks, who was among the first to die at the battle of Refugio, after the Alamo and before Goliad, had a father with a dark history. The elder Weeks went on trial for murder in New York and was successfully defended by ALEXANDER HAMILTON AND AARON BURR. Would these two last names have been on the minds and tongues of common people in the early 1800’s? (Okay, see Chapter 1 of TBG.)
What makes me giddy about Miranda’s accomplishment and its lasting impact is that a renaissance sweeps along and benefits the masses, even obscure creative folks like me! (All right, time to note that Those Bones at Goliad is accepted as a Historical Novel Society listing and that it now shows up on the Manhattan Book Review site as well!)
San Fransisco * * * * 4/5
BOOK REVIEW “Those Bones at Goliad” is a book by Judith Austin Mills that humanizes the brutal struggle to form the Republic of Texas…Readers may have believed that the war for Texas’ independence was a solitary one. Mills expands our range through educating us about the states that contributed men and valor to the fight for Texas…(The author)did a great deal of research in developing this sequel (to How FarTomorrow).”
“Mills succeeds in telling the story of America through Texas. Easy reading makes it comfortable to savor the contents of the novel. Most of all, it is the story of our country that makes this work so compelling. All too often, history is not seen as being human…This book does not give in to the unexpected. This book alters the course of chronicling an historical event.”
When I got my newsletter from The Georgia Writers’ Association last spring, I noticed that their upcoming conference dealt with historical fiction. Since my historical novels feature the Georgia Battalion’s role in the Texas Revolution, I emailed Dr. Margaret Walters at Kennesaw State University (the executive director of GWA) saying I’d be happy to donate some copies of How Far Tomorrow to be included in their book offerings. She was quite happy about my offer and also wondered if I’d be willing to submit an article on what I learned about doing historical research. I enjoyed writing the article and, because several months had passed since hearing from GWA, I was surprised by Dr. Walters’ notification that my article is indeed included in the September issue of the Georgia Writers’ Authority. (This will make quite a nice drum roll for the official debut of Those Bones at Goliad!)
“In a demonstration of Mills’ solid grasp of time and place, fictional characters mix with historical figures, from famous notables like Santa Anna and Stephen Austin to little-known characters including Levi Weeks and Elizabeth Greenfield.” It is certainly gratifying, after research and writing that took four years, to have a tough critic like Kirkus say my book “excels in its depiction of heroism in history.” I am happy, too, to be credited for “allowing the stories of ordinary Texans” to become the center of my novel. Those Bones at Goliad will be released in September!
Here’s the cover for Those Bones at Goliad, sequel to How Far Tomorrow. Not quite the traditional sequel, the narrative begins well before the Texas Revolution and concludes years after. I figured with the first book I’d spent my passion for the less told characters and events of Texas history. But I was pulled back in by the mystery of a Mississippi boy, last traced to the fierce battle at Refugio. Learning about a Georgia father of three who made it home after the nightmare demise of Fannin’s men, I could not leave his story untold. The Texas flag was designed by a woman, and the Texas archives were defended by a woman…but who did these two count as their friends?….I could say that Shelby Whitmire is an imagined character, but don’t ask fiction writers if their protagonists feel…real. Shelby, too, never thought he would leave Mississippi, and he would never have foreseen his adulthood unfolding in Texas…Don’t ask fiction writers to stop free-associating either, because it’s a Neil Young song coming to mind about Shelby and Texas…”all his changes were there.”
****** FOUND Friends! FOUND Virtual Siblings! in the quest to give Georgia Battalion men the place they deserve in Texas history…Please visit the website: georgiabattalion.com
The Georgia Battalion Project: This is a beautiful and wonderfully informative website researched and set up by two descendants of ANOTHER little known battalion survivor–James Peter Trezevant. I cannot believe my good fortune in making connections/having conversations with Robert Trezevant and Richard Allen. We are three far-flung Texas history buffs…no, fanatics…determined to wrest from the shadows the deeds of remarkable independence volunteers…Yep, I’m already seeing scenes when I sleep..another novel is hatching!
THOSE BONES AT GOLIAD: There were so many worthy individuals whose choices and contributions were left out of my first Texas Revolution novel. How could a historical fiction writer leave their stories untold? In imagining and composing the sequel to How Far Tomorrow, I was gripped by details about Joanna Troutman, who created the first lone star flag and whose remains were eventually moved from Georgia to the Texas State Cemetery. While investigating her life, I learned so much more about Hugh McLeod, whose fiery oratory did most to inspire American volunteers to join the trek to Texas. As I researched Joanna, I kept learning more about the Knoxville father, who joined the battalion and the sixteen-year-old from Macon who also slipped into the ranks–incredibly both John T. Spillers and Sam Hardaway survived. Only a handful of the 500 strong army eventually under Fannin made it safely back home. Their narratives deserve to emerge from the shadow of the Alamo–stay tuned!
Autumn, at last…when–out of necessity– the start of a new semester provides an energy jolt!
*** I had reservations about signing up again to teach at Austin Community College. I mean, this is 36 years now in the classroom. THIS cannot go on forever. Besides, last fall I worked with such a wonderful group. Maybe I should have exited the classroom on the highest possible note, I thought. And then, I met the individuals in these two sections–alert, diligent, bright people. They are a pleasure to work with. I keep telling this story over and over…I’m impressed and inspired by the students at ACC.
*** At the Texas Book Festival, Oct. 25 and 26, I’ve been given a book signing slot by the Writers League of Texas. I’ll be there with copies of my poetry sequence Accidental Joy. Come by and say hello at 3:00 Sunday in Tent 4. I’ll be in the company of two other fine WLT writers.
***I’m enjoying the chance to help some with Austin Poetry Society meetings…AND…I’ve just heard from Plain View Press that they look forward to publishing my How Far Tomorrow sequel–
Bones at Goliad–this next spring. Wow–more posts to follow!
Spirit Thom, one of Austin’s favorite poets, is a native of Australia. He chose the Austin area years ago as the place where creativity of all kinds thrived and where he could commune with like-minded people. In this video clip, shot by Scott Vanya at one of Austin’s many poetry/open mic venues, Thom does an improv on the theme of Accidental Joy, while announcing the upcoming book launch. Local jazz musicians accompany him on guitar and sax. This was the kind of enthusiasm enjoyed by poets who joined me at the launch days later. Wow–so much fun! (Well, the video of S.T.’s spontaneous, poetic pitch has disappeared, but here’s a pic of him ready to participate in my June 1 launch.)
About the book launch on June 1: I didn’t have to wait until the lunch day itself to be glad I had invited my back cover reviewer poets to join me in the program. In the weeks and days building up to my official book release, I conversed through email about event plans. Ute was very happy to read one poem of hers I requested, Thom agreed to choral read the first 6 Accidental Joy pages with me, as did Allyson on a couple that led into her reading her own work. Mary and I exchanged ideas about timing. Guitarist Scott Vanya was very patient with me as I sent him messages about strumming, no pausing, yes louder, then a little softer… The word “collaboration” just looks like a multi-syllable dictionary entry until you are in one…then the effort ignites. Lots of forethought…then spontaneity!
One reading threw me a bit, though…because there are 101 page-long poems in Accidental Joy, so I really had not thought what another poet might read from my work. I had not instructed any of them to do that at all…just to offer some of their latest work or whatever they felt like speaking. When Thom read my “atlantis” I was quite moved. It’s the poem that I recite to myself whenever I forget momentarily how fortunate I am. Here are the last few lines: *******************************
i do not open/this mouth to let it speak/of suffering/or take this pen/and ask it to pretend/it knows/ where the soul wanders/when it searches for goodness/with last hope receding seasons ago/with nothing but dark and crashing night/or a crying child’s/pipe dream of a floating atlantis/altering the horizon…
Okay, I’m officially excited. (about June 1 at BookWoman in Austin, 4-6)
It’s not always easy to tell. There’s a long Mills history of reserve, self-possession…dignified demeanor.
Once, I admitted to colleagues in a teachers’ lounge that I am the nuttiest and most demonstrative individual in my immediate family….I had to help some of them up off the floor. They were laughing that hard. But here’s what is getting me EXCITED today–
Tomorrow, Sunday, June 1 from 4-6, is the book release celebration at BookWoman for Accidental Joy, my free verse (free wheeling) poetry sequence. (Thanks again cover artist Genie Maples! The first response to my book is–b e a u t i f u l!)
And…this is getting more exciting by the day…joining me will be Mary Ellen Branan–Have you heard the deft lyricism of this PhD Peace Corps honoree, whose book Weavings won two national book awards? Have you listened to Allyson Whipple as she proves herself worthy of a black belt in poetry? We’re Smaller Than We Think We Are is just the beginning of her publishing whallop. Have you listened to Ute Carson read from Just a Few Feathers and marveled how someone who knew the cruelties of a world war maintains a happiness so richly rooted in family? Have you been in the same room with Thom Woodruff–Austin’s own Spirit Thom–as he reads and shares his poetry handouts for FREE! Put pennies inside your shoes…you are likely to levitate!
And Susan Post is letting us all in her venue next Sunday to get giddy in one another’s company. And she’s letting the celebration take place in honor of my new book Accidental Joy. (Did I mention Scott Vanya will be adding his guitar improvisation to the mix!!! We may not need refreshments, but we’ll work that in too!)