Judith Austin Mills earned her M.A. in English at the University of Texas with a concentration in Creative Writing. Runner-up for the only graduate fellowship at the time, she also enjoyed the First Place fiction spot in Analecta. Stories from her collection have appeared in other literary journals.
Lately, the author’s fiction is set in early nineteenth-century Texas and Southern U.S. Her debut novel How Far Tomorrow (2011) and Those Bones at Goliad (fall, 2015) embrace less-known figures in the Texas Revolution and portray ordinary people transformed by that short war. A third novel in this setting percolates—featuring a Charleston prep-school youth who rushed to New Orleans to join the Georgia Battalion leaving for Texas, and the nearly forgotten revolution Tejano Juan Seguin.
A poet, as well as a fiction writer, Mills enjoyed a Pushcart nomination in 2015 for a selection from Accidental Joy: a streak of poetry. Tripping Home, set in the early 1970’s won First Place in a Texas competition for mainstream novel manuscripts.
An Austin Community College adjunct, Mills teaches occasionally and writes steadily. Her husband, mother, and sons’ families keep her grounded. Agents and publishers interested in fiction with the subtitle, “tales from a recent millennium,” are invited to contact the author through this site. The novels Tripping Home and Follow It Down, as well as the short story collection Lost Autumn Blues, await.
“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.”
– Kirkus Reviews
A sweeping tale of 19th-century Texas.
In this historical novel, Mills (How Far Tomorrow, 2011) follows a large cast of characters from Georgia and Mississippi to Texas, where they find themselves caught in the revolution against Mexican rule and the short-lived Republic of Texas. Natchez, Mississippi, native Shelby Whitmire, who grows from a neglected youth to a veteran adventurer, is at the core of the narrative, surrounded by soldiers, settlers, innkeepers, and politicians as he travels from Mississippi to the Texas frontier. Navigating nearly fatal situations, he arrives in time for the battle of independence and eventually finds love and settles in his adopted homeland. 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. Though the book excels in its depiction of heroism in history, it is less successful with subjects like slavery. While there is one prominent abolitionist character, most have few objections to the practice, including Shelby, who at one point equates his frustration over an unrequited crush to the expressions he observes at a slave auction: he “recognized, in the captive’s expression, his own mental state,” though eventually, the “men’s eyes met for a few moments, long enough for compassion and shame to stab at the individual with the freedom to walk away.” Native American characters enjoy a somewhat more nuanced portrayal, though many appear only to shoot arrows into Texan limbs. The writing, generally solid, does become awkward at times, particularly in the roughly two dozen places Mills identifies Shelby by his hometown instead of by name: “The man from Natchez gazed upon this landscape as if it were startlingly new, yet he sensed that the trees and rippling current looked much as they had in early autumn for the last two centuries.” Mills nevertheless keeps the plot moving, allowing the stories of ordinary Texans to outweigh the political rivalries and diplomatic rifts that fill the history books. She captures the effects of war on both soldiers and civilians, and the characters are plausible and engaging figures.
Texas history on a broad, complex scale.
Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2015
Publisher: Plain View Press
Review Posted Online: July 29, 2015
A sprawling novel focuses on the burgeoning revolution in 19th-century Texas.
In this final installment of her historical fiction trilogy, Mills (Those Bones at Goliad, 2015, etc.) returns to the world of 1830s Texas. After the American settler losses at the Alamo and Goliad, Yarico Harper, the free black woman who serves as the trilogy’s central protagonist, is fighting for survival and looking to ensure the safety of a dead traveling companion’s 13-year-old daughter, Adeline. Yarico and the white women she journeys with team up with Capt. Juan Seguin and the pro-independence Texan army in a group that also includes James Trezevant, a fellow immigrant from Georgia. The narrative moves in time from one chapter to the next, following the band in its fight for independence from Mexico and exploring Trezevant’s privileged youth and Yarico’s origins in newly independent Haiti. The tale concludes with the post-revolution disposition of the characters. Although readers of the previous volumes will have a more complete understanding of the multifaceted plot, newcomers should have no trouble following the story as both Texas and Yarico find their places in the evolving United States. The characters explore questions of Manifest Destiny and slavery as they contend with war and shifting alliances, keeping the narrative grounded in history while addressing topics relevant to contemporary readers. On the whole, the story is deftly written and well-researched, based firmly in the details of Texas history. The tale steeps readers in the setting without becoming engrossed in historical trivia. But there are numerous minor errors in the characters’ Spanish (“buenos tardes” instead of buenas tardes; “buenos noches” instead of buenas noches; “Téjano” instead of Tejano) as well as in the narrative itself (“plaintiff moans” instead of plaintive moans; “said her peace”). And Mills’ tendency to frequently label her characters (Yarico, for instance, is variously identified as “the dark-skinned woman,” “the woman who’d belonged with the Pagnols,” and “the woman in servant’s garb,” among other descriptions) can become grating. Despite these shortcomings, the book is a substantial piece of thoughtful historical fiction.
This solid final volume of a trilogy follows characters through Texas independence and beyond.
Page count: 271pp
Publisher: Plain View Press
Review Posted Online: March 8, 2018
Austin area for the last half century; before that Houston; before that states up north...New York , New Jersey, Michigan...Massachusetts.
John Irving, Louise Erdrich, Flannery O'Connor, Doris Lessing, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, Barbara Kingsolver, Graham Swift
Last Night in Twisted River, The Poisonwood Bible, A Tale of Two Cities, The Golden Notebook, Les Miserables, The Beet Queen
Favorite line from a book
"History, and its near relative, Histrionics..." from Waterland by Graham Swift
Unexpected skill or talent
I play Bach flute sonatas. I read the Harry Potter series in French
Passion in life
Observing the influence of the past in the present and the foreshadowing of today in yesterday.
Follow It Down: First Place Mainstream Fiction, Writers' League of Texas, 2001
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