But in the early morning and late night hours, she becomes Molly Shea, plotting the adventures of a trio of middle-age florists-turned-bounty hunters.
Mills, IU Kokomo’s parking clerk, rises between 4 and 5 each morning, writing a few pages before she goes to work. After her day in the office, she puts in another hour or two at her computer, writing and revising her current novel with plans to have it published someday.
“My goal is to write something that can enrich someone’s life, or spark them to do something in their life,” she said. “You have to put it out there for others to read. You want other people to read your work, sooner or later.”
Even if it is never published, though, Mills is satisfied with her accomplishments.
“I had two goals in life, to graduate from college, and to write a novel,” she said. “I’ve done both of those things, so I’ve done it. I guess I have bragging rights.”
She is proud to call herself a writer — especially as a woman discouraged from higher education because of dyslexia, which wasn’t discovered until she was an adult.
“I didn’t know anything about this until my children were diagnosed,” said Mills, 60, who lives in Kokomo. “I just thought I was dumb growing up, which is why I never pointed myself toward college. I was told in high school, ‘Girls like you don’t go to college, they work at Delco and have kids.’ I thought that was a career choice and had five kids.”
As her children began attending school, one by one, they were identified as dyslexic, which led to her own diagnosis. That gave her courage first to complete a GED, and then to enroll at IU Kokomo in her late 30s. She is proud of earning a Bachelor of General Studies in 2000, with a GPA of 3.75.
She completed a draft of her third novel during November’s National Novel Writing Month, which encourages people to write a 50,000 word draft of a novel during the month. She’s also revising her second, with plans to sell it for publication. Mills belongs to the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, which provides her with writing and marketing tips.
Her son Richard, a creative artist in New York City, advised her to write with a pen name, to give herself freedom from her daily life.
“It’s like I’m in this tiny little box, and if I am going to promote myself, I have to do something to escape from that box,” Mills said. “You almost have to be larger than life to market yourself.”
Her story ideas often come from asking “what if” questions about real life situations. Her first novel, The Night the Moon was Full, began as a short story, after someone broke all the windows in her neighborhood Village Pantry.
“I thought about what it was like that night, from the store clerk’s point of view,” she said, noting that she wrote it first for a short story for a creative writing class. Her professor, Ray Archer, encouraged her to expand on it, adding other characters’ points of view.
Members of her church family work as bounty hunters to bring in extra money. She was thinking about those stories while with co-workers, when the story idea came to her.
“I thought the stories the bounty hunters told would be even funnier if you put three older women together doing that kind of work,” Mills said. “We used to call our office the Hen House because we were all women working there. I created a flower shop called The Hen House, and the three women turned to bounty hunting to save their shop.”
Her most recent book is a prequel to the second.
Even before she learned to read as a second grader, Mills recalls being a writer. She always had notebooks or folders filled with her words — even when those words made sense only to her.
“Publishing is not necessarily the end goal,” she said. “You just write because it’s what you do, it’s what you have to do.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.