In the past two years, FMS received some amazing new teachers and some were younger than me, a shocker at the time that I could be considered old! This is how I met Millie. Millie is a lovely, poised teacher, her excitement for her interests as bright as her red hair. I enjoyed having lunch with her and some other teachers (mostly Language Arts), her discussions with classic literature and the day I discovered this dancer is a nerd at heart when I caught sight of her Doctor Who Tardis watch, “Scarlet Letter” quote tattoo, and “Nightmare Before Christmas” watching engaging. I respect Ms. Tice for her intellect and drive to encourage her students to find a passion for writing and poetry, two things can are hard to do for students ages twelve to fourteen. Her Nanowrimo novel writing club in November was a fantastic, creative group, and Millie was one of the leading forces in this. I also adored their completing party and thank her for inviting me to speak to her club of aspiring young writers (the “Let it go” lip-syncing challenge was epic)! I know Millie Tice will do great things and I am honored she took the time to make a humble, first step on my website as my February 2015 Aspiring Author Spotlight!
Aspiring Authors Spotlight Questions
- How did writing find its way into your life?
When I was about four years old, I used to tell people I was going to be a teacher by day, actress by night. I was going to dance on the weekends, and in my spare time, I planned to write the ‘Great American Novel’. I don’t remember discovering my passion for words, but I know that I was writing stories from a relatively young age. In high school, I had a teacher, Mrs. Alicia Kelley, who really helped me hone my skills and believe that writing was possible. In college, I worked closely with a professor that refused to let us call her anything but “Margaret”. She helped me discover a fire for teaching writing while also exploring different aspects of my personal voice.
- What does writing do for you?
I think it depends on the type of writing I’m doing. Sometimes I write to remember things; to organize. A lot of times, I write to process situations and try to make better sense of the life I’m living. Some days, I have a clear story I want to tell, and other days, I write just to amuse myself.
- What sort of genre or type of writing do you do?
Well, my biggest project right now is the revising of a young adult dystopian novel I started last November as a part of Nanowrimo. I write a lot of poems for my own benefit (these rarely see anyone’s eyes but my own). I also love a good literary analysis paper, delving into the words someone else has already published and trying to interpret them through my lens.
- Do events in your life or people you know affect your writing?
I think it would be difficult for anyone to separate themselves and their experiences from their writing. Writers write about characters, and we learn about characters the same way we learn about people. The characters in my stories and the speakers in my poems are almost always connected in some way to my daily life, even if I don’t realize it at first.
- What are you currently work on or what was the last thing you wrote?
I am currently working to revise the novel I started as a part of Nanowrimo this fall, but some days I catch the inspiration and write whatever comes to me.
- Can you tell us a little about it and its inspiration?
My novel is called “Mute”. In what is post-nuclear war America, a young boy lives in a compound with other descendants of survivors of the war. As a side-effect of the nuclear radiation, everyone is born with the power to communicate their feelings by touch.
Everyone, that is, except for Blake. In a society governed by transparency and honesty, Blake struggles to keep his inability to communicate by touch from the others, all while trying to find a solution to his problem and deciding who he can trust within the structured society.
- What are your goals for the future?
I like to keep my options open. I want to travel, to have new experiences, and to continue to challenge myself. I would like to get my novel published, and I want my students to understand that having the power to control words is often an underestimated one.
- What are your interests or hobbies?
I teach color-guard and dance when I am not teaching 7th grade English. Like most writers, I love to read and discover new authors. I also crochet afghans and take care of my lovely dog, Elsa.
- If you could be a superhero, what are your powers and how would you use them to help the world?
I want to be able to teleport. Other than having the ability to experience new places and cultures at the blink of an eye, this would also allow me to reconnect with family members and friends I haven’t seen in awhile. While it might not be as heroic as rescuing people from buildings or solving world hunger, connection is an intimately important part of life, and I believe the world would be a better place for it.
- What advice would you give people who want to write?
Don’t think too hard. The first step is to get something, ANYTHING, down on the page. Then you can look at it and think about how to make it better. I think one of the things that gets in the way of a lot of good writing is the belief that we need to spit out something excellent in a first draft.
- If you could be remembered for one thing or thought, what would it be?
I have no idea. The four year old in me still wants to write the “Great American Novel”, whatever that may be. Perhaps that’s what I’ll be remembered for.
Example of work:
“And now we close our eyes and join our hands in the pursuit of the ever changing God of connection.” Jacobi spoke these words to the room of students sitting hand in hand in a circle. Most of the young men and women closed their eyes, a few even hummed lightly under their breath.
The students in the room were all born in the month of Jupiter, sixty-eight years after the formation of the New New World. The Old New World was inhabited by the Americans until the Great Flood ravaged the lands and left everyone without homes or families. The few thousand humans who survived joined together to create the “New New World” in the hopes that they could bring peace and understanding to a world previously destroyed by hatred and lack of human understanding. The New New World, founded on the principals of empathy, considered any action that prevented understanding or communication to be an original sin.
During the Great Gaseous Flood, the world was briefly covered by a thick gaseous mass that was minorly radioactive. Following the Flood, survivors found that they were able to communicate their feelings by merely touching hands. Previous generations of humans were limited because they could only communicate those things for which they had words, however, after the Flood, they found that they could communicate across languages and cultures- cultivating an understanding that humans had never previously experienced. The survivors of the flood believed that this new gift of feeling communication was a gift from the God who sent the flood to rid the world of its lack of empathy.
The students in the room sat in a circle as was the custom, and tried to create a ring of understanding among them. By joining hands in a circle, they were able not only to understand the feelings of that student sitting next to them, but also cultivate a group mindset and family motivation. They sat in the circle meditation three times a day in preparation for their First Feeling- their introduction to the adult world.
The students of Jupiter 68, led by their figurehead (or mentor) Jacobi, were anxiously searching for connection with one another as they would be performing their First Feeling in a mere two weeks. The students sat seriously, contemplating the thoughts and feelings of each student in the circle, trying to accurately connect with those around them.
Blake, on the other hand, sat motionless, staring across the room at Jacobi. They both knew that Blake had not yet received the gift of Feeling and that this exercise in search of connection would be pointless for him.
Blake was a mute.
No one was quite sure how it happened, but Blake had never felt the connections of empathy before. When the Jupiter 68s celebrated their fifth birthdays, many of the students had already felt the urges of connection. By the time they turned ten, most of the Jupiter 68s were able to connect with one another, even if they couldn’t connect outside of their family group yet. Now, as they all neared their fifteenth birthdays, all of the Jupiter 68s had managed to connect with their figurehead, Jacobi, at least once.
All except Blake.
Jacobi had only ever heard of a mute once before. In the group Venus 24, it was rumored that there was a woman who could not connect. It was believed that she had been given a choice. She could be put to death as a threat to human connection and therefore a threat to everything the New New World believed in, or she could leave the New New World that she knew and never return.
The stories say all sorts of things. Some people believe that she died, that they hung her in the town square. The Venuses still contend that her bones were built into the walls of their dormitory. Others say that she left, never to be seen again. No one believes that she survived.
Blake didn’t know what to believe. He was a small statured boy with pale skin and dark eyes. He was the smallest boy in Jupiter 68, and some of the bigger students made fun of him for his stature, his mannerisms, his voice. What would they do when they found out that he couldn’t even manage the slightest of connections? Blake didn’t want to think about it. He had heard the rumors of the Venus 24. None of the legends mentioned her by name, but he called her “the mute” in his head. He thought about her all of the time. He dreamt about her sometimes too. Blake wanted to believe that she was still alive- that she had survived her muteness, that muteness didn’t have to mean aloneness.
But the world around him disagreed. It was the cardinal rule of the New New World: “That no man or woman or creature of the New New World would act in prevention or hindrance of empathetic connection.” The law DIDN’T say what would happen to the man or woman or creature of the New New World that broke the law.
Blake felt his left hand twitch. At least I can feel something. He thought. Eve was seated on his left. She was shaking slightly in concentration, trying to connect with him. Blake knew that she was trying to help him, trying to feel what he was thinking.
Eve was beautiful. Or, at least Blake thought so. She was taller than him, longer. Her face was almost perfectly round, with full, pale cheeks and big blue eyes. And when I say big, I mean enormous blue eyes. So big that Jonathan, another Jupiter 68, always called her Evey Insecty. Blake didn’t think it was a very intelligent insult, but he knew it bothered Eve anyway.
Just once, Blake wished that Jacobi would catch Jonathan in one of his attacks. Jonathan and his two buddies, Miranda and Mark, made it their mission to terrorize the smaller Jupiter 68s as well at the 69s and 70s. Not exactly empathetic behavior Blake thought, but then again, who am I to judge?
And it was true. How could Blake judge? He had not connected with Jonathan. He could not understand why Jonathan felt the need to bully others. He could not communicate back with Jonathan how the attacks made him feel. He could not contribute to the understanding among the Jupiter 68s. Maybe it would be best if they DID ask him to leave the Jupiter dormitories and live on his own. If he could not help them succeed in creating a better New New World, why should they allow him to stay?
When he wasn’t daydreaming about Eve, Blake spent a lot of time wishing that he could still manage it. Maybe I’m just a late-bloomer, like Jacobi said. During their tenth year of life, Blake went to Jacobi for advice. Advice was one of the many roles that the figureheads were required to fill for their students. Blake requested a meeting with Jacobi after he found that everyone else had made a connection in the Jupiter 68s. They were all talking about their first experiences, however weak. Mark said he thought he could tell that Eve was sick even before she went to the hospital suite (even though Eve was particularly pale and coughing). Jacobi wasn’t sure that this “connection” was a connection at all, because he could tell that she was sick just with his eyes. However, sitting in the group with everyone else talking about their weak first connections, Blake succumbed to the pressure. He would not give them the satisfaction of knowing that he was the only Jupiter 68 without a first experience. So, he did what he was best at- he made up a story.
Blake was a great story-teller. From an early age, the other Jupiter 68s had begged him to tell his stories of the times before the Great Gaseous Flood. But, Blake knew that stories could not save him forever.
So, that day in his tenth year, Blake admitted his greatest fear in Jacobi’s office. Blake didn’t cry. Blake didn’t shake. But he did tell the truth for the first time in many years. “I don’t think I have the power of empathy,” he had said, voice quivering with the weight of his words.
“You are only ten. The power has likely just not developed in you yet.” Jacobi replied, hiding his concern. Jacobi knew that his students should have felt the power at least meekly by age ten. But, this was not yet time to give up hope. Blake had five years left before his First Feeling- that was five years to discover the power within himself. So it was then, in year ten, that Blake had first started private lessons with Jacobi.
Unfortunately, here they sat, five years later, two weeks before Blake’s First Feeling Ceremony, and he had still not discovered the power of empathy. For a long time, he fooled himself- trying to convince himself that he could feel it- that he could communicate with others by touch. It wasn’t until year fourteen that he finally admitted the truth. He was a Mute. He would not find the power. Even Jacobi was forced to give up on him.
From then on, Blake’s lessons with Jacobi took a different route. Instead of trying to cultivate the power inside him, they instead focused on finding a plan. What would Blake do at his First Feeling? Where would he go? Was it worth living a life in which he could not connect, even in the simplest of forms, with his fellow humans? Jacobi did not know. It was not one of the topics they had talked about in his figurehead trainings before he took the figureheadship of the Jupiter 68s fifteen years ago.
So, there they sat, the circle of focused Jupiter 68s around them. Jacobi stared at Blake. Blake stared at Jacobi. Neither knew what to say. Jacobi only hoped that the students on either side of him would not ask why he was communicating feeling of such fear and worry through his hands.
“We thank you for this gift, Oh ever changing God of connection. We are grateful that you did not leave us to rot in our hatred but instead blessed us with the gift of the power of empathy. We ask that you bless this group of Jupiter 68s are they prepare for their First Feeling and entrance into citizenship in the New New World in the eighty third year of empathy.”
About the Author:
Millie Tice is a red-haired, 25-year-old adventurer who currently resides in the state of Missouri. She works as a 7th Grade English teacher and tries to instill in her students a love of writing and an understanding of the power of words. In her spare time, Millie enjoys reading, hiking, camping, and teaching dance and yoga classes. Millie believes her writing has been influenced by the works of great female writers such as Margaret Atwood, Kate Chopin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Pema Chodron. One day, Millie hopes to join the ranks of these fantastic writers.