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NPR Arts & Life

Biker Bars And Holy Rollers Smolder In 'Freedom's Child'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Jax Miller is a new name for a new crime novelist who's created a protagonist unlike any other - Freedom Oliver, who's a fugitive, not a sleuth. She's been living under the Witness Protection Program in a small town in Oregon after killing her husband, who was a cop and a wife-beater. She's on the run in plain sight. Then she hears the two children she had and gave up to go into hiding, are in trouble, and she flees safety to try to find them in a novel that features bikers and holy-rollers, beer, blood, smoldering secrets and a huge splash of bravery. That new novel is "Freedom's Child." Jax Miller grew up in New York but now lives in Ireland, joins us now from the studios of the RTE in Donnybrook, Dublin. Thanks so much for being with us.

JAX MILLER: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: So you grew up with another name, too, didn't you?

MILLER: Yeah, Anne O'Donnell. Well, that's my name now. It was Anne Usack (ph), that was my original name.

SIMON: So why are you writing as Jax Miller, if I may?

MILLER: Because Anne O'Donnell sounded like an old lady.

SIMON: (Laughing) And Jax Miller is the young...

MILLER: That's the bottom line (laughing).

SIMON: Is the young, exciting - all right, yeah, that's true. Freedom has struggled with drugs, drinking, crazy ex-in-laws, what about you - any of that?

MILLER: I think all of the above, actually. Yeah, I am a recovering addict, and that had a lot to do with writing this book. I actually started writing when I was just starting to get clean. That was kind of what became my salvation. We're both fighters. It's like my father always said, that I have the spirit of a bear. And we see Freedom with all this drug addiction, and she just keeps fighting and fighting. And she conquers a lot, you know, and she's - she has a lot of bad things thrown at her. And I think that's something that we have in common, is that we just keep fighting. That's why Freedom, you know, during my darkest days when I was writing Freedom, she was, like, my only friend.

SIMON: I - there's a phrase I can't get out of my mind that you write towards the end of the book. And I don't want to give away a plot point at the ending, but you have a scene in which Freedom emits a sound that you describe - you ask the reader, have you ever heard your soul snap in two?

MILLER: Yeah, yeah. That - I mean, again, I think a lot of Freedom's grief stems from my own grief in life. So, I mean, that's how it's felt for me, you know, and..

SIMON: You've heard that sound? You've made that sound?

MILLER: Yeah, I have. I have, you know, hit rock bottom. I have - I've cried and cried and cried until I couldn't cry anymore. And I think that's what it always felt like. And I don't think I realize it until I write it on paper. And then, like, you know, when you take a sentence like that, and I write it. And then I look at it, and I'm like, yeah, that's very applicable to how I felt.

SIMON: Looking back on it now that it's over, and hopefully for all time, how do you think you started with drugs?

MILLER: I started very young. I just started hanging out the bad kids, I guess. You know, I started hanging out with the bad crowd. And - I mean, I was young and stupid, what did I know, you know? And I really don't have a reasonable explanation why, but I don't think such a reasonable explanation exists for why a person starts in the first place. But, you know, I actually to try not to think about it. I mean, that really does not define who I am today, you know, with writing. I'm just trying to look forward and keep plodding along.

SIMON: Yeah. Now, what about the story I've read that some of this came tumbling out when you were in therapy?

MILLER: Yeah, I was seeing this real southern, born-again kind of counselor. And he would cringe every time I said the F-word - which was frequent in his office - and he's like, you know what, Anne, just write. And I think it was because he didn't want to hear it anymore. I wrote a chapter. It turned out to be the first chapter of my other book that I never finished. And he said it was the best effing (ph) thing he ever read.

(LAUGHTER)

MILLER: That was quite a shock.

SIMON: (Laughing) You taught him something.

MILLER: Yeah.

SIMON: Yeah, you taught them something, yeah.

MILLER: So, I just haven't stopped since.

SIMON: You know what I find - and I think a lot of people do - so compelling about your story? Here you are, not even 30. And a few years ago, you're - looking at you from the outside, you would've thought, well, here's a - you know, here's someone who's not going anywhere in life. And now you've got the literary world by the tail (laughing). It's great.

MILLER: I think that's why it's so wild to me. I mean, it wasn't so many years ago that I was, you know, on the streets and stuff. And it's just like - I mean, I didn't even finish high school or anything. And here I am, you know, with this book. I think The New York Times is reviewing it, I think this week. And it's all good stuff - a lot of stuff happening. And, you know, I think that there a lot of people, especially from my past, who still think, oh, well, she's still not going anywhere (laughing). And you know, I don't know. I mean, I think I got a purpose, here. I guess writing's my purpose, you know. At least, I like to think so.

SIMON: Jax Miller, her new novel, "Freedom's Child." Thanks very much for being with us.

MILLER: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.