“One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the years (and continue to learn as a woman) is to create boundaries. I used to care about what others thought of me. I would make decisions that directly affected me based on how I thought others would feel about them. But place firm boundaries around you. Say no if something isn’t right for you. Don’t be a people-pleaser and come to terms with the fact that you can’t make everyone happy at the price of your own self.”
Wise words spoken by Jax Miller, author of ‘Hell In The Heartland’, a grueling, true crime story currently topping Oklahoma’s bestsellers list. Miller, who has a couple of fiction books under her belt, switched gears to tell the story of two-decade-old murder case in smalltown Welch, Oklahoma, that is yet to be solved today. Though never having written nonfiction, or true crime, the genre wasn’t exactly new to Jax, who’d grown interest into the scene at the young age of 12, having discovered ‘Helter Skelter’ on her Papa Glenn’s bookshelf. “It terrified me, but in a great way. I wouldn’t go so far as to refer to myself as a Murderino, but I’ve always been interested. I think the genre meant very little to me when I first came to ‘Hell in The Heartland,’ instead, I was attracted to the story. Had this story taken place on Mars, I’d be entering the Sci-Fi genre. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious choice of “Hmm, I think I want to switch from fiction to nonfiction,” but more of “I want to tell this family’s story.”
Miller doesn’t have an exact recollection of how she heard the story of the murders and the missing girls, but notes that her closeness in age to Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible initially grabbed her attention, and the rest followed. “From strictly a storytelling point of view, it was an incredibly appealing story anyway. The backdrop of abandoned lead-mining towns, the (dare I say?) characters, the plot twists and jaw-dropping moments that were stranger than fiction- all were very engaging. There was a naiveté on my part when entering this story, though, and it didn’t take long to really become immersed. I’m a passionate and rather single-minded person anyway. Soon, the relationships between the missing girls’ relatives and myself began”
Having spent several years working on ‘Hell In The Heartland’, those relationships, in time, became much more than only professional. When asked about the women in her life who have inspired her throughout the journey, Miller cites her late grandmother, as being her rock, and the most influential woman in her life, “My penname, Jax Miller, is named after her. She had that Brooklyn brash attitude, like Sophia from The Golden Girls, but had a heart of gold. My mother didn’t raise me, so she was the most important woman in my life, and I miss her every day.”
She follows by sharing the special relationship she has gained with Lorene; “Lorene Bible is a force to be reckoned with, and she taught me so much about the woman I wish I was and the woman that I hope to one day be. In fact, she was what sealed my commitment to her daughter’s story- I was struck by her, impressed at how she’d handled herself and how she still carries herself. Through her, I’ve learned to listen more than I speak and not react. I’m a New Yorker, reacting is what I do. But she’s truly the strongest woman I’ve ever met, and I’m still in awe of her.”
Even with a great passion to tell this story and the support of these families, and new friends, there were still moments of crippling fear and anxiety, which Jax details throughout the book, as well as in our conversation. She recalls a time that with a plane ticket in her hand, she almost called it quits; it was only the strength of those mentioned above that kept her afloat.
“There were a million times when I wanted to run away from this book. It wasn’t the story so much, but that self-doubt that plagues many authors and artists. On one specific trip, and I think I mention this in the book, I bought a plane ticket, ready to haul ass back to Ireland. While sitting there, the notion dawned on me: that these families didn’t have the luxury of walking away, so why should I? That really pushed me to stay, and from then on, I swore to myself that I was seeing this story through with them, as long as they let me. Lorene Bible can’t walk away from this. In a way, I felt that my leaving would have meant abandoning her, abandoning the girls, abandoning their families. I feel a certain sense of loyalty to them; Lorene, especially since she has the biggest horse in the race as the only mother left.”
Jax Miller radiates with a passion that is hard to miss. While reading ‘Hell In The Heartland’, I often found myself in awe of the measures taken to make sure this story was told as accurately as possible, from every angle. I sat in amazement at the many hats worn by Miller and the Bible/Freeman families as they sought to find justice. But, as she puts it, that passion is just who she is:
“I put all my passion in whatever I do, so if a story requires sitting with a killer, I’ll sit with a killer. If it requires learning how to make candy (as was the case in a French-language fiction I wrote about a confectioner), I’ll do that. My desire to work in true crime has neither increased nor decreased- my passion is still with me. It’s who I am.”
When asked what we can expect next, Jax notes that with active news surrounding the case, and a sentencing only weeks away, she intends to keep her focus on Lauria and Ashley for as long as she can.
A book signing is scheduled at Paul Thomas Family Center, 1527 North Main, in Miami, OK on Sunday August 16th from 2:00 to 4:00. Books will not be available at the event, so you must bring your own copy, wearing a mask is required.
When she’s not writing, Miller enjoys tending to her homegrown pumpkin patch, listening to rock and roll, and loves all things Halloween! She started her writing career while living in Ireland, where her spouse is from, for a decade, but considers herself a bit nomadic, calling many places home. She has found a big love for biscuits and gravy during her stay in Oklahoma!
Thank you Jax for daring to tell this story!
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