Grown-up mean girls and glaring cracks behind Instagram-perfect lives might sound familiar if you live in a rich suburb. They’re also excellent fodder for the fictional world of local author Dawn Miller, who writes under the pseudonym Mia Hayes. Miller’s novels are chock-full of the dramas and triumphs of parenthood, marriage and female friendships in an affluent suburban landscape.
“There’s such immense pressure to present as perfect—whether it’s looking perfect, having perfect children, having the right handbag, driving the right car,” said Miller, a Leesburg-area mom, novelist and memoirist.
Miller’s Waterford Series, a fictional trilogy that touches on façade-versus-reality in a suburban town, is entirely fictional but pulls threads from her own life and her world in Loudoun. This year, Miller took the plunge into examining her own life on the page. Her new memoir “Always Yours, Bee,” also published under her pseudonym, is slated for release in March. The memoir tackles her real-life struggles with infidelity, mental health challenges and the healing process.
Miller started writing young adult fiction a decade ago while living in San Francisco with her family. The Twilight craze was in full swing at the time, and Miller knew she had the writing chops to create a work of fiction.
“A lot of my friends were reading [Twilight] and I thought, ‘I can write a book.’”
She wrote late nights after her kids went to bed and knocked out her first manuscript in six weeks. The first book in her young adult series “The Dark Witch Chronicles” was published in 2011 under the name Dawn Rae Miller. But after that first book was written, a series of real-life crises stemming from her husband’s injury in a car accident and a subsequent affair, took a toll on her marriage and family and turned her world upside down.
That crisis eventually brought Miller and her family to Loudoun from San Francisco in 2012 as they looked for a new home to make a fresh start.
“I googled ‘Best places to live in America,’ and Leesburg came up,” Miller said. “It was a blessing and a curse because I had no one around to support me, but it was absolutely a fresh start.”
But as word got out in her new neighborhood about her past, Miller decided transparency was the best policy.
“I felt that the best approach was just to rip the Band-Aid off and tell everybody what happened. The amount of support I got from that was just astounding,” she said.
Ripping off that Band-Aid also gave her the freedom to start writing fiction again, and this time Miller turned to women’s fiction with her Waterford Series trilogy, interwoven stories about a group of women in a suburban town. The first novel in the series, “The Secrets We Keep,” pulls loosely from Miller’s own story. The novel’s main character moves to a new town for a new start after her husband’s affair, but drama unfolds when an unknown blogger starts publishing the group’s secrets.
Miller published the second and third books in the series, “All The Broken Pieces” and “Picture Perfect Lies,” in 2019. Miller stresses that her novels are fictional, but they’re often based on broad strokes that she’s observed, both in her life on the West Coast and in Loudoun.
“It’s fiction, so a lot of it’s exaggerated, but there’s always a kernel of truth there,” she said. “The first two or three years here, I was more of an outside observer. I would just stand back and watch how the women spoke to each other and how they interact with each other and how they interact with their husbands and kids.”
But if neighbors assume they’re characters, Miller says, they’re wrong—although she does sometimes get asked to sign non-disclosure agreements when she goes to parties.
“If I don’t know you, I don’t know you well enough to write about you. And I don’t write about my friends unless they give me permission,” she said.
Miller also underscores that, despite the name, the fictional setting of her series has nothing to do with the western Loudoun village of Waterford. The novels take place in a more suburban setting.
“I didn’t even know Waterford existed until after the first book was published,” Miller said with a laugh.
For Miller, moving from fiction to memoir was a big step. “Always Yours, Bee” tackles some tough issues, including her husband’s traumatic brain injury, PTSD and extramarital affair while the family was living on the West Coast, the author’s own diagnosis with bipolar disorder and the couple’s reconciliation, move to a new community and long-term healing process.
For Miller, moving to memoir was in many ways a much bigger challenge than creating works of fiction and requires plenty of self-examination.
“A memoir brings a lot more people into the creative process than fiction,” she said. “I don’t have that creative license. If something isn’t working, I can’t just make up something that will work. I have to stop and reflect and try to understand myself.”
Miller has launched her own publishing company, FinnStar Publishing, and plans to start publishing works from other women’s fiction and memoir authors in addition to her own work. She also has a new novel slated for release in June. “The Has-Beens” focuses on the challenges that can come with an empty nest and the power of female friendships.
And like her previous novels, there’s a focus on seeking authenticity in the age of social media and the release that can come with letting go of the facade.
“It’s really easy to manipulate your life and make it look like it’s perfect and hide the fact that you’re struggling. I think there’s this misconception that if you show weakness there’s something wrong with you,” Miller said. “[Women] are striving so hard to be the best at everything they do that I think they’re cracking. I don’t know what the solution is, but it makes for good novels.”
Dawn Miller’s women’s fiction and upcoming memoir under the Mia Hayes pen name, along with her young adult fiction, is available at amazon.com. For more information, go to miahayesauthor.com.