Waco in Fiction

By Elizabeth Barnhill

Kimberly McMillan Writes a Southern fiction for all generations

Kimberly McMillan has played many roles throughout her life, but the one that has occupied her heart and time recently is that of published author.

Despite being a third generation Wacoan, McMillan never imagined returning to Waco after she graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. Her plans changed when she and her husband, Aaron McMillan, decided to raise their daughters — now young adults — in her hometown. McMillan loves her life in Waco and is proud of the city’s growth over the years. It wasn’t until after she moved back that the stories she heard from her parents and grandparents in Waco really stuck with her.

McMillan describes herself as a collector of stories.

“Aaron always says it’s as if ‘tell me your story’ were tattooed on my forehead,” she said.

She loves striking up conversations with strangers at the grocery store and recalls making up stories for her daughters in which she imagined the lives of strangers they encountered throughout their day.

Several years ago, McMillan was reading a book on her eReader when she remembered that she shared an account with her daughters, Kode and Kara, both of whom were voracious readers and at very impressionable ages. She worried about the adult content that her daughters could be exposed to on their shared account and decided that she wanted more books that were “cleaner, Southern reads.” McMillan appreciated Lauren K. Denton’s novels and she decided that not only would she read more in the southern fiction genre, but she would write a novel with her own insights into women’s Southern fiction.

McMillan wanted to write a novel in which her daughters, their friends and her parents could read without embarrassment. She believed she could write something emotionally charged without the explicit language and sex scenes found in so many best-selling books. She loves Southern fiction, which she describes as “deeply atmospheric and rife with tension. Other themes include social, political and racial issues that anyone who grew up in the south is familiar with.” She also loves the emphasis on family relationships — and just a bit of romance.

She decided to take the plunge. Her first step was to take a six week online writing class and her family became her biggest cheerleaders after reading one of the writing prompts from her class.

As her novel began to take shape, McMillan acquired a publisher, Warren Publishing. The editing process took a very long time but she is thrilled with the end result, which is her debut novel, “Never Enough Time.”

“Never Enough Time” is a Southern multigenerational coming-of-age story. The main character is 14-year-old Marni, whose mother has recently passed away. Marni discovers she has a side of her family she didn’t know existed, because her mother had never revealed the identity of her father. Marni moves from a lower middle class life in Chicago to Waco, where her newly found wealthy family, including her new step-mother and grandparents, lives in comfort. Conflict and tension arise as Marni’s world is upended.

What follows is a story rich in character development. Because the main characters are members of different generations, McMillan believes any reader can pick up her book and find a character they can relate to.

“The older generations in the story bring a broader perspective to family conversations,” McMillan described. “They understand the weight of regret and have seen how their past decisions have played out. The younger generations think only about the present. Their vision is narrowly focused on their immediate future. They tend to act selfishly and without pause, which directly opposes the older generations.”

There are also themes of acceptance, identity and family secrets. McMillan is frequently asked if any of her novel is based on her life; she adamantly responds that it is 100 percent fiction!

One fun aspect of the book, which will appeal to Wacoans, is the many references to iconic Waco institutions such as Dubl-R Burger, Sironia, Design House and Whizzbang’s Hamburgers (formerly Captain Billy Whizzbang’s), among others. McMillan said that readers in Austin were looking forward to reading about all the Waco haunts. She wanted to expand readers’ knowledge of places to eat and shop that are not in Waco’s more touristy areas near Baylor and the Silos.

“When people read the book, they will have a road map to old Waco institutions that are not just on I-35. Sort of like a treasure hunt,” McMillan said.

Since “Never Enough Time” was released in January, life has been a whirlwind for McMillan. Her new adventure as a published author has seen a lot of support from Waco readers, with a sold out launch party at Fabled Bookshop & Café.

“I was overwhelmed and amazed with the response to the book launch at Fabled and could not have asked for more,” she recollected.

McMillan’s book tour has also taken her around the country. She has had events at Page and Palette in Fairhope, Alabama; The Little Professor in Birmingham, Alabama; and Grove Hill ATX in Austin, Texas. McMillan currently has planned events in both Dallas and South Carolina.

Promoting her book to a wider audience has really stretched McMillan.

“I have walked into bookstores all over the South selling my book,” she said. “So much of the process has been cold-calling and just putting myself out there. There have been rejections and unanswered emails, but book people and bookstores are honestly the best. Most people are interested in talking with me and learning more about my book.”

McMillan has loved meeting so many authors and book people, some of whom she knew before she was published and others she never would have known if it weren’t for her book.

“Ultimately, this is a story about women who learn from their past, learn from each other and learn to choose love and family despite the obstacles.”

We are fortunate that McMillan’s debut novel is set in the city we call home. She already is working on her next novel, which will also be set in Waco.

“Never Enough Time” can be purchased at Fabled Bookshop & Café.