A little bit about Rachel...
Rachel McMillan is a keen history enthusiast and a lifelong bibliophile. When not writing or reading, she can most often be found drinking tea and watching British miniseries. Rachel lives in bustling Toronto, where she works in educational publishing and pursues her passion for art, literature, music, and theater.
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Get to know Rachel...
You and Writing
Tell us a little bit about yourself...
Why do you write?
I write to validate women beyond the domestic experience and romantic ideal we find in so many happy ever afters. We read romances that stop at marriage. I took two women whose experiences with romance are rocky, vulnerable and hopefully a little validating. I really wanted to champion women who don’t fit the perfect model of the domesticity I saw in my Janette Oke novels. I enjoy romances profusely, but knew that would never be my world. I think there’s a bit of Jem Watts and Merinda Herringford in every woman (tweet this).
Tell us a little bit about your book...
Do you have a favorite character in this work? If so, why?
I am so lucky to have six stories with which to develop and grow my characters. There is so much of me in Jem and so much of me in Merinda so they are very special to me. Like friends at this point. I do have a soft spot for Ray DeLuca. Mostly because when I was outlining the book he was a secondary character (in a very early whiteboard session, I had Jem Watts ending up with a cop!) but then he just snuck in there and took over. Soon, he was a POV character. As the series progresses, he develops more. He’s a really fascinating character and he emblemizes Toronto at a time of progress and change, yes, but also the darker side with its prejudice toward immigrants and its inability to accept newcomers to its staunch English traditions.
What did you learn while writing it? I uncovered an amazing amount of things I never would have found in my Canadian history textbooks! One, that Toronto had a sort of morality police that had the power to arrest women suspected of vagrant or incorrigible behaviour (that could mean anything from loitering to suspiciously looking flirtatious or pickpocketing) and that any man –be it brother or husband or father or ex-boyfriend—had the right to report a woman and his statement alone would see her questioned and most likely detained. I work this into my series a lot (it is why Jem and Merinda have to dress as men in their cases). I also have learned quite a bit about the War Measures Act: a series of laws put in place when Canada joined Britain in the First World War in 1914. In the third book, Ray DeLuca has to report as an alien immigrant once a month. The government had the power to rid immigrants of their jobs and property if they suspected they were dangerous. Of course, like the morality police, this level of power is easily abused and becomes a major theme in the books.
Finally, because I am just so excited, I learned a lot about Theodore Roosevelt. My second novel a Lesson in Love and Murder releases in August and finds Jem and Merinda trying to stop an anarchist group from bombing the Chicago Coliseum where Roosevelt formed the Progressive Party in August ,1912. I love Roosevelt now. I read so many books about him! Bully!
Emilie here: Wow! That is so fascinating and I love the fact that the series is set in Toronto - I love learning about new places (even if it's the 1900s version *hehe*).
Let's talk about your writing life...
How long did you write before you got published?
I wrote about twenty years before pursuing publication. Three years ago I signed with my agent (relatively quickly) for a historical romance proposal. My first book was passed on by every CBA publisher. But, while it was making the rounds, I wrote The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder and a proposal for that. My agent sent that out in May of 2014 and I signed the contract with Harvest House in Dec 2014. During that time, there was a lot of re-jigging and working with editors and gauging interest. There is a lot of patience and dedication and back and forth that goes into pursuing publication. I am quite lucky because while my first book has still not been picked up, It was less than two years between signing with my agent and signing a three book, three novella contract with Harvest House.
What’s your encouragement for younger writers aside from “keep writing”?
tweet this). While my first book was out on submission, I wrote Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder. When that was out on submission, I immediately started something else. This allows you to hopefully have a range and a manuscript that will fit a market need. This industry is very changeable and it helps to stay on top of the pulse of it. I pitched at two ACFW conferences before signing Herringford and Watts and while meeting with editors, I always talked about the manuscript they had from my agent and what I was working on.
Secondly, read everything (tweet this). Everything in your genre of choice, but across the board. I am not a mystery reader first and foremost. It’s a genre I enjoy; but I always fancied myself a historical romance writer. When the opportunity came to flex my muscles in this way, I was lucky that I had a working knowledge of detective fiction to draw from.
Third, manage your expectations (tweet this). If you are writing because you want a career, you are not writing for the right reason. You cannot (with very few exceptions) support yourself on a writer’s salary. You have to be willing to view it as an elaborate hobby with a lot of sacrifices while you work at a job that will pay for your benefits, rent, food and retirement fund.
Emilie here: Such great tips Rachel! I love them and the reality they encourage. I love how you call writing an "elaborate hobby" and it's so true!
How many rejection letters did you get before being accepted by a publisher?
My first novel A Sound Beyond Hearing was rejected by every single CBA publisher. All of them. Except for two who never sent a formal rejection and I think it might be floating in space somewhere. But, in almost all cases, I received feedback through my agent. What editors liked, what made the board ultimately pass. It’s discouraging to receive rejections; but gee whiz!, was it ever nice to receive rejections couched in professional criticism. I took all of these suggestions and they have made me a better writer. As for that book, a few editors were honest enough to tell my agent and I that it would not be the manuscript that broke me into the marketplace. It wasn’t. But, I am not shutting the door on it for good. I still mean to bring it back out into the world someday!
I wrote a book that I thought coloured inside the lines and met all the presumed expectations that CBA publishers were looking for. As rejections piled in, I began writing something else entirely. Something so different for the CBA, breaking nearly every rule. There’s so much of my spark and personality and humour and vulnerability in this series. The faith questions (which are more thematic than blatant, making this an intentional cross-over series) are ones I have grappled with on my own. Instead of reaching to fulfill my conception of the publishing world’s expectations, I should have trusted my own instinct (tweet this). My crazy trouser-wearing Edwardian lady detectives and their two misfit heroes (I call the series the Island of Misfit Toys) made my lifelong dream of publication come true.
How do you grow in your writing craft?
I read and I write. I have never taken a writing class or read any craft books. But, I read all the time. I read all genres. I read in the general market and in the inspy market. I read classics and YA. I am a voracious reader. I also have a subway commute to get to my real job and so I read on the train every morning and at night. The more I read, the more I learn about the craft: what sticks and what doesn’t. I also write all of the time. I am always scribbling. I scribble snippets of dialogue. If I visit an interesting city or research an interesting historical personage, I will “practice” write a few things. I keep them all in Evernote and sometimes they find their way into a book!
Emilie here: Oh yes! I 100% agree with this--the best way to grow as a write is to READ (and of course, to write). And I love Evernote too!
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If you could travel to any location and stay there for one month (probably spending most of the time writing) where would you go?
Right now, Boston. I’ve been on two research trips there in the past year and a half. Jem Watts and Merinda Herringford solve a mystery there in Of Dubious and Questionable Memory. Also, my proposal for the series set after the Herringford and Watts books is set in Boston. That city is living history. It’s a bit of a muse for me. I could see myself writing about Boston forever!
What are you currently reading?
I am currently A Time of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen who is one of my favourite mystery writers. Next up is A Fool and His Monet by Sandra Orchard: another Canadian mystery writer who lives not too far from Toronto!
Emilie here: Thank you so much for your wonderful thoughts here today Rachel. Readers, I've so enjoyed getting to know Rachel and her hilarious personality via FB and I just know you will enjoy her novel The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder! If you haven't already check out her novella A Singular and Whimsical Problem which is available now!