Friday, October 28, 2016

Welcome Rachel McMillan!

Ashley here! You guys, I am just SO excited about hosting Rachel McMillan today at the Alley, because some of you don't know her yet, and I can't wait for you to discover her beautiful writing! Rachel and I bonded over our mutual love for Gilmore Girls, and I'm telling you, she is as witty as she is delightful. And because I'm so confident you're going to love her too, I'm giving away a copy of her debut, The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder. Comment below to enter, and be sure to leave your e-mail address (only US citizens eligible).

Without further adieu, here's Rachel!

Tell us what first drew you to writing.
I actually don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing and that is because I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t immersed in stories, either through reading or imagination.  I’m a pastor’s kid and so a lot of my formative world was spent in church services but also at lunches and dinners and events where I had to sit quietly and behave, so my mind wandered.  I will say that Vienna Prelude by Bodie Thoene changed a lot for me when I was a kid. It was amazing. I became addicted to CBA fiction after that and studied the industry for years --- read articles, judged the Christy awards, monitored trends, long before a moment three years ago when I got an agent and decided to pursue publication on my own.  (Can we have a moment for John Murphy and how he is the most crush-worthy CBA hero? Ray DeLuca is a reporter in the Herringford and Watts books as an homage to Murphy.)

Some people may not know that you're Canadian. How has your culture impacted your writing?   

Canada is a major emblem of inclusivity and openness that is most always cited as one of the happiest and safest countries in the world. But, the cultural mosaic we enjoy now (especially in Toronto, where I live) was hard-won.  On first glance, the Herringford and Watts series seems like a handful of cozy mysteries, but readers are discovering that it is actually a treatise on darker things---and the books get progressively darker culminating in the third book The White Feather Murders. The third book expounds on a major underlying thesis of the series: immigration.   My main hero is an immigrant and it effects all of the characters quite deeply especially with the start of the First World War.   Culturally, this struggle for --and later realization of-- inclusiveness gives readers a sense of an integral part of Canadian History.   But, I also wanted to include an anglophilic sensibility. Canada, I believe, is a kind of hybrid between America and Britain. We still have close ties to the monarch and in the Edwardian period were very much still colonized.   

I will say that my Toronto setting was a hill I was going to die on when pursuing a publisher for this series. We did have editors suggest moving it to the States; but I just couldn’t do it. Toronto plays a major character in the series.  I joke that it is the one true love of my life.

(but I am also a huge American history nut, so I moved most of A Lesson in Love and Murder to Chicago.   I loved the research ---and the fun research trips there!)

Favorite time of year? 

WINTER!  I love Christmas and pretty snow and nights that fall harshly rendered cozy by candles and fuzzy socks. I also really love fall.  I love the colours.  Canadian thanksgiving is always in the first half of October and the colours are always in their prime then.

What's your favorite television show?  

Foyle’s War. I think it has the smartest writing of any show ever. It’s such a quiet character piece that makes potent statements on women’s roles, racism, and loyalty.  I just sit and watch and think: this is so perfect. I am a character driven writer and reader and viewer and I invest so much in Foyle’s War.  (fun fact: I own over 100 British miniseries. I am an addict)

How do you get into the minds of your characters?   

I think the way I have been able to get inside their brains (especially in this series) is to use them as vessels to grapple questions I struggle with. There is so much of me in Jem and Merinda and even in their guys, Jasper and Ray.   Then, I just think about how they would see the world from their background, perspective and experience.  

Every writing project has its own sensibility, though, and the approach to character changes depending on what I am working on.  I kind of fell into this series as a suggestion from my agent (we were shopping straight historical romance, which is my first love) and so not being a mystery writer at all prior to this really forced me to have a firm hold on the characters, their motivations and fallacies so that I could dedicate any extra time needed to plotting and clues and red herrings.    I write ten times more than ends up in a novel and read so much more than I can splice in to make sure that I am establishing the essence of a historical period. For example, A Lesson in Love and Murder features two real-life people, Theodore Roosevelt and Emma Goldman, even though their resonance in the book is through a cameo each, the amount of research to understand their motivation and how my characters would respond to those motivations took a TON of time. A ton.  (but I so enjoy it ! )

6) And, bonus question-- please tell us about your celebrity crush. Because we all love him too.

I think everyone knows that Benedict Cumberbatch and I have a special relationship ( I don’t know if  he knows that).  I am attracted to fierce intelligence and so he is total Rachel cat-nip.  He speaks so articulately.   The most attractive thing is when a guy opens his mouth and smart, informed sentences come out (am I right, ladies? –swoon. Keep your shirtless heroes, give me a guy who can TALK SMART). It also helps that he is the best Sherlock I have seen since Jeremy Brett in the 1980s Granada TV series!  And that speaking voice. Sigh.

But lately, people see a lot of Lin-Manuel Miranda on my fb feed and that is, again, because he is so smart. It’s so attractive. Geniuses are attractive. I could listen to Lin-Manuel talk forever.

To quote the Sherlock series, “brainy is the new sexy.”

Well-said, Rachel! And now, it's GIVEAWAY TIME! To enter the giveaway for Rachel's debut novel, welcome her and tell us your celebrity crush! 


Glynis said...

Great interview! I've got to put Rachel's books on my ever-growing to-be-read pile because they sound wonderful. And I wholeheartedly agree about Benedict Cumberbatch :) Fun to get to know you, Rachel!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Rachel, it's so fun to see you here! And to read your words and get to know you a little better. I like your choice of "Rachel cat-nip." You have good taste!

Rachel said...

Thanks so much for letting me hang out here and SIGH what a great picture of Benedict <3

kaybee said...

RACHEL, I am thrilled to hear from someone who also loves the Thoenes' Zion Chronicles and Zion Covenant. I loved Murphy too, still do. What kind of guy waits a full year to hear a woman perform with an orchestra? Oh, that killed me. He is one of the Thoenes' best creations, Elisa too, and I loved the way they didn't just take the Kronenberger kids out of harm's way, but adopted them. A mirror of what God does for us.
That alone made this post worth it for me.
Kathy Bailey
Wanting to be a Thoene when I grow up

Ashley Clark said...

Thanks, everyone, for helping me welcome Rachel! :)

And Rachel, I thought you'd appreciate the picture of your true love. ;)

Loraine Nunley said...

Hi Rachel. I have your books on my TBR list because I love detective stories. I also have a little crush on Benedict Cumberbatch. You captured exactly why too. Such intelligent speech coming from a handsome man? Swoon. Thanks for the giveaway as well!

Robin E. Mason said...

You had me at Gilmore Girls!! Great interview, and Rachel, your books are already on my TPR list!

Anonymous said...

Welcome Rachel. I look forward to reading your book. I had a crush on Elvis Presley.

Ashley Clark said...

Y'all are going to love all of Rachel's books! :)

Ian A said...

Ashley, good on you for sharing Rachel with the Alley Cats peeps.

I'm about to finish A Lesson in Love and Murder having read the earlier ones in the series. I love Rachel's voice. Smart, witty, passionate with a little whimsy. Merinda & Jem are 2 super characters and it's so fun being a fly on the wall a little bit of their friendship. Ray & Jasper are tremendous fallible gents who adore their respective girls.

The M&W series is such fun to read with some tremendous reflections on a number of significant issues such as role of women, working women, men's respect for women not mention the whole immigration angle Rachel mentioned.