About the Author
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.
1. How did you get started as an author? What or whom inspired you?
I actually do not remember a time when I was not writing. Since childhood, I have suffered from social anxiety and always felt more comfortable with my nose in a book --- either a novel someone else had written or a notebook with stories of my own. When I was 11 that’s when I knew I wanted to write stories not just for me to read but for other people. I had just finished reading Vienna Prelude by Bodie Thoene ( the first of dozens of times) and I knew I wanted to write a book just like the one I found in my church library. It took me about twenty years from that point to show anyone my work. But, I wrote novels and filled notebooks and USB keys. The first time I did show anyone my writing I took a bold scary step and queried an agent. Luckily, I signed with that agency and not two years later signed with Harvest for the Herringford and Watts series.
2. What writing projects are you currently working on? What can you tell us about these projects?
I just turned in the edits for A LESSON IN LOVE AND MURDER the next full-length Herringford and Watts adventure which releases September 1. Concurrently, I am working on the novella-sized adventure A CONDUCTOR OF LIGHT which releases at Christmas and then the final book in the series THE WHITE FEATHER MURDERS. The latter is occupying most of my time. It releases March next year.
While keeping these on the go, I am also working on ideas for the series I want to pursue after Jem and Merinda’s stories are finished. I have a million and one ideas and many novels already half done or even completed. My inkling is that my readers will next find themselves with some new characters in 1930s Boston … as that seems to be where I am drawn to next.
3. What does your writing process look like?
Because I write historical, I spend a lot of time in the archives or at the library doing research until something sticks. The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder has a deceptively whimsical feel to it, but the research was mind-boggling extensive to get the feel of the time and the cadence of voice I created to tell these tales in a style like an Edwardian Ladies magazine. I have a sketched out idea of the characters and their world but it is usually when I am researching that something fabulous sticks out that shapes the next step. With the Herringford and Watts series,I filled a notebook with character sketches –really shaping Jem, Merinda, Jasper and Ray and chose the time period and some of the key plot-points, but the magic happened when I was up to my nose in research on Edwardian-era Toronto. I stumbled upon the most interesting things. The Morality Squad is my interpretation of some of what I learned about the limitations women had living and working in Toronto in the 1910s. I also decided to tie in some American settings to the series as a nod to my American readers. So, I took research trips to Boston and Concord and Chicago: two cities Jem and Merinda visit during their investigations. If I get an idea for a scene, I will write it and then sew everything up like a patchwork quilt later on. While writing, I used a book that most women of Jem’s station would have owned at the time called The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Everything: it was full of little how-to hints from boiling an egg to flirting! I play with some of this advice in the completely fictional Dorothea Fairfax’s Guide to Bachelor Girlhood that Jem reads in my series.
4. Where is your favorite place to write?
When I am first starting a draft, I write longhand and I love to be amidst the action. Especially when I am writing a key scene that takes place in Toronto. I like to be out in the bustling city and will often work at a coffee shop or pub. After that, well, I work wherever I can. Writing is not my full-time job: so I will work over lunchbreaks at the office, or on the subway, or when I get home.
5. What authors would you recommend?
This is the hardest question LOL because I am such a bookworm and a voracious reader in so many genres. I love historical fiction and one of my all-time favourite writers is Patrick O’Brian. He wrote a 21 volume series set during the Age of Sail in the Napoleonic Wars ( the movie Master and Commander with Russell Crowe is based on these books). In the mystery genre, I love Maureen Jennings (her books are set in Victorian era Toronto) Martha Grimes and Rhys Bowen especially. They both influenced the Herringford and Watts series. In the CBA, Lynn Austin is an all time favourite, as are Allison Pittman and Katherine Reay. I am a huge Charles Dickens fan. Clearly, I also love the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. I have loved them since I was a kid.
6. What period of history interests you the most?
Another tough question. I love anything to do with the American Revolutionary war era (hence my passion for Boston!). I Because I love nautical history, the late 18th and early 19th Centuries and the Napoleonic wars also fascinate me.
7. What inspired the idea for the Herringford and Watts Series? What inspired the idea for The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder?
My first submitted manuscript was a straight historical ( no mystery!) set in Halifax in 1917. My agent was shopping it around with little luck. When she was at ICRS ( a big retail conference) meeting with editors, she kept hearing that romantic suspense was popular. Knowing I was a big Sherlock Holmes fan, she suggested I try something like that. I really wanted to work with women who colour outside of tradition and this opportunity allowed me to find them pitted against a society that wants to keep them happily with home and hearth raising babies. I wanted to see what it would look like to take women out of that typical Edwardian domestic sphere. Merinda is fiercely independent ( a trait she and I share) and cannot imagine a life that sees her stuck in an expected woman’s role. Jemima loves mystery and adventure but also wants to fall in love, get married and have babies. I wondered what it would be like to balance these two. I feel many women identify with both Jem and Merinda and share traits with each. In subsequent books, I pull out some of the challenges of their striking differences and non-traditional roles. What happens when Merinda is attracted to a client? What happens when Jem has a baby but still wants to follow Merinda around in trousers? Needless to say, we are so fortunate to live in a time period where women have the freedom to balance work and domestic life!
8. What other hobbies do you enjoy when you are not writing?
I read a lot! I love to travel ---everywhere. I am always dreaming about or planning my next trip. Spain is next on the docket this Summer. I am a huge baseball fan and catch as many Toronto Blue Jays games as possible during the season. I also love the theatre. Toronto has an amazing opera and theatre scene and it keeps me busy and very entertained.
Thanks so much for letting me come to your blog :)
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