Monday, May 11, 2015

Writing Personality with No Holds Barred with the amazing Rachel McMillan

I am SO happy to welcome Rachel McMillan to be our guest at The Alley today! Besides being an avid Sherlockian, intelligent wordsmith, popular book reviewer, and all-around classy gal, she is also an author. The first of her Herringford and Watts series, The Bachelor Girls Guide to Murder comes out in early 2016 with Harvest House. I was thrilled to meet Rachel at ACFW 2014 and love our mutual weirdness.
But she's also brave - because she sent her words out into the world and now they're on the road to publication!

Please help me in welcoming her to our blog today!

A Writer’s Tale:

Once upon a time there was a girl who scribbled fastidiously for over 20 years. During that time, she amassed full notebooks and USB keys chockfull of words and ideas. But she was scared. She was scared to show anyone so she kept these words  and ideas under lock and key.

“What are you writing?” her parents/siblings/friends who ask as she took pen to paper in the back of a high school classroom, or on the subway or in a coffee shop.   But she would press her notebook to her chest and gulp her secrecy.

If I tell, then they’ll know.  If I let them see and I am terrible, then this lovely little secret that is mine and fills my brain and jolts my nerves and fills my heart with joy…will just fizzle. If these words are terrible then I am terrible, she equated self-worth with her passion for inky fingerpads and imagined worlds.

So, she wrote in silence. She wrote in secret.  She finished novel after novel.

Two years ago, she decided after hundreds upon hundreds of books read and thousands upon thousands of words written, that she would finally take the plunge toward publication.  She mapped out a book that she thought the CBA would like. She measured it, she populated it with characters and phrases and statements indigenous to the market she had studied and learned for most of her life.  She wandered under the misconception of a safety net.   She sent the book out into the world.  While the first chapters secured her an agent, the final product was passed at every publishing house in the CBA.   The feedback, rather than being full of scary rejections that would force her unwillingly back into her secret cave, was sound and encouraging. She took it to heart for its promise and not for guided limitation.

And she started writing more, believing ( as she still does) that a writer should always have something in their back pocket. Even while her first novel was still making the rounds of submission and eking its way to committee meetings (alas, to no avail) her agent sparked a fuse upon return from ICRS and the idea that the writer infuse her next story with her lifelong passion for Sherlock Holmes.

But this, thought she, is rather surged with something close to my heart, the winnows through me, that is so anomalous to me.  Can I possibly write something with so much of me in it?

With no holds barred and with no thought toward rubrics and metrics, imagined or not, she typed and tapped away and presented the final work to her agent…

Who was surprised. What writing classes have you been taking? Her agent wondered. What has changed since you first gave me that initial manuscript a year ago?

The writer hadn’t taken any classes. She had done nothing different except…except…..write a book sizzled with her personality and heart.  A book sprinkled with shards of her! She wrote a book in her voice, peppered with her thoughts, pierced with her vulnerabilities, trembling with her desires and ideas and wonderings.

She wrote it jubilantly….elated with the giddiness of crafting this sunny world with live, snarky, brilliant, zesty characters whose strings she jiggled like a puppeteer who just breathed to life.  She wrote while snifflingly realizing someday she would have to send her book friends out into the world with their quirks and depths and idiosyncrasies. She cried when she finally pressed send. She missed her book friends as they experienced the rounds of submission and meetings.

But she started something new, aware that…

Writing the book you want to read now meant splay your personality on page.

And this crazy book which coloured outside the lines of any imagined structure the writer thought existed was the project that landed her first book contract.


Writers---write for yourselves first and foremost. Be savvy enough to study the industry, to read voraciously in a myriad of genres, to stay connected to the community, but write also knowing that what may be forging your path to publication is your indelible thumbprint.

Write uniquely.

 Looking back on my reading life, I am aware that the writers whose work orbits closely around my heart are the writers whose personality is embroidered into their pages. 

 Whether you be striving to hit publish on your first Indie book or whether you wait and wade through the uneven tides of traditional publishing, the secret to garnering the first loyal reader and to skimming the top of the dreaded slush pile is you! Wonderful, unique, zany, creative, human and insecure you.

 Zing your books with your personality, even while cognizant of the market you are writing for.

And send that snippet of yourself into the world like Polonius (“To Thine Own Self Be True”) and see what happens.

It could be something awesome.

And it will be you….all you.
Rachel McMillan is a keen history enthusiast and 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. She is a frequent contributor to Breakpoint and Novel Crossing. Her first novel, The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder releases with Harvest House in early 2016.


Sue Coletta said...

Great story. Congratulations!

Unknown said...

YAY I love this post and can't wait to read your personality-filled books. :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

LOVE these words! So true!!!! Can't wait to read your book!

Rachel said...

thanks for letting me hang out here today! i am sure every writer has those chest-clutching moments where they think: goodness! what have i done sending my words out into the big world :)

Megan Besing said...

Wonderful, Rachel. This made me all smiles! :)

Susan Anne Mason said...

So happy for you, Rachel! Love your voice already!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Rachel, what great news about your book contract! I am eager to read your books. I appreciate your encouraging words here today. :)

P.S. I loved meeting you at ACFW too!

Rachel said...

@Jeanne it was so nice to meet you, too!

Meg said...

Love your story! Congrats on your book.

Pepper Basham said...

Believe me - I'm still terrified to believe people are reading my book...and sharing their opinions!

All these little, quiet stories, created in secret are special, personal in a very intimate way, and...well, so much a part of ourselves (our hearts and personalities).
Sheesh! I still get nervous every time I open up a review.

But yes - I don't see how, if a person writes something they love, something for which they feel passionately, it cannot live with the very breath of their personalities!

LOVE this post!
And so thankful you were here!

Kara Isaac said...

Great post and SO true. Can't wait to meet the Bachelor Girls next year!