I wrote The Mill River Recluse in the evenings, after work, and it took more than two years to finish. The hardest thing for me, other than the fact that it was my first novel and I was learning a lot writing-wise through trial and error, was just finding the time to write at all. My day job at the time was very demanding and often required substantial overtime.
What is the most surprising thing you learned while creating your book and the mystery of the story?
I guess the most surprising thing I learned is that sometimes, a character “decides” to do something that you do not expect. A prime example of this is that when I started writing The Mill River Recluse, I had not planned for Mary McAllister to take her own life. I was writing late one night and that scene just flew onto the page, and I thought, “Oh, no,” and “Of course!” at the same time.
What is your greatest strength as a writer?
I’m not sure how to answer this exactly, but what I tried to do with my first novel was to use ordinary characters with which many people could identify to tell an extraordinary story. Based on the way readers have responded to The Mill River Recluse, I think I succeeded in doing that.
What do you think contributes to make a writer successful?
It’s really important to read as much as you can and write often. Also, even though it’s difficult sometimes, being willing to seek and accept constructive criticism is so necessary if you want to improve your writing. Finally, you’ve got to be determined…to be able to handle a lot of rejection…and to believe in yourself and your ability to succeed eventually.
What books or events have most influenced your life the most?
I don’t think I’ve been heavily influenced by any one book or writer, but I read widely and love books of many genres — thrillers, literary fiction, historical fiction, some nonfiction, etc. As a writer, I try to learn something from each book that I read. My favorite book is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. It is timeless, and such a beautiful, heart-wrenching, uplifting story. I read it every few years, and I learn something new every time I do.
In college, I took a poetry class taught by Yusef Komunyakaa, and the graduate assistant who taught my small section was Khaled Mattawa. During one session, the graduate assistants gave readings of their own work for all of the undergraduate students in the lecture hall. Khaled read a poem he had composed about looking through the Sears catalog when he was a boy. (The poem is online and can be read here: http://www.webdelsol.com/mattawa/km-part2.htm) The entire lecture hall listened, spellbound, and Khaled received a huge round of applause. I learned something that day that I’ve often remembered: a talented writer can transform something as ordinary as the old Sears catalog into a thing of wonder and beauty.
Currently, I’m working on my second novel, which (along with my third novel) will be set in the fictional world of Mill River, Vermont, and will involve many of the characters from my first novel. The second book involves a new story and some new characters as well. Both of these new novels will be published by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House.
Who or what inspired you to become an author?
My parents taught me to read and write when I was very young, so I credit them for my having loved books and writing all of my life. I remember winning a school-district-wide writing contest when I was in seventh grade…I was only 11, but I came home with my little trophy and announced to my parents that I wanted to be a writer. My English teacher mother immediately said “Great! You can do anything you set your mind to. Follow your dreams!” My very practical and honest father, who worked in special education administration for much of his career, told me that writers have a hard time earning a living and that I should think about doing something else as a career to provide financial security. In the end, I decided to do what each suggested – i.e., I would go to law school but follow the dream (i.e., write fiction) in my spare time.
I didn’t have much time to write for pleasure in college and law school. I might have written a short story here and there, but I never attempted to get them published. My intention was always to focus on book-length fiction. After I’d finished my education and had been working as an attorney for a few years, I finally felt as if I had enough time to try to write a novel.
What is your favorite quote?
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Darcie Chan who is the author of The Mill River Recluse, one of our medallion honorees at http://www.bragmedallion.com. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as The Mill River Recluse merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.
Thank you Darcie Chan and IndieBRAG for the pleasure of this wonderful interview.