Today I have the pleasure of interviewing author and literary agent Rachel McMillan, whose most recent novel, THE MOZART CODE, came out last month. This book has a little of everything–romance, historical intrigue, spies, music, mystery…and did I mention romance 😉 Rachel is fascinating and funny, and you’ll get a taste of that in her interview! If you want to know more about her, you can find her at her website or on instagram.
»» Give us a quick overview of the books you’ve written.
RM: I have written the Herringford and Watts historical mystery series set in Edwardian Era Toronto, the Van Buren and DeLuca mystery series set in 1930s Boston (and featuring a hero who shares my lifelong panic and anxiety symptoms in an attempt to destigmatize the conversation around mental illness in fictional discourse), and The Three Quarter Time series of contemporary Vienna-set romances. Recently, I have written two post-war era historical romances: The London Restoration came out in August 2020 and the most recent The Mozart Code released March 15. I have also written two works of non-fiction: Dream, Plan and Go: A Travel Guide to Inspire Independent Adventure (I am a frequent solo traveler) and A Very Merry Holiday Movie Guide (which is my homage to made for TV Christmas movies). I’ve also ghost-written some things…so muah-ha-ha! You’ll never know!
»»What’s the hardest or best criticism you’ve received on your work, either as you were editing, revising, or getting feedback?
RM: My first editor (who acquired my debut novel) had me rewrite the entire thing after contract from first person to third person omniscient. She truly believed that was the voice and tone that would set the series, and even though it was REALLY hard, she was right. Also, I might go back to omniscient third someday—I suppose it would be like riding a bike.
»» Funniest thing that’s happened during a book signing or book tour?
RM: Not so much funny as startlingly wonderful and fan-girl ish. I was signing at ALA in New Orleans a few years back and two of my favourite authors, Mackenzi Lee and Ashley Weaver, came and got books signed. So, it was me happily chatting with a long line of librarians and then boom! Two authors with whom I am obsessed!
»» Did you always know you wanted to be an author? Or was there a specific idea or event that spurred your desire?
RM: I always knew that I wanted to somehow be connected to books. I have always lived and breathed words. I was never not writing or re-reading books again and again. So in my current life that desire is made manifest—my job is a patchwork quilt of words and books to sew up a career: I write in multiple genres, I ghost-write, I read like oxygen and I sell books. My post grad studies were in Book Publishing, my undergraduate degree was as a Victorian specialist. I confess that my path did start in classical music. I was a classical voice student who thought (and I was wrong) that I would be satisfied with reading on the side.
Now I infuse my love of music into my books such as The Mozart Code—perhaps as a mea culpa to my parents for the thousands of dollars spent on voice lessons and theory lessons and piano lessons!
»» Describe your writing process. Is it orderly, scheduled, daily? Erratic, middle-of-the-night, gimme-a-piece-of-paper now? Or something in between?
RM: I am someone who is so busy that I have to chunk my days because writing is never my only job. I work for the privilege of writing. I am a single woman so to justify writing I have to hustle. So I usually spend my mornings doing my other work—for any agenting I have to do as a lit agent or endorsements, email, promotion or freelance. I find that late afternoon and into the evening is where I really try to get in my word counts. I am always under deadline so I don’t truly have time for writer’s block. I do, however, know I can work ahead on a sequence or scene if I get stuck. I forge ahead. Ironically, most of my best writing happens when I walk. I live in Toronto which is a big, rambling, gorgeous walking city and so I map everything in my head. Evenings and weekends, however, are when the pressure of the other commitments rolls off my back and I can truly throw myself into a manuscript!
»» Is there a topic/theme/setting you’re particularly interested in that you’d like to write about in a future book?
RM: I am dying to write about Charlotte Brontë’s tenure as a teacher in Brussels. I spent a lot of time in Belgium and London and Ha’worth (where she was born and grew up) researching. Her novel Villette is an autobiographical account of her experiences there and my University background is as a Victorian lit specialist. I just haven’t been able to transpose that passion to a viable publishing project yet. Hopefully someday.
»» Assuming all writers are also avid readers, what’s the strangest/most inappropriate place you’ve ever brought a book to read? (Example, a family dinner, a baseball game, etc.)
RM: I grew up as a pastor’s kid so you can bet I was always reading in church. I’ve definitely read at a hockey game before.
»» What books are on your bedside table right now? (Or in your bag, your car, or wherever you keep your current reads.)
RM: I just finished Maggie Brookes’ upcoming Acts of Love and War for endorsement and it comes out later this year and I am obsessed with her!
An ARC of Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. (There is a reason it sold at a record breaking auction.)
Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr
A TON of research books on France and the Resistance for my WIP
The Circus Train by Amita Parikh
An ARC of Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen (I am so excited!)
The Wedding Veil by Kristy Woodson Harvey
»» What are your pet peeves as a reader?
RM: I can always tell if there is a single woman character in the novel if the author married young. Because they’re so often portrayed as an ice-cream eating, moping, waiting-for-a-guy type, an archetype that is so long past. It’s so easy to tell. I’ll think, “Well, you married at 21, didn’t you?” And usually a quick Instagram photo search proves me about right. I am a single woman who forges her own happily ever after. I don’t need to read about single women pitied in books.
Also, I am a huge setting-driven writer and reader. Often books inform where I want to travel next (and I love traveling). So if you choose to write a setting, embroider it. I want to escape there. I love the novel The Hating Game but it could have been set on the moon for all I knew when reading it. I know that editors want to make books as universal and accessible as possible but setting really roots my sensual experiences as a reader. I want to imagine myself there and authors take such time and care in crafting the story they want to tell—why not spare a thought for painting the canvas in detail? Write me somewhere you are passionate about—or broken about—or muse or dream or ache about and I will feel it. That irrepressible connection over place is such a boon to a reader like me.
»» Books: print or e-reader? Similarly, calendar: paper or electronic?
RM: I prefer print books but so much of my job requires me to read fast and without waiting for mail from America! So I read on my phone and my iPad a LOT. Along with frequently endorsing and reviewing, my day job is as a literary agent so I need to be able to get manuscripts fast, though I do love the smell and tangible experience of a print copy. I own thousands of books!
»» Favorite ice cream flavor?
RM: Cookies and cream!
»» Coffee or tea? Or something else?
RM: Americanos in the morning, then plenty of tea and often red wine when I get stuck in a manuscript!
»» If you can, tell us what you’re working on now.
RM: Upcoming I have a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel for Harper Collins/Thomas Nelson set in occupied Paris and Rouen and releasing Sept 2023. I also have a collaborative novel with my friends J’Nell Ciesielski and Aimie K. Runyan called The Castle Keepers and releasing with Harper Muse in March 2023. It tells three love stories set in a crumbling Yorkshire Castle across three wars.
Thank you so much to Rachel for spending time with us and sharing her book insights, and thank you for reading!
See you next Sunday!