By Leslie Lindsay
Selling a whopping 700,000 eBook originals of her debut, THE MILL RIVER RECLUSE, Darcie Chan is a force to be reckoned with. She definitely has gumption and the tenacity an author in today’s market needs. Having read the first book, I was eager to jump back into the enchanting fictional world of Mill River Vermont, the very place that oozes kitchy charm and memorable characters; it’s like Mayberry come to life. Plus, it’s fall and who can resist a book with such a lovely autumnal cover?
But there is more to Darcie Chan than meets the eye. She’s a mom, a wife, and former attorney. How does she do it all?
L.L.: Thanks so much for being with us today, Darcie! We busy writers would love to know how you balance all of life’s demands. Can you share how you managed to write two books, work, move, and have a baby? Wow. That’s like 4 of life’s “top stressors.”
Darcie Chan: It was a busy time, for sure, but perhaps not quite as busy as it might seem. I wrote my first novel in the early 2000s, ten years before I had my son, and put it in a drawer after it didn’t sell to a publisher. After that, it was pretty much just work and normal life until 2007, when I moved to New York with my husband. Our son came along in 2010, and in 2011, I uploaded my first novel as an e-book, which officially launched the insanity.
I suppose I got through the crazy years of 2011 through 2013 by juggling as best I could, taking things in stride, and focusing on getting things done. Leaving my attorney position in March 2012 helped decrease my stress level, certainly. It was a tough thing to do, because I loved my office and my legal job, but I still believe it was the right decision. Also, the changes in my life at the time were mostly happy and exciting, so I always felt more like I was riding a roller coaster than digging myself out of a hole.
L.L.: Tell us a little about how you created and envisioned Mill River Vermont? I understand there is some basis of a real-life town and “recluse” in a small town located in Indiana. Can you expand on that?
Darcie Chan: I grew up in small towns in several states, so I knew that I wanted a cozy, friendly small town as the setting for the first novels I planned to write. I tried to model my characters and the appearance of the town after the places in which I’d lived or visited while growing up. I didn’t base the fictional village of Mill River on any one particular town, though, because I wanted to be able to create and modify aspects of it to fit the story I was trying to tell. And, I selected Vermont as the state in which Mill River would be located because that state (in addition to being the home of countless beautiful small towns and villages) has a unique and longstanding town meeting tradition. Every town in Vermont holds a town meeting on the first Tuesday in March where residents come together to vote on town business. An annual town meeting was the perfect place for Father O’Brien to address the people of Mill River at the end of the novel.
It’s true that the character of Mary McAllister and the central story idea for The Mill River Recluse do have a real-life origin. The basic concept for the book was inspired by a certain gentleman named Sol Strauss who lived in Paoli, Indiana, the small town in which I lived during high school and my mother was born and raised. Mr. Strauss, a Jewish man who fled Nazi Germany, operated a dry goods store in Paoli in the 1940s. Even though Mr. Strauss lived quietly alone above his shop and never seemed to be fully embraced by the town’s predominantly Christian population, he considered Paoli to be his adopted community. When he died, the town was shocked to learn that he had bequeathed to it substantial sum, which was to be used for charitable purposes to benefit the people of Paoli.
The Sol Strauss Fund is still in operation today, and Mr. Strauss is still remembered for his extreme generosity. I thought it would be very interesting to build a story around someone who is misunderstood or different in some way, and to show that even someone who is seemingly far-removed from his or her community may in fact be more special and integral than anyone could imagine.
L.L.: Both of your books have some pretty colorful characters. Is there one you feel a particular affinity toward? One who might share some of your personality?
Darcie Chan: I’m not sure that any of them share my personality, but I probably felt the strongest connection with Ivy Collard, a character in The Mill River Redemption, who shares many characteristics with my late maternal grandmother. “Nanny,” as everyone called her, was as loving and giving as Ivy, and she also shared her bawdy streak. Many of Ivy’s funny quotes are things I heard Nanny say countless times growing up.
L.L.: Lots of folks are interested in the self-publishing arena. There are so many ways to get our stories “out there,” more than ever before. What advice would you give to someone who wants to break into the e-publishing/self-publishing world? Traditional publishing?
Darcie Chan: Regardless of which avenue a writer chooses to pursue, I think the main thing he or she has to do is figure out a way to get his or her books to stand out from the millions of others out there. If you want to catch a reader’s attention, you need a quality product and a way (or several ways) to get the word out about your books. With those goals in mind:
- Put your emotions into whatever you write. They’ll carry through to your readers, and that’s so important. Think of the last memorable book that you read. Did it make you laugh out loud? Break your heart? Feel terrified or angry? Chances are that it did at least one of those things. Readers remember books that move them emotionally and often recommend them to others. Those “word-of-mouth” recommendations are what create bestsellers.
- Put on your editing cap. Do everything you can to polish your manuscript before you show it to anyone, and be tough on yourself. Read your writing aloud to yourself to hear how it flows, how realistic the dialogue sounds, etc. Research your subjects carefully, because there will almost always be readers out there who know more (much more!) than you do about them.
- Seek out constructive criticism. Write for yourself, but gracefully accept as much constructive criticism as you are able to get. “Test readers” are so vital to my process because they’re not as close to the material as I am and can see areas in need of improvement that I miss. It’s much better to fix problems in a draft early on, before you send it on submission to an agent or publisher or self-publish it for all the world to see. As with anything, you get only one chance to make a first impression.
- Social media is your friend. These days, increasing numbers of people buy and learn about new books online. It’s so important to have a strong social media presence, and that’s something I’m still working on myself! People won’t become interested in your book unless they hear about it, and the Internet is an amazing tool for spreading the word and getting word-of-mouth recommendations started for books,
- Believe in yourself and never give up! It’s true that trying to get a novel published is very difficult. Be prepared for that. Know that you will get many rejections, criticisms of your writing that you don’t understand or agree with, and an occasional mean-spirited note that cuts you to the core. Keep an open mind about the criticisms, as repeated mentions of the same issue might be signaling a problem with the manuscript. Other than that, keep your chin up and continue your quest for an agent and publisher. Keep writing while you’re waiting to hear from agents (or editors, when you find an agent to shop your manuscript). And, above all, always believe in yourself, never stop dreaming, and never give up!
L.L.: Finally, can you tell us what you are working on next…and when it might be available.
Darcie Chan: The first draft of my third novel, which is also set in Mill River, is currently with my editor. I’m hopeful that it will be published in September 2015, but I don’t have a firm release date yet. Beyond that, I’m not sure what I’ll write next, but I’m working on ideas for other Mill River books, just in case I decide to go in that direction. Time will tell! 🙂
L.L.: Thank you so very much for taking the time to be with us, Darcie! We so enjoyed you.
For more information:
- Darcie’s Website where you’ll find a blog, media kit, Q&A, book club information and more.
- MILL RIVER REDEMPTION is available at Target and where books are sold!
Bio: Darcie Chan is the author of THE MILL RIVER RECLUSE, a debut novel that became a word-of-mouth e-book sensation. With nearly 700,000 copies sold, THE MILL RIVER RECLUSE appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists for 30 weeks and became a heartwarming favorite of readers across the country.
Darcie was born in Wisconsin and grew up in the small towns of Brandon, Wisconsin, La Junta and Cheraw, Colorado, and Paoli, Indiana. Thanks to loving and supportive parents who are both educators, she learned to read and write at an early age. She has two younger sisters, with whom she is very close.
Currently, Darcie lives just north of New York City with her husband and son. Her second novel, THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION, is also set in the fictional town of Mill River, Vermont, and will be released by Ballantine Books on August 26, 2014.
[Special thanks to Susie Stagland and Darcie Chan. Author photo credit: Carrie Schechter]