Today we have a guest blogger with us, author Darcie Chan. I hope you enjoy getting to know more about her and her self-published debut novel The Mill River Recluse. Her book has sold over 650,000 copies and spent 28 weeks on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. I recently read her book and it was wonderful. I am excited for her upcoming books that will have some of her beloved characters.
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What did you do before you became a full-time writer? I was born in Wisconsin, and I grew up in small towns there, and in Colorado and Indiana. I usually think of Paoli, Indiana, as my hometown, since it’s where I went to high school and where my mother was born and raised. She still lives there, actually.
Before I left my legal job last April, I worked for many years as an attorney for the U.S. Senate. I worked for a small, nonpartisan office and drafted environmental and natural resource legislation. So, it’s true that I’ve been writing full-time since I finished law school…I’m just writing fiction now instead of legislation.
What sparked your interest in writing? My parents taught me to read at a very young age, and I have loved reading and writing as long as I can remember. I recall writing poems in fifth grade, and in middle school, after winning a short-story competition, I came home and announced to my parents that I wanted to be a writer some day. I think that was the first time – when I was eleven years old – that I actually formulated the thought that writing was something I wanted to do as a career.
Being a mom, how do you find time to write? What keeps you motivated? It helps now that my son is in preschool, since that gives me a block of time to write in the mornings, and he’s still a champion napper, so I have time in the afternoons, too. Honestly, though, I’m a night-owl. I have always done my best writing…or, at least, I’ve been most productive…when I can work late at night, when my husband and son are asleep and the house is still and quiet.
How long was it after you had an agent before you decided to self-publish? My wonderful agent and I started working together years ago. She made an incredible effort to find a publisher for THE MILL RIVER RECLUSE, even though she told me from the outset that it would be very difficult for her to do so. It was about five years after she shopped it around that I decided to upload it to the Kindle Store. By then, ebooks had become popular. I figured that I had nothing to lose, and Laurie (my agent) agreed. I was just hoping to get some feedback on my story, and maybe gradually to get my name out there so that I wouldn’t be a complete unknown by the time I had another book written.
What was the inspiration for writing The Mill River Recluse? The Mill River Recluse is the story of a woman with severe social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia who manages, despite a lifetime of physical isolation, to secretly change the lives of everyone who lives in her small Vermont town. The basic concept for the story was inspired by a certain gentleman named Sol Strauss who lived in my hometown of Paoli, Indiana. 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 and is still remembered today for his extreme generosity.
I also hoped to show that someone who is misunderstood or different in some way, and even someone who is seemingly far-removed from his or her community, may in fact be more special and integral than anyone could imagine.
Why Mill River, VT? There is no actual town in Vermont called “Mill River,” although there is a river in the southern part of the state by that name. There were a few reasons why I set my story in Vermont. First, it is a beautiful place, full of cozy small towns and close-knit communities. It gets plenty of snow during the winter, and since I love snow, that was a plus. Most importantly, though, Vermont has a unique tradition of holding town meetings. Every town in Vermont must hold a town meeting in March – it’s a state law. The residents of each town gather to discuss and vote on important issues for the year. In my story, I needed a way for Father O’Brien to address the people of Mill River, and a town meeting seemed to be the perfect way for him to do that.
Your novel tackles several topics such as agoraphobia, spousal abuse and rape. Did you have to do a lot of research for the book? Of course. I also know people who suffer from agoraphobia or who have been victims of abuse or rape, and hearing their first-hand accounts was invaluable.
Tell us about the main character Mary. Why did she have to endure so much? No one is sure why social anxiety develops or becomes severe agoraphobia, but some specialists believe that a traumatic event in a person’s life may contribute to that happening. Mainly, I needed to create a character who was a survivor. She had to be intrinsically good and innocent, but also amazingly strong, so that she could survive tragedy and find a way around her affliction to help her community.
What is the one thing that has surprised you, good or bad, about the publishing world? I’m continually surprised by the rate at which it’s evolving. Five years ago, ebooks were a tiny fragment of the books sold, but today, they continue to grow in popularity. I don’t think that print books will disappear any time soon…I suspect that the way that people read will continue to shift until some sort of ebook/print book equilibrium is reached, but more readers will be entering the marketplace because of the affordability and convenience that ebooks offer. Anytime you have more people reading, well, that’s a good thing!
How did you feel the first time you saw your name on the best sellers list? There really are no words to describe that. Shock, elation, disbelief, and happiness were all mixed in there. It happened less than three months after I’d uploaded my novel, and it was something that I never in a million years expected to happen, much less so quickly!
Was there one successful marketing method that contributed to your success? If so, could you share that with us? No one will buy your book if he or she doesn’t know about it, so I tried to get my novel featured on blogs that cater to people who read ebooks. I also priced it very low – 99 cents – to encourage people to take a chance on it. Running ads and giving blog interviews to websites that feature bargain ebooks got my book on the radar screens of tens of thousands of readers at a time. At some point, after enough people had read and enjoyed the story, word-of-mouth took hold and started driving sales.
I read on your website that you now have a publisher for your next two novels. Can you tell us about that? Will they be set in Mill River as well? My next two novels will be published by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House. Both will be set in Mill River and will feature characters from my first novel. I’m finishing final edits on the manuscript for the second book right now, and I’m so excited about how the story has turned out. It tells a new story with some new characters, but almost everyone from my first novel gets involved in what happens, or at least makes a cameo.
Will you continue to self-publish or try traditional publishing for your next books? My next two novels will be traditionally published. I truly haven’t thought much about it beyond that, because I’ve been so focused on the second book. Right now, I don’t have plans to return to self-publishing, but if there’s one thing I learned about everything that’s happened, it’s that there is no way to predict what will happen in the future!
Can you share some resources for those aspiring to self-publish their novels? Any advice? I’ve been a member of the Backspace Writers’ Community (www.bksp.org) since its inception, and I think the discussion forums there are undoubtedly the best resource out there for writers, regardless of whether you go the self-publishing or traditional route.
As for advice, do everything you can to make your book as close in quality to a traditionally published book as you can. This means that you should use attractive cover art and professional copyediting or other editing services (if editing is not your strong suit or you don’t have time to edit thoroughly), etc. If you’re going to ask someone to spend their hard-earned money and valuable free time to read your book, you should provide a quality product. Be patient and release only the best book you can; as with anything else, as a writer, you get only one chance to make a first impression.
And finally, come up with a story that you feel passionate about telling – a story that moves you emotionally – and then put your heart into the telling of it. Hopefully, your emotion will carry through and move your readers. I’m convinced that if you don’t have a story that touches readers in some way, nothing else you do to try to make your book a success will matter.
The Mill River Recluse is available in e-book on Barnes & Noble and Amazon. The Mill River Recluse is now available in the UK and British Commonwealth as an e-book and print paperback. Both versions are available for order and pre-order at www.amazon.co.uk and www.waterstones.co.uk.
Description: Disfigured by the blow of an abusive husband, and suffering her entire life with severe social anxiety disorder, the widow Mary McAllister spends almost sixty years secluded in a white marble mansion overlooking the town of Mill River, Vermont.
Her links to the outside world are few: the mail, the media, an elderly priest with a guilty habit of pilfering spoons, and a bedroom window with a view of the town below.
Most longtime residents of Mill River consider the marble house and its occupant peculiar, though insignificant, fixtures. An arsonist, a covetous nurse, and the endearing village idiot are among the few who have ever seen Mary.
Newcomers to Mill River — a police officer and his daughter and a new fourth grade teacher — are also curious about the reclusive old woman. But only Father Michael O’Brien knows Mary and the secret she keeps — one that, once revealed, will change all of their lives forever.