Saturday, September 3, 2011

Interview with Dorothy McMillan, Author of Many Mysteries

Hi readers and writers,
I'm pleased to bring you an interview with someone who has published several books, and whose inventive mind enables her to create puzzling mysteries.  Enjoy!   Cheers Laura

Dottie, how did you get interested in writing?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to write.  When I was in the fourth grade, I wrote dozens of ghastly horror stories and sold them to the kids at school for a dime each.  That was a lot of money way back then.  Finally, irate parents told the principal, and I had to stop writing the stories, and give back all the money.  My first rejection.  But hardly my last.  At least with my professional writing no one has asked me to give back the money. 

What kind of books do you most enjoy reading?

    Just about every kind.  However, my favorite authors are Bradbury, Steven King, Ann Tyler, Mary Stewart, Mary Robert’s Reinhart, and Clive Cussler (who was in the same writing class as I was in college).  An odd mixed bunch, aren’t they?
How many books have you published to date?

To date, I’ve had seven books published.  Two non-fiction: “Creative ways with Polymer clay” and “Artful ways with Polymer clay” under the name Dotty McMillan.  And five novels under Dorothy McMillan.  “Blackbird” “Soul Crossed” “Vile Acts” “Deadly Urges” and “The Devil’s Bell.”  Two of these books were optioned for film, but, as usual in Hollywood, they never were filmed.  But I got to keep the option money!  Deadly Urges is now on the Kindle for a pittance.  Fortunately, it’s getting some great reviews.  I just wish I had more time to do some PR for it.  Besides books, I’ve written five screenplays.  Early on, I sold two of them.  Again, they never got made.  This is the toughest field of writing to try.  I only do it because I enjoy the process and at times need a break from the novel writing. 
Are the books all similar or are there different series of them?

All of the fiction books are in the same genre, that of Suspense Thrillers.  I would love to venture out into other areas such as fantasy and sci-fi, but my agent doesn’t handle these.  In the past he sold “Logan’s Run” but hasn’t handled that type since. Even so, I’m still working on a fantasy book during those days when I need to let the suspense thriller rest for a day or too.

Do you enjoy writing conferences?  Any advice for newbies about going to writing conferences?

 I love going to writing conferences, and I used to attend all kinds of them.  I also taught at some of them.  However, due to a variety of life things, I haven’t been able to do that much during the past few years.  Nevertheless, they were extremely valuable in many ways.  One of the best things about them is that they help to stimulate your creative nature, and can give you that push we all need, to make time to write, and keep at it.  It’s also good to be with people who love the same thing that you do.  Writers work alone so much, that getting out of the house and in contact with other writers is a healthy way to spend some time.
For years, I went to every conference where Ray Bradbury was speaking as he had such a powerful message for writers.  On one occasion, after a conference was over, he was walking in the same direction I was, and he noticed I had some papers in my hand.  He asked if they were something I had written.  I said yes.  He asked if he could read some of it.  In a state of total panic, I handed him the pages.  He read all of them.  Then he looked up at me and said, “Don’t you ever quit.  You are going to make it!”  At that time, I was actually ready to take up basket weaving instead of writing!  We walked together to the corner of the street where Ray was to wait for his ride home.  He has never learned to drive!  I thanked him, hugged him, and as soon as his ride arrived, I made my way home in a daze.  Those words of his stuck to me, as if crazy-glued, for the rest of my life.  When my first book was published, I sent him a copy to say thank you for his encouragement.  He wrote back and said he read it, his wife read it, and so did his daughters. He said it was fantastic!  From that day on, we exchanged Christmas cards, our successes, and our failures.  I’m not sure what I would be doing today, without his kindness and encouragement.  Probably basket weaving.

How do you get the ideas for your books?  Based on real experiences or your own great imagination or both?

     I wish I didn’t have so dang many ideas for my novels.  I have dozens of summaries, starts, and idea pages for future novels.  They just pop into my head and won’t go away until I record the idea.  It would take two lifetimes to write them all.  They are always based on some facts.  Then I go nuts from there and add all kinds of wild and dark things.  In one book, a character in the book is actually a written description of my mother.  Not what she looked like, but what she was like.  A little skewed, a lot off kilter. 
     My non-fiction writing is always about the art of working with Polymer Clay, something I’ve done, and taught for about twenty years.  Each of these books took a full year to write and photograph. Not as much fun as writing fiction and a lot more work.  However, selling non-fiction is usually easier than selling novels.  My agent handles more of that now, than fiction.  It’s especially good if you are able to write about something, in which a lot of people are interested. 

Tell us about your latest book.

The novel I’m working on now is “The Gray-Green Underground.”  Did you know that underneath Tokyo there is a large farm that grows all kinds of food crops?  Did you know that in the U.S. there are old mines where all kinds of things are being grown underground?  Did you know that many of these growing things have been bio-engineered and could be deadly to mankind.  Surely there has to be a book I could write about all this, one filled with murder, mayhem, and madness. 
         A strange little hunchbacked man named Hagan Poole built a strange stone castle as his home over a hundred years ago.  Today it still sits like a stone fortress in a wild little canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California.  Shadowed by dark stands of pines, it gives one a creepy skin prickling sensation on first sight.  This is the setting for the book.  A place like this actually did exist.
Through lonely years after Poole’s death, the hallways of his stone castle collected giant tangles of hoary spider webs.  Slime-green fungus and powdery white mold oozed from the blushing Tutor brick that lined the enormous kitchen.  The entire place reeked of a syrupy dampness and a putrefying mushroom smell.  Abandoned and forlorn, the place languished silently.  Forgotten.
  Forgotten, that is, until twenty-eight year old Isabel Warren received the unexpected phone call from her dead husband. 
There the story begins.  There the terror and fear attack.
Do you have an agent?  How do you feel about agents?  Are they necessary today?

A short time after Ray Bradbury encouraged me, my writing instructor at Orange Coast College gave a hard copy of my novel to Mike Hamilburg, an author’s agent who resides in Beverly Hills.  Mike called me a few days later from the airport and said “I have your novel with me and I’m on the way to New York.  I would like to represent you and try to shop it.  Would that be okay?”
When I was finally able to talk I said, “You bet!”  So, off he went, and about four months later, he had it sold.  That began a long and wonderful relationship, with one of the nicest, most honest, and helpful agents anyone could have.  It was just one of those fantastic lucky things.  
Today, it is possible to sell a novel without an agent.  But it is a lot better and easier if you can find one who will represent you, that is if you want to get a traditional paper book publisher.  They will not represent a self-published writer unless it looks as if their book might take off and make a lot of money. Some of these do.  Most do not.
 There is a huge list of authors agents online.  They usually say what type of writing they represent.  You can send a good query letter to all of them to see if they are interested in working with you. 
Publishing is in such a wild state today.  No one knows how it will all turn out. Before now, I have always been against “self-publishing” because I’ve seen so many problems with doing it.  So many friends ended up by paying for hundreds of their books which ended up in their garage, and no way to distribute or advertise them.  However, this is changing.  You don’t have to pay huge amounts to self-publish now, and can buy one or two of your books at a time.  The major problem however, is getting out there and doing all sorts of things to publicize your book.  All the things that a paper publisher does for its writers. It takes a great deal of time and effort.  

Do you usually publish through the same publisher?  Does that make an agent less necessary?

No, unfortunately, I’ve had different publishers.  You wouldn’t believe the things that have happened with my work through the years.  Way too many things to mention.  But I would just say that if you are lucky you will sell to a publisher who won’t merge with another publisher, won’t go out of business, and who won’t give you an editor who says he doesn’t believe that a woman can write a successful suspense thriller, and the worst, a publisher who decides that Robin Cook’s new book should be the lead novel instead of your novel which was slated for that honor.  All because Cook didn’t meet his deadline for the month before. Despite all this, however, my books have always sold extremely well, no matter what house published them.  If you are lucky, as some of my writer friends have been, and have the same publisher for all your books, an agent is still very important.  Mine not only works to get a book published, but also takes care of the contract to make sure you are not getting stiffed some way.  One publisher demanded the movie rights in my contract.  My agent made sure that didn’t happen.  There are dozens of things that need careful perusing.  An agent takes care of all that, and is well worth his percentage. 

What else would you like to share with the blog readers?

First, I would like to remind them that you will never have time to write, you have to make time.  It means giving up a lot of things you might rather do.  If that makes you unhappy, then stop writing and do the things you’d rather do.  If writing is your life, then realize that you will have to spend a lot of that life putting words together to create stories, articles, whatever it is you like to write.  
          Second, don’t spend hours and hours on the first few chapters of your book, trying to make them perfect before you move on.  Just jump in and write the whole darn book.  My routine is to write like crazy in afternoons and late nights.  Then I clean that writing up some in the morning, and then write new chapters all afternoon and night again.  One you hit that last page of your book, put it away for a week or so.  Then, take it out and read, polish it, and make it the best you can.  Then get it out there and sell it.  Get an agent if possible.  Or start out by putting it on the Kindle, IPod, etc.  Who knows, it might just take off and make you a zillion dollars.  I sure hope so! 




Anonymous said...

I love the comment that you'll never HAVE time to write, you must MAKE time to write! How true. I would never have become a writer if I waited until I had time.
Lizzie Randall

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the story about Ray Bradbury. Wht a lovely man he must be. With his endorsement, I am going right out to buy some of McMillan's books!
Kingman Reisman