Is it true you started writing your first novel, The Mill River Recluse, when you were working as an attorney for the U.S. Senate?
Yes, that’s true. I was a few years out of law school and employed as an attorney for the U.S. Senate, drafting environmental and natural resource legislation. My husband was finishing his last year of medical school and getting ready to start his internship — the first grueling year of a medical residency — so he was working long hours and was often gone late into the evening or overnight. Basically, I had a lot of “alone time” on my hands. I had always intended to try to write a novel, so I started writing in the evenings after work. It took about two and a half years to finish a first draft.
Was it difficult to make the transition from a Washington DC attorney to working at home as a full-time writer?
Truthfully, it was a transition that I never expected to make! But, it wasn’t all that difficult. My legal job required mostly long hours of writing independently, punctuated by client calls and meetings with colleagues. Writing fiction also requires long hours of working independently, and my day is typically broken up by things I need to do for book publicity as well as to care for my son and keep the house afloat. So, my schedule feels very much the same – it’s just that I’m doing slightly different things! – and I absolutely love it. I am living my childhood dream.
You grew up in small towns all across America — is that why you decided to set your books in a small Vermont town? Is Mill River based on any of the towns where you lived?
It felt very natural to set my books in a small town, as I feel comfortable in and familiar with that environment. In fact, one of the places I lived growing up – Cheraw, Colorado – had only about 160 kids in kindergarten through twelfth grade and used (and still uses!) a four-day school week! I attended high school in Paoli, Indiana. It’s a little larger than Cheraw but is still a small community. It was quite an adjustment for me when I started college at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. There were about 35,000 students enrolled when I was an undergraduate, which was far more than the population of any of the towns in which I had lived up until then.
In creating the fictional town of Mill River, I tried to impart the cozy feelings of safety and community that so many small towns have. I didn’t base it on any 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 my first novel and for the various characters to come together in subsequent stories.
There are now three books in the Mill River series. Will there be more? What are you working on now?
I actually took a break from writing after I finished The Promise of Home, but I do intend to write more Mill River books in the future. In fact, I have the fourth novel all planned out already! Right now, though, I’m working on an unrelated novel that I’ve wanted to write for a long time (and couldn’t while all of my time was devoted to meeting contractual deadlines for the second and third Mill River books). I’m very excited about this new novel, and it’s wonderful to be able to explore a brand new storyline and characters. I don’t yet have any information on when it will be finished or when or by whom it will be published. I will post that information here on my website and on my social media channels as soon as I have it to share. After it is finished, though, it will be on to Mill River #4!