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The Writers Block - with Ron Knight
The Writers Block - with Ron Knight

Episode · 11 months ago

The Writer's Block - How spending more than 30 years on a sailboat along 1,000 miles of the remote Pacific Northwest led Canadian author R.J. McMillen to her renowned and widely popular Dan Connor Mystery series.

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Host Ron Knight talks it up over virtual coffee with renowned Canadian author R.J. McMillen - born in England, raised in Australia, ESL teacher in Greece before spending over 30 years sailing the remote Pacific Northwest on a 36-foot sailboat she and her husband built. Visiting with the remote coastal communities where her family worked in the early 1900s, accessable only by boat and inlet, her later stories and books have not only established herself as a prominent author of the mystery, thriller, suspense, and crime fiction novel; but given her a window and a doorway to share her respect for Canada's indigenous and First Nation's cultures. 

We used to do this. What was itcelebrities talking in cars with coffee or celebrities over coffee and thatwe're just over the web with coffee? And that's that's right. That's right!There you go well, listen! Folks with me. Today is Rachel RJ in mccanillan,author of Fast Paced suspenseful thriller series set on the West Coastof British Columbia, where she probably knows that terrain very, very well, Iunderstand being on a boat and sailing that area for about thirty years,Rachel, R, J, mcnillan of the West Coast environment up there in westernCanada and the people who live there for a vivid and authentic setting forher Dan Connor mystery series. How are you Rachel? I am just great thanksright, it's good to be talking to you. It has been sometime. We usually spendtime together down in down in Mexico, and I understand that's where you arenow. I am indeed down here in Mexico, staying away from the cold weather upnorth good, for you probably a good choice, and I guess Du to pandemic.People are nicely ensconsed and hunkering down there. Yes, for the mostpart, or most there's a little bit of travel in and out, but I was recentlyImportov y Arta and they have some tourists, but not a lot. Nothing likepreviously, not like it ever used to was that's for sure. So I was lookingat your bio Rachel and I know you go by pen. Name is R Jane Lcmillan. So howwould you like me to address you Rachel Rj? What are we calling you for ourlisteners today? Probably Hroaly OJ okay ar J, so it is so RJ McMillan whoactually has an interesting history? Don't you RJ? You were born in what youere born in Inanlan, yes born in England in Yucastle way up north nearthe bordom of Scotland, okay and then you were raised. However, in Australia I was I I went to Australia when I wassix. I can actually set the date because we were one day out from fromEngland when this announcement came over the radio. It's one of those hugeradios that you know stand about four feet tall and this announcement cameover in a terribly serious voice. Saying long lived, the Queen, the kingis dead, so one thousand nine hundred and fifty two wow interesting, and thenyou actually spent quite a few years, then in Aaustralia. But myunderstanding is that your life wound around a bit few more twists and ternsbefore you got up into western Canada. Were you spending some time in Greecebefore seppling in Canada? Is Then, is that the story yeah? I I went to? Igrew up in Australia from the time I was six and I went to a schooluniversity in in Australia and then, when I graduated, I was offered thisamazing job ticking English to immigrants coming to Australia, and soI was on what was a cruise ship. Then it was nothing like the cruise ships wesee today, but I was on a cruise ship teaching English to Greek immigrants,and I did that for almost two years before the government of Australiarealized that you know we were having an awfully good time and not doing verymuch in a way of Taingie, and so they terminated that whole program.But meanwhile, I hadt friends that I had met in Greese and they offered me ajob tiking engrish in Athan, so I spent three years in Greece, teaching Englishwel and then, by some end of that time period. You've ended up making thechoice to go up to British Columbia, Canada and youv spent quite a few times.I mean literally, was it thirty years on a boat sailing the coast? It wasactually it was funny. I what happened after I finished work in Greece was I I went back to Australia and got a jobteaching in a primary school in Darwin, and that was around September and, ofcourse, in Australia. The school year...

...doesn't start until February. So I wentup to Dowan and I had to find some way to keep body and soul together untilFebruary rolled around, and I got a job as a cook on a mission boat and I couldn't cook. I think I could cok one soup but anyway and because we went back and forth fromthe Darwin Warf. I happened to knit to meet a guy and a Canadian man who wasworking on the wharf and from there we went don a ten months overseas tripthat sort of took us as far as we could go before he had to return to work, andso we ended up back in Bridige Columbia, which was the start of my time inCanada. And of course I sailed a lot and we started out with a small sail,boat and graduated to a larger one in the large one as it happens, and so wespent thirty some ideas cruising up and down the west coast. So you certainlyknow that terraine and that area, the people, the cultures and somehow youevolved, then into the author writer of mystery of the Dan Connor series that Iguess mostly is targeted around that region. Your four books in the Damnconter series dark moon, walking, black tied, rising Green River, falling andgray sea running all in the damn conner series. So it's interesting. How didyou choose mystery and tell us about the evolution of the primary character?Dan Connor as kind of your lead franchise? Well, it was ppartly serendipitous andpartly intentional. I've always loved mystery and I've always written ve,written magazine articles and uwsepaper articles and all kinds of things, but with it with the time on the coast, myhusband was an engineerer who worked in acommunity small, a small city in the interior of British Columbia, and that there was a company there. foresproducts company called Wire houser and they actually had the Canadian headoffice there. They had two polt mills, they had saw melled all kinds of thingsand they didn't have a single nativeCanadian person working for them. Even though there was a fairly large reservein the area and meanwhile I got a job working installing computers andtraining, people on that and many of the jobs were actually in firstnation ans. We called them in Canada, native communities and I found them.You know the people. I met there to be absolutely delightful, to be smart, tobe quick to be very friendly, very outgoing, very warm,and yet our co workers were all all had very negative opinions and then, withthe sailing that we did on the coast as w we kept our bigsailboat down on thecoast. We would go into many many needive communities because t theBritish Columbia coast is an interesting place. It's about athousand miles between Vancouver on the border with Seattle was with Washingtonstate and in between. There is a whole banch ofinlets, etc. But there is no road Acess, absolutely none the coast. Mountainsrun up and down there and it you can get there by boat. You can get there byclan, but that's it so we would go up and down and of course we would stop atmany of these native communities and the justaposition between theperception of basically white folks in the town, the city we worked in and thereality that we were finding with the native folks and getting to know themin the culture started to really work on me, and I thought you know how can Ido something anything to help...

...my potential readers, who wereobviously going to be mostly wait to get a better understanding, a bettersympathy, empathy with these people- and I knew the only way to do it. You know I gone back to college and Ihad my adult education degree and I thought well. You know you can't ep bigpeople over the head to change their perceptions to change their beliefs,but you can show them, and so I thought, okay, mystery.Mystery is a fast reed. Generally speaking it it's exciting. It keepspeople involved and it gave me the opportunity to create two characters,both Dan Konna as a detective and Waker. Who is a native person who I can placein such a position in these books that people get to understand exactly whatthat culture is and the relationships that go on and then very fortunately,the first book Floi the publisher and the contract has always said that bothDan and Walker must be in every book, so Dan, Connor and Walker, were theybased around any buddy in your own? You know your circles, your life experience,anybody that you actually knew or was this complete. You know how did thosetwo personas evolve for you or an you actually coined them? That's an interesting question. I knowthey weren't based, I mean every, I think every particular situation everyparticular character is made up in any book is made up of people. You haveknown, you know some of the personality some of the IDIOACRECI is etc, andcertainly some of the background knowledge, and so I needed somebody forthe main character, which is obviously Dan Conner, who was familiar with theocean. So CARNA has in fact grown up the son of a fisherman who is open to other people's and meetingother people, but it's pretty good on his own, and so I did have some friendswho were in the police force and one of whom had been and theundercover anotherhad spent many years working in native communities up north and I used them asreference and sort have built from their own the same as true ith Wacomand he's a mix of the various native people that I havemet so originally, then being as these two original characters. We'recertainly part of your own creation, and we will say part of your story ispart of your franchise. Your original contract with touchwood when they camealong and you've got your manuscripts to them, or they came upon you and theyrequired that both Dan Conner and Walker were going to be present everybook of what was then your ongoing relationship with them to create aseries they've become fairly substantially well known as charactersand the books are very well read. They seem to have been. I've had severalsuggestions from a variety of people that they might make them into a TV seriesin Canada. Nothing's covered that as of yet, but it would be interesting to dothat theyre. I guess tha there's a lot of action inthe books and there's a very vivid setting and ther used to be many yearsago a series set on the west coast, Molly'srich, I think it was called and at this would be somewhat similar if itwent that route. But who knows we'll see I'm enjoying writing them, so I itIjust, that's fine! Well, that's great, and then just because you already haveso many out for in the franchise wor, the fifth one coming out. I guess youhave a fifth one coming up as well. I do that's bout three quarters finishednow, and I've still got to do the the seond, the second edit. But yes, itshould be out probably the middle of...

...next year, okay, and that one is in thesame franchise again. The Dan Conner mystery series. Yes, at that, one isgoing to be called Pale, miss drifting and it's part of the series it's numberfive in the series. Okay. So how often are you franking these out? Well, the first one came out twothousand and thirteen. The second was, I believe, fourteen and then there wasa jump to sixteen and about every two years now roughly interesting. So isthat a comfortable timeline for you every two years as far as yourdeliverbales, when they say we need the next one from you. Basically, yes, Imean the first one that was less Tan less than two years, but it took a lotof time and I'm currently writing I like to write two books at the time,which sounds odd, but what I find that does is. I can work onthe first draft of one and then that gives me time to get distance from the Wen. I wrote previously sootherwise you can't go back and do and object about it right now. I'm alsowell starting to do the the second en on a literary novels, it a completelydifferent genre, so that won't come out until late next year or maybe evenearlyter year after right, and that one which is notrelated to the Damn Connor series is mystery, is a completely differentgenre. Like you mentioned, it's a literary novel: It's the color of love,a vastly different kind of book. Isn't it absolutely very, very different kindof book, it's a Verymatter of fact foo in some ways, but it's in part a Oh something about finding yourself. Isuppose it's a young man who has had a very, very difficult upbringing by avery cold and removed grandparent actually, and he has gone in search of himself, I suppose,by joining the military and he ends up in Afghanistan. Realizes he's made anabsolutely terrible mistake, but he's stuck there obviously, and at one point he comes across thislittle boy who is ortened by the war and tries to take him back to Canadawith him and learn to sort of belong the way. I guess I'm sort of givingaway a lot about the plot here, but he learns along the way that that you know,love comes in many forms. It sounds like thit would be a very robust global,arthouse, indhe coming of age, film and emotion picture in so many ways I meanit seems like it would have. Very you know deep vivid inmagery to it. I hope so I mean I was foctionate w e,when I came up with the concept, and you know people come up with rigt. Thiscome up with these concepts from all kinds of sources. Reading magazinesreading newspapers listening to newscasts, you know watching televisionwhatever and so the pieces shatd have all came together for this, and veryfortunately, when I first met my husband in Australia, an we did, thethe traveling we traveled from Australia to Germany as much overlandas we could and we went through Afghanistan, and this was a long timeago and at the time Afghanistan was in one of its very rare times of peace,and so I had the physical geographical background for the country, which madeit much easier, and I have several friends who have served there. So again,you know sort of SAR indefidence that I had that background, and so then youwere able to draw on it and for the first time, well, you've written a lot.I know back in your history, you've written quite a bit of everything youeven had weekly newspaper columns in entertainment or various magazineArticles, poems, etc, but considering the franchise that you've created inDan Connor and the mystery genre that series. This is an interestingdeparture for you, but it still sounds...

...like it still has a lot of rich,dramatic human compassion to it and maybe kind of a sense of mystery indthat you've got the evolution between two characters, a soldier and an orphanchild, and I'm just imagining what could evolve from that. I think I thinkin my background I have always had a lot of empathy with people who introuble who are dismissed whatever, and so that theme, if you will, thattone runs through pretty well everything I'ver written. It certainlyapplies here. Obviously, it's a very different plart, its it's a verydifferent style of writing, in fact, but that background interest inrelationships and and personal growth et c carries through that and hopefullywe'll carry through anything else. I write, I would think so. Do you findthe mechanics or writing because you've kind of gotten it down by now with thefive and the mystery genre, still applyd by the time you're approachingor getting into the production of he will of writing something new andmechanics are relatively the same as far as us, applying yourself as awriter. Aren't they there's a lot of similarities? I mean ever everybook hasa certain pattern. You use different styles. I guess you use in usual inmystery, and certainly in mine, there is it's heavier on dialogue which,which you know, dialogue, speeds things up, but in terms of the actual patternof writing yes mean wrating is writing. It whole point is to not onlycommunicate with your reader, but also allow them to step into the story, andso you know you have to write it in such a way that you invite them in now,your relationship with touchwood editions, the Canadian publisher, is itstill nicely ensconced and you're still delivering your work and your booksthrough them, or is this particular upcoming book, the new one going to bewith a different publisher, because it's of a different ilk different? Itwill be with a different publisher. I don't know who yet I may even selfpublish but touchwood does not publish literary novels, and you know they havelimited they're, a small publisher. They have a limited group of stylesthat they take on. So I don't know I may even look for it for an agent forthis hone. I did not have an agent with Touchwood, but I may look for an agentwith this one. Okay. Well, this is content for discussion here. So how didhow did touchwood with their limited select genres come after you and how doyou as a mystery writer? How did you find them if you didn't have somebodybridging at that relationship in that introduction in the middle? That is one of those again serendifitous thingsthat I fint keep happening. I actually have a friend who writes historicalnovels, well, some novels into some actual history and she had a newbookout and that was published by a Touchwood, and so she was havingbasically a launch party down in Victoria British Columbia and sheinviteded me to go and of course, because she had been published byTouchwood the people there were at this large party, and so she introduced meto the the director of touchwood and we just got chatting over calf a yeuraglass of wine. Actually, I think it was and she said so. What do you do, and I said,Oh, I'm writing to you know, and I have this and she asked about the book and Itold her and she said: Can You Send Me The manuscript, I said sure, and I didand she came back with a contract and is this an evergreen relationship atthis point? In other words, did they say? Okay of the Dan Conner series, welove it. It's a mystery thing, Damn Conner Walker have to be in at each andevery time what they do tell you have to come up with like what twenty onebooks ort over the course of a period of time. There was three: the originalcontract called fo three and was just...

...gone on from there. So it's just evergreen and you keep writing and they keep publishing an and there you go nowwhat happens if this really does become a Canadian television series or itmoves to a pilot, goes to motion picture. Do they maintain theirinterest in? Are they acting as the agent benefit goes to any other media?Yes, at the moment, because of the type of contract, and because of my completelack of knowledge about anything to do with TV or film or anything like that,they have the rights, and so they would they would be the one who would be incontact and they would be the one who would do the dealing, although at somepoint obviously they bring the arthor back in, and the author has the rightof refusal Etca but they're the ones that would make the initial contactwell. I would think that you know certainly Vancouver, which has becomeover the past number of decades, known as rather Hollywood northwest. So muchof the Hollywood machinery and the production is done up there inVancouver. WHICD seem to me that there's probably a lot of productioninterest to be able to get new content in there with the number of sort ofgeneral inquiries iverseive the amount of interest IV received from varioussources. I suspect that true, I don't know when, but yes, I would guess.That's probably true. Do you want to for the fans that are and your readersthat may be tuning in right about now? Do you want to give us any drop hintson what's going to be happening in book number, five for Dan, Connor and Walker?That might be a little bit of a not a spoiler, but you want to drop any seedsof inspiration for people to jump on the path and go pick up the book. Sure it's straying off the path a little inthat one of the characters hit's been consistent in the series not bycontract, but simply just because is clear and Claire is Dan's partner. Helost his first wife, which was an important part of the the first book,and then he met up also in that first blook later on. He met up with thiswoman Claire, who is she does research on the coast and so in all the otherbooks. Clair has been there researching seaidits, that's what she does, and sothis particular book clair is going to get an invitation to go to Australiaand there she is going to research dugons which ar related to Manitis, andso the book goes back and forth a little between Australia and Canada andin fact Dan Kona will spend a short period of time, relatively speaking inAustralia, because a crime that happens there is going to be related to thecrime that he is handling back in Canada. So because you've got a lot ofmulticultural impressions and influences going on here- and I knowpart of your mission in the first place was to bring out the rewards and theenrich the richness of the native community. What has been the reactionin the native community so far to these books as far as how theyre what theyfeel about it, given how you research their truths? Certainly the obviousnessof the sailing and your culture is very apparent because you've been on thewater for such a long time. A you know with your maritime interest as well,but tell me a little bit about the native community and their response toyour series. Actually, that has been possibly one of the most rewordingthings there's two two things that stand out. As you know, the is veryrewarding in this book other than this is basic success of it, and the firstthing is that that reaction of the need of community has been so positive. I'vebeen invited to speak numerous times in native communities. I was invited backto Hidaguai for separate times. I had the first, the first time I wentup there to attend a reading. One of the gentlemen in the audience who was ahider man, stood up and said to the whole audience. This woman gets it andit was interesting because you know it's been a time when there's a lot ofconcern about appropriation and about...

...people writing about other cultures,and I have had absolutely total acceptance of this. Thank you, I'm verycareful that where I do have some knowledge about various events andthings that are kept private within the group, I don't mention them. Sowhatever I speak about in terms of the culture is already out in the publictenue, so you do keep the element of integrity involved at all times. I doand I have head right, fromto the very first book, a native advisor who livesin the community that I'm writing about and that can go through the book andsay: Yes, that's exactly right or know. That's wrongan should change it. Wellfolks. This has been our j McMillan author of the dam, Conner series andmystery dark moon, walking, black tied, rising Green River, falling gray, searunning and a fifth one pale miss drifting coming out early next year,and while we can all say we don't know what brick and mortar bookstores arecarrying the books, but that's the nature of brickand mortar today anyway,rather, shall we say disappearing, they are available all online, your usualsuspects and, of course, on Amazon, both as inprint and Ebook editions,Rachel, R Ja, Macmillan. Thanks for your time with us today. Do you haveanything else? You want to kind of leave US wift. You have a website wherereaders fans listeners can come visit. Get to know you better or maybe take alook at some of your books directly. I certainly do it's. Just a j,mcmillancom and McMillan is sfpelt the Irish way, so it's MC millen not an,and they can contact me directly through the, and I understand that fromtime to time you might even do a little bit of teaching if somebody needs tolittle have coaching your inspiration from I do indeed absolutely well thereyou go folks. It's been R J McMillan today, right here with runnight on theWriters Block Rachel. Thank you so much R J for your time today and we lookforward to catching up with you later on down the line thanks SOM atron he'sbeen a delight. Absolutely thank you.

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