It is called Sons and Daughters of the Ocean. It is the first of a three-part trilogy that is based upon my own family history. My ancestors were shipbuilders, merchant mariners and lighthouse keepers on the coast of Maine. This historical novel is loosely based on some of that history. It depicts three young characters that grow up in a small coastal Maine town where the age of sail effects all aspects of life. All three characters are impacted by that environment in ways they never expect.
Tell us something about yourself.
I’m a sports journalist in Maine. I grew up in Gorham, Maine and have spent most of my life in this state. I began writing as a kid and always wanted to write a novel. I had tried a variety of ideas but never found something I could truly pursue and complete. It was one of the last goals I had set for myself coming out of college that I hadn’t yet achieved.
What inspired you to write this book?
I had done years of research on my own family history. I produced two books as a result and had them printed just for family members. In wanting to achieve my goal of writing a novel, I was trying to come up with a story idea. In journalism, we’re often told to “Write what you know.” Having done so much research on family history and having started to sail regularly each year on the three-masted schooner Victory Chimes, I started to piece together a story in my mind about following the sea based on my ancestors. I loved the historical trilogy that began with Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels”. I decided I wanted to do a trilogy based upon my family history. This novel is the first installment. A sequel is being written now while a prequel will follow.
How did you choose the title?
The title is used in a toast in the novel. It comes from a traditional toast by sailors. After my first sail on the Victory Chimes, a few passengers and crew met up at a local watering hole and the first mate did this toast.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
The hardest part for me was that I’m accustomed to writing as a journalist. We don’t make things up as journalists. When I write a newspapers story, I have the facts and people’s perspective and my own insight and knowledge to piece together into the article. When I’d sit down to write this novel, I didn’t always have that information before me. Having this novel be based on family history helped in that regard because I had a basic theme and plot. I still had to shape this story and the characters on my own. Initially, it was a challenge to not only find the time to write but also train myself to write in a very different manner than I do as a journalist. As the book progressed, that writing processed evolved greatly, and I was able to formulate the story and characters in my mind and watch them develop.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I’ve been telling stories since I was a little kid. In first grade I’d get up and tell stories off the top of my head in class. Eventually, I could see I had a gift for writing and wanted to utilize that as a sports journalist. I got involved in the newspaper business while in college. I also wanted to write a novel. So I had toyed with a number of different ideas and stories. I began doing that while in high school and college but none of them truly evolved into anything.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I would often mull over the next chapter in my head. The story would almost be acted out inside my mind. I could picture the setting and hear the characters and let the scene play out in my thoughts. Then I’d sit down and write it. Sometimes I wanted to write but had not had a chance to process something in my mind or had tried and not produced anything. So I’d sit down to write and just let whatever flow out. It was hard to get started that way, but it was often quite thrilling because a lot of chapters would just flow and evolve right then and there.
Another aspect of the writing process was the fact that many of the chapters were written while I was sailing on the three-masted schooner Victory Chimes. I’d be sailing along the coast of Maine, the very shores, harbors and seas that the novel is based upon. I’d write while we sailed or were at anchor. There’s one chapter in which a schooner arrives in Brooks Harbor. I wrote it as we sailed into the cove that Brooks Harbor is based upon. Another chapter was written while at anchor in that cove,and it reflects the very setting I experienced that evening. The fact that it was the very cove the story is based upon brought a great sense of realism to me and a connection to the ancestors I was basing the story on.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
Almost all of the characters were based on real people. They were either based on my ancestors or people that were connected with my ancestors during that time period. I didn’t know any of these ancestors and didn’t know their personalities or what they were like. So I kind of had to channel my own impressions of them and create the characters that I saw in them.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?
I learned a lot about my own writing process. Writing this novel was a struggle at times. This was the most serious effort I had put into producing a novel. Still, I wasn’t sure of what I was doing or how I was doing. I trust my skills and instincts as a writer, but it was still very foreign territory for me. Since this novel was published, I’ve started in on the other two books in the trilogy. I’m thrilled with both of the upcoming works because I can see the difference in what I’ve learned. I have a greater understanding of how I write and I how process the story and bring it to life.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
I asked myself this question many times as I finished the novel. I had learned so much by the end of it, I wondered if I should scrap the entire thing and start over. I wondered if that would make it better. But I ultimately decided that the book was what I wanted it to be. Just before I had it published, I was having it read by others. In the meantime, I sat down with a proof myself and read it. I really enjoyed it. I had been detached from the editing process enough that I could just sit back and read it and enjoy that story and how it evolved. I was very pleased with it and soon developed even greater confidence in it. Subsequently, it answered this question. As far as writing it, I wouldn’t change a thing or do it differently.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?
I meantioned The Killer Angels before by Michael Shaara. I also have read a number of historical novels by his son Jeff Shaara. While I was writing this novel, I read Richard Russo’s Empire Falls. That was a great help to me. I could see how he created a story, characters and rich detail and had me drawn into what was happening even if there was little action in the story at that point. I think I learned a lot in bringing out the characters in my book a little more after reading his.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
The sequel to this novel is called Breakwater. It is loosely based on my grandfather. It takes place a generation or two after Sons and Daughters but both stories are linked to each other. A few characters even make a cameo. I hope to have it finished sometime in the next year or so.
I’ve also started the sequel, called Sea of Liberty. It is a generation or two before Sons and Daughters. It is based upon my ancestor that was a privateer and fought the British before and during the Revolution.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Take your time. Do it the way you want it and do it right. One thing I would change if I could is that I originally published this novel too quickly. I was anxious to get it done and published. I went through an online publisher and made it available. It was fine. The cover art wasn’t as great as I thought but I was limited in what I could do. When I had finished a nonfiction work a year later, I decided to try a local self-publisher and opted to have the novel republished. They were able to do the cover just as I wanted and both books came out at the same time. I wish I had just been a little more patient with the first try. But, during that process, I also could see better what limitations there were through the online publisher and what I truly needed to market and promote my work.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
Obviously, it is a historical novel. Readers interested in sailing or the Maine coast or history would be drawn to this book. But, at the same time, it really isn’t about sailing. It is about the lives of three characters and how their environment shapes them. It is as much about love, destiny and faith as it is about sailing.
I think it is a good depiction and accurate portayal of life and times during that age of sail. I tried to be accurate with detail and terminology but also tried to avoid making it too bogged down with sailing terms that most people don’t know.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
My website is www.kevincmills.com and my author page on Facebook is http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/pages/Kevin-C-Mills/108913999141575