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Kindle Author Interview: Kevin C. Mills

Kevin C. Mills, author of Sons and Daughters of the Ocean, discusses his book, his journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about Sons and Daughters of the Ocean?

KEVIN C. MILLS: Sons and Daughters of the Ocean is a historical novel set on the coast of Maine. It is based loosely on my own ancestors, who were shipbuilders, merchant mariners and lighthouse keepers. The story is primarily about three young characters—Albert Miller, Sarah Dyer, and Sammy Jones. They are ultimately products of their environment and their lives are impacted and shaped by the fortunes of the sea. It is story of adventure, love, loss, and destiny. There are a couple of sample chapters on my webpage www.kevincmills.com.

It is also part of a trilogy. I'm just finishing up the first draft of the sequel, Breakwater, and will follow that with a prequel about the privateering age. Though all three books will stand alone, they will be linked to each other

DAVID WISEHART: What research did you do for the book?

KEVIN C. MILLS: It all began long before a novel was my purpose. I had developed an interest in my own family history. I decided to put together a book on that history and published it for the sake of various family members. I subsequently did another book on the life of my grandfather. After completing those projects, I was interested in getting back to writing a novel. Being a journalist, I tend to "Write what you know." Looking for story ideas for my novel, I became interested in a tale about the age of sail and thought I could base it upon some of the experiences of my ancestors.

That led me to reading a number of books about the age of sail, including Sailing Days on the Penobscot, written by one of my ancestors. I read a variety of books just to familiarize myself with sailing terms and strategy. At the same time, I was sailing on the three-masted schooner Victory Chimes on the coast of Maine each fall. My great, great grandfather built the first three-master of its kind in New England. So my experiences each year on the Chimes also gave me a little more familiarity with that kind of vessel and the coast of Maine. Many of the chapters were actually written aboard the Chimes.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you create and maintain dramatic tension?

KEVIN C. MILLS: The dramatic tension in this book is created in a variety of ways. There's the drama and adventure of two of the characters being at sea. There's also the drama of how the characters interact and relate to each other. Readers can feel the tension not only in the action of the story but also in the emotions of the characters. Because the story is written in the first person of those three main characters, the readers step into their shoes and feel the character's lives changing.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

KEVIN C. MILLS: This was a challenge because even though the main characters were somewhat based on real people, I knew very little about them. So, I was taking the basic knowledge I had of these people and their surroundings and built characters around them. It was fun to watch each character develop. As I wrote and felt that character, I could feel them evolve and take shape with their own personalities. I didn't sit down and plot out each character and how they would be. They just kind of evolved as their story did. The character of Sarah Dyer was one of the hardest because I was trying to write from the first-person perspective of a female. I lacked the right hormones for that.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

KEVIN C. MILLS: Readers who are interested in sailing and in history will like this book. At the same time, my intent was to make it more than just a book about sailing or about the history of the Maine coast.

It is based on the age of sail but it goes beyond just a tale about the seas. I tried to write it accurately and be true to the history of those ancestors and their surroundings. At the same time, I didn't want to bog the story down with a lot of sailing terms that most readers wouldn't understand.

It is just as much a story about the characters and their lives and destiny as it is about sailing. Thus far, a lot of readers have responded well to that. I've heard wonderful things from readers that had little interest in sailing but loved the story.

DAVID WISEHART: What did you learn from journalism that helped you as a novelist?

KEVIN C. MILLS: Actually, I felt being a journalist hindered me a great deal, at least initially. As a reporter, I'm used to having the story unfold before me. I gather up the facts, the perspectives of various people and write what I see and know. To sit down and try and create something from scratch was difficult. I'm not accustomed to making things up. That's kind of why I used my own family history as a bit of a framework for the story. I had a foundation of information. That gave me a starting point from which the rest of the novel evolved from.

Another factor was just finding time to write. When I'm writing stories each day for the newspaper, it was often hard to return home and feel like writing in my spare time. It took me time to develop a process and find time to implement it.

Once those hurdles were cleared, I think my attention to detail and story telling was aided by my writing instincts that I've developed over time. One thing I've always lived by as a journalist was something one of my college professors told me. "To produce good writing, you have to recognize good writing." I utlized that in the novel. I tried to learn and understand what make a novel great and interesting. By recognizing what makes a novel appealing to readers, it gave me better insight to my writing.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

KEVIN C. MILLS: I've described a lot of it above. Though I had started writing various novels over the years, this was my first truly serious attempt. That prompted a lengthy learning process. I not only needed to learn how to write, finding the time etc, but how to write creatively and in a way that would captivate readers. I also had to develop confidence in that work. I have belief in my writing but being so new to this kind of work, it took some time to develop that faith in it. So, overall, it was a lengthy process and a long learning process for me. I did learn a lot and still managed to produce a work that I'm very satisfied with and proud of.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

KEVIN C. MILLS: What I found worked best for me is to take things one chapter at a time. I've been able to do that effectively as I've begun work on other novels. I've plotted out the course of the books and have outlines in my head and a good idea where the book and story is going. What I often do is when I know I'm going to have time to write, I start thinking about what the next chapter should be. I let it play out in my head and thoughts. I watch it evolve and think about how it should be written. It is as if the chapter is acted out in my head. Then when I sit down to write it, I have an idea where I want the story to go. Once that chapter is done, I'll begin thinking about the next one in the same way.

Sometimes it doesn't really develop in my head at all. I'll think about it and mull it over and hope an idea comes to me, but it doesn't. Or maybe I'll find an unexpected time to write and haven't had much chance to think over the next chapter. I'll sit down anyway and just start writing from scratch. Quite often, the story just flows and it is fun and exciting to watch it develop right then and there. Most of the times I've done that, I've really liked what I've produced. I can't even think of a time in which I just wrote from scratch, off the top of my head, and then hated it only to delete it all.

Writing on the Victory Chimes was a great help and opportunity. It put me right into the chapter and what the characters were seeing and feeling. One chapter describes sailing into Brooks Harbor. It was written as the Chimes sailed Penobscot Bay and entered the very harbor I had based the novel on.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

KEVIN C. MILLS: Another factor in wanting to write a historical novel was Michael Shaara's book The Killer Angels, which the movie Gettysburg was based upon. I also read the other books in that trilogy by his son Jeffrey Shaara. Being a fan of history, I loved the idea of writing a historical novel like that. So with all the work that I had done researching my own family history, I thought I could kind of do the same kind of series.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

KEVIN C. MILLS: That's a hard question. Just like when I see a newspaper story or column written by another reporter, I appreciate that work but don't have any wish to duplicate it. So I rarely ever think in terms of wanting to write like somebody else. I have my style and stick with it. I like to look at other writers and recognize what makes their work so wonderful. I often learn from them that way.  While I was writing this novel, I read Richard Russo's Empire Falls. I was drawn into the book right away. One of the things that I loved about it was his ability to capture the reader with the story and the characters even if there wasn't a great deal of action in the plot. I think writing action and exciting story lines is a little easier, but to be able to pull a reader into the lives and personalities of the characters through small details and great writing was fascinating to me. It proved to be a great help to me as I wrote my novel and tried to expand my characters a little more.

DAVID WISEHART: How did you create your cover?

KEVIN C. MILLS: I had done a feature story years before on the Great Schooner Race on the coast of Maine. I had an abundance of great photos from that trip. One morning, following an evening raft-up with the schooner fleet, I was on the schooner Mercantile. We were anchored off in the fog away from the rest of the fleet. Some of the other vessels were still rafted up. It made for a great series of photos that morning. I chose one of those photos for the cover. I had no idea at that moment that I'd use it for the cover of a novel, but Maine Author's Publishing did a wonderful job in producing the cover that I had envisioned, even though the photo was a lower resolution than usual.

As it turns out, the cove that we were anchored in that night, is right beside the cove in which my ancestors built ships and sailed out of. It is the very cove in which Brooks Harbor is based upon.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

KEVIN C. MILLS: I've started with the usual avenues such as newspapers and the Maine Author's Publishing catalog. I have my own Facebook author's page http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/pages/Kevin-C-Mills/108913999141575. I'm also booking speaking engagements with various historical societies and libraries.

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

KEVIN C. MILLS: Being in the newspaper industry for 18 years or so, I've seen how media has changed and how the technology has evolved and subsequently impacted everything. Kindle is a perfect example of that trend. I see it not only as a new avenue to promote my work and get it out to more interested readers but also being part of something that is changing the industry. I can already envision putting my next novel up on Kindle the moment it is finished and making it available long before the published book version can be printed.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

KEVIN C. MILLS: Anyone following the trends of the industry can see how fast Kindle is making an impact on the industry. Digital media is where things are going these days, and to ignore that fact would be a great mistake. Being a self-published author, it is imperative to try any and every means available to get your work out there. Going the digital route right now is a much more cost effective means to putting your work out there.

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The ancestors before him were privateers, shipbuilders, merchant mariners and lighthouse keepers.

Kevin C. Mills is a product of his own rich maritime history. A love of the ocean and its history has been passed down from numerous Mills generations.

One ancestor was a privateer. Others fought in the Revolution and led the charge at Bunker Hill. A great, great grandfather built the first three-masted schooner of its kind in New England. His great grandfather was the longest serving keeper at Goose Rocks Lighthouse. His grandfather was an assistant keeper at the Rockland Breakwater.

Mills has researched that fascinating history extensively over the last decade. He spent over four years producing a 350-page book on his Mills family history. He followed that up with another lengthy project that chronicled the life of his grandfather in 325 pages. He has also transcribed diaries of both his grandfather and great grandfather, which included an account of life on a coastal schooner in 1883.

Sons and Daughters of the Ocean is the first novel for the award-winning journalist, who has spent nearly two decades covering sports from the high school to professional levels for many of New England's top newspapers.

This novel is based loosely on the maritime history of various ancestors. The characters are rooted in true life experiences from the age of sail and portray an accurate account of life many generations ago.

Mills is a native of Gorham, Maine and graduated from Gorham High School. He earned an English degree and a minor in Biblical Studies at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass.

After working extensively for the college newspaper, where he was a writer and sports editor, Mills embarked on a career in sports journalism.

While in college, he covered high school sports for the Boston Globe, was the sailing writer for the Lynn Daily Evening Item and covered local sports for the Portland Press Herald.

In 1992, he began working for the Lewiston Sun Journal. In addition to being the regular beat writer for the Portland Pirates for 10 years, he has also been responsible for the paper's award-winning coverage of women's sports, including soccer, basketball and softball.

He has also freelanced for a variety of other newspapers and magazines.

During his sports journalism career, he has been recognized on numerous occasions by the Maine Press Association and the New England Press Association. He has earned awards from the MPA seven times in the last eight years, including the Weekend Sports Feature of the Year in 1993, 2001 and 2002 and the Daily Sports Feature of the Year in 2007.

He has also been honored by the Maine Basketball Coaches Association and the Maine Intersholastic Athletic Administrator's Association.

Visit his website and find him on facebook.

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