I was extremely pleased when Valerie agreed to take the time to answer a few questions that I had emailed her. Typical of her and her writing style, her responses were thoughtful and insightful. Her latest book is The Current Between from AOS Publishing, and I reviewed it here.
Bio: Valerie Mills-Milde lives and works in London, Ontario. She is the author of After Drowning (Inanna Publications) which won the Silver Ippy (Independent Publisher Book Award) for Contemporary Fiction. Her second novel, The Land’s Long Reach was a finalist for the “Very Best Awards” from the Miramichi Reader. Valerie’s short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals and a collection of these was a semi-finalist for the St. Lawrence Book Award.
(James) Thanks, Valerie for taking the time to answer a few questions. With the release of The Current Between, you are now the author of three books. I consider that a major accomplishment! How does it feel to have three novels (and well-received ones at that) under your belt?
(Valerie) Thank you for asking about that, Jim. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to have “achieved” in life, and how we define achievement for ourselves. When I was thirty, I only wanted to see my short stories printed in literary magazines. When that happened, I was over the moon! And then in my mid-forties, I started to contemplate writing a novel, and when the first book received an offer to publish, I was in disbelief for a long time. Having those “firsts” in print felt like a huge achievement, gratifying and terrifying by turns. The experience is a little different now for me. Having the work published is wonderful but as cliché as it sounds, the writing process is where the gratification truly is. The world is full of great books, and I’m not sure I’m doing much for humanity by adding my pedestrian effort to the pile. But I confess, the creating that goes on in putting together a novel, however confounding it is sometimes, is deeply gratifying.
(J) The “feel” of The Current Between impressed me. It takes place in November, and I really think you captured the dreariness of the month. That the only living things outside of the people are the unfortunate minks (which are barely alive) and horses used to draw the wagons. There is such a pall of death surrounding Connor! Did you actually go out in some heavy weather to experience it? Did you go out on the lake?
(V) I grew up sailing with a father who loved to go out in all kinds of weather, and so I suppose I have experienced many “Great Lake” moods. There is something astonishing about the changeability of the lakes, how they are so altered by the progression of seasons. The rhythm of change makes me think of seasons in a person’s life. I guess I find a human quality in the lakes, maybe because they are limited like we are (unlike oceans). There is the famous Gordon Lightfoot song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald which I have been listening to for most of my life and still love, and Lightfoot’s voice and his lyrics seem to hold the poignancy and inevitability of the storm and how it takes hold of us, and the lakes in November.
(J) Tell us about your writing process. You work full time so when do you find time to write? Do you write at a desk, or do you write here and there?
(V) The writing happens when I can find the time. I’m not a “get up at 5:00 a.m. and write for two hours” person, but I am pretty structured in my approach. I do set goals, particularly around segments or drafts. I like to set timelines for myself. For the historical pieces, I do a lot of research and I consult with people who know more about the subject matter than I do. I write an early draft quickly, usually in longhand, and then with a rewrite, the entire piece is turned inside out and becomes something completely different. I write many drafts and like you’ve heard from lots of authors, the rewrites are where the really good stuff shows up.
(J) I thought the character of Kat was interesting. You made her an undertaker’s assistant, one who cares for preparing the body for viewings. She’s really an artist who tends for the deceased as carefully as she does the living. Was there a particular reason you gave her this role?
(V) Yes, Kat sort of surprised me as well. What I wanted to explore in this novel is the ineffable thing that connects people and how the ruptures or interruptions in connection happen. Kat is a conduit between the living and the dead. But on a relational level, she connects her lover, Connor to his son, Harry. I think women often serve as connectors, particularly between fathers and sons, and both Kat and Flo, the telegraph operator in the book, do the work of transmission, in Kat’s case, of grief, loss. But as characters, they are more than their professional roles, each possessing something inspired – a talent, a sensitivity – which uniquely serves them in channelling the deepest of human intention and care.
(J) When you are not writing or working, what do you enjoy doing?
(V) When I am not writing or working (I am a clinical social worker with a private practice), I love to spend time reading. And as I get older, I spend a lot of time outside. For part of the week, I live in an old stone farmhouse in Huron County where we are rehabilitating a small spruce plantation. It’s a wonderfully therapeutic enterprise, seeing living things push their way up from the ground.
Valerie’s “Why I Wrote This Book” story appears here.
James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.