This post features the Priorhouse Interview with blogger Trent McDonald.
How did this interview come about?
When Trent announced the release of his latest book, The Old Mill, earlier this year (2021), I set up the interview because I have been following this book project from the beginning in 2016. I also was around for some “cover reveals” and then had the chance to read the book.
Brief Overview of The Old Mill
A stench lies on Avebury, New Hampshire. It isn’t something that one can smell, it is more of a psychic soot polluting everybody’s mood. No one recalls when it arrived, but there does seem to be a connection with the Old Mill and its mysterious new owners.
In his 19 years of living in Avebury, Gill Baxter has both grown into the town’s fabric and has let the fabric of the town grow into him, so much so that few remember that he isn’t one of the age-old locals. There is one thing, though, that separates him from a true local. Being from “away”, Gill missed the rite of passage that every school child has gone through, the late-night visit to the Goode Mansion to meet one of Avebury’s most celebrated citizens, the ghost of Martha Goode. At least for those who believe in such things.
To help satisfy his curiosity, Gill’s house keeper sets him up on an after-dark date to visit the Goode Mansion with her sister, and Gill’s secret crush, Lyndsey. Gill and Lyndsey’s experience confronting the ghost of Martha sets the ball rolling that might uncover Avebury’s darkest secrets. With Avebury entering a new “time of dying”, seemingly at the hands of the long dead Thomas Goode, the man said to be responsible for the first “time of dying” in 1821, will Gill succeed and perhaps drive off the black clouds, or will the evil forces streaming out of the Goode Mill, the Old Mill, win, destroying everything, and everyone, that he holds most dear?
Priorhouse Interview with Trent McDonald:
Question #1: Can you tell us about how The Old Mill unfolded. As noted in this blog post opening, I have been following along since 2016 and feel a connection.
Trent: The writing of The Old Mill had an odd beginning. One day in late 2016 I decided to write a one-off little character sketch about a town eccentric named “Galvin” for my blog. About three months later I wrote and posted another slice of a story where the idea of the old mill came into play. I added my premade character Galvin to this snippet. After that, I just had to go on! I wrote (and posted) the next chapter off the cuff, as I did the others, but with the idea that it was going to be part of a larger story. Funny thing, as soon as I wrote it, I remembered a story idea I had many years ago. It was a ghost story where the person being haunted discovered the answer to a century old mystery. That old story quickly became the root of the new one.
As you may have guessed, I wrote this entire rough draft as a serialized story on my blog. I added a new chapter almost daily, pretty much posting each chapter the day it was written. I followed closely to the outline of my original story, but discovered that the ending was not very satisfying, so I added several chapters to tie it all up. There were other main differences, like having Jessica and Lyndsey in the mix, but the core of what happened in 1821 came directly from the story I had written about two decades ago.
There were a few issues that made me sit on the story for a couple of years. One is that parts of the story were too similar to the book I published around the time I was writing The Old Mill. I did make some changes to that book, The Halley Branch, to get rid of a few of the similarities, but I had already decided to put out two books in between these two ghost stories.
A lot changed in those two years as I was waiting. When I picked The Old Mill up again, I decided to do an almost complete rewrite. The story on my blog was first person in Gill’s point of view (POV). The new one was in third person and changed POV on a chapter-by-chapter basis. I also added two new main characters and a couple of minor ones. And then I decided to add chapters jumping back to the 19th century to give a first-hand view of the needed history instead of having people talk about it. Overall, I added a lot of detail to try to make the town and its people real instead of cardboard cutouts.
The rewrite actually went very smoothly and didn’t take very long. I called this my first real draft. Drafting and editing after that was long, but not too bad. Most of the year and a half between completing the revised first draft and the final edit overcoming motivational problems as much as writing problems.
Question #2: Thanks for sharing that with us, Trent. Regarding that little note at the end – the part about your needing to “overcoming motivational problems as much as writing problems” – well that is something most writers can relate with. Can you share a little more about some of your experience as a writer – and do you take time off to get some writing done?
Trent: I walk quite a bit and I often write stories in my head while walking. I have gone out for a 15-minute walk and come back with a complete, complicated story.
One thing to remember, when I write, I type in a story as fast as I think. I have written, and posted on my blog, 1000-word stories on 15 minutes breaks during work. OK, for something that quick it is usually already in my head, so it is just typing the words out as fast as I can. That means it might be two breaks – one a short walk where the story is “written” and the second break for my fingers to take dictation on an already written story.
So that answers your question about taking time off to write; it is a big, “no”. I don’t watch TV or anything like that, so I can usually find time to write, even if it is just a few minutes here and a few minutes there. Stitch them together and there is a huge amount of free time.
When it comes to advice about writing, I will start with the one everybody brings up – read. You can’t write if you don’t read. There has to be some grounding in there.
Everyone has their own style and I think a lot of it has to do with where they are coming from as a person. Even though someone might describe me as an “antisocial introvert”, which would be fair enough, I am a student of human behavior and I try to reflect that in my writing. It doesn’t matter if the story is contemporary realism, fantasy, urban fantasy, sci-fi or horror, I think the core of my writing is the people and personalities in it. I have been told many times that people really enjoy my naturalistic dialogue. So, for me, that life observation is the first part.
Question #3: When you write, are you a planner?
Trent: I am what might be called a “classic panster”. What that means is that I often write by the seat of my pants as opposed to planning everything. I will get an idea and just start writing and not stop until it is done. The work itself will dictate the direction as it goes. Remember, I wrote The Old Mill one chapter a day, posting the chapter that very same day. I did not have time to outline or plan.
That being said, I can also be a planner. The Old Mill was based on a story I had already written in my head. Since I knew where it was going and some of the points it had to pass through, it was easy to just fill in the blanks as I was writing instead of going rudderless into the untracked ocean. (I have done that rudderless thing in the past!)
With The Halley Branch, I started off just writing, having no idea which way to go, until I was about a third of the way into it. At that point, I took a day and made a quick outline. The rest of the book followed that outline, but I left wiggle room – you just can never tell where the muse will take you until you get there!
For many of my short stories, after I get the initial idea, I work the story out from beginning to end in my head before typing the first word. I do that to some extent with a lot of my longer fiction as well, though I have experimented with pure, 100% “panster” style in my longer works. My two novellas, Towards the Light and The Mad Quest, are great examples of writing from beginning to end off the top of my head.
Question #4: What’s something about your signature style as an author?
Trent: Most of my stories have a bit of the fantastic in them. I think that is keeping my imagination alive and thinking, in many ways, like a child. Greet the day with open eyes and look for the fairies at the bottom of the garden!
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. Same with writing. The more you write and the more feedback you get, the better you will become. To me, the perfect place for that type of practice is participating in the numerous writing prompts on the different blogs.
There is one large piece of advice that is the most important of all – to borrow a phrase from a popular shoe brand, “Just Do It.” When I talked about the history of The Old Mill, did you catch that it was based on a story I wrote in my head many years ago? Well, that was not the first, nor the last, story I worked out in detail in my head without writing down. You will never, ever write a novel unless you actually sit down and write a novel. That sitting down and actually doing it part is the hardest part.
Question #5: Can you give us information for accessing a copy of The Old Mill:
- Trent’s World Blog – The Old Mill Book Release Post:
- Amazon Author Page:
Priorhouse top takeaways from The Old Mill
1) The Old Mill has characters with depth.
The careful attention to detail allow us to feel The Old Mill characters with depth. For example, we meet the character Lyndsey Wallace as she is going through a challenging transition – she has career success but something is wrong -she has a tense, heaviness that leads her on a mission to explore the events of 1821 and to then find out how those events might be impacting the now. This is where some of the fantastic and supernatural comes in. As noted before, this supernatural genre is not my everyday reading – but once in a while I get to explore it. Trent’s Lyndsey Wallace blog post is HERE
Another example of character depth comes with Martha Goode – who was the first resident of the brand new Goode Mansion. Her brith into this world came shortly after the family farmhouse burned down. As a young adult, Martha developed into an astute business woman – paying workers well and transforming the Goode Mill (the old mill) into a thriving, profitable entity. She went on to lose the mill, but kept the mansion. Trent noted how the Goode mansion, which Martha was able to keep, was “defined by her” and it also “defined her.” Little things like this dichotomous connecting among characters kept me thinking about the layers of the human condition. Kept me thinking about how our upbringing, profession – and even residence – connects to our very essence. The characters Trent developed here the right amount of detail to give us a feel for their story while fitting into The Old Mill story. Trent’s post about Martha Goode is HERE
2) The Old Mill was easy to read and I say that with great appreciation. As a reader of mostly non-fiction, and as a person who likes to get to the point quickly (ha…) – I was not in the mood for a huge mental challenge in a story and certainly not in the mood to get lost trying to figure out who did what or if a scene was past or present – and so Trent did a GREAT job with keeping the reader on track throughout the story (while still giving us depth and fortified details).
Here is an example of the clarity Trent gave with setting details that also connected to Trent’s social psychology angles.
3) The Old Mill has the richness that comes from Trent’s social psychology side. Trent knows culture and he adds little cultural details that enrich the fiction. For example, in one scene with Gill, we are in this modern workspace – with technology and multiple devices. Trent notes that Gill’s “daily commute” is the distance between computers (so culture rich):
Another example – from the scenes in the past – came with Margaret’s “curtsy” (whispering of the past feminine and masculine social behaviors and all that came with that):
Thanks so much to Trent for this interview and for sharing about his latest book.
Now over to readers – here are some questions for you:
Have you followed any authors with a project from start to finish?
Did you also know Trent hosts a chellenge called the Weekly Smile, which has brought a lot of encouraging vibes to the blogosphere and might be something for you to check out.
Have you read The old Mill?
Any questions for Trent?
Priorhouse Update – Ideas for Writers
I normally like to add some resources for writers at the end of some of my book reviews –
and so for this post – here are four ideas for you to consider today
A) First annual Thursday Doors Writing Challenge is underway. The Challenge is for doors photographers and writers who want to write about a door. Seven people have already contributed to the writing challenge. If you want to read their entries, or join them, visit the newly established Writing Challenge Page to see all the posts and / or choose a door from which you can draw your inspiration. Create your written product and share it with us on any No Facilities Thursday Doors pages during the month of May.
B) Little Dorrit reading challenge – read, skim, watch, or listen to the book Little Dorrit by Charles Dckens and then WRITE a short post about it on your blog (a master link will come soon – for more info – go to this Priorhouse post or over to Trent’s blog (here). We are giving away a $25 Amazon gift card in a raffle – all who share a post or chime in will be entered to win it.
If you want a free copy of Little Dorrit – the Gutenberg Press has many free options here:
C) Marsha Ingrao hosts a Wednesday Writing Challenge (info here) and the last two themes for May are:
- May 19: Healing
- May 26: Hope