Interview with Debra Milligan

Who are your favorite writers?
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Victor Hugo, Blaise Pascal, and Louis L’Amour. It is difficult for me to cite favorite works because each work that I’ve read from each writer has taught me many things. For F. Scott, there is THE GREAT GATSBY and his unfinished THE LAST TYCOON; for Hugo, LES MISÉRABLES and poems from LES CONTEMPLATIONS; for Pascal, LES PENSÉES; and for Louis L’Amour, THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, HONDO, and RADIGAN.
How do these writers influence your work?
From F. Scott, his lyric imagery was the most influential. Also, the way in which he weaves the story with a very natural, direct but poetic voice.

From the great Victor Hugo, I learned the most, probably because he was the powerhouse of poetry and prose. Specifically, I learned how to move the point of view from the universal to the particular, and vice versa. There were also the architectural details through which Hugo could exhaust the reader but probably not himself.

Blaise taught me how to organize my thoughts in a concise, logical, linear order and how to express prose sparingly but powerfully. The artistry of the man has been overshadowed by the truth of his opinions. For Pascal, beauty and truth are synonymous.

Mr. L’Amour instructed me in the fine craft of narration. His narrative voice is pure, his prose condensed and moving.
What inspired you to write an epic War Novel on the scale of The Dawn?
I’d always wanted to write a war novel so the impetus was there. Quite unconsciously, I pick up ideas and images. This process began in childhood, and so the necessary bits and pieces and assorted images were already in my mind.

When I was in my mid-20s I read Wouk’s THE WINDS OF WAR; I believe the kernels of THE DAWN formed during that time. Then after 9/11 I became quite focused on the France of today and I was dumbfounded to realize that among all of the French people I’d known, some of whom had been children during WWII, no one spoke about that war.

“Vichy” was stated, with a distasteful look on the face, and that solitary response was the sum total of the French speaking about WWII.

The silence and mystery intrigued me. I began to research the war years in France. In particular, I read THE DARK YEARS (several times) by Julian Jackson. I could not have written this epic without having read and analyzed his superb book. There were too many tales not told, too many truths hidden, too many sorrows still buried. Little did I know that my novel would become an enormous excavation project!
What led you to choose the south of France as the setting for The Dawn?
Originally I had placed the novel in the north of France because of the atmospherics – romantic, moody, so perfectly in tune with the darkness of the war. The more I researched the war in France, the more I knew that the resisters would have had an extremely limited range – or freedom -- of activity. I could not place Camille and her daughter into such a harrowing setting and expect the plot to work out.

Within the space of an hour, I found pictures of Roussillon online and I immediately knew that village was the primary setting. I even recall that very warm afternoon in September 2008. I had to drive my daughter to her college classes and I did not want to tear myself away from those ochre cliffs!
What led you to choose Scotland in 1919 as the setting for The Ghost?
THE DAWN functioned (and still functions) as the master-book from which many other plots evolved. I’d devised a subplot where Camille is spirited (!) away to Scotland for safety during the war. It was totally inconsistent with the plotline, improbable, unnecessary and yet, for some reason, I wanted to write a story located in Scotland! Arthur in THE DAWN mentions spending some time in Scotland after the war, so I suppose I was going to go there with him.

On New Year’s Day 2013 I was doing online research about the year 1919 and stumbled (if one can digitally stumble) across the tragic sinking of the HMS Iolaire on the Hogmanay 1919. The story took immediate form and I had to go with it!
How do you create your characters?
I do not create characters in the conventional sense of the word. I discover them, perhaps as a way of discovering truths about myself. I have been drawn to certain individuals because of the complex conflicts with which they struggled. Sometimes I was struggling with similar conflicts; sometimes I had very little in common with their internal tugs-of-war. But there was a part of me that perceived those conflicts for use in developing a fictional character. I would hypothesize how that particular type of person would behave under certain circumstances to either resolve the conflict, run away from it, or, tragically, to deny its existence.

For me, the conflict drives the character, not the other way around.

I am not aware of this almost scientific analysis of a person during the time that he or she is part of my life. Years later, after this person is no longer a part of my life, I come to understand the dynamics within him or her; the drivers that compelled the individual to make certain choices instead of other ones. I am then able to gain insight into how that type of character grappled with the forces of life as they either made or unmade him, and what he was making of those forces.
How important is the role of research in writing historical fiction?
I could not write historical or any other type of fiction without research. Most of my work is research. I “see” the scenes during the time that I read history or probe the flora and fauna of a countryside setting. I am not one to just make-up a complete story line in my head. I must have a concrete canvas to work upon.
What inspires you to write poetry?
Usually some words form in my mind in a rhythmic sentence. Then the lines begin to flow, one by one. And I must write them down. Precisely what inspires that impulse, God only knows. I think that statement comes closest to the truth of my inspiration.

Initially, a “vision” forms in my mind. Poetry is the best way for me to express it. I often write poetry as a formative stage of composing prose for fiction.
What Projects are you working on now?
I am researching (activity that also involves periodic composition) 4 novels: 2 westerns, a medical novel, and The Northern France novel.

There is SILVER DAGGER, set in Truckee, California in the late 1880s.

There is THE SILENT HEART, set in Montrose, Colorado in the mid-1890s.

There is SHADOW, set in Denver, Colorado in 1905.

And then there is THE LAST WALTZ. This novel is the one that I “removed” from THE DAWN. It takes place during The Battle of the Bulge. I’d read more than one military history book on this Allied campaign precipitated by the assault that was Hitler’s last gamble. It would be a shame to let all that research go to waste. I did, however, toss out the hand-written notes as part of the purge from the post-publication of THE DAWN, but new notes are being made for this novel so that it has its own true origin!
What advice would you give to beginning writers?
I would advise, first and foremost, to develop clarity of thought. One enormous reason why I learned the French language was to study French literature and to thereby hone my thoughts in terms of clarity and precision and strict logic.

A writer must observe the world accurately and with matchless originality. Your “voice” as a writer will evolve from your unique way of seeing things around you. Strive to see the world with your eyes. Dream big, and work toward that dream. Be original, not for the sake of originality, but to be yourself. Your writing will flow from that marvelous sense of self.

My website,, offers ideas of value for any writer.
Published 2018-08-31.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Somewhere in Time
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 3,470. Language: English. Published: February 26, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs, Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
Written in memory and in honor of dearly departed friends and lovers, Somewhere in Time offers 20 poems as tributes to the enduring trust of amitié, true friendship. The author believes that to touch the heart of another is to know the essence of love. True friendship is that love at its highest level. These poems aspire to reach that height, that niveau, a nirvana of trust and solace.
The Widower and other Short Stories
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 6,940. Language: English. Published: February 12, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary, Fiction » Romance » Short stories
Debra Milligan presents a quintet of short stories about love and growth, the catalysts for life that translate well into fiction. Each story is set in a different era, with conflicts and resolutions that transcend time. The Widower, Sound of Goodbye, Rainy Dreams, The Highway, and The Christmas Lunch are tales of love reaching toward the future, not easily, but with the certainty of true love.
The Point of the Sword
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 35,770. Language: English. Published: October 31, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Historical » USA, Fiction » Romance » Historical
The Point of the Sword is a powerful love story of a man of experience, and of the enraptured coming of age of a girl of independence. Set in 1925 in Ship Bottom, New Jersey, this novel presents Andrew Derwent, formerly of the Royal Navy, who has moved to America to start a new life; and Sabine Mercier, a painter. They meet, by chance, on the pure white sands. Their lives will never be the same.
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 6,070. Language: English. Published: June 18, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs, Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
Gambit: a stratagem, scheme, or tactic. Life — and love — are full of risks. Sometimes we win; sometimes we lose. The important thing is to keep playing. The 26 poems in Gambit reveal the ways in which the gambit has paid off or has not, but the game of life — and love — must go on. The author offers these poems as chances to see life, and love, even destiny — in winning ways.
Je me souviens
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 2,300. Language: French. Published: February 10, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » French Poetry, Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
Je me souviens, poésie des souvenirs d’amour. Il y a onze poèmes ; chacun rappelle une fleur qui fleurit mais ne s’effacera jamais. Debra Tanis Milligan, l’écrivaine, offre ce volume de poésie à ceux qui veulent se souvenir. . . des sentiments du passé qui vivent de nouveau dans le moment : amour, chagrin, crainte, extase, douleur, passion, la joie sublime, même le don d’un miracle.
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 4,440. Language: English. Published: January 4, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs, Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
The sacred trust between two people: man and woman, woman and child, child and God, friend and lover — is the major theme of these 22 poems by Debra Milligan. How does anyone believe promises of the heart, promises in the dark, promises brought to light? Faith is the key that unlocks the door to every confession; doubt seals it forever with betrayal. The commitment to faith leads to true love.
The 4 Seasons
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 9,850. Language: English. Published: June 5, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs, Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
Many years ago, Debra Milligan had a dream in vivid colors. She was gazing from the upstairs back porch of her childhood house, across the 4 back yards of the neighbors’ houses. Each yard was one of the 4 seasons. Inspired by this dream, The 4 Seasons presents 4 volumes of poetry: memories of innocence, harmony, forgiveness, girlhood, passion, true love, betrayal, renewal, serenity, beauty.
L'Amour à Paris
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,870. Language: French. Published: January 30, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs, Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
L’auteur a découvert l'impulsion pour ces poèmes pendant une semaine de décisions concernant sa vie quotidienne. Une épiphanie de son passé se réalisait au présent : les émotions qui avaient été sans voix pendant des années, elles trouvaient une voix française. Cette voix chantait soudainement: Amour à Paris, douze mois de la poésie du coeur. La poésie commence en décembre et se finit en novembre.
Coming Home
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 2,020. Language: English. Published: December 27, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
These 12 poems are imbued with the sense of “Coming Home,” be it a place, a time, or a state of mind. Each poem is a homecoming for the heart. Themes include carrying on to honor a beloved; atonement, bringing the heaven of love between two equals; protection of memories too close to yet be touched; the journey and arrival of the heart in various venues.
I Will Wait for You
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,890. Language: English. Published: December 23, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs, Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
This cycle of poetry is above love. The choice of any person to leave the herd - to mate with another - is a brave, bold act. He is alone, free, and vulnerable. Only then can he truly love. The themes of these eight poems run the gamut from love that frees the soul to love that imprisons the heart. The lone rider of this human emotion, love, makes the choice to love fully or not love at all.
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 2,770. Language: English. Published: December 20, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Contemporary Poetry, Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
The 10 poems of Lighthouse speak truth: poetic truth, tragic truth, the truth of joy, the truth of loss, the truth of love, the truth of power, the power of truth. Each poem is a beacon of light to guide the soul through the dread-filled night and to brighten the spirit to a better day. May Lighthouse guide the way for anyone who reads these poems.
Moon Glow
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 3,850. Language: English. Published: October 6, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs, Fiction » Poetry » American poetry
Moon Glow is a summer cycle of sixteen poems by Debra Milligan. Written during the space of four days in August, these poems express the glow of love, as symbolized by the moon. Themes include true love, betrayal, the justice of the heart, heartbreak, the healing power of love, freedom, fate, and the majesty of the nightly stars as the spirit of unconditional love.
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 3,990. Language: English. Published: April 24, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs, Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
During the course of writing letters to friends, business associates, and loved ones, Debra Milligan recognized far too many poetic phrases and images for her to ignore. She started her new year of 2015 by composing CORRESPONDENCES, the final volume of the quartet of spring poems. Each poem is a message of correspondence – among love, life, art, and friends.
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 3,200. Language: English. Published: April 24, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs, Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
Flight is the third volume in the quartet of spring poetry by Debra Milligan. Each of these 16 poems is an invitation to a voyage in flight for anyone who dares to dream, for anyone who dares to let a reverie soar. Flight then is timeless for anyone who yields to the desires of the heart to fly, to take wing and to reach new heights, to aspire to a firmament of one’s own making.
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 3,460. Language: English. Published: March 20, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs, Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
Peacock is a cycle of 12 poems about the dances of love. The author was inspired to write this poetry by a wish to once again possess two eye shadows of iridescent hues of blue-green and gold. She’d thrown them away, deeming them garish. And then she wanted them back. Each poem invites readers to embolden their colours, to enrich their dances of love, and to live life as if it has just begun.
Lilacs in Bloom
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 2,920. Language: English. Published: March 20, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs, Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
Lilacs in Bloom presents 16 poems by Debra Milligan. This second cycle of a trilogy of spring poetry celebrates this herald of spring: the heart-shaped lilac in bloom. Love is in the air for the fortnight during which lilacs bloom. Themes include the many sensations of love; the pain of heartache; the glorious renewal of life through yearning, through forgiveness, through any new beginning.
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 5,210. Language: English. Published: December 6, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
Equinox occurs twice a year, on 20 March and 22 September. It is the autumnal equinox which colors and shades these 20 poems by Debra Milligan. She writes of time: the interludes in life and the transitions, marked by the equinox. These poems speak of the effects of the equinox upon grief, joy, forgiveness, love, parting, faith, solitude, hope, and betrayal, and other moments in our lives.
Solstice II
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 5,190. Language: English. Published: December 6, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs, Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
SOLSTICE II by Debra Milligan is the logical, creative counterpart for her cycle of poetry, SOLSTICE. SOLSTICE celebrates moments of being; SOLSTICE II celebrates moments of passage in each of these 21 poems. The winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere produces the longest night and the shortest day during the moment of solstice, but every moment can last forever if it is fully lived.
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 3,310. Language: English. Published: August 3, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs, Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
A collection of poems to bookend the cycle of poetry entitled Voyage. The writing of these pieces began with a spark - the wish for a “Happy Solstice” from the daughter of Debra Milligan. Eight days of busy creativity brought about seventeen poems amidst a blaze of summer sunlight. The themes are interwoven with the start of summer, this celebration of one season for everyone to enjoy.
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,920. Language: English. Published: August 3, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs, Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
Enthusiastically encouraged by a friend to publish her poetry, Debra Milligan presents Voyage, a cycle of sixteen of her poems. This writing was originally published under the name Debra Tanis Milligan since many of these pieces were written prior to her marriage. Themes include love and loss, time, and the wisdom of art.
The Ghost
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 68,030. Language: English. Published: July 27, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Plays & Screenplays, Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom
Julia Mac Vicker is a young widow working in Glasgow, just after the Great War. Grief-stricken, she takes the first steps of her new life. At first, she is scarcely aware of The Ghost - the spirit of her dead husband, Heath, who drowned in the Minch on New Year’s Eve of 1918. Julia experiences foul tertiary, anguished memories and eerie sensations that are, indeed, senses-beyond-the-senses.
The Dawn - Volume II
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 650,440. Language: English. Published: September 2, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » War & military adventure
The year is 1942. The French Resistance continues covert operations to achieve their ultimate goal: liberation. THE DAWN reveals the story of a French aristocrat, a US Army colonel, and the woman they love. It chronicles the dramas of the dark years in France, 1940-1944. The fierce need of the human will for liberty is pitted against the tyrannies of evil. The battle for freedom is joined.
The Dawn - Volume I
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 462,690. Language: English. Published: September 2, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » War & military adventure
The year is 1940. France falls. The battle for liberation begins. Set within the many landscapes of France and England. THE DAWN reveals the story of a French aristocrat, a US Army colonel, and the woman they love. It chronicles the dramas of the dark years in France, 1940-1944.The fierce need of the human will for liberty is pitted against the tyrannies of evil. The battle for freedom is joined.
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 71,760. Language: English. Published: September 1, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » General, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense
In NORTHSTAR, the fate of Northstar Dam is threatened by environmentalists; the fate of fiery Shannon Caine is threatened by corrupt politician Adam Van Tress. Engineer Thomas Martel gets embroiled in this mayhem while a crusty old geologist tries to stop his world from coming down around him. Set in Truckee in the Sierra Nevada, NORTHSTAR is a bumpy ride in the black '65 Mustang of Shannon Caine.
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 30,780. Language: English. Published: September 1, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Coming of age, Fiction » Historical » Victorian
Nocturne reveals a girl’s coming of age during 1888-89 in Georgetown, D.C. The remembrances of Amelia Prescott are heightened by a sharp wit and telling details that chronicle this year in her life. Abandoned by her parents, Amelia is saved from despair by the loving hand of her aunt. When that hand dies before her eyes, she struggles to prevail over her pain through the art of music.