Interview with Millys Altman

What can you tell us about yourself?
When I was born, my father was the doctor for a large coal company. We lived in a mining patch, and I could call it a "log cabin beginning," a favorite claim of politicians, but I would be stretching a point since our house had electricity and running water. One old timer told me, you lived in the row with the "rich people." From his perspective, we did. Our house bordered on the main dirt road in a line with the mine officials. As a miner, he made about a dollar a day and the company houses were shelter and not much more. My father went into private practice, and we moved into town when I was ready for school. This early beginning and my memories of my father as a country doctor formed the background for my adult novel, "Innocent Strangers
When did you first start writing?
Raising three boys with my architect husband was a full time job for me. Today, I marvel at working mothers with young children who still find time to produce books. I got my first dishwasher as soon as they came on the market, and by that time, my oldest son was five. Microwaves were unheard of. I like to think that I have a lot of valid excuses for not writing stories earlier. Only when the boys were in their teens and I had some free time did I start to write, and it was slow going at first. For years, I don't think I had written much more than my name on a check or signed a report card. Once I got into it, however, writing absorbed me, and I found that the simple act of scribbling was invigorating.

In my mind, it is unfortunate that my college degree is in Home Economics. I think I would have been ahead of the game if I had studied English literature and poetry and the classics and the other writings that you are exposed to with a liberal arts degree. Or, it certainly would have helped if I had a degree in business, sales or marketing. I am certainly not alone in wishing I could have my druthers.
But I did have one advantage. I started to read books from an early age. Growing up, my sisters and I always had our noses in a book. We didn’t have televisions so that's how we filled our time. I always had books on my Santa list. I devoured the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew, and I loved Elsie Dinsmore. Has anyone today every heard of Elsie Dinsmore? My boys were also readers and they brought me to John MacDonald and Ray Bradbury and other writers whose books I might not have picked up my own.
What was your first book?
My two older sons were car buffs, and they became professional sports car racers. They raced their Porsche all over the East and even raced in Atlanta and Sebring in Florida. If anyone had told me when they were little that some day I would be watching a car on a race track flash by me at high speeds with one of the boys behind the wheel, I would have laughed at the notion. But, their racing was a family enterprise, and I had to be a part of it, although I had many heart-stopping moments. We never know what the future holds, do we? I used my experience during this racing period to write my first book.

"Racing in her Blood" is a young adult novel. I didn't get too ambitious with my first effort so I wrote a shorter book. When I finished it, I packed it up and sent it off to New York. Now, I can hardly believe that I actually thought that sending a manuscript unsolicited and unagented had a chance. Yet, one Monday morning, I got a call from Lippincott. They liked my book. Could I come to New York? You can imagine my excitement. I was thrilled! It was a long time before I realized how fortunate I was.
Have you had any other books published?
When I wrote my historical mystery, Innocent Strangers," I chose the town where I grew up as the setting since I could write with confidence that I had the background of the story right. The period in the 1890's when the town thrived in the coal and coke boom was a rich resource for a novel.

An agent marketed my manuscript, "Innocent Strangers," She thought the book was good, and she said, "I read a lot of mysteries." But her opinion was not the one that counted, and I was not as fortunate with this adult book as I had been with my young adult book. For whatever reason, my agent was unable to sell it. I put the manuscript aside. When indie books came along, I saw that I had an opportunity to publish "Innocent Strangers," on my own.
How has publishing as an eBook worked out for you?
I wish I had known more about publishing a book when I took on this project...All of the different formats that you have to know were Greek to me, but I learned, and I managed to get "Innocent Strangers" online as an eBook. At the time, I knew nothing about Create Space or other venues that I could use to simultaneously publish the manuscript as a trade paperback. Then, to show you how ill-informed I was, I sent a copy of the manuscript to Kirkus Reviews for a critique while the book sat online like an orphan. I did no promotion for the six weeks that I waited to hear from Kirkus. Talk about dumb! I felt as though I had to have a professional opinion to successfully promote the book. I was anxious to hear from Kirkus, but also I was scared at what the report might say. The review that came was well worth the wait. The words, "a perfectly crafted mystery" leaped out at me. My heart pounded. I was on my way!

So, with high hopes, I got into this book business in earnest, and what a lot I had to learn! I did not know the first thing about promoting a book, but I have doggedly kept at it. I have a website, an author page on Facebook, and Goodreads and I do tweets. I look back at where I was a year ago, and can hardly believe what I have accomplished. And it is all worth it when I go online and see that I have sold a book. I get a fleeting pleasure when I think that someone unknown to me is reading my book. Incidentally, the first book I sold was on Smashwords, and I had to tell someone so I called my son and said gleefully, "I sold a book!" I don't think he was impressed, (he says he doesn't read fiction) but he did his best to share my enthusiasm.
Published 2014-02-21.
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