Author Features

MEET: Claire McMillan author of “Alchemy of a Blackbird”

Claire practiced law until 2003 and then received her MFA in creative writing from Bennington College.

author Claire McMillan
Alchemy of a Blackbird by Claire McMillan

What was the last book that you read that you’d now recommend?

The Guest by Emma Cline. I’d like to read a hundred books just like it. And I just got around to reading The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel and really loved it.

Have you read any classics lately that you were reading for the first time?

I just reread Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady and some of his choices in telling that story were so confounding.  All the things that take place off stage – the proposal, the whole courtship really, the wedding, the honeymoon – make it even harder to understand why Isabel Archer chose the awful Gilbert Osmond.

Do you re-read books   And if yes, what was your last re-read?

Yes. I write the date and place that I’ve read a book on the inside flap of all my books. So when I reread I know where I was and how long ago it was and think about my reaction – if it’s changed.

What are your go-to genres?

Literary fiction, historical fiction and I do like to read a bit of romance. I enjoy well-written banter. Emily Henry and Annabel Monaghan are so good at that.

What is your favorite childhood book?

The Frog Prince. My grandmother bought me a beautiful copy on a trip to London with illustrations by Paul Galdone. Her inscription to me is very dear. I read that copy to my children when they were little. Though reading it with older eyes, there are a few eyebrow-raising plot points as there are in many Brothers Grimm tales.

What books are on your bedside table right now?

The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P Hall. I dip in and out of that, because it’s a lot to process. He wrote it in 1928 as a comprehensive guide to all things masonic, hermetic, kabbalistic, and rosicrucian. And a journal where I try to record my dreams in the morning.

Do you bookmark or dogear your page in a book?

I underline and write in the margins of all my books, so my most often used bookmark is a pen which is both inefficient and bad for my books and pens. I try to use those little Post-it flags if I have them on hand instead. My notes are why I really hate to loan my books. I feel like my scribblings are so revealing. I like to bring new books to friends though, especially as a hostess gift if I know their taste.

What is your ideal reading setting?

My bathtub for sure. I can cycle through a good amount of hot water and usually emerge as a prune.

Tell us about your favorite indie bookstore?

Cleveland is blessed with two very fine indies – Mac’s Bacs and Appletree Books. I know people at both so asking for recommendations always leads to new discoveries.

Claire McMillan's - favorite bookstore

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

It wasn’t early, but working as a lawyer for almost a decade taught me about precision in language. When I first started writing fiction seriously, I had to learn to unravel a bit of that rigidity.

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

I’m on the board of trustees of the Mount, Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, Mass. That was my first literary pilgrimage as she is one of my favorite writers.  My first visit impacted me greatly. She helped design the house and oversaw its construction so being in a physical space that she created made her a real person to me and not just some intellect floating in the ether. I’d love to visit the Chateau de Monte-Cristo just outside Paris, which was Alexandre Dumas’ home. I say home, but it really is an extravagant castle.

Where do you get most of your writing and editing done?

At my desk, which is wide but rather narrow. My preferred writing environment is a silent house with no one home. During covid everyone was home so I learned to hide out in our back guest room to work on Alchemy of a Blackbird. A closed door can also mimic that still and quiet house energy, just in a smaller space.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

I would say it submerges me. On the best days I’m in a different subterranean world. Coming up to surface can be a long, slow process or a phone call can bring me right up to the surface immediately. After a good day of writing, I’m always a bit discombobulated.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I have three unpublished and a couple more unfinished. Most of them have been stripped for parts and used in other books, so at this point they are mere skeletons.

Do you read your book reviews?  How do you deal with bad or good ones?

I look at the pre publication trade reviews and the reviews that come out right after publication. Of course now on Instagram and Twitter I get tagged in reviews, which is often so fun because you can see who is reading. It feels more connected somehow than Amazon or Goodreads. Goodreads is for readers, not writers.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

The more authentic you can be, the better the writing gets.

When you’re not reading or writing, what are you doing?

Hiking, meditating on nondualism, swimming in deep ponds and small lakes, searching for the true nature of reality, burning incense, consulting my tarot cards, chanting, researching ancient religions, trying to project myself out on to the astral plane. You know- the basics.

What are your three favorite things right now?

Pilot G2 pens, coffee always, and a tiny perfect ceramic by the late artist Toshiko Takaezu that my husband bought me for my birthday. Her ceramics are so other-wordly and yet earthy, like space rocks. They vibrate with life.

What is your favorite travel destination and why?

Paris is my all-time favorite, but I’m dying to go to Mexico City as part of Alchemy of a Blackbird is set there. Leonora’s Carrington’s house is open as a museum and the largest collection of Remedios Varo’s paintings is held by the Museo de Arte Moderno. Of course I’d have to go to Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s home. I’ll have quite an itinerary when I finally get there.

What’s your favorite meal and go-to drink order?

Though it’s not a meal, my favorite food is birthday cake – my own or anyone else’s. I’m not particular about it – grocery store, homemade, fancy bakery – they’re all good. I will always say yes if offered a slice of cake, no matter the occasion, preferably with a cup of coffee.

Claire McMillan's - favorite food to eat

What six people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?

Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Pamela Colman Smith, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, and Michelle Obama. Of course, I’m having a panic attack just thinking about actually sitting at that table.

If a movie was made of your life, what genre would it be, and who would play you?

A fantasy film, heavy on the supernatural. I’d like an ancient crone to play me.

What’s the last TV show or movie you watched that was really good?

Succession, of course. Like everyone else, I was obsessed, and the writing is brilliant.

You have to sing karaoke; what song do you pick?

I’d try my best to dodge it as my voice is atrocious, but I’d choose There is a Light That Never Goes Out by The Smiths as I’ve sung it many times in the car.

If you were being taken to a deserted island and could only bring one book, what would it be?

I’ll say Middlemarch by George Eliot or Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, neither of which I’ve read, and both of which seem like they’d last me a good long time.

Alchemy of a Blackbird by Claire McMillan

Buy Alchemy of a Blackbird by Claire McMillan from: AMAZON / BOOKSHOP


Last Updated on July 28, 2023 by BiblioLifestyle

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