An Evening with Candice Millard Thursday, April 11, 2024
7:00 PM - 8:00 PM


River of the Gods Book coverThe Davidson Distinguished Lecture Series presents "An Evening with Candice Millard," acclaimed and award-winning writer of narrative nonfiction.  She is author of the New York Times bestsellers The River of Doubt, Destiny of the Republic, Hero of the Empire and River of the Gods.  During her Midland presentation, Millard will discuss these stories of courage and determination, ambition and envy, genius and desperation, triumph and regret.  She will explain the elements of effective storytelling, detail her writing process and share stories from her own, often-harrowing, research trips. 

Millard's book Hero of the Empire was named Amazon's number one history book of 2016.  She lives in Kansas City with her husband and three children.

This event is FREE; tickets are not required for General Admission seating.  Preferred seating and reception/meet and greet with Ms. Millard are available for Midland College Friends of the Series and Distinguished Donors ($1,000 minimum donation in 2024). 

In anticipation of the event, Ms. Millard answered the following questions.

How do you choose your topics?

  • I am extremely picky about my subjects. I think that the idea is the most important part of a book, so I spend a lot of time and do a lot of research before I commit to one. Of course, I have to have a great central story and fascinating characters to work with, but I also need mountains of primary source material. I have to know that I will be buried in letters, diaries, newspaper articles for years. That’s the only way I will have all the important things that a writer needs for narrative nonfiction:  reliable facts, interesting dialogue, and all the little sensory details that, you hope, will make readers feel like they’re really there.

How long does it typically take you to research and then subsequently write a book?

  • Most of my books take roughly five years. I spend the first two to three years doing research--working in archives, traveling to where the story played out, and reading everything I can get my hands on. Then I spend at least a year working on the outline. I don’t know that everyone would agree that outlining is important, especially novelists, but when it comes to narrative nonfiction, I think that it is essential. At least it has been for me. I don’t begin writing until the last year, and by then I know the story so well and have such a clear understanding of how I want to tell it that the writing itself is usually pretty painless.

How did your tenure at National Geographic contribute to your writing?

  • I always say that my real education happened at National Geographic. That’s where I learned about storytelling and, more important, research. I learned the importance of going to where the story played out; of finding the experts, people who have spent their entire careers studying the various subjects I am hoping to write about; and organizing my research and my thoughts before even thinking about writing.

What were some of your favorite books or authors when you were growing up?

  • I spent most of my childhood reading. We had a wonderful public library in my small hometown, and my parents were both readers, so we were there every weekend, picking out our books for the week. Some of my favorites as a child were The Borrowers, a book called Sprout, and anything by Judy Blume, and then I moved on to books like The Outsiders, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Count of Monte Cristo, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which was the first book that made me realize that books can do more than educate or entertain us, they can transport us. It was my first experience with literature. 

What authors would you invite to a personal writer’s group?

  • My first choice would have been David McCullough, but we lost him two years ago. He has always been the person I most admire as a writer. Among living nonfiction writers, I would invite Laura Hillenbrand, Erik Larson, Annette Gordon-Reed, and David Grann. I would also love to mix in a few novelists, anyone from Ian McEwan to Kate Atkinson.

What types of books do your children enjoy?

  • One of my greatest accomplishments in life is to have raised three children who love to read, although they all read different things. My oldest loves the classics, her favorite book of all time is Les Misérables, which she read first when she was fourteen and has re-read several times since. My second daughter loves all of Sally Rooney’s books, but I think her favorite book is The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. My son mostly gravitates to nonfiction, especially anything involving airplanes and exploration. 

How have your travels influenced your writing style?

  • I can’t imagine trying to write my books without first seeing where the stories took place. First, there are so many questions that cannot be answered from a distance. For instance, I did not understand how Theodore Roosevelt and his men could be starving in the Amazon rainforest--one of the richest ecosystems on earth--until I went there and realized how quiet it is, how good every animal is at hiding. They are much better at not being prey than we are at being predators. Traveling also connects me to how it felt to be in these circumstances. Even a century or more later, you can often still see what the people you’re writing about saw, smell what they smelled, even taste what they tasted. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, travel gives me an opportunity to meet people--experts, local historians, descendants--whom I never would have known if I hadn’t taken the trouble to go to where they are.  


 Photo credit:  Paul Versluis


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