Rural Minnesota life reflected in novel published by Perham grad

Haley McMillan (née Skow), who graduated from Perham High School in 2008, recently published her first novel: "The Hearts We Keep."

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Haley McMillan holds up her very first published novel, "The Hearts We Keep."
Contributed / Haley McMillan

PERHAM — Where we grow up has a tendency to impact the people that we become and the work that we do. For Perham-raised author and artist, Haley McMillan (née Skow), her early life in rural Minnesota has followed her and inspired her into adulthood, even after moving near Houston, Texas. This inspiration can be found in her first novel, "The Hearts We Keep," which was published about two weeks ago in late April.

"I used to write a lot of poetry in high school," McMillan said, reflecting on what made her fall in love with writing while walking the halls of Perham High School. "Mrs. Sedivy was a really popular English teacher, and she really inspired me to write. I took her college English class in high school, and I loved it."

Outside of her education, McMillan was quite busy throughout the community. She was 2007's Miss Perham and was also involved in ballet, band, choir, track and volleyball. The community outside of the education world may remember her from her jobs at the Gathering Grounds and Brew. She certainly kept busy throughout town before graduating from high school in 2008 and heading to the University of Minnesota in Duluth to study communications and Spanish.

She didn't stay in Minnesota for long, however. She ended up studying abroad in Spain before moving to Colombia after she graduated. Eventually, she came back to America with her husband, who is originally from Scotland. The two traveled south to Louisiana and Texas later on, where they now reside. Though McMillan was working in translating and consulting for a while, she never lost her passion for art. Just a few years ago, she transitioned to exclusively working on her art and creative endeavors, and along the way, "The Hearts We Keep" was born.

"Over the years, I started a couple of novels and never finished them," McMillan said. "(When writing 'The Hearts We Keep'), I just kind of let go of my expectations. I just started writing, and it just kind of flew — it took off. I wrote over the course of four or five months, so I wrote it pretty quickly."


This novel, which takes place in rural Minnesota, follows a young girl named Annie through her senior year of high school. Though classified as a young adult romance, the book is for anyone in their teen years or older. Annie starts out as innocent and even a little boy-crazy, but she matures throughout the course of the book, dealing with a lot of teenage insecurities and emotional experiences such as grief and loss.

"Anyone who's ever been a girl would love this book," McMillan said. "I think any woman from 16 on up would be able to relate to my character … I just honestly started writing what was true for me. I sat down and just began writing and this character just kind of emerged, and her story emerged from there. I think I drew a lot on my own experience, as most writers do to some degree. It just happened that way."

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Scan this QR code in order to view "The Hearts We Keep" by Haley McMillan on Amazon.

Though McMillan sees herself in the main character, she also sees Perham reflected in the setting she crafted for the novel. During the editing process, she was really encouraged to make the setting its own character, so McMillan put a lot of effort into incorporating Minnesota culture throughout the novel.

"I really focused in on what it feels like to be in Minnesota, from the food to the way the air feels to the way things look and the seasons," she said. "I incorporated all of those elements in here as well as the way that her parents are, the way they have dinner as a family — just the traditional Minnesota way of doing things."

Minnesota is all over "The Hearts We Keep" from the inside out, with its cover designed by McMillan herself. She finds that Minnesota isn't often represented in media, so she finds it important to shine a light on the culture and just how amazing it is. It's a special place for her.

In fact, the book's publisher, who McMillan connected with through a friend, also happens to be a Minnesota woman herself. This indie publisher, Meghan Hurley-Powell with Power Within Her Publishing House, went to middle school with McMillan in Perham before eventually graduating from Fergus Falls High School.

Currently boasting a full five stars on Amazon, "The Hearts We Keep" sold around 150 copies in just its first week of publication. Available in seven different countries and all throughout the United States, McMillan described the process of the book's release as fantastic, special and exhilarating.

"(Publishing my first book) is an amazing feeling," she reflected. "I think finishing the book felt amazing and then getting it picked up by a publisher was even more amazing. Having it in my hands is just surreal. This week, having so many people buy it and read it — I had so many people that read it in one sitting because it's kind of a page-turner. I've had just a ton of people say, 'I picked it up, and I couldn't put it down.' It's both terrifying and exhilarating to know that your book is out in the world and people are experiencing your story that you put out."


Though this is McMillan's first novel, she doesn't plan on stopping any time soon. The next book she plans to publish is a chick-lit romance geared toward adults. She also hopes to dip her toes into writing fantasy in the next couple of years.

"The Hearts We Keep" will be available for purchase at The Willow Bookstore in Perham on May 17. To view or purchase the book on Amazon, scan the QR code included in this article. For more information about McMillan's upcoming novels and works, check out her website or her Instagram .

"I just feel honored by all the support I've received so far," McMillan said. "It really is a special thing to experience."

Elizabeth (she/her), 24, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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