Wow, I’ve seen the map for your Let It Snow Tour 2013. What a labor of love!
How did you come up with this idea?
I’ve dreamed of being a writer for 37 years, and I’ve been trying to get published for 13. But hard on the heels of that dream was another one…of going on the road once I had a book out, and meeting the people who supported me during all the time it took to get here. I met many of those people online, and I’m deeply aware of how forums and Facebook and listservs and Twitter all widen the world we live in. But there’s something about a real time, face-to-face meeting. I want to shake hands with people who helped me. I want to say hi to readers I never would otherwise have known, hear their stories because they have done me the honor of wanting to know mine.
How long are you guesstimating it to be so far?
As of now we have a few legs planned. One that runs north from Connecticut down to Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi, then out west to Colorado, and back through Wisconsin and Michigan. Another that goes up to Vermont, before running south again to Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. And then we will head west to San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle—and it’s not clear where we’ll go after that! Here’s what we’ve got so far though: http://www.jennymilchman.com/tour
How in the world did you get DH to agree to such an extended trip?
Why do you think I took all those middle-of-the-night feedings? No, I’m just kidding. I am lucky because my husband is an incredibly supportive guy. He believed in this dream of mine even when I didn’t. There were many times during those thirteen years when I felt ready to give up. When I would’ve given up, if it weren’t for some pretty major hand-holding. And our vision of Book Tour (it looms with capital letters in our minds) kind of grew for both of us together. We took our first cross-country drive to visit bookstores in 2010, before I even had a book contract. And as we saw all those wonderful stores, it just kind of planted a seed of hoping my book might be there one day. We knew we had to get back. I feel deeply lucky because it’s a ‘we’ kind of thing. I don’t think I could do this as an ‘I’.
Are the children excited and how did you arrange this with their schools, unless you home school?
The children are very excited—they love our time on the road. But I have to admit that when you say the word school, it is the one heartache of this whole thing, and I have tears in my eyes as I write this. Our kids go to this amazing charter school in our hometown. They’re two years apart and they’ve been there since my daughter started kindergarten. The school does all these cool things, like spending a part of the day outside to study the natural environment, and the teachers are…well, let’s just say that if I had teachers like them, I probably would’ve gotten better grades. Anyway, I’m just putting off saying the hard part, which is that because it’s a charter school, their places can’t be held when we go away.
We’re trying to look at this as a meant-to-be type thing. In some ways, we’ve wanted to live in a different, more rural area—maybe this will be our push to find a new home. But I feel real sorrow that we are losing this place that has been so good to our kids. I feel like we have to find someplace pretty special to live up to what they’ve had.
And till then…guess we’ll be car-schooling!
You have a lot going on besides writing. What is the Debut Authors Program?
is the largest organization of thriller writers, and they have a program for Debut Authors. It comes with all these fantastic opportunities—like at the yearly conference, you get to sit up on this massive stage and talk about your first book at a special breakfast. Or this event that’s coming up in April called Palm Beach Peril, hosted by Stacy Alesi aka the Book Bitch. But more than parties or panels, the Debut Program is about building a community amongst people who write and read what we love: thrillers. The writing community is one of the most welcoming I’ve ever found…ITW has taken that and made into an official program.
What inspired you to found Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day?
In 2010 I had two young children I was bringing to story hour at our local bookstore almost every week. My kids probably didn’t realize it was as much of a treat for me as for them. Which started me thinking—were other parents in on this secret? How many children knew the pleasure of spending time in a bookstore?
I frequent the mystery listserv, DorothyL, and a more avid group of readers you couldn’t hope to find. When I floated the idea for , bloggers on the listserv spread the word. My husband designed a poster, a website, and bookmarks, and we designated the first Saturday in December as Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. This would coincide with holiday gift giving, hopefully giving people the idea that books make great presents. Just two weeks later, 80 bookstores were celebrating.
A bit about Made It Moments, Writing Matters, and your teaching, please.
is a forum on my blog that began when I felt had no right myself to be writing. I’d been trying to get published for nine years, and I felt as if I was failing. But I wanted to begin connecting with readers and writers, and a blog seemed like a good way to do it. I decided that if I asked writers one question—How did you know you’d made it?—it would accomplish two things. One, I wouldn’t have to write anything myself. And two, maybe I’d find some inspiration to keep trying.
is a series that’s held at a wonderful, cozy independent bookstore called Watchung booksellers in the town where I grew up. My co-host is one of the booksellers, and we brainstorm topics—anything from Can Writing Be Taught? to Putting the Mist in Mystery—and invite authors and publishing people to appear on panels. Some of our guests are local, but some come from far away—one publisher of a small press came all the way fromSeattle toNew Jersey! And we offer food and wine and in general have a great time. Even though the web has expanded our world in invaluable ways, I think we will never lose the need for in-person, human connection. Especially over books!
What were the most valuable lessons/information you learned in the eleven years you were trying to get published?
You’re right—it was eleven years till I got the offer on my debut novel. The single most valuable thing I learned was how important it is to reach out to other people. I think that’s an important lesson for writing, and for life. This is not something we can do alone.
How thrilling was it to have your short story, “The Closet” appear in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine?
It’s funny, I wrote the short story ‘The Closet’ in about four days, and it’s one of the few things I’ve written where very few words got changed. As soon as it was done, I knew two things. First, I’d conveyed the heroine Ellie’s story just as she would’ve wanted it, and second, that my dream home for this story was the oldest mystery magazine in the country, Ellery Queen. Of course, I knew that is one of the most selective pubs, and not a good place to try and start out with. But I refused to submit anywhere else. After I sent the story, almost five months passed, and even though I realized that meant it probably hadn’t been taken, I still didn’t touch that story or do anything else with it. And then one day the editor,Janet Hutchings, emailed me to say she wanted to publish it in the Department of First Stories, and I sat back and thought, Ellie knew this would happen.
So it was one of those thrills that felt like destiny, and I will always be grateful to Janetf or seeing something and making both of us—Ellie and me—feel real.
Please tell us about your debut novel, COVER OF SNOW.
The idea behind was a question that grabbed me around the throat and just wouldn’t let go. What would make a good man do the worst thing he possibly could to his wife? Of course, first I had to figure out what that ‘worst thing’ would be, but once I did, I had a premise and an opening scene that persisted over many years and about twenty-two drafts. (Oy). Another way to describe Cover of Snow is with this log line: When her police detective husband commits suicide in the middle of a frozen Adirondack winter, Nora Hamilton must lay bare the secrets a town has always kept…as well as her own.
Waking up one wintry morning in her old farmhouse nestled in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, NoraHamiltoninstantly knows that something is wrong. When her fog of sleep clears, she finds her world is suddenly, irretrievably shattered: Her husband, Brendan, has committed suicide.
The first few hours following Nora’s devastating discovery pass for her in a blur of numbness and disbelief. Then, a disturbing awareness slowly settles in: Brendan left no note and gave no indication that he was contemplating taking his own life. Why would a rock-solid police officer with unwavering affection for his wife, job, and quaint hometown suddenly choose to end it all? Having spent a lifetime avoiding hard truths, Nora must now start facing them.
Unraveling her late husband’s final days, Nora searches for answers—but meets with bewildering resistance from Brendan’s best friend and partner, his fellow police officers, and his brittle mother. It quickly becomes clear to Nora that she is asking questions no one wants to answer. For beneath the soft cover of snow lies a powerful conspiracy that will stop at nothing to keep its presence unknown . . . and its darkest secrets hidden.
My husband wasn’t in bed with me when I woke up that January morning. The mid-winter sky was bruised purple and yellow outside the window. I shut bleary eyes against light that glared and pounded.
A second later I realized my toes weren’t burrowing into the hollows behind Brendan’s knees, that when I flung out my arm it didn’t meet his wiry chest, the stony muscles gone slack with sleep. I slid my hand toward the night table, fingers scrabbling around for our alarm clock.
It was late. As if drugged, my brain was making sense of things only after a dull delay. But it was a full hour past the time I always woke up. We always woke up. Brendan slept a cop’s sleep, perpetually ready to take action, and I had been an early riser all my thirty-five years.
Bits of things began to take shape in my mind.
The morning light, which entered so stridently through the window.
Brendan not in bed with me. He must’ve gotten up already. I hadn’t even felt him move.
But Brendan had been working late all week; I hadn’t yet found out why. My husband had good reason to sleep in. And if he had risen on time, why didn’t he wake me?
I felt a squeezing in my belly. Brendan knew I had an eight o’clock meeting with a new client this morning, the owner of a lovely but ramshackle old saltbox in need of repair. My husband took my burgeoning business as seriously as I did. He would never let me miss a meeting.
On the other hand, Brendan would know that if I slept late, then I must be worn out. Maybe getting Phoenix off the ground had taken more out of me than I realized. Brendan probably figured he’d give me a few extra minutes, and the morning just got away from him.
He must be somewhere in his normal routine now, toweling off, or fixing coffee.
Except I didn’t hear the shower dripping. Or smell the telltale, welcome scent of my morning fix.
I pushed myself out of bed with hands that felt stiff and clumsy, as if I were wearing mittens. What was wrong with me? I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror and noticed puddles of lavender under my eyes. It was like I hadn’t slept a wink, instead of an extra hour.
“Brendan? Honey? You up?”
My words shattered the air, and I realized how very still our old farmhouse was this morning.
Padding toward the bathroom, one explanation for the weight in my muscles, not to mention my stuporous sleep, occurred to me.
Brendan and I had made love last night.
It had been one of the good times; me lying back afterward, hollow, cored out, the way I got when Brendan was able to focus completely on me, on us, instead of moving so fiercely that he seemed to be riding off to some distant place in the past. We’d even lain awake for a while in the waning moments before sleep, fingers intertwined, Brendan studying me in a way that I felt more than saw in the dark.
“Honey? Last night tired me out, I guess. Not that it wasn’t worth it.”
I felt a smile tease the corners of my mouth, and pushed open the bathroom door, expecting a billow of steam. When only brittle air emerged, I felt that grabbing in my gut again. Cold tile bit my bare feet.
My husband never started the day without a shower, claiming that a night’s sleep made him ache. But there was no residue of moisture filming the mirror, nor fragrance of soap in the air. I grabbed a towel, wrapped it around my shoulders for warmth, and trotted toward the stairs, calling out his name.
Could he have gone to the station early? Left me sleeping while my new client waited at his dilapidated house?
“Honey! Are you home?” My voice sounded uncertain.
No answer. And then I heard the chug of our coffeepot.
Relief flowed through me, thick and creamy as soup. Until that moment, I hadn’t let myself acknowledge that I was scared. I wasn’t an over-reactor by nature usually.
I headed downstairs, feet more sure now, but with that wobbly, airless feeling in the knees that comes as fear departs.
The kitchen was empty when I entered, the coffee a dark, widening stain in the pot. It continued to sputter and spit while I stood there.
There was no mug out, waiting for its cold jolt of milk. No light was turned on against the weak morning sunshine. Nobody had been in the icy kitchen yet today. This machine had been programmed last night, one of the chores accomplished as Brendan and I passed back and forth in the tight space, stepping around each other to clean up after dinner.
That thing in my belly took hold, and this time it didn’t let go. I didn’t call out again.
The sedated feeling was disappearing now, cobwebs tearing apart, and my thinking suddenly cleared. I brushed past the deep farm sink, a tall, painted cabinet.
With icy hands, I opened the door to the back stairs, whose walls I was presently laboring over to make perfect for Brendan. Maybe, just maybe, he’d skipped his shower and called in late to work in order to spend time in his hideaway upstairs.
The servants’ stairs were steep and narrow, with a sudden turn and wells worn deep in each step. I climbed the first two slowly, bypassing a few tools and a can of stripper, then twisted my body around the corner. I took in the faded wallpaper I’d only just reached after months of careful scraping.
Perhaps I didn’t have enough momentum, but I slipped, solidly whacking both knees as I went down. Crouching there, gritting my teeth against the smarting pain, I looked up toward the top of the flight.
Brendan was above me, suspended from a thick hank of rope.
The rope was knotted around a stained-glass globe, which hung in the cracked ceiling plaster.
Brendan’s neck tilted slightly, the angle odd. His handsome face looked like it was bathed entirely in red wine.
Suddenly a small cyclone of powder spilled down, and I heard a splitting sound. There was a rip, a tear, the noise of two worlds cracking apart, and then a deafening series of thuds.
The light fixture completed its plummet, and broke with a tinkling sprinkle of glass. A tangle of ice-cold limbs and body parts slugged me, heavy as lead blankets.
And I screamed, and screamed, and screamed, until the warble my voice had been before became no more than a gasping strain for air.
When I’m standing on a subway, I imagine being pushed. If I’m in a movie theater, I look for the exit. I imagine danger everywhere. There’s something about the moment when the main character’s life crosses a line, and nothing is the same…what writer Rosellen Brown calls the before and after. But it’s really the psychological that engages me—how one person copes with crossing that line whereas another person would have an entirely different response. Before I turned to writing—or turned back to it, I should say, since I always, always wanted to write—I practiced as a psychotherapist. I think I was doing the same thing, except that I was helping other people tell their stories. Now I’m making up my own.
Who’s in control, you or the characters?
Can I say neither? When I embark on a day of writing either my husband or one of my kids usually say to me, “Good luck jumping off the cliff!” And when I sit down at my computer, that’s what it feels like. There’s always that moment of jumping, and not being sure whether the winds will be there to buoy you up. Scary. Exhilarating. I think I know how parachuters feel.
Then there are creaks and sputters as your writing fingers start. But something happens. There is an air current after all, strong enough to waft you away. And you look down…I mean, I look down…and somehow there are one or two or three thousand words and pages of text, and you’re not sure how they got there. See, it even feels like an out-of-body experience; that’s why I keep saying you instead of I. Someone’s in control, or something, but it sure feels like me and the characters are just along on one heckuva ride.
Is there another genre you’d like to try your hand at?
There really isn’t. I feel like crime fiction is one of the richest genres there is, with a literary history that includes the likes of Dostoevsky and Edgar Allan Poe, which covers topics as deep and as dark as the human heart. Getting to write in this genre is one of the greatest privileges of my life.
Do you have a favorite genre to read?
I find this sooooo hard to answer. I always just do it by saying a couple that come to mind at the time that I’m asked. So…Winifred by Doris Miles Disney (best last line ever) and almost anything by Stephen King.
I am a huge Rob Reiner fan—Stand By Me and Misery—and also adore Witness with Harrison Ford.
Do you have a WIP? Something for us to look forward to?
My next book is about three days away from being finished as I answer these terrific Manic Readers questions! I’m feeling a blend of excitement to see what happens at the end, and sorrow that I won’t be able to journey back to its world every day.
Cover of Snow is set in a fictional Adirondack town called Wedeskyull, and I think of the novels set there as the Wedeskyull stories. The recurring ‘character’ is the place. So in this next book, you might see cameos or walk-ons by characters who played a big role in Snow, while minor characters might go on to have lead parts. I’m fascinated by life in a small town, the ‘heart of darkness’ there, and I hope that I can get to know my town through the prism of many different stories.
I hope that you will, too. Thank you very much for having me here.
Thank you for taking the time to visit with us, Jenny!. I’ve enjoyed it very much.
Jenny and Samantha are offering an ecopy of COVER OF SNOW to one lucky commenter who answers, “What do you think when a location, town etc..is as much a character as the people?”
Giveaway ends @12am est 1-21-13 with the winner announced shortly thereafter. COS is well worth the read. Personally, I’d like to see more about Dugger. I found his character absolutely fascinating. You can read my review here.
Jenny Milchman is a suspense novelist from New Jersey whose short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Adirondack Mysteries II, and in an e-published volume called Lunch Reads. Jenny is the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, and the chair of International Thriller Writers’ Debut Authors Program. Her first novel, Cover of Snow, is published by Ballantine.