April 10, 2013

Author Interview: Jenny Milchman

Jenny Milchman was one of the first "real" writers I met, as I started down this windy literary road. She was one of the first people to tell me I, too, was a "real" writer, that to be a writer you need only write.

That was a stellar moment in my early career. I have since been grateful that I was (for once) brave enough to reach out to a stranger, because Jenny's been a solid cheerleader, friend, and compatriot.

Oh...and then I read her book. 

Cover of Snow released in January, and it's quite a ride. Set in snowy Upstate New York, we meet a wife facing one of the most tragic circumstances a wife can ever face...and her journey afterwards takes terrifying twists and turns in a frozen little town in the dead of winter.

I made the mistake one day of sitting down with Cover of Snow one afternoon when I had five free minutes...thirty minutes later, I was still reading and Zoe and I were late for an appointment.

Jenny and I will be talking together, along with Tina Whittle, at Blue Bicycle Books on Thursday (April 11) from 5-7 p.m. and I truly hope to see you there!! And in the meantime, she was kind enough to stop by the blog for a chat. Enjoy!


LR: First off, congratulations on the release of Cover of Snow! I know it’s been a long and incredible journey for you. For readers who are also writers, would you mind talking a little bit about that road, and the path that led you here, to the Cover of Snow book tour? 

JM: It took me over thirteen years to get published, and there was a great deal of let-down, heartache, and desolation along the way. Cover of Snow is my debut novel, but it was the eighth one I wrote. I was lucky enough to work with agents from the time I first started writing—although what I was writing were overlong, unpublishable manuscripts—but once an agent interests an editor in your work, the editor has to get the whole house behind your book, and I was stuck at that stage for eleven years. I had fifteen almost offers, and at a certain point I said to myself, “Well, published authors write a book a year, so that’s what I’m going to try to do.” During that time, the biggest thing missing for me wasn’t the validation of being published, or any money I might have made—it was the joy of having people read my work. Stephen King says that a story unread is like an unclosed circle, or words to that effect. That lack was very painful for me. So I knew that if I ever finally made it to the point of having readers…well, I wanted to go out and meet them. And get to say thank you. We’ll be on the road for seven months and 40,000 miles. 

LR: I’m reading it now, actually, and I made the mistake of sitting down with it at a point when I had about five minutes to read…thirty minutes later, I put the book down and realized we were about to be late somewhere. Whoops. I feel like every page has some tidbit of information that I’ll need to remember for later – how hard was it to leave these traces and trails throughout the whole thing? 

JM: Thank you for saying that—your words give me joy J The answer is, Hard. Really hard. I guess I’m not supposed to admit that—expose the wizard behind the curtain or whatever—but Cover of Snow is in its twenty-second draft. Most of those pieces didn’t fall into place until long after I finished the story. 

LR: You definitely like to put your characters in uncomfortable situations. You’re especially hard on Nora, your narrator – she’s a city girl living in a small town, she’s lost her husband in an incredibly tragic way, and now the questions about his past (and her future) keep piling up. What did you hope to find, running Nora through the rigors of this story? Did you reach any surprises along the way? 

JM: I think that what most interests me in fiction—both the kind I read and the kind I write—is when ordinary people get thrown into extraordinary situations. The question is always, What are they going to do now? How can they possibly survive? I feel badly for Nora, who lost so much. But I do hope that she came to a sense of triumph at the end. I know that I did. 

LR: I love how you treat the weather almost as if it’s another character. The menace of constant snowfall. Do you think Cover of Snow (ok, with a different title) could have taken place in a sunnier location? 

JM: Since we went out on tour, it has snowed almost everywhere. And that includes places like Oklahoma…and Mississippi. (Someone suggested I title my next book 75 Degrees & Sunny). But I have gotten some wonderful emails from readers who see the snow as a metaphor in the story. Nora was frozen and had to thaw out herself. I think the novel would’ve been completely different set in a different season. As for the location, I hope that the town is integral to the story, almost a character in of itself. Small towns have personalities. They wear different faces. Stephen King is the writer who was the biggest influence on me, and I would say that Wedeskyull is my Castle Rock. 

LR: How’s the book tour going? 

JM: It’s a piece of bliss every day. First, I get to be with my family. OK, that isn’t always 100% blissful, of course, but getting to see my kids’ developing minds as they’re shaped by this trip is a joy. For example—my husband is working from the road, so of course he has to use his cell phone a lot. Both kids have adopted this practice, only they use cakes of soap for their phones, and they sing each other’s pretend ring tones J Then there are the events themselves. Every single bookstore, library, book club, and school is unique—and so are the events they hold. It’s always a surprise to walk into a conversation with another author, or an intimate chat with readers—or on one great occasion, a champagne tasting! 

LR: Will you talk a little about Take Your Child To A Bookstore Day, a celebration you founded and have promoted throughout the country? 

JM: 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 Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, 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. That summer, we loaded the kids in the car and drove cross-country, visiting bookstores and trying to get the word out. The third annual TYCBD was celebrated by more than 500 bookstores in all fifty states. 

LR: When you write, are you an outliner, or a seat-of-your-pantser? 

JM: Well, I don’t outline, but I do usually have a sense of certain highpoints. I think in terms of Robert McKee’s book, Story, which talks about the beginning, middle, end, and two turning points along the arc, where the story is sent catapulting into a whole other direction. 

LR: Can you think of a character in children’s literature who you loved particularly (or on whom you had a crush?) For me, I always go back to Calvin O’Keefe in A Wrinkle in Time. Who’s yours? 

JM: Oh, wow. Good one. No childhood character, I don’t think. But as an adult…it’s Jack Reacher. Apologies to my hubby. But he has a fair amount of Reacher inside him. 

LR: Favorites time!  Favorite book? 

JM: Cujo or Pet Semetary by Stephen King. Maybe Winifred by Doris Miles Disney. Or The Exorcist or Stepford Wives or “To Build a Fire” or “The Lottery”…Okay, stop me! 

LR: Favorite movie? 

JM: Witness. A Simple Plan. No, Misery or Stand By Me. Rob Reiner, please come out of retirement and offer to film the movie version of Cover of Snow! 

LR: Favorite band and/or album? 

JM: I can’t answer this one. My musical tastes range from folk rock to country, but they don’t tend to make as deep impressions on me as books or movies. I do really love Phil Ochs. He had such a sad story.


Thanks, Jenny, for dropping by, and I can't wait to hang with you again! And if you want more info about Jenny in the meantime, drop by her web site and say hi!

1 comment:

jenny milchman said...

Thanks, Leah, for such a fun & different author chat!

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