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Jenny Milchman on Writing her Fourth Novel

Something Wicked This Way Comes

 

Jenny Milchman is the author of COVER OF SNOW, which won the Mary Higgins Clark Award, RUIN FALLS, an Indie Next Pick and a Top Ten of 2014 by Suspense Magazine and AS NIGHT FALLS, the recipient of the 2015 Silver Falchion award for best novel. Her latest novel, Wicked River, was published by Sourcebooks in May 2018.

She is Vice President of Author Programming for International Thriller Writers, a member of the Sisters in Crime speakers bureau, and is the founder and organizer of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which is celebrated annually in all fifty states. Jenny lives in the Hudson River Valley with her family.

So happy to have Jenny join me today to talk about her writing journey.


THE INTERVIEW

Wicked River came out of your own aborted honeymoon in 1994 (though yours ended on a much better note!). Why did this particular story stick with you all these years? Do you think some stories need time to marinate before an author can do them justice?

My husband and I were young when we got married, and decided to go on a backwoods honeymoon to save money. The only problem was, we didn’t know a whole lot about the back country. Including the fact that June was black fly season in the Adirondacks where our trip was set.

We got chased out in a much more ignominious way than my heroine and hero do, but the question always stuck with me: What if we hadn’t left when we did? How bad could things have gotten? That question propels Wicked River. As for why it took twenty-three years before I wrote it, it’s less that the story needed to marinate—though I do think that happens, all the time—and more that there was a bad guy living in my head, and he needed a story. You meet him in Wicked River.

Now that your fourth book is hitting the shelves, what is the most important lesson you have learned as a professional writer?

That it’s not about book one—or book four. This whole professional writing thing, that is. Instead it’s about the words we put on the page every day, building them into the next book, and the next. That’s the way we grow our readers, make them happy, and one day maybe break out.

You are very active with International Thriller Writers, an organization that supports writers at all levels, from pre-published to best seller. How has that organization and those relationships sustained you through the difficult challenges in your career?

In a very tangible way, ITW helped me through a recent difficult period—when I lost my first publisher after my editor was let go. Some of the organization’s biggest blockbuster authors read the novel my agent was shopping and sent it out on submission with words of endorsement and support. Nearly two years later, these are the blurbs I’m still waving as proudly as a flag.

One of these authors even helped me re-craft my ending when I knew it was in trouble. ITW has a decade-plus history of supporting its members—of walking the walk that when one of us rises, everyone else does too. The way they showcase debut authors is unparalleled in the writing world. I recommend joining ITW, volunteering in whatever way suits you best—like you have done, twice now, Elena—and letting the community be there for you in good times and bad.

“ITW has a decade-plus history of supporting its members—of walking the walk that when one of us rises, everyone else does too.” —Jenny Milchman

Tell us about your writing process.

I’m going to bullet this one—Jenny’s Top Three Tips (keeping in mind that they probably won’t work for anyone besides me):

  • Instead of outlining, sink into the story as if you were living it
  • Write on a machine with no email, social media, or even internet
  • Keep a squeakily clean, borderline-obsessive room to yourself

I can handle the first two tips Jenny, but the third one is going to be a challenge!


Your first three books were published with Ballantine Books. Wicked River is published through Sourcebooks, one of the hottest independent publishers in the country. How has your experience differed between the two houses?

It was a case of the door I never would’ve known to open being the exact right one. I loved my time with Ballantine and all the people I worked with there, but Sourcebooks fits me in a way I never knew existed in publishing. If you took Jenny-as-a-writer, or even Jenny-as-a-person, and made her a publishing house, that would be Sourcebooks. How is that for a confusing sentence? (Luckily my editors at Sourcebooks rock).

The emphasis SB places on relationships, bookstores, on the face-to-face combined with the virtual world, are elements I was always looking for in a publisher, and just didn’t know it. The publicity cycle for Wicked River began ten months before it came out, with me being sent to book festivals and Winter Institute, and it’s continuing through the summer with first a five week tour, and then a second tour for four SB authors together. Which sounds like it could be a novel in of itself! I guess I am trying to say that SB is hot for a reason. They are innovative, inventive, and doing things right.

“This is going to be harder than you would ever believe, and better than you can even imagine.”

What are you working on now?

My current work-in-progress is very different from Wicked River, which is a multi-POV thriller in which the reader knows exactly where danger is coming from—just not how or when it will hit. Whereas my new book, Mercy Island, is a stranger-comes-to-town story, told from just the heroine’s perspective, in which the reader has no idea what will turn out to be bad, scary, harmful. It’s the most Gothic novel I’ve ever written, with this paranoia seeping in from all sides (hopefully). I have to put it down to go on tour, and I’m going to miss my heroine terribly.

Final Words of Wisdom:

This is going to be harder than you would ever believe, and better than you can even imagine.

Great final words! Thanks for hanging out with us today!