by Jenny Milchman
We are delighted to host debut novelist Jenny Milchman as our guest while on tour with JKS Communications for her new book, Cover of Snow (Ballantine Books, January 2013 hardcover, audio and ebook formats), a novel of suspense. We encourage you to visit the other participating sites; you can find her tour schedule here.
Today Jenny writes about relics and recordings — excavating the fictional past.
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My debut novel, Cover of Snow, opens with a woman looking for her police detective husband. He's not in bed when she wakes up in the morning. Nora finds his body a few minutes later in another room of their old farmhouse, a victim of suicide.
Photo provided courtesy of
Nora's hunt to find out why her husband killed himself becomes the journey of the book. She must unearth not only a recent crime, but also one that took place twenty-five years in the past, which went unsolved and unpunished.
There were challenges I didn't anticipate when writing about events from long ago. How could I make the distant past feel real to the reader?
And there were other challenges because Cover of Snow is told in the first person, almost entirely through Nora's point-of-view. Nora is an outsider in the town of Wedeskyull, where her husband was a cop. She didn't even live in the same region as the events she must investigate. Nora's sense of disorientation, of stumbling around in the dark, reflects the process of grief she is going through. Grief is a land that makes everyone a stranger.
My solution to the first difficulty — that of making the past feel alive — came in the form of a prologue, which described what happened on that January day decades before. The prologue didn't wind up in the published version of the novel, but it enabled me to feel the full extent of the tragedy that kicked off the events of the book, scaffolding that helped me to build a story. (And it will also be available as a deleted scene).
Because of Nora's outsider status, she needed skills that would enable her to hunt for clues both in the here and now and long ago. Her career as a restorer of old homes lends her this ability. In one scene, Nora notes, “You never would've known it was there. Not unless your hands were used to planing over wood all day, knowing how it lived and moved and breathed.”
But neither the prologue nor Nora's career were going to raise those dead characters from twenty-five years in the past. I didn't want to have Nora simply question people who had been there, in part because they'd have no real motivation to open up to her. I needed to find a way to bring long gone voices to life. Finally I asked myself, what if they'd been captured somehow, stilled for a moment in time?
That's when the character of the autistic Dugger Mackenzie began to take shape. Dugger lives at the periphery, watching the goings-on in town without getting involved, and committing them to film and tape and video. His path bisects with Nora's and she is able to put Dugger's relics to use, although doing so comes with a terrible cost.
In relics and recordings, Nora finds the past preserved like amber, ready to be cast into the light of the present and the secrets behind her husband's death revealed.
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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.
Jenny can be reached at JennyMilchman.com or you can find her on her blog, Suspense Your Disbelief.
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Cover of Snow
Waking up one wintry morning in her old farmhouse nestled in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, Nora Hamilton instantly 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 an explanation—but finds a 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.
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