Thursday, August 06, 2015

A Conversation with Suspense Novelist Jenny Milchman

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Jenny Milchman

We are delighted to welcome author Jenny Milchman to Omnimystery News today.

Jenny, whose debut book Cover of Snow won the 2014 Mystery Writers of America's Mary Higgins Clark Award, has just published a new novel of psychological suspense, As Night Falls (Ballantine Books; June 2015 hardcover, audiobook and ebook formats). We recently had a chance to catch up with her to talk more about her work.

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Omnimystery News: Your books to date have all been stand-alone novels, but is there any element that ties them together?

Jenny Milchman
Photo provided courtesy of
Jenny Milchman

Jenny Milchman: Yes, there is. I'd like you to meet my series character: Wedeskyull, NY. It's a small town in the Adirondacks, somewhere in Franklin County, an always wild and sometimes terrifying land. It's true that most writers don't mean a place when they say they are writing a series, but in my case the town is a recurring character. Readers can read each of my three novels — Cover of Snow, Ruin Falls, and As Night Falls — as stand-alones. But if all three are read, they will get to see small characters from one book make bigger appearances in another and vice versa. The town is seen through the prism of many different eyes. I was inspired by Stephen King's Castle Rock as a child, and later by Louise Penny's Three Pines. I think that place or setting can be as much of a force in a novel as any character or sequence of events.

OMN: Into which fiction genre would you place your books?

JM: Syndicated reviewer Oline Cogdill coined a term for a sub-genre: family thriller. Booklist reviewer Stacy Alesi, also known as the Book Bitch, uses the description domestic suspense. Both are what I'd say I write. My novels do not feature stories writ large across a national or global stage. Instead they concern what happens to that smallest, tightest of units — the family. But in a way, what can be more universal than that? We all come from a family, we're all part of one in some way still. My novels focus on a circumstance we all can relate to. The kind of tale that could, given a slight turn of the knob, happen to us or someone we love. The stories take ordinary people and place them in an extraordinary situation. What do they do then? But the real question is, what would we do then? When I am writing a book, I feel as if I am along for this wild ride, an adventure my character must successfully complete. In her triumph over unspeakable odds, I imagine my own.

OMN: How would you tweet a summary of As Night Falls?

JM: When two convicts enter a remote mountain home, Sandy Tremont risks losing her family or revealing a secret she's always kept...from herself.

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

JM: For me writing a first draft is like jumping into a river and being carried along for a wet and wonderful ride. Conversely, revising that same novel is like boxing my way out of a concrete pen. I usually start off with a character in a disastrous situation. A woman wakes up and finds her police detective husband missing from their bed — Cover of Snow. On a long awaited family vacation, a woman's husband takes off with their kids — Ruin Falls. Two convicts break into a woman's home forcing her to reveal something she never had the strength to face — As Night Falls. I let the situation unfold, so that events string themselves along like beads on a necklace, much as they would in real life. And therein lies the rub. Because if the novel feels that true to life, it's awfully hard to reimagine it. When revising, I often find myself saying things like, "But it just happened that way! What do you mean it has to be changed?" And yet my editors, agent, and trusty readers are nearly always right. The changes have to be made, and I'm always glad that they were. But there's nothing like that first rollicking splash down the river.

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories?

JM: I actually do very little research. I have great admiration for writers who do more — I'm just not very good at it. So my approach is to make stuff up, then get reads from people who are experts in one way or another, and go back and revise. Surprisingly, I often get pretty close. But I had one interesting experience with my new book, As Night Falls, which concerns two escaped convicts. When I was finished, I handed sections off to a crime writer named Les Edgerton who also happened to serve time. As I said, I usually get pretty close, and so despite having no firsthand experience with being incarcerated, I was blissfully confident in my scenes. But Les told me I'd actually gone far awry, and my biggest error was in describing the relationships between the inmates and the guards. Heck, I read "Rita Hayworth & the Shawshank Redemption" thirty-seven times like everyone else; I had a great time depicting these sadistic CO's and their beaten down wards. It was Les who clued me into the fact that inmates and guards actually reside in an in uneasy détente, each group understanding that ticking the other off can result in great harm. That took some rewriting to fix. I'd say it was both the most challenging and exciting topic I ever strove to get right.

OMN: What is the best advice you've received as an author?

JM: Write the next book. This applies to emerging authors still waiting to break through, indie published authors, and traditionally published ones too. The best chance you have for success, for finding the right agent or editor, for building a readership, and for getting published again, is to have multiple books with which to work. Once you have enough books, you will hit a critical mass, and wind up with a career.

OMN: What's next for you?

JM: When my first novel — which was the eighth one I'd written — finally came out after a thirteen year journey/struggle/slog, I did the next logical thing. Rented out our house, traded in two cars for an SUV that could handle Denver in February, asked my husband to work from the front seat, took our kids out of first and third grades to "car-school" them in the back, and hit the road on a 7 month, 35,000 mile book tour. My publisher thought I was nuts. But the world's longest book tour — as Shelf Awareness dubbed it — worked so well, they helped set up the second, and are paying for part of the third. I think it's a testimony to what can happen when we all put our devices down and get out there face-to-face. The virtual world is amazing — but it's seeing that teeny tiny avatar come to life, getting to shake the hand of the person who belongs with it, that makes true miracles happen. So what's next for me — on both a personal and a career level? Another world's longest book tour. Please come out and see me!

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Jenny Milchman is Vice President of Author Programming for International Thriller Writers, teaches for New York Writers Workshop, 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.

For more information about the author, please visit her website at JennyMilchman.com and her author page on Goodreads, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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As Night Falls by Jenny Milchman

As Night Falls by Jenny Milchman

A Novel of Suspense

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)iTunes iBook FormatKobo eBook Format

Sandy Tremont has always tried to give her family everything. But, as the sky darkens over the Adirondacks and a heavy snowfall looms, an escaped murderer with the power to take it all away draws close.

In her isolated home in the shadowy woods, Sandy prepares dinner after a fight with her daughter, Ivy. Upstairs, the fifteen-year-old — smart, brave, and with every reason to be angry tonight — keeps her distance from her mother. Sandy's husband, Ben, a wilderness guide, arrives late to find a home simmering with unease.

Nearby, two desperate men on the run make their way through the fading light, bloodstained and determined to leave no loose ends or witnesses. After almost twenty years as prison cellmates, they have become a deadly team: Harlan the muscle, Nick the mind and will. As they approach a secluded house and look through its windows to see a cozy domestic scene, Nick knows that here he will find what he's looking for … before he disappears forever.

Opening the door to the Tremont home, Nick brings not only a legacy of terror but a secret that threatens to drag Sandy with him into the darkness.

As Night Falls by Jenny Milchman

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