Q & A With Jenny Milchman – “Cover of Snow”

CoverOfSnowWebTwenty-two drafts?

Of her eighth full-length novel?

And Jenny Milchman is finally getting published.

Today.

Can you say hard workPatience?

Jenny Milchman knows both.

Her debut novel “Cover of Snow” launches today but she’s already well-known in fiction and mystery writing circles.  Laura Lippman, Harlan Coben, Louise Penny and William Kent Krueger have already showered praise on the book—among many others.

Jenny Milchman has been active in the writing community for years. And years. She’s generous, supportive and genuine.

If you’re a pre-published writer, I can think of no better example out there of how to get involved—truly involved in the community—and get your brand and name going.

Jenny is the Chair of the International Thriller Writers Debut Authors Program, and the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which was celebrated in all 50 states and four foreign countries in 2011.

Jenny hosts the Made It Moments forum on her blog, which has featured more than 200 international bestsellers, Edgar winners, and independent authors.  She co-hosts the literary series Writing Matters, which attracts guests coast-to-coast and has received national media attention, and teaches writing and publishing for New York Writers Workshop and Arts By The People.

See what I mean?

Involved. Connected. Busy.

My review of “Cover of Snow” follows but, first, Jenny was kind enough to answer a few questions–see waht I mean about generous?–about her first book and her journey to publication.

Question: OK, you’ve asked many other writers for their “Made It Moment,” courtesy of your interviews. What was yours?

Jenny Milchman: It’s true—over 250 authors have shared their ‘Moments’ on my blog…including, you, Mark! I don’t know that I can share mine here since I decided that after almost four years of publishing Moments, my release date of January 15th would be the day I finally wrote my own for my blog, and I’m kind of keeping it under wraps until then.

But I can say that your asking me that question definitely counts as a moment. One of the things I’ve learned from the authors who have been generous enough to appear on my blog is that it’s seldom about one big Moment. It’s about all the small ones that add up to this writing life.

Question: You’ve said the novel was triggered by the question, “what would make a good man do a very bad thing?” But the conspiracy you envision in Cover of Snow is quite diabolical. Do you remember the moment the whole concept occurred to you—and was it after you’d started writing or before?

Jenny Milchman: It was long, long after. In fact, the conspiracy in the town probably didn’t come to me until roughly the eighteenth draft of Cover of Snow—which is why the novel took me so many drafts to write. (Twenty-two in total).  That initial question about the good man was a grabber—but figuring out what the bad thing he did was, the logic behind his action, and then how to convey all that in a story that was entertaining for readers…well, maybe I’m slow, but it took me a while!

Question: Without revealing any details about your plot, what would make a nice person like you imagine this level of corruption?

Jenny Milchman: When I’m standing on a subway, I imagine being pushed. If I’m in a movie theater, I look for the exit in case something bad happens. I imagine danger everywhere. That nice lady on the street asking for directions could just be a shill for the man lurking behind. In short, I think I envision corruption and rot everywhere. It’s as if the shiny surface is always suspect to me. I don’t know if that makes me a less nice person—or a more scared one. But I know that the books I write are always received best by my editor and agent and trusty readers when I’ve good and scared myself.

Question: This book digs around in the issues about past lives and what is revealed when two people marry.  What’s your message to married couples out there?

Jenny Milchman:  Oh, wow, that’s a good one. I’ve love to try and distill things down to a single message. How about, “tell the truth.”

Jenny.Milchman.WebQuestion: How did you go about your research, particularly the police-related details?

Jenny Milchman: Perhaps I shouldn’t say that I did almost no research? Unfortunately—or maybe this isn’t unfortunate—I am no good at research. I think writers have different strengths, and research is not one of mine.

The choice I made in narrator is relevant to this. By making Nora Hamilton, a policeman’s wife, be the protagonist, I could write an outsider’s view of the police department. For me, that was the fascination. I think a lot of us who are not ‘on the job’ have a fascination with it. Who are these people who put their lives on the line and wield such power? I could bring that level of distance to it because Nora and Brendan had distance between them. She never really fully understood what it was that he did.

To the extent that I did get details right, there’s a certain kind of synergy that I find happens when you are really sunk into the world of a book. You know things that you otherwise just couldn’t. At least a few times it happened that I wrote a scene, then checked things with a cop who’d agreed to serve as expert. And he’d say something like, “That’s right, that’s what I’d probably do,” and I’d have no idea how I knew.

Question: You’ve been working on “Cover of Snow” and getting it published for a long time. What’s your advice to writers struggling to find a publisher—and an audience?

Jenny Milchman: I have three pieces of advice…

  • Give your craft time to develop, mature, and get truly good. Don’t rush to publish. Solicit feedback and learn how to tell which kinds of criticisms mean that there’s still work to be done.
  • Know the industry, which is changing nearly daily. There are different ways to publish these days, and it’s not a question of there being one best way. It’s which way is best for you.
  • Don’t give up. Ignore the voice in your head—and the voices from outside—that wonder if this is ever going to happen. It will happen. Unless you quit trying, you haven’t failed. You just haven’t succeeded yet.

+++

Thanks, Jenny!

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Review:

There’s a tree in the center of Wedeskyull—“a big small town”—and it is deeply-rooted. The branches date back to the town’s inception.

The wife of a cop, Nora Hamilton discovers in the course of “Cover of Snow” just how deep those roots can run.  How, well, entangled. 

The story starts with a jolt when Nora discovers that her rock-solid husband Brendan, has committed suicide.

And we’re off.

“Cover of Snow” follows Nora as she begins to try to come to grips with what she knows—and doesn’t know—about her husband. With what she knows—and doesn’t know—about the town. And with what she knows—and doesn’t know—about her extended family.

“Brendan’s life wasn’t distinct from mine, not entirely. They were linked. And if I didn’t find out why Brendan had taken his life, then I would never be able to live my own,” she thinks.

“Cover of Snow” is one long descent into the dark basement and it’s also a sharp-eyed character study of Nora, desperately looking for the light switch.  (Love that cover, by the way: that hazy-blurry image captures the near-gothic mood of this book perfectly.)

Nora rallies a series of acquaintances and friends to her cause, including an autistic young man whose information, sometimes dispensed in rhyme, is not always easy to follow.

“Cover of Snow” digs around in issues involving family trust, family secrets, family storylines and how families inter-relate and depend on each other. It’s about how families—and, in fact, whole towns—can choose to bury certain secrets (or at least try to make them go away). It’s also about the danger of normal routines and the risk of only staying on the surface of a relationship, of not digging deep.

Milchman does many things very well, but I especially liked the brief glimpses of the evil-doers. In some books, these narrative slices are overdrawn and cliché. Here, they really added to the sense the Hamilton was facing a very wicked force.

Nora Hamilton fixes up old houses and we know, ultimately, that she’s not afraid of “dungeons” and what they hold.

Milchman seems to be asking: what do you really know about your spouse and, if necessary, how far are you willing to go to find the truth?

Reading “Cover of Snow” might send you looking for your best scraper, ready to start chipping away at the thick layers of impacted ice that obscure any hidden truths in your own world.

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8 responses to “Q & A With Jenny Milchman – “Cover of Snow”

  1. Mark, thank you for having me to your blog, and for this wondrous review. You got at things I didn’t hope anyone would. And some I wasn’t even sure were there–till you said them. Today will be a busy day–I don’t even know if I can keep my Made It Moment promise on my blog–but I will love responding to folks who drop by here and visit as soon as I am seated again! Thank you for all your support.

  2. Thank YOU, Jenny…!

  3. I just shared this blog on Facebook. Go Jenny!

  4. Great interview! Congratulations, Jenny! I’m so happy–my local independent bookstore just emailed me to let me know my copy of Cover of Snow has arrived. 🙂 Can’t wait to read it!

  5. Congratulations! How can I order a signed copy?

  6. nancy345wright

    A lovely interview, Jenny, and I feel happy and honored to share a panel with you in a (dark) north country bookstore! Can’t wait to read the novel!

  7. My Kindle “Cover of Snow” downloaded today, I can’t wait to read it! Congrats Jenny! Bravo!

  8. Wonderful interview and review. Thank you both. Love your new photo, Jenny! Can’t wait to read the book. Congratulations!

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