Monday, May 7, 2018

A(nother) Conversation With Jenny Milchman

Jenny Milchman made her first appearance here on OBAAT in March. It’s rare that I interview the same author so close together, but Jenny was promoting The Night of the Flood that time, which was edited by Ed Aymar and Sarah Chen, and—no offense to Sarah, who is a lovely person—I thought Jenny was entitled to an interview of her own without the Shadow of Aymar hanging over her.

Jenny is the author of four books, of which Wicked River is the most recent, having launched May 1. Her debut, Cover of Snow, won the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Jenny is also Vice President of Author Programming for International Thriller Writers, and the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. She teaches writing and publishing for the New York Writers Workshop.

She took time from her Wicked River tour to chat with OBAAT.

One Bite at a Time: Let’s hit the ground running. Tell us about your new book, Wicked River.
Jenny Milchman: Wicked River arises from an incident in real life. No, my husband and I
weren’t stalked through the wilderness by an extremely smart and manipulative madman, but we did set out on a back-country honeymoon deep in the Adirondacks. The only difference between us and my heroine, Natalie, and her husband, Doug, was that my hubby and I had to turn back after just one day. (We wound up going to Paris on a borrowed credit card, and paid it off for-ev-ah). Natalie and Doug didn’t get so lucky, however. For them to make it out of the woods will require the fight of their lives. The question that stalked me as ardently as the madman in the novel was: what if my hubby and I hadn’t turned back when we did? I had to sit down and write a book about it.

OBAAT: Ahhh, the classic “What If?” premise. Think of how many thrillers would never have been written if authors didn’t think like that. Do you find yourself killing time coming up with “What If?” scenarios for the most innocuous things? “The counterperson at Wendy’s seems distracted. Maybe I’ve stumbled onto a hostage situation.” That sort of thing.
JM: You just described my life. I think that if I weren’t such a scared person, seriously living with a degree of fear that would probably strike most people as panic-inducing on an everyday basis, then I never would’ve come to crime fiction. The counterperson at Wendy’s, the guy who stands too close on a subway, the car that swerves on the road, the overly nice babysitter…I could go on and on. That said, it wasn’t a what if that made me first take the plunge and start writing suspense fiction, but a what was.
Here’s how it happened. I was working as an intern at a rural community mental health center when I got assigned this very frightening case. A mother brought her cherubic, blonde, five year old daughter in to see me. This little girl had just killed the family pet.

It was my job to find out why. And with that, life became a suspense novel, a mystery, a thriller all wrapped into one. I sat down and wrote the first work of crime fiction I’d ever tried my hand at. Seven manuscripts later, I would be published. And now my fourth novel, Wicked River, a true “what if” is about to come out May 1st.

OBAAT: You and I talked before about how your books are essentially a series of standalones that inhabit the same universe built around the fictional town of Wedeskyull. Was this something you thought would be cool from the get-go, or did it kind of evolve as you went along?
JM: Very little of my writing is something I thought would be cool—or thought about at all, to be strictly truthful. It’s not really intentional, in other words. And some of my all-time favorite crime writers would scoff at me for this (politely, of course). They feel writing to be a business, a pursuit, a job like any other, and of course it is.

Just not always.

For me, the creative part feels very much sent from elsewhere. Flowing through me—like a river—wild and out of my control.

The town of Wedeskyull, where all four of my novels are either set or have some close tie to—Wicked River takes place almost entirely in the wilderness, but Wedeskyull’s police chief must venture into the woods at one point in the story—exemplifies this. It feels less like any creation of my own, and more like a place I’ve been shown. A secret parallel universe to which I’ve been granted entry.

OBAAT: You take legendary promotional tours. What’s the agenda for Wicked River?
JM: Those legendary tours—dubbed “the world’s longest book tour” by Shelf Awareness—
were unique in a couple of ways. First, the whole family came with. My husband worked from the front seat, kids were “car-schooled” in the rear. We drove a total of 75,000 miles over 15 months for my first three releases. Second, although we had the help of a fantastic independent publicity firm, my husband and I set up each of those tours on our own.

Then a few things changed. The kids got older, and got lives of their own, go figure. (Actually, it’s a freaking miracle, is what it is). And I got something too: a new, dream publisher. One that sets up pretty magnificent tours.
For the “Get Wicked” tour I will be in the air and on the road for a total of five weeks. Something like 25 cities and as many events. You can see the whole itinerary here:

And then, the month after I return, my publisher is doing something equally cool. They are sending four authors out together, coast-to-coast, on the Up All Night Thriller Tour. We’ll appear at events as a quartet. I can just imagine what all four of us will do. Sing? Dance? Debrief every night over drinks, or, in my case, cake? Take a quick, energizing hike before we appear at the legendary Tattered Cover, only to get lost in the Rockies, and have to rely on each other to survive…oh wait, I’m writing another thriller.

OBAAT: You’re the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. How did that come about?
JM: Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day began back in 2010 when I had two preschool children whom I was taking to story hour at our local bookstore almost every week.
Inspired by Days such as Take Your Daughter to Work, I floated the idea for a special holiday linking kids and bookstores. Bloggers and listserv members took to the web and before I knew it, 80 bookstores were celebrating. By the following year, Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day had grown to nearly 300 bookstores. And today TYCBD is celebrated by over 800 bookstores, including one national chain, on five continents.
During one of the recent years, I turned my attention to the fact that not all children have access to bookstores. In fact, with one in five kids in the United States "food insecure," owning a book can be an unheard of luxury.

Through the help of generous volunteers and donors, we now have TYCBD field trips for kids in an at-risk region of New York State. One day, I hope such programs can be instituted in towns and cities nationwide.

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