Well, it's been a busy summer— that's my only excuse— but I finally got to read Jenny Milchman's Ruin Falls which I've had right here on my shelf since I bought it at our shared panel and signing at Rediscovered Books last May. Yes, more than 4 months I've delayed the amazing experience of reading that book. Well, I suppose that's all right because delaying gratification makes one a better person, right?
But my advice, gentle reader, is that you're probably already a good enough person— just go ahead and read Ruin Falls
Let me quote from the note I dashed off to Jenny as soon as I could breathe again after her stellar finish: "Darling Jenny, I wish I had a big bouquet—maybe sunflowers— to put in your lap. What a terrific book! Cover of Snow was great, but you really reached a new height of emotional tension in this one. Experience. Writing about children. Your native excellence emerging more fully. . . "
For anyone who doesn't know the story, Jenny spent a soul-starving eleven years waiting for a publisher for her first novel. But she used her time well. Jenny made friends with the mystery-writing community. She promoted them— us — and our books. She made friends with booksellers and promoted bookstores. She wrote award-wining short stories. And she kept the dream.
So that when Cover of Snow was finally birthed by Ballantyne Books and a stellar team of publishing professionals, it earned rave reviews from Booklist (starred), The New York Times, and Kirkus as well as winning awards and cheers from the mystery writing community.
Ooohhh, then comes the rub— following all that up with a second book. But Jenny didn't just follow up. She surpassed. It must have been nerve-wracking with the whole world watching. But Jenny is a professional.
Could anything possibly be more terrifying to a mother than waking up on the second day of a family vacation to find her children vanished? Liz Daniels finds nothing but rumpled sheets in the bed where eight-year-old Reid and six-year-old Ally should have been sleeping peacefully. Liz will stop at nothing to find her children and get them back, even though it means uncovering dark secrets from the past and facing her own nightmares single-handedly.
And now, my questions for Jenny:
What was your greatest challenge in writing your second novel? It must have been terrifying knowing everybody was watching!
Jenny: I have to smile. Or wince. You see, I didn’t feel like anybody was watching. I mean, there were some readers who had taken the time to write me after reading Cover of Snow, and that was a joy. But would those people read my second book? I had no idea. Then there were the folks I met on the “world’s longest book tour”. Every single person I met was wonderful and special to me, but would they even know I had another book out? Again, no clue. So I didn’t feel like that many eyes were on me. I did think about the booksellers, reviewers, and bloggers, who had been so kind to my first release. That was nerve-wracking—I kept hearing this nightmarish phrase in my head: “Milchman’s lackluster follow up.” (I never told anyone that until you and your readers now!) Then my publisher said they thought that Ruin Falls “ratcheted up the suspense” and I had to remember something I’d learned a long time ago, but keep forgetting: we are not always the best judges of our own work. Sometimes a passage I almost cut before it was even seen will be the one a reader tells me spoke to her the most. Or, those bits I want to crow over and whoop and swoop to my chest because they are just SO GREAT turn out to be the ones I’m embarrassed to have written a day later. So my greatest challenge in writing Ruin Falls was getting the book close to what I hoped it could be. In the first chapters, I wanted to capture the disjointed sense that traveling away from home can deliver. And I hoped to create a heroine who started out small and weak—unlikeable even—and watch her grow into someone who could be proud of who she was. I also wanted to continue a theme from my first book, that those who harbor secrets keep things from themselves most of all.
Absolutely, Jenny, watching Liz come alive as a person was one of the delights of the novel. So tell us more about "the world's longest book tour".
Jenny: • Well, that was not the title I gave it! I wrote about the trip for Shelf Awareness, who promptly dubbed it world’s longest because I was on the road for 7 months and 35,000 miles. With my family. We rented out our house, traded in a VW and a Nissan for an SUV that could handle Denver in February, and decided to “car-school” the kids. It was such a magical, life-changing experience that we set out again when my second novel came out. A little shorter this time because Ruin Falls was published in April versus January: 4 months/20,000 miles. And every single one of those miles was wonderful. Really. A lot of people say they don’t know how I can live out of a suitcase for so long—I actually love it. (No housework!) The virtual world has expanded our real life, but I think the true magic happens when both of them meet. Living so much of our lives online increases the value of the face-to-face. Real life encounters just can’t be compared with ones on screen. We experience what a handshake feels like. Or a smile, warm on your face—very different from an emoticon. And booksellers are kings and queens of the face-to-face. I can’t pick out one to highlight because every stop we made was special in its own way, so I’ll just talk about the time you and I got to meet at a very special bookstore in Boise, Idaho. Rediscovered Books knows all about hand-selling and putting an event together during a lively time—creating a lively time. Which you and I certainly had as we talked about crafting a mystery and how the publishing world has both changed and stayed the same over the last several decades. Getting to see you in person after years of being virtual friends is the reason I go out on tour. You can’t have one without the other, but I’d never want to give up either.
So true, Jenny! Our time together was very special and, as much as I enjoy our email exchanges, there's really nothing like face-to-face. Now, tell us what's next.
Jenny: My next “Wedeskyull” novel—set in the same fictional town as my first two—is called As Night Falls and it will be out July 2015. It’s about a woman who opens the door to find two convicts on her porch. And…I’ll tell your readers a tidbit: it has a character who is a dog, and was inspired by my bookstore travels. At McLean & Eakin in Petoskey, MI, I met a bookstore dog who is a rescue. She’s perfectly happy so long as she has company, but can’t stand to be on her own. I knew I was going to write about a dog who can’t be alone…but just might become a hero when his people need him. I hope to get to share this novel with you in Boise again!
I really look forward to that, Jenny. And in the meantime, readers can go to JennyMilchman.com
to see more about Jenny, her books and her tour.
Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.