Today is Spotlight Saturday, and I am honoured to be joined today by Jenny Milchman, author of The Very Old Man. I had the pleasure of reading Jenny's short story, and I posted my review earlier this month which you can read HERE.
Welcome to Darlene's Book Nook, Jenny! Tell us a little about yourself.
I'm a suspense writer whose debut novel just sold after an 11 year journey (um, make that struggle). I'm also the mom of a soon-to-be kindergartner and second grader, and have been lucky enough to get to be home with them full-time. If I don't have a book with me any place I'm liable to be stuck for longer than five minutes, I begin to get palpitations.
Do you recall when your interest in writing originated?
It was early enough that I don't recall. Family lore has me telling bedtime stories to my mother so she could write them down when I was only two years old. I believe that reading makes for the best writing, and I do know that as long back as I can remember, I always loved reading. I was that kid at the sleepover, hiding in the girl's room and poring over her books. While the other more popular kids whispered and stuck people's hands in warm water.
I completely agree with you about the importance of reading to our children!
Do you have a specific writing style? Any quirks or superstitious routines you stick to?
I like to write as early as possible in the morning, and if it can be quiet, that's great. But I've written parts of a novel on a rented machine at a Kinko's copy shop. So long as no one needs juice or kisses or trains drawn, I'm OK. For some reason, the kids' competing needs really do distract me from the compulsion of story-telling. Oh, and I also like the house neat. If there are chores to be done, I'm wrecked, which perhaps explains why I tend to be rather compulsive! Before I go in to write every day, I ask my husband to "wish me luck jumping off the cliff". You know how we writers need the winds there to bear us up.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
I started out querying agents with an 180,000 word unsaleable behemoth of a manuscript that I would've sworn required every last sentence. Whenever I read that 180K was really too long, I either screened it out, or else pointed to a passage by Lawrence Block that said "big books often run long" or words to that effect. "See?" I told people proudly. "I'm writing a big book." Well, you know what they say about pride. I fell hard when agent Barney Karpfinger--who represents Jonathan Kellerman--sent me a one page rejection letter, detailing why he was passing on my ms. "I just couldn't get into the viewpoint of your neurotic protagonist," he wrote. "Though you drew her very well." Well, I hadn't known I was creating a neurotic protagonist. That hadn't been my intent at all--I thought I'd written a hero. After the sting dulled a bit, I sat down and looked at Mr. Karpfinger's complaints. He pointed out that my protagonist kept questioning and re-questioning everything she did. And you know what? She did. Once I saw that, I was able to cut 60,000 words from my novel in about two weeks. And once I did that, I received offers from agents.
So sometimes the worst criticism turns out to be the best.
I guess the other thing that would qualify as 'best' is any time a reader or reviewer calls a story of mine un-put-down-able. I really love that quality in books I read, and if I can give others that experience, I feel very lucky.
What inspired you to write this book?
The novel of mine that just sold won't be out for about 18 months. It's called COVER OF SNOW, and the inspiration came from a question I asked myself: What could make a good man abandon the person he loved most?
The short story that you were kind enough to review, called "The Very Old Man", is more of a mystery to me in terms of its inspiration. It's about a young mother during that tumultuous transition to new parenthood, and I wrote it before I had any children. Perhaps I was readying myself in some way--I really can't say for sure.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Does getting it published count? [smile]
Are any of the characters based on someone you know?
No, I don't think so. In my first novel, I think most of the characters were slight variations on people I knew. But for me at least as writer, I had to evolve past that, to creating truly fictional people and worlds.
How alike or different are you from Denise?
I have to confess that Denise's anxieties come a little too close to mine for comfort. For whatever reason--maybe because the stage of infancy means that the child stays very close--I was a very relaxed new mom. But my oldest is eight now and I'm finding that her strivings for independence--going off by herself, crossing the street, riding her bike--are really challenging for me. I have to remind myself that quarters tend to be, well, just twenty-five cents!
You left your story up to reader interpretation. Is there a message in your story that you want your readers to grasp?
Maybe there's one that I want *me* to grasp. That sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar. That life usually turns out okay and people's intentions are usually good. But not always--and we must be open to that, too.
What are your current writing projects?
I am researching and preparing to begin the second novel in the Wedeskyull series (Wedeskyull is the fictional town in which my debut novel is set). I'll also be doing the final edits for that novel before it is released in early 2013. A short story that I just finished will be out in an anthology called ADIRONDACK MYSTERIES II in Fall 2012.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
Let's see...be with family & friends, first and foremost. Eat. Be outdoors, hiking, swimming, rafting. And of course, read!
Who is your favourite author and what really strikes you about their work?
My all-time favorite author is Stephen King. He was the one whose books I read over and over again--and hopefully learned from. I think he's a master of making the smallest, walk-on character real and authentic.
Funny that you mentioned Stephen King, because I felt while reading The Very Old Man that your story is reminiscent of a King short story: No outright gore, but a definite creep factor!
What book are you reading now?
Right now I am reading EMPIRE OF LIES by Andrew Klavan. There is no one like Klavan for putting characters into situations they can't possibly get out of--then getting them out. (I think Lee Child is also great at this).
I have not had the pleasure yet to read any of Klavan's work, but I just requested Damnation Street from the local library. Thanks for the recommendation!
Do you have any specific last thoughts that you want to say to your readers?
Please support your bookstores and booksellers! Last year I started a holiday called Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day (info at takeyourchildtoabookstore.org) I really believe that bookstores can be a hub around which entire communities prosper. If at all possible, spend the extra dollars it takes to have a store to go into, a bookseller to talk to, a place to attend events. Amazon is great and has its many uses. But bookstores are our homes.
You make such a valid point, Jenny, and this is such a great idea! So many of our local bookstores are closing, which is such a shame. It is so important to support both our local bookstores and libraries.
Snappy questions and answers:
Favourite colour? Copper
Favourite food? Dumplings
Dog-lover or cat-lover? Both
Vanilla ice cream or chocolate? Vanilla with chocolate sauce
Beer or wine? Wine, definitely. Beer reminds me of college. In a bad way.
City slicker or country girl? Country. My dream is to live as deep in the country as it is realistic to get.
If I could take an all-expenses paid trip anywhere in the world, I would go to...Somewhere I could drive to. It doesn't have to be far. Send me to Maine and I'd be happy for a long time.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Jenny! As you know, I really enjoyed reading The Very Old Man and I look forward to reading Cover of Snow.
I hope everyone enjoyed the interview! If you would like to learn more about Jenny and her work, her contact information is below:
And now for the giveaway: Two readers, chosen at random, will win free copies of Jenny's short story "The Very Old Man". The first to be drawn will also receive a special additional prize--a short story that has not yet been submitted for publication! This giveaway is open to all (international).
SYNOPSIS FROM GOODREADS:
THE VERY OLD MAN…by Jenny Milchman
A chance encounter in a grocery store spooks a young mother. When small accidents begin to happen around her young child, she wonders if the old man who'd given her daughter a quarter is to blame.
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