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Author interview – Jenny Milchman

My latest interview is with an up and coming author, who just got her first book deal with a major publisher! I asked Jenny some questions about her journey.

1. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I wanted to be a writer from before the time I could write. Family lore has me dictating bedtime stories to my mother when I was a sleepy two year old. As a child, I wrote stories that kept my friends entertained on play dates, and as I grew older I did the kinds of programs available to young writers.  In college I took part in the kinds of writing workshops where students had to submit samples and be vetted by the visiting authors. Round about sophomore year, when I was taking poetry workshops and my stated career goal was to live in a cabin in the woods and write, my parents sat me down. “Poets…” they both began, “Don’t really earn much money.” I took that in, or tried to. (What do college sophomores, with most of their expenses paid for, understand about money?) “You seem to love psych, too,” my mom added. “How about a double major?” I did love psych, especially the abnormal variety. Years later, after I’d obediently pursued a graduate degree, it would be my internship in the psychiatric ER that led me to find my true writer’s voice in suspense fiction.

But I always wanted to write.

2. Where have you been published?

I have a suspense short story called “The Very Old Man” published by a new e press in a two-story anthology called Lunch Reads 1. This collection cracked the Top 20 and became an Amazon bestseller in mystery anthologies. The irony is that I am a huge fan of print, and don’t have an e reader, so I have never read my own first publication! Next fall (2012) I will have a short story out in Adirondack Mysteries II. This series is published by a small, regional press and the authors will be sent around on a mini-tour. My first novel, a literary thriller set in the Adirondacks called COVER OF SNOW, comes out the following winter (2013) from Ballantine (Random House), so I am very excited to have a chance to do some touring with other authors–kind of see how it’s done–before that.

3. Who are some of the most important contacts you have made in the literary world, and how did you connect with them?
My novel literally would not have sold if it weren’t for the kindness of another author. I have been lucky enough all along the way (and the way was 11 years for me–so a long time) to have wonderful agents- (three of ‘em), editors who were interested in acquiring my work, and the support of generous, talented authors. But this one author, Nancy Pickard, deserves special mention both because she writes great books and because she happened to have an editor who would click with my work. When Nancy all but placed my manuscript into her editor’s hands–sheer magic happened.

I am a big believer in the idea that it takes a village to break into this business. It can’t happen on your own. If you publish traditionally, you need, at the very least, an agent, an editor, and the support of a whole house. If you publish independently, you need a cover designer, an editor, a tech guru. You may find an agent because you love the work of one of her clients. You may meet a small press editor at a conference. Or there might be an author who’s also an angel. In any event, begin making connections long before you ever need anything–if nothing else, go to readings and buy the author’s book–but not because this may help you. Because then you will never be alone in this writing life.

4. What are some of the activities you are involved in outside of writing?

Well, first and foremost, I’m a full-time stay at home mom. That activity has enriched every one of my days for the past eight years. My youngest will be starting kindergarten next year and that will be a real change in my writing life. So, activities in addition to writing include soccer, Girl Scouts, gymnastics, play dates, reading out loud, homework, putting on plays, watching plays, making cookies, teaching how to make cookies–and 1000 other things. I also do several of what I call para-writing activities, things that relate to writing but don’t accumulate new pages in a manuscript. I have a blog that features authors from all over the world–and every side of the publishing fence; teach writing and publishing, oversee a holiday called Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, as well as the literary series, Writing Matters. In the fall I will be taking over my biggest para-writing activity yet–but I can’t say what that is quite yet!
5. How did you become involved in Writing Matters?

Writing Matters came about just after I had my first ever published short story. It was featured on a blog site called Lunch Reads–stories that could be gobbled down along with your lunch. I had the idea to do a panel discussion about publishing short fiction online, and took it to a member of my former writing group, who works at a wonderful local independent bookstore, named Watchung booksellers. That first panel discussion was so well attended and so lively that the series just took off from there–other topics we wanted to explore came to mind, as well as other people we wanted to invite. Now authors, agents, and presidents of writers’ organizations are approaching us. We’ve just reached our second anniversary and the series has drawn guests from both coasts, been featured in national media, and I hope, has become a Friday-nights-out mainstay of local residents. I encourage emerging writers everywhere to think of activities along these lines that they might initiate. It’s a great way to meet authors and support bookstores–and who knows what effect that will have down the road on our careers?

6. How do you foresee your life changing once your novel is released?

My life has already changed so much, it’s a little staggering to think what will happen once the book is finally out! As soon as news of the offer began to leak out, it seemed as if everything (career-related) changed. Suddenly authors I had long admired were writing to me–that’s how I found out that the deal had been featured in Publisher’s Marketplace. There was a stream of emails and phone calls that kept me busy for literally weeks–I wanted to respond personally to each one. And lunch with my new editor and agent…then cocktail parties (I had never attended a cocktail party before)…It’s all a little unreal. Actually a lot unreal. Focusing just on my book will be a very different experience for me–I don’t know exactly what that change will feel like. But I figure if the release of my novel keeps me meeting new people and friends, then one very important thing won’t change–the way that writing enables me to forge connections with people by whom my life is immeasurably enriched.


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7 Comments to “Author interview – Jenny Milchman”

  1. An inspiring story! Can’t wait to read COVER OF SNOW.

  2. Thank you very much, Shelley, for having me on your blog, and for doing such a fun interview!

  3. I do believe that a lot of this business of getting published is about who you connect with. I’ve had a lot of help and I try to pass that generosity forward every time I get a chance.

    Thanks for the interview, you two.

  4. Thanks for commenting, C. Lee. I really hope to be able to pay this one forward, just as you say. Those serendipitous connections really are requisite.

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