Along with the announcement of the Edgar Award nominees about a month ago, the nominees for the Mary Higgins Clark award were also announced, and Jenny Milchman’s COVER OF SNOW was on that list. Starting with Jenny, I’m kicking off a series of interviews with a few of the nominees and I’ll run these up until the winners are announced on May 1st (the Mary Higgins Clark Award will be presented on April 30th)! Please welcome Jenny to the blog!
Jenny, congrats on the Mary Higgins Clark Award nom for COVER OF SNOW! Will you tell us a bit about the book?
Thank you! And…absolutely! I grew up reading Mary Higgins Clark so the nomination is an especial thrill and an honor. Let’s see…Cover of Snow is a psychological suspense novel about a woman who wakes to find her husband missing from their bed. She finds out what happened to him only minutes later. But that’s when the real danger begins. Another thing I should mention is that even though Cover of Snow is my debut novel, it’s actually the eighth one I wrote. In other words, it took me a loooong time to get published.
Tell us about your protagonist, Nora Hamilton. Why do you think readers will root for her?
Nora is an outsider in her small Adirondack town. Although it’s a place she’s come to love, as soon as her husband is gone, it becomes clear just how much she never really earned a spot of her own, and perhaps never will. I think that feeling of being an outsider is something we all can relate to, whether in our communities, our families, or even within ourselves. We all want to fit in and be accepted, find self-acceptance, too. Nora’s also an underdog and only becomes more of one as the story continues. By the end, the entire town, its police force, and even her own family doubt and threaten her. That’s the kind of person I like to see win.
You’ve wanted to be a writer since you were 5. What’s one of the first things you can remember writing? It was a story covered with blue-flocked wallpaper that my kindergarten teacher made into a bound book. I don’t remember what it was about, but I can still see that wallpaper cover. The first novel I remember writing was about a teenage girl who moved. It had magic marker illustrations and was 98 pages long. I was in eighth grade when I wrote it, and oh, how I wanted to move. In real life.
You talk a bit about your road to publication on your website…how did you celebrate when you found out that COVER OF SNOW would be published?
You know, I think I was so numb by that point that it hardly felt real to me, and we didn’t actually celebrate that particular moment. There would be other celebrations to come—such as the first time I held my book in my hands and we all went out to eat and showed it to the waitress—but as you say, it took me eleven years, three agents, fifteen almost-offers, and eight novels to get published. When I finally got the call from my agent, even she said, “I did not think we would get an offer from this editor.” My agent was thrilled, and had stuck with me through thick and thin—mostly thin—and by the time she submitted to my editor, it was the longest of long shots. Less than celebrating, I sort of slid down the wall and came to a stop. I think it was the first time I’d really breathed in about six months. Later, my editor took both me and my agent out to lunch, and we had champagne.
That was a celebration.
Why mystery? What do you enjoy most about reading and writing in the genre?
I think that I write suspense more than mystery in the sense that a murder isn’t really the central question—though, what the hey, a murder or two might take place—and also, I am terrible with puzzles and probably couldn’t solve one if I were being chased by a bad guy. But why I like suspense…that’s a good question. Here’s what I think. I think that I am scared a lot of the time. Ordinary life scares me. Ordinary life is scary. And with mystery or suspense or crime fiction, very bad things happen, but there is almost always a reason, and usually by the end, some form of order is restored. Instead of the messy yarn ball of reality, crime fiction gives us a sense of closure and justice, a knitting together of the fragments of life. Not bad for a few hundred pages and fifteen or twenty-five bucks.
What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Well, it might give a hint if I say that Cover of Snow went through twenty-two drafts. I had no idea where each of its twists and turns were going—nor where they came from—and when my husband (who’s my first reader) would say, “So, why was there that fire?” I would frown and say, “Because a fire is a really cool scene to write!” I had to go back and build in all that structure, the whys behind the wherefores. I suppose an outline might have saved me some of that, but I think it would also have robbed me of something. Every writer is different but I think that I personally like being surprised. And if I surprise myself, maybe I’ll also surprise you.
What are a few of your biggest literary influences?
Stephen King, Stephen King, and Stephen King. I also loved the moody, Gothic Bronte sisters—Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and Tenant of Wildfell Hall were all favorites of mine—and Poe and Shirley Jackson and Ira Levin and Doris Miles Disney. The Trixie Belden Books. I could go on, I’m sure every writer could, but…Stephen King. Master of character and the small, telling detail.
What are you currently reading?
Help for the Haunted by John Searles.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
Free time? What free time? I’m just kidding. The great thing is that for me writing is free time. The freest in many ways. It’s one of the few places where I am completely untrammeled. I enter the room where I write, and the world of the story, and it’s all mine. I can do whatever I want. How freeing is that? But I also love to spend time with my family, eat, be outdoors, and of course, read.
What’s next for you?
I was lucky enough to get to do another novel with the brilliant editor I landed with. Ruin Falls is set in the same fictional town as Cover of Snow, but it features all new characters. You see the town through the prism of a very different story. Well…except for one small character who comes back in a bigger role, and a few hints about some hopefully old favorites. Anyway, the new book comes out in April, and I will hit the road with my family on a four month/20,000 mile book tour.
About COVER OF SNOW:
Waking up one wintry morning in her old farmhouse nestled in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, Nora Hamilton instantly knows that something is wrong. When her fog of sleep clears, she finds her world is suddenly, irretrievably shattered: Her husband, Brendan, has committed suicide.
The first few hours following Nora’s devastating discovery pass for her in a blur of numbness and disbelief. Then, a disturbing awareness slowly settles in: Brendan left no note and gave no indication that he was contemplating taking his own life. Why would a rock-solid police officer with unwavering affection for his wife, job, and quaint hometown suddenly choose to end it all? Having spent a lifetime avoiding hard truths, Nora must now start facing them.
Unraveling her late husband’s final days, Nora searches for an explanation—but finds a bewildering resistance from Brendan’s best friend and partner, his fellow police officers, and his brittle mother. It quickly becomes clear to Nora that she is asking questions no one wants to answer. For beneath the soft cover of snow lies a powerful conspiracy that will stop at nothing to keep its presence unknown . . . and its darkest secrets hidden.