For novelists, it's often real life events that inspire the characters and plot twists in their books.
It was the haunting memory of a baby sitter's suicide threat that inspired Jenny Milchman to pen “Cover of Snow.”
The New Jersey-based author will visit Oklahoma City on Monday and Tulsa on Tuesday promoting her debut novel which is on bookstore shelves now.
When Milchman was 8, she vividly remembers the night her male baby sitter came into her bedroom and admitted to her that he planned to kill himself. Why would he tell her, an 8-year-old, this? Should she keep his secret?
“In years to come, I felt terrified that the decision had been left in my 8-year-old hands,” she said.
Fortunately for the baby sitter, Milchman blurted out the truth to her mother that night. The boy was found in his bed, alive but with an empty pill bottle next to him. Milchman's decision to tell the truth may have saved his life.
“I think that writers cast a net and the whole world goes into that net and you never know what's going to grab and become a novel,” Milchman said. “That incident was a moment that could have gone much, much worse.”
Nora Hamilton, the central character of “Cover of Snow” wasn't able to prevent the suicide of her husband. The book begins with her discovery of her dead husband.
“The book is about those moments, that if we don't play them right, they can end in disaster,” Milchman said. As the plot of “Cover of Snow” thickens, Nora begins unraveling a powerful conspiracy and facing hard truths she spent a lifetime avoiding.
Tackling a subject as serious as suicide isn't uncomfortable for Milchman. She spent much of her early career grappling with the mental health issues of her patients while she worked as a psychotherapist. She even worked in an emergency psychiatric ward.
“Unfortunately, life is not a suspense novel,” she said. “Suicide leaves so many questions unanswered. In this book I tried to answer those questions. I wanted there to be a sense of redemption. In real life you don't always get that.”
Milchman loved helping people during her psychology career, but the siren's call of writing never left her heart, she said. When a particularly intense case she was working started keeping her up at night, she sat down and started writing what would become her first novel.
“It wound up being a completely unsalable 180,000 words, but agents were interested enough to give me writing advice, and I was hooked,” she wrote on her website, www.jennymilchman.com.
With practice, she said, she began writing books worthy of publication and her debut novel has received excellent reviews.
For Milchman, it was a long road to publication. She tried for 13 years to get a book published with a publishing house. “Cover of Snow” is Milchman's debut novel, but is the eighth novel she's written. It was a frustrating time during which “I was so bedraggled, so down-beaten,” she said. Many writers know this pain of rejection after sending manuscript after manuscript to publishing houses.
But it wasn't a question of quitting for Milchman.
“I couldn't not write,” she said.
Now that Milchman's quest to publish has come to fruition, she's embarked on an 18,000-mile book tour along with her husband and two young kids. For seven months, the family is traveling across the country by car. The Milchman kids are being “carschooled” and all are enjoying what has become a “family odyssey.”
Her advice for writers trying to get published:
“The best thing is make friends with booksellers and make friends with authors,” she said. It was her friendship with another author that eventually opened the door to being accepted at a publishing house. “Those kinds of connections, in a way I think it's karma. If you support other people long enough, somebody's going to want to support you.”
One of the take-aways from “Cover of Snow” is that it can seem as if you're at the absolute end of the road and then the door finally opens, Milchman said. She says that concept can help aspiring authors stay on track, too.
“My big piece of advice is don't give up. Keep trying everything. Something's going to work.”