Best-selling author sets her latest novel in the Adirondacks

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

New York Times best-selling novelist Jenny Milchman was born to be a writer.

“I always wanted to write,” said Milchman, of Phoenicia, N.Y., who attended Kerrytown BookFest in Ann Arbor on Sept. 12. “Writing is less inspiration than I think something I was born with. My mother tells me about when I’d tell her bedtime stories… I’d be dictating them and she’d be writing them down. I was 2 years old. I have a daughter now who seems to have the bug as well. There was never a time when I wasn’t a writer that I can remember. I think I live more in a made-up world than the real one a lot of times. What else can you do with that but write? When I told my parents the plan to be a poet and live in the woods in a log cabin, they didn’t like that plan so much and suggested having a more reliable career can be a good thing for a writer.”

That career was psychotherapy. Milchman was a practicing psychotherapist for more than 10 years. She graduated from Barnard College in Annadale-on-Hudson, N.Y., earning an undergrad degree in English literature and psychology. She later earned her graduate degree in psychology at The New School in New York City, where she also worked on her doctorate but left the program short of her dissertation. 

“We writers are always listening to our characters and psychotherapists are always listening to their clients, so it wasn’t as far off as it might seem. I hope my books give people a feeling of strength in much the same way that psychotherapy can when it’s working well. In the connection, I think, there’s a lot of similarities – books connects to people as readers and psychotherapy connects to clients,” said Milchman.

Her latest novel, “As Night Falls,” occurs in the Adirondacks where two escaped convicts take the Tremont family – Sandy, a psychotherapist; husband Ben, a wilderness guide; and teenage daughter Ivy – hostage in their own home. It becomes a battle of wills as Sandy uses her training to outsmart them. However, in fighting for her family’s lives, Sandy’s in danger of being dragged into the darkness the convicts bring to her doorstep. 

“Sandy is somebody whose life is fractured by the process of dissociation. And we all dissociate to a certain degree; when you drive somewhere, you’re on autopilot – that’s dissociating. But Sandy dissociates to such a degree that there’s a whole part of her life that’s cut off from her husband and her child. That process really does fascinate me, so I think it gave birth to the character,” said Milchman. “The psychotherapy background was nice and easy to write. I didn’t have to do a lick of research; I just had to cast myself back and remembered how challenging and rewarding and fulfilling that job could be.”

Milchman confessed that she doesn’t have a definitive answer on what motivated her to write this novel.

“Where the idea came from is perhaps the hardest question you could’ve asked because I don’t have a good answer for it because for all the novels (I’ve written)… I can tell exactly which character started whispering in my ear. I can tell you how the story came to me – I went to tuck the kids into bed in the hotel suite we got upgraded to and realized the sleeper sofa went against the exit door, which struck me as the scariest thing you could imagine. And – boom! – ‘Ruin Falls,’ my second novel, was born,” she explained. “But for ‘As Night Falls,’ I have no idea why... People have been like, ‘Oh, it’s a home invasion stories. I love home invasion stories’ or ‘I hate home invasion stories’ – I tell them it’s really not a home invasion story; it’s a life invasion story. If Sandy’s life hadn’t collided with these two convicts – even though things would’ve been easier one way – she never would’ve become the person she was meant to be.”

It took Milchman 13 years to get published. Her first published novel, “Cover of Snow,” was actually the eighth novel she wrote.

“It was just a very long, sad story of rejection. One thing that set it apart from other aspiring writers is that I was very close the whole time. I always had an agent working for me. I always had interest from editors, but the editors weren’t able to get permission from the rest of the publishing house. An editor would be interested in my work, but other people at the house – another editor, sometimes the marketing people, sometimes the publisher herself – would not think this was the book to take on, so I was stuck at this stage for (years),” recalled Milchman.

She found an ally in one of her favorite authors Nancy Pickard. Pickard read “Cover of Snow” and gave it to her editor. Milchman then received an offer.  “It’s a story about knocking on every door and then start knocking on things that aren’t doors – one of them will open,” said Milchman. “I thought I was publishable long before I truly was. I got rejections not because the work wasn’t publishable, but maybe because people don’t get this work, people don’t understand this work, and what it could do. J.K. Rowling had a gem (the ‘Harry Potter’ series) that many publishers turned down. I think it’s important for emerging writers to try to get a handle on which space they fall into: being rejected because you still need to work on your craft or being rejected because you still need to find another way in.”

Shannon Kirk, a lawyer-turned-novelist whose debut novel “Method 15/33” debuted last year, praised Milchman. “Jenny is one of those inspirational souls.  A tireless non-quitter who kept her own torch going on a 13-year-long trudge to publication. An ever-present force… she sets the bar high, which is a good thing. A very good thing,” said Kirk..

Robin Agnew, owner of Aunt Agatha’s in Ann Arbor, compared Milchman to Mary Higgins Clark and called her one of the “new queens of domestic suspense.”

“(Clark’s early books) were very scary. So are Jenny’s! She’s also a lovely writer, deft at character development and plot,” said Agnew. 

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