Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Writer’s Bucket List; a guest blog by Jenny Milchman

Don't forget to check out Jenny's Writer's Wish List Contest!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm not sure Jenny Milchman needs much of an introduction. Her first suspense novel, COVER OF SNOW, won the Mary Higgins Clark award and, like her second book, RUIN FALLS, was an Indie Next pick. If you like your mysteries cold, moody and set in the Adirondacks (and really, who doesn't?) she's your go-to girl. 

Yesterday, I talked about the prison break from NY's northernmost maximum security facility. I thought the escapees - still on the loose! - would make a great story. Well, look at the description of Jenny's upcoming thriller, AS NIGHT FALLS:

Sandy Tremont has always tried to give her family everything. But, as the sky darkens over the Adirondacks and a heavy snowfall looms, an escaped murderer with the power to take it all away draws close.

In her isolated home in the shadowy woods, Sandy prepares dinner after a fight with her daughter, Ivy. Upstairs, the fifteen-year-old—smart, brave, and with every reason to be angry tonight—keeps her distance from her mother. Sandy’s husband, Ben, a wilderness guide, arrives late to find a home simmering with unease.

Nearby, two desperate men on the run make their way through the fading light, bloodstained and determined to leave no loose ends or witnesses. After almost twenty years as prison cellmates, they have become a deadly team: Harlan the muscle, Nick the mind and will. As they approach a secluded house and look through its windows to see a cozy domestic scene, Nick knows that here he will find what he’s looking for . . . before he disappears forever.

Opening the door to the Tremont home, Nick brings not only a legacy of terror but a secret that threatens to drag Sandy with him into the darkness.
Is getting out ahead of a national news story a "you made it" moment for writers? I would say so. Here's Jenny to tell us a few other items on her list of made-it moments.

On my blog—which isn’t the phenom Jungle Red is, of course, but home to a loyal group—I have a forum called the Made It Moments. About 300 authors have appeared, sharing the moment when they knew they’d made it. The entries vary wildly. (Come on over and read them! They’re a font of inspiration). But my point in sharing this today is that the message of the Moments is that we’d better pay attention to the small ones. The ones that could get missed. Because if we sit around waiting for John Steinbeck to walk up and say, “OK. You’re a real writer now…” Well, that may never happen. And not only because he’s deceased.

In that spirit, I thought I’d share 10 Moments I’m striving for that I hope are attainable. They’ll let me know I’m on my way…even if I never quite feel I’ve made it.

  • A reader quotes one of my lines to me. You know the words we pour over, and lovingly caress? How great would it be to know that those words spoke back to someone? This is my Taylor Swift moment. Before she got famous, Taylor said how great it would be to hear fans singing her lyrics at a concert. Now, millions do.

  • I see someone reading one of my books when I’m out and about. This happened to craft mystery writer, Lois Winston, on the subway, I believe. How cool! I think I’d walk up and hug that person. They’d think I was a nutcase and never read one of my books again.

  • I see someone reading a review of one of my books when I’m out and about. This is close to the above. Except that in this case, I sidle over to the person, all clandestine-like, and intone solemnly, “You should really buy that book they’re reviewing.” Unless the review is a bad one. Then I would sidle over, all clandestine-like, and mutter, “Ignore it.”

  • I go into a library and somebody is taking one of my books off the shelf. Another variation on the same theme, I suppose. Except that I remember being that kid in the library for whom each book was a precious jewel in a treasure chest. I couldn’t afford to buy books as a child, and libraries saved me in many ways (the least of them financial). To know that my work is now part of that chain would probably make me weepy.

  • Somebody recognizes me. I waited so long to be published—it took thirteen years—that my brother finally gave up and decided to fill the role of #1 fan. Now when we are together, he’ll periodically break into this croggy, lifetime smoker voice and say, “Hey! Aren’t you Jenny Milchman?” I’d like for this to happen…and it wouldn’t be my brother. 

  • At a book event, they need to bring in extra chairs. Some Reds readers may know that I do a lot of book events. (Like, a real lot. Of the past 24 months, I spent 11 touring, and we’re about to head out again). So needless to say—but I’ll say it—I’ve entered my share of empty rooms. Comes with the territory, and a night spent talking to booksellers is always a night happily spent. Or rooms with 1, 2, or 10 attendees, and I like those, too. Truth to tell, I love ’em all, or else I probably couldn’t do so many. I’ve even had a smattering of events with triple digit attendees. I remember going to see Louise Penny at The Tattered Cover in Denver and it was SRO. Louise walked up to the podium and said something gracious and Louise-ish, like, “I want you to know that I don’t take a single one of you here for granted.” I never will either. I’ll even get you a chair.

  • My books are in bookstore windows. OK, this has actually happened already. As I mentioned, I do a lot of events, and booksellers are smart about using their real estate. (Thank you, Malaprops, in Asheville, North Carolina! You rule!) But it’d be super cool if it happened so often that I didn’t run over to the window, press my face against the glass so I looked like a smushed fish, and jump and down, screaming, “That’s my book! That’s my book!”

  • Two generations in a family read my work. Maybe I have to write a lot longer for this to happen. But Lois Duncan—who was celebrated as a Grand Master at this year’s Edgar ceremonies—was and is my favorite YA suspense novelist, and introducing my own daughter to her work was and is one of the great joys of my reading life. Oh, and once I even got to introduce my daughter to Lois in person! And that put things all kinds of over the top.

  • Somebody sends me something. Not in a creepy way, like hand-delivered to my house. But you know, maybe in care of my publisher or agent? And not something creepy, like a finger. But it could be a cake. I like cake. Or a miniature, which I collect. Or a book they love. Or a picture of him or her reading my book. Which would bring this whole list full circle.

  • But wait! There’s more. If you’re reading this post, I’d love to get to meet you along the road. Your road or mine. I’d love to hear where you’re at, with your writing or your reading, and I’d love to connect. I think that’s the real feeling behind every single item on this list. Connecting with readers and other writers. That’s why we’re all in this game.
Those are 10 items in my bucket. What are some of yours?

Special for Reds Readers! I’m announcing a giveaway for the first time ever on this blog. Anyone who pre-orders my forthcoming thriller, As Night Falls, is eligible to win a Writer’s Wish List, or give one away to an emerging writer in their life. Please see here for details:

Jenny Milchman  lived for eleven months on the road with her family on what Shelf Awareness called “the world’s longest book tour.” Her debut novel, COVER OF SNOW, won the 2013 Mary Higgins Clark award. RUIN FALLS was a Top Ten of 2014 by Suspense Magazine. Jenny’s third novel, AS NIGHT FALLS, is an Indie Next Pick and a summer 2015 release.

Jenny is Vice President of Author Programming for International Thriller Writers, and the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which is celebrated annually in all 50 states and 6 foreign countries.

You can find out more about her and her books at her website, friend her on Facebook and Goodreads, and follow her on Twitter as @JennyMilchman.


  1. I loved reading your Made It Moments list, Jenny, almost as much as I've enjoyed your books. I trust they'll all come true for you.
    I'm looking forward to reading "As Night Falls" . . . .

  2. Thank you, Joan! It's great to see you here, and I appreciate your vote of enthusiasm. I always wonder whether anyone really will be reading the book...

    Thank you, Julia, for the chance to guest blog, and Reds, here, there, and everywhere for having one of the best cyber stops on the web!

  3. Love reading Made It Moments and enjoy the journey everyone goes on. I also loved being your guest twice Jenny. Things have moved on a lot since then. I got a publishing deal. I am so happy to read about your progress and success - fills me with hope. Always happy to support you as you do others. Thanks so much. Jane

  4. Jenny, Good Morning!
    Your "As Night Falls" was a huge surprise waiting for me on my doorstep earlier this week, and I thank you.

    And I know I'll love it every bit as much as I did your first two. In case I haven't mentioned it lately, I think you rock.

    One of the loveliest things I've had happen happened in Malaprop's in Asheville. When I walked back to see if Whimsey was still in stock, there was a young woman reading the back cover. She turned to her mom and said, "this sounds good. I'm going to buy this one."

    So, of course, I introduced myself. She asked me to sign it, we took pictures, we giggled, she introduced me to her mom, her boyfriend, and her sister and we had a fun time.

    Then I went out to the car and cried like a baby.

  5. I just love this list Jenny. From the get-go, you have always been such a giving person with the knowledge you have gained on your publishing journey and you just continue to inspire.

    Most of the things on my "list" have already happened (and continue to happen):
    1. Have a reader e-mail me to say thank you for a review, as it inspired them to read a book they would otherwise have missed. (This happens fairly often now and is the real reason I run my book review blog - I just want to encourage reading).
    2. Have a blog follower approach me in public. This happened for the first time at a Bouchercon and was actually one of the lovely regulars here - Kathy Reel. Thanks Kathy!
    3. Have one of my reviews quoted within the front matter pages of a printed book.
    4. Have a review of mine appear in a magazine. (CrimeSpree, YEA!)
    5. I'd love to be quoted on the front or back cover of a book, but this is a less likely, but not impossible goal.

    In many ways, just thinking about these moments is enough. We have all accomplished things, no matter how small, that make us proud. Those are the moments when life is really lived. Celebrate those!

  6. Love that list, and the mere idea of it tickles me. I once found a woman sitting in the aisle across from me on an airplane reading my book. I was so thrilled... then I realized I knew her. So my list includes "finding a STRANGER on a plane who's reading my book." My daughter once sent me a picture of my book on the rack of a supermarket checkout counter. And *featured* in an airport bookstore. Huge.

    When a president buys my book for summer reading on the Vineyard, I'll know I've really arrived.

  7. That is a terrific list. About your blog, goodness, everybody knows about your Made It Moments, Jenny!

    I had a Moment this week. A comment I made about writing was picked up by the National Endowment for the Arts, made into a poster that appeared on their Facebook and Twitter,and will be used to celebrate the NEA's 50th anniversary in September. A huge surprise!

  8. These are such great comments! I would say you've arrived as a reviewer. I hope that front/back cover things happens, but you've still Made It.

    Hallie, I already knew you had. I'll hope the next president becomes a fan of yours, but still. Supermarket rack. 'Nuff said.

    Jane, I am so happy I got to be there for your Before and so so thrilled there's now a Next! A publishing deal. Wow!

    Kaye, I can imagine both the giggles and the tears. How wonderful. Malaprops is a true connector bookstore. I'm so glad it's one of the places helping people discover Whimsey. And thank you for being in my corner...I've long been proud to be in yours.

  9. Ramona--how great is that?? Can you share the comment you made? The NEA, wow.

  10. Hi Jenny, so fun to see you here!
    Wonderful bucket list.
    Looking forward to meeting you one day in person.

  11. Kristi, I do hope that happens soon!

  12. Great subject, and I must run over and read your blog, Jenny, but at the moment I have to put down the coffee and get offline, since I'm supposed to be packing up me, car and cat for a few days at the cottage (no internet).

    But I'll just say, I haven't made it, but I was no-end pleased when my 10-year-old grandson asked to read my short story in The Whole She-Bang 2, and got it. That's a good moment.

    (And I'm taking Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall with me to read on the dock. I won it here, thanks to Reds and author Hannah Dennison.)

  13. Susan, have a wonderful, internet-free time at the cottage. That sounds like bliss (though I'm quite enjoying being web-connected to all of you today, I must say). As for your Moment--a grandson reading might surpass reaching ten million fans. Go, you!

  14. My first Make-it moment (other than seeing my book on a bookstore shelf, which, since it was my local independent and I had walked in and pitched them to order it myself, wasn't quite as much vindication as it might have been) was in San Francisco, where I was spending the day popping in and out of bookstores signing stock (if they had it.)

    I was at a Borders right in the middle of - do you call it downtown in SF? Anyway, they had my books fronted in a New Releases display and as I surreptitiously watched from the corner of an aisle, a young guy with dreads and facial piercings picked it up, read the flap and walked of with it! Thanks, young guy with piercings! Not usually my target audience, but I was happy to see you buying my book.

  15. That's a great one, Julia. I bet that guy has read every single book in the series since. Thanks for having me to the Jungle!

  16. Hi Jenny!

    I really do think my "made it" moment will be the day I see my book at Mystery Lovers and have that launch party. It may not happen for, oh, years yet. But when it does, well, saying I'll be thrilled is an understatement.

    Good luck with the third book. I guess I better get reading and get caught up.

  17. My Made IT moment recently-- my teenaged nephew looking at me with ADMIRATION shining on his face after I helped him revise his final English term paper. "Wow, Aunt Flora, you really know how to write!" This, instead of the usual "What planet are you from?" look. Meager, I know, but I'll take what I can get! ;-)

    How have I missed your books? Checking out my library's catalog now!

  18. My "Made it" moment would be when Hank asks ME for a blurb. :)

  19. I love reading your "moments" Jenny, along with everyone else's here. It's fun to see what moves us and gives us satisfaction along the way. I have 2 moments that stand out. The first was receiving a letter from one of the world's foremost experts on Angkor Wat - she had read my novel (about Cambodia in the 20s) and "absolutely loved it." I was high on this praise for weeks because it meant so much, coming from someone who had devoted her life to the subject of my novel. But as wonderful as this was, my second moment is even more precious to me. I was at a family gathering after my food memoir "Communion" came out, and my 70-year-old uncle came up to me and told me that it was the first book he'd read since high school and then proceeded to ask thoughtful questions about various aspects of it for the next hour. I had touched a reader, and that reader was someone I love - a true MOMENT.

  20. I love these! Getting teens to regard our work--that's a Moment indeed, Flora.

    Mary, I see that Moment coming for you. I really do. If you happen to be free July 13, we could meet in person at MLB, and I can tell the booksellers to look forward to your book!

    Jack, well, yes... Helping someone who hasn't connected to a love of reading for a long time reconnect. That is just great. And hearing you got your words right from an expert--well, that too.

    Thanks for being here, everybody! You're making this day a party.

  21. I think I might be free on July 13. I will write that down on my calendar.

    I've met the new owners - you're going to love them!

  22. I think I might be free on July 13. I will write that down on my calendar.

    I've met the new owners - you're going to love them!

  23. Welcome, Jenny! I'm a huge fan of your books and blog! Made it moment -- taking my son to the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., then realizing they have my books on display at the gift shop!

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  25. Love love love you, Jenny!

    Once I was in the post office, and a woman came up to me and said--are you Hank Phillippi Ryan? Because it was Boston, I figured she knew me from TV. Yes, I said, so nice to see you.

    She opened her tote bag and took out TRUTH BE TOLD!


    I love your books, she said. Will you sign this for me?

    I still get misty thinking of it. And all the times I go into a random bookstore, and they HAVE the book! Ah. xoxoo

  26. Mary, I would love to get to meet you! Here, I'm going to share an invite to the event. It will be a talk about publishing, so maybe right up your alley now?

    Susan, I'm so glad you like the Moments, and honored you know my books. The same to you. And being in the Spy Museum is just the coolest.

    Hank, it must be something to see your author recognizability climb to that of your Other Way Cool Career. I would be misty too. And I don't even have anOther Way Cool Career. And walking into a random bookstore...that goes on this list too. Actually, this whole comment stream does.

  27. Jack, you cracked me up!
    And you will be just as generous as she is, I'm sure.

  28. I could certainly see what a thrill those would be for writers.

    As a reviewer, I'd love to be quoted giving an endorsement in a book in English. (It's actually happened with the German version of a couple of the Monk books. And yes, I have copies). That would be a made it moment. Even more would be getting the cover quote.

  29. Wonderful Moments to aspire to, Jenny. I predict that within five years, you will experience a majority of them. Write on!
    I look forward to seeing you in Houston on this year's tour Houston, you brave author, you! Hugs!!

  30. Mark, your comments about my debut were certainly cover-worthy. Keep reviewing and I bet it does happen for a US title!

    Kay, I would come to Houston in August just to see you and eat chocolate together as we talk writing...and life. Thanks for your vote of confidence (especially when it's hard to feel myself).

  31. PS. Meant to say you are coming to Houston in AUGUST, Jenny. That is what makes you so brave!

  32. I was reshelving my books at a B&N after dropping in to sign stock -- the clerk was busy so I offered to put them away myself -- and a woman with a small dog in a basket on her arm asked me what that book was. I told her and she said "that sounds good" and tucked a copy in the basket with the dog. (I did spot her later, handing it and her credit card to a clerk at the checkout counter. Not that I was watching to make sure she bought it, but...)

    And Jenny, if we ever manage to be near a Montana bookstore at the same time, I promise to recognize you and squeal -- and maybe bring cake. A miniature cake. :)

  33. I love that story, Leslie! Talk about seeing your book in a reader's hand.

    The Montana thing must happen. You don't even need cake. I just want to pair up with you sometime, my Agatha award winning friend!!

  34. Ha ha! I love your brother, Jenny. And I suspect all those moments are about to happen to you.

    My sister-in-law once introduced me to a stranger at a wedding as a "famous writer." She'd be a very handy person to have around if I didn't feel the need to immediately say, "No, I'm not!"

  35. Sandy, your sister-in-law just may know best :)

    It's really funny to hear my brother do the #1 fan. I didn't even explain the part where he gets stalker-y about it. Once he hid under my bed till I was good and tucked in, curled up with a book, then he rolled out and croaked, "Hey! Aren't you Jenny Milchman?"

    It wasn't a made it kind of moment.

  36. Hi Jenny! Love your brother. How funny (although if my brother hid under my bed and scared the bejesus out of me I'd kill him!)

    I've had a few Moments, but not the airplane or airport one so far. Sigh. A funny one, though; I was on the train from London to Oxford one year, going to the St. Hilda's Crime Conference, and the two ladies on the other side of the table were reading my books! I was so thrilled. It turned out they were going to the conference and were trying to sample all the authors attending, so I figured it didn't really count as a "stranger reading your book" moment. Nice, though.

    What I want to know is how you spend that much time on the road AND write such fabulous books?

  37. Yes, I want to know that, too! HOW do you do it??

  38. Hi Jenny! It was the subway where someone was reading a copy of one of my books, (ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN) but I didn't witness it. Someone who works at the New York Public Library goes around taking pictures of people reading around the city and posts the photos online. I found out about it from a Google Alert (gotta love those Google Alerts!) So in a way, it was better because even though I couldn't give the woman a hug, I was able to print out the photo and now have it framed in my office. A huge grin covers my face every time I look at it. :-D

  39. Jenny, you are very nice to ask about the quote. It came from an essay I sent to the NEA's Share Your Arts Story project. My story was about carving out a time to write every day: "My day--every single day--begins with a Writing Hour. I sit in a specific chair in a specific space, and it is the one hour of the day when words and I are alone, with no agenda and no interruptions. Without the Writing Hour, my day and my life would have a hole in it."

  40. Ramona, that quote needs to go on every writer's wall. We all deserve a Writing Hour. And I know what you mean about the hole.

    Lois, thanks for stopping by! The way it happened for you would be my 11th item now :)

    Deborah, you are very kind, and I thank you. Your en route to a conference moment is a whole other variation I didn't think of. As for me, the nuts and bolts of my schedule is that I don't write "new" when I am on the road. I do edit when pressed to, but touring is a whole other thing from the deep, dark, quiet crawling into the words and I need both to be separate. For the past two years, we've come back in September, the kids start school, and I get to start a new book!

  41. Out of town, so I'm coming in late. Jenny, your "moments" are fantastic, and the multi-generational goal is one I especially like. I loved passing books down to my children and now they to theirs. How satisfying it must be for an author to experience that.

    Kristopher, I was so excited to meet you at my first Bouchercon in Albany. Meeting another blogger/reviewer, especially one whose blog I so enjoy and admire, was a great part of that introduction to the wonderful world of Bouchercon. I have benefitted so much from getting to know you.

    As a blogger and a reviewer, my moments are similar to Kristopher and Mark. A blurb from one of my reviews would be so sweet. Some of my desired moments involve sharing a meal and conversation with favorite authors, and I've had the pleasure of already experiencing a few of those. I plan on achieving some moments at Bouchercon this year--bar conversations with various authors there. Jenny, I'll be looking for you.

  42. Kathy, please do, I would love to get to talk! I hope you get that Moments...and I agree, the permanence of books, how they transcend age and time, is one of the wonders. Not late at all, by the way! I'm so glad you stopped by. I hope your travels have been fleet and fun.

  43. What a fun blog-post, Jenny! I was happy/honored to meet you in Burlington... your book-talk was fantastic. What always stands out to me is your immense enthusiasm (and warm personality). I look forward to reading your new book!

  44. Oh, thank you, Cathy! It was great meeting you too. I hope we can cross paths again this year...and thank you for wanting to read the new one!


  45. Hi, Jenny! Loved your bucket list. My list is not much different from the others here, except for the ultimate item on my list. That's when George Clooney's agent calls and says George wants to play Adam Kingston in the movie version of my novel, MEMORY OF A MURDER. Hey! Gotta think big, right?

    I hope your tour brings you to Dallas/Fort Worth again this year. It'll be great to see you and your family again. This would be the third year in a row and we have to keep the tradition going.

    All the best to you, dear friend, and if you ever need a bus driver in one of your books again, I hope you'll keep me in mind. Earl Staggs

  46. Earl, you get a one-liner in my new book! Of course, you're the only bus driver in Wedeskyull for now. You'll see what your fictional counterpart is up to if you read it :)

    I think George's agent should call soon. Why not send a copy of your book?

    And...I will be back in Dallas on August 23 and I'd like to make it a fundraiser for Kevin again: Really hope I can see you then?

  47. Love this list. And especially the line about the finger. Cake is definitely a better choice.

  48. Thanks, Susan! No fingers, I think you're right.