So you know how the idea of a cross-country car trip with the kids fills your heart with dread? Jenny Milchman has been there, done that.
And she’s doing it again.
Milchman, who arrives in South Florida Friday to talk about her thriller Ruin Falls, has a different way of book touring. No airplanes for her. She packs up her husband and two kids, ages 8 and 11, and hits the road. You can see her impressive route for the “Over the Falls” tour and for her first tour for the award-winning Cover of Snow at www.jennymilchman.com
“I am crazy, but I do love it,” says Milchman, who admits she’s a nervous flier. “It gets my whole family together. It’s certainly better than leaving them for four months. Florida is the best geographic example of why it’s good. I can cover the the whole state by driving each day instead of having to make a flight and then maybe only going to Miami. This way I can also go to Sanibel Island and a little store near Sanibel and Vero Beach. ... Book friends I have had for 10 years online come out to an event. It’s making the virtual meet the real.”
Milchman hopes her Florida friends and friends-to-be will come out to talk about Ruin Falls, in which a frantic mother wakes up in a hotel room to find her children missing. But if only one person shows up? That’s OK, too.
“In Goshen, Indiana, one person came to my event,” she says, laughing. “But he had driven three hours each way to have that conversation with me. It’s a special thing to know people love to talk books.”
Q: Is Ruin Falls inspired by a parent’s worst nightmare?
It’s a mom’s worst nightmare. The novel came to me when I was on the road with my kids, and we upgraded to a suite. It occurred to me in a jittery, disoriented way that when you tuck your kids into a suite, they sleep close to the exit door, and the parents are far away. I knew I was going to write about it: The mom stumbles out to the outer room and discovers kids are missing. ... and the suspense would come from the question of would the mom be the kind of person to get her kids back? Could she grow into that? She starts out small and weak, but by the end the reader will have gone on a journey with her. She’s become a fighter.
Q. What’s the trickiest thing about writing a thriller?
The hardest part for me is actually the revision. I do have a trick to writing a thriller: Come up with a scenario that gets you in your scared place and write it as if it were really happening. That makes the first draft an absolute joy. People say, ‘How can it be a joy? Your books are scary and harrowing!’ But at the same time, I’m in the head of the person who is going to transform. Closure and justice we don’t get in real life, but if we read a thriller, we can get them.
Q. Your first novel, Cover of Snow, won the Mary Higgins Clark Award; how did that success affect Ruin Falls?
I didn’t know about the award when I was writing Ruin Falls. I was under the illusion that comes from my own insecurity that nobody was reading this book or maybe only a few people. I did not feel like there was some bar to live up to. Winning the award, I call it my redemption moment. In 11th grade English, which you would think would be my kind of class, I was the only person of all my classmates who didn’t get an Honor Society notice. That was me my whole life. Flash forward all these years, and I get to stand in the Grand Hyatt, and somebody says my name, and somehow they picked my book. It was amazing.
Q. You created Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, now celebrated on Dec. 7. How did that come about?
When the kids were younger I was taking them to story hour at our local bookstore. I’d get a cup of coffee, and the kids had entertainment. The conversation has become bigger about brick and mortar stores now. I thought, ‘Kids and bookstores are great, and wouldn’t it be neat if we had a Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day?’ I posted it on the Dorothy L mystery list, and in two weeks they had taken that idea and run with it. Eighty stores celebrated the first year in 2010. That summer my husband printed up bookmarks and posters, and we did our first cross country trip, before I had published any books. It had been a 10-year journey for me, and I was not finding success, but I still wanted the bookstores to be there. We visited a couple hundred book stores that year. Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day has grown every year since. Last year 650 bookstores celebrated.
Q. Do you worry about kids not reading print books?
Well, they say retention lowers the more link heavy a page is. I do worry. Kids need to be computer literate, but I hope we can retain the ability to engage with a page of text. My gut tells me that’s essential.
Q. Got any tips for parents preparing for a road trip on keeping the kids happy?
Bribery! You buy your kids lots of car toys and snacks and get them to associate the words “road trip” with fun things. You have some good travelers by the end of it. You learn the tricks. We used to screech to the side of the road whenever we’d pass an elementary school because we knew there would be a playground.