Today our guest at Maine Crime Writers is Jenny Milchman, whose newest book, RUIN FALLS, was published in April. Welcome, Jenny!
I spent a lot of time in Maine, summers as a child. Monhegan Island, Port Clyde, Cushing, Rockport…
all of these places forged me in deep and abiding ways. But I’ve spent even more time in pages about Maine, and by Maine writers. There’s a fictional town that feels realer to me than, say, Presque Isle or Greenville. I feel I know authors from their books better than any of the friendly but rather buttoned up Mainers who handed me my mail or served meals at diners when I breakfasted there on vacation.
The first time I traveled to Maine via a novel, I went to a little town called Castle Rock. “Not so long ago,” Stephen King writes in Cujo, “a monster came to the small town of Castle Rock…”
I read this book when I was probably too young for it—amidst tears and battles with my parents who were not horror fans themselves and didn’t quite know what to make of the fact that I never had nightmares—and was instantly transported. Not to a horrific story, although it was that, of course, but to a town that became a sort of second home to me. A place where everyone knew each other, and where there was a meta existence for rabid (excuse the pun) fans. By reading every one of Stephen King’s books, I was let in on all sorts of inside facts and references to Castle Rock. I knew the waitress whose story was told in The Dead Zone. Those kids in It introduced me to a new town that would go on to echo in books to come. Stephen King provided a sense of belonging for a little girl who felt like she didn’t belong.
Another Maine writer played a different, but no less important, role in my life. You see, that little girl who fit better into a fictional town than her real one, grew up to want to be a writer herself. And my road to publication was as twisted as anything in a book. It took me thirteen years to finally land a book deal, in part because while I had always read suspense, I’d never tried to write it until I got to work on my first novel. At that point I began to read every thriller I could get my hands on, including the tales of medical mayhem that Tess Gerritsen penned.
I wrote Tess a fan letter at a certain point, and mentioned—as aspiring writers are wont to do—that I was working on a novel myself. Tess was kind enough not only to write back, but to share the name of her agent. Although it would be years before I was ready for an agent to take me on, I have never forgotten how a real author made me feel just a little bit real myself. She gave me a whole different sense of belonging.
Once I finally broke through, another Maine author offered welcome. Julia Spencer-Fleming brings the region she writes about so vividly to life that she inspires me in my own work. And when I finally had a book out, not only was Julia good enough to offer me a blurb, she even spoke beside me at one of Maine’s great bookstores, Longfellow’s in Portland. Julia’s husband has become a friend in the book world as well—another part of my Maine family. And since Julia appears right here on this blog, I feel like this post has come full circle.
Stephen King says that reading a book closes a circle between author and reader. My circle opened right here in Maine.
Jenny Milchman’s debut novel, Cover of Snow, was chosen as an IndieNext and Target Pick, won the Mary Higgins Clark award, and is nominated for a Barry. Jenny’s second novel, Ruin Falls, came out in April and she hit the road with her family on the second of her multi-month book tours, which will hopefully bring her to Maine.