Hi Maine Crime readers! My name is Jenny Milchman and I write suspense novels in which women face overwhelming odds…and triumph. My first four books take place in the fictional Adirondack town of Wedeskyull. They are standalones in one sense, except that you could think of the setting as the series “character”. You might encounter the woman who helps the heroine of one book as a store clerk in another.
In The Second Mother, which just came out, I moved to Maine.
The heroine, Julie Weathers, is the niece of the police chief from my debut novel.
When I wrote my debut, I didn’t even know the police chief had a niece! Such are the pleasures of writing this kind of series.
But back to Maine.
Physically moving to Maine has been a long held dream of mine—I think it is for many people from “away”. Maine lives in my mind and my soul because I traveled there for several childhood summers, and one of the places where we spent time produced the seed for The Second Mother.
The summer I graduated college, a teacher was needed on Monhegan Island.
In some ways, I was more settled that summer than I’d ever been in my life, having just gotten engaged. But in other ways, I was deeply at sixes and sevens.
I’d wanted to be a writer all my life, but with college graduation looming, my parents sat me down and gently questioned my plan of being a poet and living in the woods in a log cabin. Of my own making.
They may’ve gotten a little less gentle when they had to point out that I’d never actually wielded a hammer.
So I came up with a Plan B and applied to graduate school in psychology.
One school accepted me, and I was set to start in September when my fiancé and I traveled to a house my parents had rented in Cushing. It was there that we saw the Monhegan post about the teacher, I think at the Thomaston Café, which made the best fish cakes I’d ever eaten.
“We could do that,” I remarked tentatively. My fiancé didn’t have any firm plans for the fall at all. “I’ve taught for my major and I love kids. And wouldn’t it be cool to live on an island?”
(Like moving to Maine from away, I think a lot of people have this fantasy too).
My fiancé had never been to Monhegan, though I’d spent a month or two there over the course of several childhood summers. So we planned a day trip.
We hiked the cliffs and roamed the woods for hours. The one-room schoolhouse set across from a bowl of land that flooded for ice-skating in winter—at least according to Marjorie of Monhegan by Sidney Baldwin—and it charmed us both. Maybe we could really do this!
This would be a better story if a) we’d actually done it and b) it’d gone in some super dramatic way or even if c) I could recall why we did not apply to be teachers on the island in the end.
But if any of those were true then I wouldn’t have written The Second Mother.
It’s the story of Julie Weathers, a woman who has suffered a monstrous loss and needs a fresh start. Who among us doesn’t need that at some point? She applies to be a—you can probably guess this part—teacher in a one-room schoolhouse on fictional Mercy Island, a place that relies less on tourism than Monhegan, and more on a still robust—if changing—lobster industry.
Things don’t go as Julie hopes. She grows deeply connected to one particular student, a troubled eleven year old boy named Peter. He’s part of a legacy, an island family, whose reach and practices Julie could never have fathomed. It will take a total outsider—somebody from away—to try and topple this entrenched dynasty so she can save Peter.
Julie also finds love on the island, and meets a new best friend. Mercy is a place that I hope will charm readers as much as Monhegan did me—even as it frightens them too.
Thank you for letting me share this journey with you. I am so glad I moved to Maine.
My friend Miriam did answer the ad In Maine Times for the Monhegan teaching position. She taught there for a number of years in the 1970’s -80’s and loved it. We often met at Thomaston cafe’ — still a wonderful place to eat.
Welcome to Maine and MCW.
Hey, Jenny. You are living my dream. I adore Maine and have been privileged to visit about five different times. I won’t ever move to Maine, because my grands are in Texas, but I’m looking forward to returning when we get a better handle on this virus. Your book sounds intriguing and I wish you well with it.