Sunday, February 7, 2010

Just for Today...Some Mysteries And Muses by Jenny Milchman

Jenny Milchman is a suspense writer from New Jersey, and the married mother of a kindergartener and preschooler. Her first novel is on submission right now, and several of her short stories have been published on line. Jenny co-hosts the series Writing Matters at a local independent bookstore; features authors in the Made It Moments column on her blog,; and speaks about life as an emerging writer at conferences and on radio.

Jenny's Workspace -
Lovingly referred to as
"A Closet of One's Own"

and swears she could work in a shoebox as long as she has books

Just for Today...Some Mysteries And Muses by Jenny Milchman

If Kaye Barley is one of the queens of mystery, then Meanderings And Muses is its kingdom. Or queendom. The subjects are books. Hundreds, no, thousands, of mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels, just waiting to serve us with their plot twists and turns, their characters seeking to communicate and enlighten. So many books, waiting to be discovered, here and elsewhere.

There’s the lonely, middle aged woman who makes up a roommate for companionship—or is she made up? And the little girl who has the power to kill people with her mind—so sad how terribly many people she dislikes. Then the bereft son who enters the Florida wilderness one day—but may not ever come out.

What happened? Why did I do what I did? The characters whisper, holding out a beckoning finger. Come. Come read my pages and see.

How do all these books get born?

I suspect the process is different for every writer. I have a novel on submission right now, and for me a mystery always begins with a question. The one that woke me in the middle of the night a while ago was: What would make a good man commit suicide?

Death is such a selfish beast, and when it’s self-inflicted, it’s tempting to think that the person who died was also cruel in some way. But there are situations that make life crueler than death, and if a man encountered one of them, then perhaps he’d have no other choice.

What would such a situation be?

That became the crux of my first novel, but as any writer knows, a compelling premise has only the smallest connection to a completed book.

The novel I’m speaking of went through thirteen drafts. Yes, lucky thirteen. Then it grew into a whole different book. And I started counting drafts all over again.

Are mysteries particularly unwieldy to write? They usually involve a puzzle, and that means to a certain extent that the writer can’t fly off to great, looping heights in regard to plotting. By the end, everything must make sense in terms of what came before.

So those happy surprises that a writer of another kind of fiction might run with have to be resisted by the mystery writer. Either that or the book will need to be rewritten after ‘the end’ has been penned. This could happen, well, thirteen times or more. Some writers swear by outlines as an antidote to this problem, but so far they haven’t worked for me.

There’s something about those secrets that the characters whisper. I need them to come to me in the dark. If I knew all the ooglies and monsters that would appear as the pages start to accumulate or the word count starts to go up, then I wouldn’t be surprised or scared. And if I’m not, how can I expect a reader to be?

In the end I think we suspense and mystery lovers journey to the kingdom for a few specific things. We trust the authors who birth all those troubled, hurting characters and their stories to surprise and frighten us.

But we also to trust them to do something else. To find the justice in the awful actions that propel a good mystery. The part that says, Yes, something terrible happened. But there was a reason for it. Come.

Come listen to me tell you what it was.


Vicki Lane said...

A lovely compelling post, Jenny. Best of luck with your novel!

jenny milchman said...

Thanks, Vicki! I can use it!

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Jenny, you are so young! Just never give up and one day that book will definitely be in print. Enjoyed the post!


jenny milchman said...

I was one of those seventeen year olds who couldn't get into PG-13 movies (iow, I'm not so young) but I appreciate your faith, Marilyn. I know I can't give up. My husband keeps telling me no Plan B. I just didn't expect it to...hurt quite so much some days. But the joy of writing takes the sting off submitting...

Thank you for reading!

Maryannwrites said...

Wonderful post, Jenny. I like the fact that you don't outline and like to be surprised at some of the actions of your characters. "If I'm not surprised and scared, how can I expect the reader to be?"
That emotional connection to the reader is what engages them in our stories, so it is vital in the writing. Some authors can establish that while having the whole book planned out, but I can't. If I outline beyond a few main points, I lose my emotional connection t the story.

Cornelia Read said...

Great post! And I had no idea Lewis Carroll invented "chortle," even though that was on your blog and not here...

jenny milchman said...

Now I have the lovely prospect ahead of looking up your work, Maryann, and experiencing that emotional connection myself! I think we are on the same page in this respect (groaning at the pun).

And Cornelia! I will go back and link that Lewis Carroll factoid on my blog. Thanks for reading. Kaye establishes such a wonderful community of mystery here, I'm sure she will not mind me mentioning that I gave FIELD OF DARKNESS to one of the most well read mystery lovers I know--months ago--and she still has not stopped raving.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Jenny - you are a joy!

This was a wonderful post, and I am honored to have had you here. I hope you'll grace us with your presence often. Many of us will be watching your career as it takes off and grows. And we'll be watching with a huge amount of pride, Jenny.

and Hugs to the rest of you - thanks for stopping by!!