Warmer Days to Come
A guest post by author Jenny Milchman, whose new novel Ruin Falls comes out April 22.
It’s hard to remember, but once upon a time letters couldn’t be delivered instantaneously, and we didn’t all carry devices in our pockets that allowed us to communicate with anyone in the world with the push of a button. Back when the year started with a 1, my husband’s work took him to North Carolina, and I went with him.
I was a struggling writer, and had all the freedom and constraints this designation implied. I could go anywhere I wanted — no time sheet to hand in — but at the same time, nobody really cared what I was doing with my time. Except my husband. As the pages of my novel-in-progress mounded up, he read and critiqued them. And as the snail-mailed rejections for my first unpublished novel also mounded up, my husband told me not to give up. “There’s no Plan B,” he’d say, quoting Will Smith’s approach to success. “It distracts from Plan A.”
We arrived in the beautiful, bucolic city of Durham, and checked into the Blooming Garden Inn. I worked on my second novel in a Kinko’s on 9th Street. It was a story about a marriage and a murder in a snowy Adirondack village, and as I wrote, the scented springtime disappeared outside, and I entered a land of whiteouts and punishing cold. At the Kinko’s, I paid for word processing by the hour. If I got into great flow and the minutes whizzed by without my noticing, I would have to jump up and pay for some more.
In the evenings, when my husband’s much more standard work day was complete, we went to eat barbeque and drank in the smell of springtime. It was a wonderful time, although once we left our North Carolina idyll, and I got back to querying agents, it turned out that this second novel also failed to sell.
Years passed, bringing with them many changes. My rejections started to arrive via e-mail. There were also children, years that began with 2, and five more novels, each written with the same thrilling urgency that had made me lose track of time in Kinko’s.
My husband was still quoting Will Smith, but my personal will was starting to flag. One day, I sat down and I took out that novel I’d worked on in Durham. And I saw everything that was wrong with it. I rolled up my sleeves and began writing, using everything I had learned since that day when we traveled so freely South, unaware of the responsibilities that raising children would bring, or the way so many years of rejection would drag at me as if I were being pulled underwater.
It would be a great end to the story to say that I sent that eighth novel out, and the sky opened and the powers-that-be in New York publishing sang, and I became a published author. But that isn’t what happened. Instead, my agent submitted it, and again we began to collect interest from editors, but ultimately rejections.
Will Smith was all well and good, but he had made it. How much longer could I ask my husband to go on bolstering me, not to mention financially supporting this dream of mine? Did I want our kids to grow up seeing their mom frustrated and hurt and weary?
I sent my novel out one last time, not to an editor, but to an author I admired. And no one could’ve been more surprised than I when this author gave my novel to her own editor, who decided to publish it. After 11 years, my husband turned out to be right. No plan B.
Cover of Snow was released in January 2013. It’s a story of secrets and one sorrowful and frightened woman who refuses to give up. It takes place in a faraway wintry land, but I can tell you something about those pages. If you read closely and scent the hope and promise of warmer times to come, there’s a little North Carolina in there, too.
Jenny Milchman is a novelist from New York State who loves arriving in North Carolina. Her debut novel, Cover of Snow, published by Ballantine in 2013, was chosen as an Indie Next and Target Emerging Authors Pick and nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark award. Her second novel, Ruin Falls, comes out April 22.