The Second Mother is the newest offering from Jenny Milchman, USA Today bestselling author of psychological thrillers. With her first novel, Cover of Snow, Milchman had the debut of authors’ fantasies. It was nominated for a PEN/Faulkner award, became a USA Today bestseller, appeared on a Book of the Day calendar, and landed on a list of 100 Mysteries to Read in a Lifetime. The awards and acclaim poured in–among them was picking up the Mary Higgins Clark Award for best suspense novel of the year and nominations for Barry and Macavity awards. The thriller earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist, as well as praise from the New York Times, San Francisco Journal of Books, the Associated Press, and others.
In addition to The Second Mother and Cover of Snow, Milchman is also the author of three thrillers: Ruin Falls, As Night Falls and Wicked River. Four of her five novels have been chosen for the Indie Next List. She’s also had several short stories published in magazines and anthologies. She has served as vice president of author programs for International Thriller Writers, is currently co-chair of ITW’s Debut Authors Program, and is a member of the Sisters in Crime Speakers’ Bureau. She’s a nationally recognized speaker and educator on writing and publishing.
Currents: Tell us about The Second Mother.
Milchman: Julie Weathers is a woman with nothing to lose because she’s lost everything. She answers a want-ad to become a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse and moves to a tiny island off the coast of Maine. But her idyllic second chance turns out to uncover only more darkness and mystery when she meets a troubled child in her classroom.
Currents: American clinical psychologist Peter A. Levine has said, “The paradox of trauma is that it has both the power to destroy and the power to transform and resurrect.” Your protagonist was dealt one of life’s greatest traumas–how does she handle this “paradox of trauma”?
Milchman: I liken that quote to the concept of resiliency, which is linked to survivorship. Julie is a survivor. While she is destroyed for a time by her loss and trauma—when we meet her, she is abusing alcohol and has barely left the house in a year—she also feels a drive to live. As she drapes sheets over the furniture in her house and prepares to move to a remote island, it’s her connection to children that enables her to start over. Then she risks everything to try and save am endangered child…confirming her ability to deal with trauma head-on and not suffer another loss.
Currents: What’s something you learned researching this book that surprised you?
Milchman: As a writer, I haven’t been the best (or biggest) researcher, but in The Second Mother I was writing about an economy that owed its lifeblood to lobster fishing, an industry I knew nothing about. So, I had to break the research ban. Kidding; it’s not quite a ban. I was surprised to learn that just as we have agribusiness and big farming, so is there big seafood. Both family farms and father/son/daughter fishing boats are threatened. Also, the seafood industry is highly impacted by climate change, which makes sense, but the extent to which our fishermen’s livelihoods are under threat was dizzying and horrifying to me.
Currents: Your novels are standalone stories. Are you ever tempted to revisit some of your previous characters and turn their lives upside down again?
Milchman: My five published novels are all standalones, you’re right, but readers who read more than one will find a thread that weaves through–the fictional mountain town of Wedeskyull, New York. You may see a teeny tertiary character in one book–say, the general store clerk–who shows up to play a bigger role in another. In The Second Mother, Julie is the niece of the police chief in my debut novel. When I wrote my debut, I didn’t even know Chief Weathers had a niece! People who’ve read Cover of Snow may be interested to learn what’s happened to Vern in the seven years since he first made an appearance. So, while not a series, there is a rich reward to getting to know this multi-layered town–at least, as the author, I hope that there is. And I do want to revisit Depot from The Second Mother at some point–and see what he’s like as an older, still heroic dog.
Currents: I’ve always felt bookstores are magical places, so I must include this question. You founded “Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day,” which is now celebrated in all 50 states and on five continents. Not only does this get customers into bookstores, but it’s a brilliant way to foster that magic in children who today have so many demands vying for their attention. Please tell me how this came about.
Milchman: Like you, bookstores were magical lairs, troves of untold treasures, for me as a child. Then when I had little kids myself and was taking them to story hour weekly at our local bookstore, I began to wonder what might be a good way to make sure all children had access to such joy. I came up with Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day based on the success of Take Your Daughter to Work Day, and the first year it grew thanks to members of a mystery listserv and bloggers, while in subsequent years, word was spread by my family’s cross-country trips to bookstores while I was on tour.
However, even as the Day was expanding, I was aware of a problem in that concept of access. What about kids who live in “bookstore deserts,” places far enough away from a bookstore to make getting there too hard? Or people who can’t afford a book, or don’t have someone to take them to a bookstore? My goal now for the Day is to expand a pilot program whereby kids in at-risk regions go on annual field trips to a bookstore and funds are raised so that each child goes home with a new book. As someone who didn’t grow up with lots of extra income, but did have lots of books around, and parents, teachers, booksellers, and librarians who supported my love of reading, I am very aware of the life-changing power of Just One Book.
Currents: What is the latest on the filming of your novel As Night Falls?
Milchman: In a word, Covid. Filming has slowed to a crawl in so many arms of Hollywood. However, recently the screenwriter was running some script ideas by me, so I have hopes that one day this book–or another of mine–will make it to the big or small screen! I have a new film agent for The Second Mother, and he is very excited about it.
Currents: The holidays are looming, and they’ll be unquestionably different this year. Do you normally write much during this time? Also, please share with us what you’re working on now?
Milchman: I write new about half the year; the rest of the time I am either editing, or on tour. Clearly the latter is a no-go at this time. I am hoping that the novel I am revising right now will be finished by the holidays and I will take a “new normal” Christmas break. It’s a book about a family vacation that goes horribly wrong.
To learn more about the author, go to www.jennymilchman.com and follow her on social media.