Where to Go for Magic

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photo by h.koppdelaney

Therese here. Today’s guest is suspense author Jenny Milchman, whose debut novel, Cover of Snow releases today! Jenny is the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, and the chair of International Thriller Writers’ Debut Authors Program. She’s had short stories published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Adirondack Mysteries II, and in an e-published volume called Lunch Reads.

Cover of Snow was recently given starred reviews by both Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly. Here’s a taste of the former:

[A] superlative dark, wintry debut…These well-defined characters take us on an emotional roller-coaster ride through the darkest night, with blinding twists and occasionally fatal turns. This is a richly woven story that not only looks at the devastating effects of suicide but also examines life in a small town and explores the complexity of marriage.

She’s with us today to talk about her journey to publication. “I think that many writers when they start out are not aware of how long the road can be, or what will be required from them along it,” she said. “I know that I wasn’t. I wanted to write a post that focused on the magical parts of the journey–whether you are published or not–and then encourage people to keep going. If you don’t stop walking, it’s not that you haven’t arrived. You just haven’t gotten there yet.”

So true. Enjoy!

Where to Go for Magic

A writer deals with many kinds of magic. There’s the magic by which a blank page turns into one filled with words. How did that happen? Sometimes we’re not even aware of doing anything. We’re just the conduit to words flowing out of our fingertips.

That’s magic.

And then there’s the magic by which characters come to life. Who are these people and where did they come from? Their quirks, their personalities? Surely being able to conjure life from shadow-forms is magical. So is the fact that our characters quietly go away when we close the document, or the cover.

Or do they?

And don’t forget the magic of what a book is. A conversation between people who may never meet—author and reader—yet is as intimate as one that takes place between family members. About the deepest dimensions of life: love and hurt and heart.

Then there’s the arc of a story. Being able to impose order on the tangled messiness of everyday life is what we hope for from our deities. Such is the power of writing.

But when a writer escapes the bounds of his or her own creation, there’s an abrupt end to this terrain. The world of wands and sparkles and refracting crystal creations is left behind. The writer enters the all-too-real land of publishing. Here there be dragons.

When I started pursuing publication, the magic came to a screeching halt.

I was lucky enough on the agent front, getting offers of representation within about eight months (which felt like forever, ha ha, what did I know about forever), and signing with an agency that represented some great names. I thought my ship wasn’t just coming in, but already at the dock. Didn’t having an agent mean your book would sell?

The magic doesn’t always work that way. In fact, it was my third agent who finally sold my novel, and it wasn’t my first novel, but my eighth. Five others were submitted, and fifteen editors tried to make offers, only to be turned down by their editorial boards or publisher. All of this took eleven years.

Confused? That’s okay. So was I.

What should I do now? Write another book? Give up?

In the end, what allowed my agent to go to the one magic editor who loved my book and could make an offer on it, was an author whose work I had long admired and who stepped in to say, “I know just who this is right for!”

It was like magic. There’s that word again.

For when it finally happens, it is magic, of the purest kind, and I think that’s what keeps so many of us writers practicing our skills like a bunch of Harries and Hermiones at Hogwarts.

What did I do that resulted in the spell being cast, and how can it translate to your own writerly journey? Here are the elements, boiled down. Not quite lizard’s lid and a vial of blood from a maiden…but maybe close.

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  • First, write a book that garners some industry attention. Take classes, online and physical, go to writing workshops, join critique groups so you can learn what makes for a truly exciting book. This will set you on a path that brings you into the range of people who can make it happen, if not right away, then one day.
  • If that book doesn’t sell, write another one. And another. It’s a lesser or more known fact of the industry that most writers’ first novels don’t sell. And in some cases, their sixth or seventh doesn’t either.
  • Support your local bookstores, and your not-so-local ones, by shopping in the stores, and attending events. Drive, if you have to. Visit bookstores whenever you go somewhere. One day, booksellers will be the ones who start the all-important WOM (Word of Mouth), the key to making the book that has taken so long to happen into one readers can find.
  • Meet authors. Magic is rare and seldom occurs in exactly the same way twice. But this road is a long one, and keeping people who inspire you in sight is one way to know that you will make it yourself in the end.
  • Never, ever give up on your dream. What’s the real magic we writers possess? It’s the ability to envision possibilities. In the stories we write…and the lives we live.

Fare thee well on your writing journey!

Readers, you can learn more about Jenny and her debut, Cover of Snow, on her website and blog, and by following her on Facebook and Twitter. Write on!

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Comments

  1. says

    I enjoyed this post! I’ve always thought that there’s magic, a sense of mystery, a bit of Fate, in the writing process – along with all the hard work, discipline, rejection, etc., of course. :)

    Speaking of “magic” – I just added COVER OF SNOW to my To-Read Shelf on GoodReads yesterday, and here you are at WU today! :)

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    • says

      Madeline, and here’s another bit of magic–your name, your spelling even–is the name of a character in my next book. Thanks so much for noticing Cover of Snow. That really means everything to a new author. It is such a nerve-wracking time, and I greatly appreciate your being here. Here’s to magic!

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  2. says

    Such an inspiring post! Writing is magic. It’s sometimes hard to fathom how these people and stories come right out of our heads. I’ve always felt it’s more than that! It’s like we’re excavators uncovering marvelous, lost civilizations each time we put pen to page.

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  3. says

    Beautiful, encouraging post! It was exactly what I needed to hear right now as I entered into the post-novel, pre-agent, want-an-agent period. I know it will be a long road, perhaps longer than I know, but I do not want despair to overcome me and keep me from the very thing that brings MAGIC to my life: writing, writing and writing.

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    • says

      Jillian, may your road be smooth and swift, but even more importantly, may you come to all the right turns at just the right times along it. If you do, you will wind up in the right place. I promise. Be sure and contact me if you need encouragement as you go along, or just because I’d love to hear what happens for you next!

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  4. says

    I love this post, Jenny. Thank you for sharing your journey . . . so comforting to know I am not alone.

    In addition to focusing on the magic of writing and of story, I also have to constantly remind myself that I only have to be in charge of one thing: the writing. That is my sole job. It is my agent’s sole job to sell my writing. It will (with some additional magic) be my future editor’s job to champion my book. It will be readers’ sole job to purchase and read my book.

    Many days I wish I had more control over the other stages of publication, but in the end, it’s actually quite nice, liberating even, to know I am only in charge of finding and creating the magic.

    Congrats on staying on your very long road!

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  5. says

    Congratulations, Jenny, on publishing your debut novel! What an inspiring story. You get the Stick-To-Itiveness Award for sure. Thanks for proving that perseverance pays off. It sounds like one of the keys to your success was that you didn’t stop writing. You kept at it. 8 novels! Wishing you much continued success!

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    • says

      Thank you, Eva! I think you’re right–I keep saying and writing it these days–so long as we don’t quit, we haven’t failed. We just haven’t made it yet.

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  6. says

    What a fantastic post, Jenny! It’s so true that it’s easy to lose the magic of writing along the road to getting published. Thanks for the reminder. I can’t wait to read Cover of Snow!

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  7. says

    Great tips– different than others I have read. It’s helpful to remember the adage, “if at first you don’t succeed”.

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    • says

      I’m glad, Julie. Thanks for saying that. Yes, in writing I find it rarely happens the first time, whether that’s getting a scene right or getting published. But it *does* happen.

      I’m headed off, everyone, to some things to mark this day. Thank you so much, Therese, for having me to WU, one of the best writing blogs there is. And thank you, everyone, for the great comments. I look forward to chatting more, probably on Thursday!

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  8. says

    In this day of write it and publish it, it’s so important to remember that if you’re serious, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You have to love the writing. I was so thrilled to look at my Mystery Guild selections and see your book there, Jenny! Mega congrats.

    Terry

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  9. Ally Cowee says

    Congratulations on your debut, Jenny. Your persistence tale is genuine and encouraging and heart-warming :) I’m looking very forward to reading Cover of Snow. Celebrate!

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  10. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    Cover of Snow. What a beautiful title. Alluring, so that I want to pick up the book and read.

    Thank you for your guidelines here. In this often confusing world hawking platform to the extent that sometimes it is style over substance, it is so good to be reminded that the ultimate game-changer in a writing career is the essence of the work. The writing and the writing journey, it’s what it’s all about.

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    • says

      Bernadette, yes, you said it. It’s about the journey, and it’s about the writing. You can busy yourself with 1000 things–but if you write a book that grabs you, it will probably grab others, and then you will be on your way…one way or another.

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  11. says

    Good post Jenny,

    Inspiring locations like the beach or forests have this effect.

    Also people watching from an interesting vantage point like a second story porch in New Orleans or Key West where you can watch people passing by.

    It gives you a sense of the substance of life.

    You can take that and inject it into characters, stories, ideas, etc.

    PS

    That was wrong how you did Forest Gump.
    Sorry I’m too immature to resist saying that. lol

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  12. says

    When that ship comes sailing in, it does get a bit magical. Then you reflect on what led you there, and it’s clear that it wasn’t magic, but a stubborn headed determination to keep writing in the face of all odds, and hone your craft as you go.

    They say a good magician never reveals his/her tricks, but thanks for breaking it down anyhow. I won’t hold it against you. Grind ’til you shine!

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    • says

      Andrew, yes, maybe a little of both? The magic keeps us going till the grind kicks in? I often talk about being in a deluded state when I write. If I really thought about all the work that lay ahead, could I do it? But the magic takes over and carries us where we need to be till it lets us down, gently or not so gently. Thanks for being here and sharing your thoughts…

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  13. says

    Thank you so very much! That is a lovely blog, covering the magic and the dirty details of writing and publishing. This summer I wandered into Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena and landed in an author talk. Just being in the same room with a passionate author re-energized me to go back out and work on my novel. You’re right, it is magic. And I needed to read this today. Thank you.

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    • says

      Lorraine, so glad to hear it! The magic of going to author events is something I feel very passionately about. You can learn and realize things that are even greater than are in the books–and there’s just nothing like that real time connection.

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  14. says

    Good post. Writing is indeed magic. I forgot that when I got taken in by a scam agent when I was 21. An agent thought I was the best at 21, and even sent me Christmas cards! What did I know at 21? She’s still being tried in New York State for her scams. Meanwhile, because she didn’t sell anything and I didn’t know she wasn’t sending anything out, I lost faith in myself, forgot that the writing itself was the actual magic (and not the selling of it), and didn’t write a single word of anything substantial for the next 12 years.

    And became even more of a mess.

    I’m back to writing now, sold some small things recently, and–more importantly–everything else in my life seems to have more or less fallen into place because I’m writing somewhat consistently.

    The writing itself, and not the business of writing, is the true magic. I hope I never forget that again.

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    • says

      Steven, I’m really grateful you shared your story and cautionary tale. So sorry you got taken in–but glad if justice will be done. And till then, you’re right–focus on the writing because that needs to remain with us, all our days, no matter what else happens in life.

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  15. Leslie R. says

    Thank you for such an encouraging post! I’m having some decidedly non-magical days of writing right now (and I haven’t even gotten to the agent/publish stage yet!), but I remember when it was magical. I will find my way back there again.

    I just added Cover of Snow to my Goodreads shelf – can’t wait to read it!

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    • says

      Thank you, Marilyn…for both.

      I wanted to say–I appreciate people wanting to read more than I know how to communicate. After 13 years of not being the one to have a book, of reading other people’s books, and admiring them, and trying to learn from them, (and sometimes, I have to be strictly honest and confess, feeling like Always the Bridesmaid, will it ever be me??) this is just amazing to hear. I don’t always know how to respond–but I always, always am grateful for people being interested in my book. Thank you.

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  16. says

    I’m so sorry to have been gone and missed these excellent comments! It has been a whirlwind three days, and I can’t thank Therese enough again for kicking things off for me here at WU.

    Terry, that marathon was so apt an metaphor. I love it. I have been saying all week, Here I am at the starting line. Anyway…thanks for having been here for many of these years that I talk about above. Getting to know you and others makes all thirteen of ’em more than worth it.

    Ally, thank you! For wanting to read, but mostly–for being encouraged. That’s what I hoped.

    Ooops–just realized that this excellent blog has a ‘reply’ format. Going to switch to that. Really hope we can keep the convo going–here or via email, or even when I’m on the road if any of our paths happen to cross!

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  17. says

    So….I think what you are saying is that if I wrote my first novel and spent six months failing to find an agent, then I wasn’t supposed to wait seven years before trying again? Did I get that right? :-)

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    • says

      Toni, although I am smiling at your comment, I actually think you clarified something for me in what I was trying to say. I’m going to try and untangle it now. I think what I am saying is that if you *did* wait seven years (did you??), then that’s fine, too. That we all of us have our unique roads to walk and the magic can appear on any of them in any number of ways. Maybe your next novel needed a hiatus to come to life. Or, maybe the agent you were meant to sign with wasn’t even in business when you first began.

      I realize this sounds awfully fatalistic, and of course, you are 100% right–six months is but a blip in geological, um, publishing time, and you are still on the race to be fast at that clip. But at the same time, if you did fall off the horse, get discouraged, and years went by…don’t despair.

      The magic can still happen.

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  18. says

    Congratulations on your debut novel and on your grit and determination. Although this post is a few days old, I just had to comment because of your line “never, ever give up on your dream.” I literally just read that five minutes ago in another email where the author was quoting Lady Gaga, who also said that five years ago she was still waiting table in NYC? What? Lady Gaga? I’m a firm believers that if you hear something said twice, it’s God talking! Now I have put my book aside since the new year in favor of home improvement Aka procrastination with a mission. Thanks for bringing it back home, I mean, to the book. Xo

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