25 Years Ago Today: Well-Known Writer and Blogger Jenny Milchman

I’d like to welcome writer and blogger Jenny Milchman today. I first got to know Jenny when I did a guest blog post for her inspirational and popular Made It Moments column and found her to be just as inspirational as the authors she features on her blog. While engaged in her publication journey, Jenny has worked to connect writers and readers in an ongoing discussion of craft.

She is founder and co-host of the series Writing Matters, which draws authors from as far away as New Hampshire and South Carolina to events held at an independent New Jersey bookstore.

She blogs about the writing life at suspenseyourdisbelief.com where she created the Made It Moments forum, which features everyone from Edgar winners to authors published by micro presses, all talking about the process of finding success in this business. Jenny speaks about life as an emerging writer at conferences and for New York Writers Workshop, and has appeared on radio shows as well.

Jenny, I know you’re very busy now with the writing life. What were you doing 25 years ago?

JENNY: Because I was in high school twenty-five years ago, I decided to play it a little loose with the whole number thing, and write about what happened to me twenty-SIX years ago.

After all, high school kids don’t often have a lot of great writing moments to share (aside from the rock stars who published actual books by then)!

But first, a little background. Twenty-seven years ago I was in eighth grade and had just written (and I do mean written, as in by hand) my first novel. It was 98 pages long, had illustrations, and would’ve been classified as YA, I suppose. It was about a girl who had to move right at the end of middle school.

The first lesson you learn in creative writing classes is to write what you know. I wrote about what I wished would be.

That has changed, but that’s for another post.

So, anyway, writing was what I loved to do, what I’d always done. I can still remember entertaining elementary school friends with stories.

And when I turned fifteen, I found out about a NJ-based program called Summer Arts Institute, for high school kids who excelled in theater, music, dance, visual art, and … writing.

I remember that once your initial application, which included writing samples, made it to the next round, you had to stand before a panel of actual authors and sort of audition. It was like something out of “Fame.” I was hooked.

Not just on the writing itself – always the biggest rush (until it comes time to revise, that is) – but on the process of sharing my work with however much of the world I could reach.

I didn’t have such an exciting moment again until an editor at William Morrow wanted to sit down with me and my agent and talk about my first novel. It was something of a mess, and didn’t sell, but this editor took it seriously enough to ask us to lunch, and what can I say? I’m still hooked.

Writing is a business of rushes and disappointment. The road is not meant for plodding along but for clambering uphill with all your might and, more rarely, whooshing down, breezes lifting your hair. I’ve been on it for more than twenty-five years now.

I hope I never have to get off.

Thanks for a great post, Jenny! Be sure to visit Jenny on her blog to discover more about this talented author.

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  1. Thanks for visiting, Jenny! I just started a feature on my blog where I share excerpts of stories that I wrote when I was a child. The writing bug seriously hit when I was in about fifth grade, though I wrote a couple stories earlier than that.

    Did you write short stories when you were a child, or did the writing bug hit in high school? Do you find any similarities between the writing you did today and the writing you did when you were younger, such as genre, themes, etc?

  2. jenny milchman says

    Stacy, thanks so much for having me to your great blog, and kicking things off with such an interesting question. I would love to hear every writers’ response to this one! (What’s yours? :)

    My college essay began, I started writing stories before I could read, because this is what my parents always told me. Apparently when I was 2 or 3, I told bedtime stories to my mother, who wrote them down for me.

    But I didn’t find my genre, literary suspense–the kinds of tales that tell how thin the line is between normal, everyday life and utter catastrophe–until I was interning for my graduate degree, doing psychotherapy at a rural mental health center. I met the most inspiring people there, and saw how devastation can invade almost any life. It really affected me, and I think I dealt with it by writing.

    Thanks again, Stacy. I’ve loved hearing your own inspiring story, and thanks for letting me tell mine!

  3. Jenny, not many of us have the foritude you do. Sitting down with William Morrow? I think I’d have a heart attack. Then, to walk out knowing you’ve been rejected–? I’d go postal! I salute your tenacity. You’re an inspiration to all of us in these horrid publishing times.

  4. jenny milchman says

    Sav, you and I BOTH know about tenacity…thanks for stopping by!

  5. 25 years ago, I sold my first short story. I’m not talking about the first one written, or first published, but SOLD. The story was about a young wife who, unable to forgive her husband for a careless mistake, stomps out in the woods in the full vigorous New England glory of spring in April and finds “A Patch of Snow” (the title) that causes her to rethink her righteous rage. It was published in a small magazine called BitterSweet. The editor’s name was Harry Bee, and he paid me $50. I was over the moon. I typed that story (and many after) on my manual Olympia portable typewriter, my high school graduation present. Thanks, Stacy and Jenny, for bringing that memory back to me.

  6. In 1985 I was in early high school. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t even for a few more years that my first poem would appear in my school retrospective. The same day my poem appeared, I met my hero-poet, Edward Hirsch. That was a wonderful day I’ve never forgotten.

  7. What a great memory, Sara! I would love to read A Patch of Snow…

    Amazing, when synchronicity just appears, huh, Sav?

  8. What great memories, Savannah and Sara! Thanks so much for sharing. And I agree, tenacity is definitely a necessity in this business.

  9. Karyne Corum says

    I think we would have been great friends if we met back then, both creative and loving to write. One of my memories from that long ago was writing to Maurice Sendak after my class read his book Where the Wild Things Are, and he wrote back to me. I will never forget the rush of excitement I felt knowing a successful author, who seemed like a rock star to me, had read my letter and appreciated my praise. I think that’s one thing I would love to experience most of all after being published, hearing from someone who’s live was touched by something I wrote.

  10. Twenty-five years ago I was the Warrants clerk at the Fresno Co. Sheriff’s Dept. I worked alongside the man who I would marry in 1988. This was just the beginning stage of a 17-yr. career that found me working as secretary for an undercover narcotics team.

    Although I’ve always written and am trained as a journalist, my foray into law enforcement quickly turned me into a mystery writer. I’ve never looked back.

    Fun post idea!

  11. Karyne–me too!! On all counts!

    Sunny, sounds like your law enforcement work was something like my experience in psych. Both exciting and momentous and meaningful.

  12. Donna Fletcher Crow says

    Jenny, how lucky you were to discover your passion so early! I actually wrote my first “novel” in the 6th grade–but it was only 5 pages long, including illustrations.

  13. jenny milchman says

    Someone should publish some of these firsts! Donna, a novel in 5 pages is probably loads harder to write than one that takes 300 ;)

  14. John Lindermuth says

    Jenny, your career might have been different had Morrow accepted that first novel. The important thing is the rejection didn’t deter you and your story demonstrates the importance of persistence.

  15. If anybody still has their childhood or high school excerpts, email me through the web site and we can feature them in my Blast From The Past blog category. (see right sidebar) I’ve been typing up some short excerpts from my old stories to feature, but would love to feature early work from other authors also!

  16. All my earliest writings are in landfills. Thank god. :)

  17. Thanks, John. Sometimes I feel like I keep knocking…and knocking…and knocking and not hearing the, Please go away :) On my blog in the ‘backstory’ column I talk about how close I’ve come, which kind of keeps me in the game, you know? Anyway, I appreciate all those who see p for perseverance instead of pathetic!

    Stacy, that’s a great idea!

  18. Garry L McLaughlin says

    My writing had been magazine articles for hunting, trapping and fishing and poetry. By 25 years ago I would have sold about 90 articles and several pieces of poetry. I started writing and selling articles in 1970.

    My first novel I wrote earlier this year and working on the second. I am finding there is no similarity between writing articles and writing a novel. I can certainly make more money by spending my time writing articles. I wrote 3 articles one weekend and sold had all 3 sold by the next Tuesday. While my novel rejection slips keep piling up.

  19. Oh, Garry, it is a tough, tough business. How wonderful you’ve achieved such success from journalism. Fiction is a whole other skill set and it sounds like you’re working to master it. I hope you’ll stop by my blog, where there are lots of other emerging writers, all of us engaged in the same struggle. Plus more than a little inspiration from writers who have made it!

Stacy Juba