Mystery Scene|Fall #165, 2020
It’s that enticing-yet-elusive hook that often draws readers back to a writer’s work. Sometimes it’s characters that compel.
John B. Valeri

Other times it’s crimes. But for USA Today bestselling author Jenny Milchman, it’s a community and place that readers return to in each of her five seemingly standalone novels of psychological suspense that use the imaginary Adirondacks town of Wedeskyull as their common ground.

But, in keeping with the theme of innovation, Milchman’s newest, The Second Mother, revisits familiar territory while offering a fresh twist.

“Wedeskyull is the town that my heroine, Julie, flees to begin her new life,” says Milchman.

Julie Weathers—niece of the police chief who fell from grace in Milchman’s debut, Cover of Snow (2013)—is a bereaved mother whose charmed life imploded in the aftermath of her young daughter’s death. She left her job, loses her husband, and can’t escape the memories of motherhood and marriage that haunt her home.

The author, who is happily married with two children of her own, found tapping into her protagonist’s grief emotionally draining.

“The ‘mothering’ part of The Second Mother was very hard for me to write. The kind of grief that pulls Julie down—drowning her, which is both a scene and a theme in the book—is something every mother fears. It was made a little easier because Julie’s last memory of her lost daughter comes from when the little girl was still a baby…and those years are a way in the past for me personally,” she recalls. “So that gave me some distance. “

“Still, there were days at the keyboard when I cried, and nights, coming off a day’s writing when I felt heavily weighted by Julie’s sorrow. How did I tap into her experience? I really don’t know. These characters come to me… somehow…and they gift me with, charge me with, writing down their stories.”

Of course, that gift comes with its own challenges—particularly when characters are afflicted with conditions that the author hasn’t experienced. Case in point: Julie’s taste for alcohol, and its anesthetizing effects.


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Fall #165, 2020