Jenny Milchman is conducting a phone interview from the front seat of her car parked on a street in Columbus, Ohio. Her daughter Sophie, 9, and son Caleb, 7, do their schoolwork in the back. Jenny’s husband, Josh Frank, who creates mobile Web sites, sits next to Jenny conducting a work-from-the-road session with no fewer than three computers.
This is all part of the plan. The Milchman family embarked in February on the tour for Jenny’s book, Cover of Snow, about a woman’s quest to unravel the mystery behind her husband’s suicide. They’ll be on the road until September. That meant renting out their house in New Jersey, trading in their cars for a four-wheel-drive SUV, car-schooling the kids, and hitting the road for hundreds of bookstore and library events across nearly 40,000 miles. “I have to say, it’s 100 percent the most fun I have ever had in my life,” says Milchman. “My whole family is with me. I get to see how everybody thinks and feels from moment to moment, and then at the end of the day I get to walk into a bookstore and meet my readers. I just can’t believe it.”
A trip of this magnitude is not without its challenges. “The biggest thing we had to give up in making this trip was...losing our children’s spots at their charter school. We’re hopeful they get back into this special school,” she says. “But for now, car-schooling seems to be an excellent substitute. The occasional multiplication battles notwithstanding, the kids are getting a cultural, ecological, and historical immersion in our country. Generally, they begin with math, reading and writing worksheets, plus spelling, and then we add a special lesson for the day....So we talked about the Civil War when we were in Gettysburg, and read Robert Frost in Vermont.”
Although Ballantine Books, part of Random House, published Cover of Snow, this is no regular first-time-author book tour. Milchman masterminded the whole marathon herself, with the help of an independent publicity firm, as a personal reward for her years of trials and tribulations in dogged pursuit of publication. She was occasionally tempted by the ease and speed of self-publishing, but knew it couldn’t offer the same reach that a Big Six publisher could. She planned to add to Random House’s efforts with her own, and her family worked with her to bring her dreams to reality. “I knew no publisher was going to pay for a trip of this magnitude, and certainly not for a ‘baby’ author,” Milchman says.
Before selling Cover of Snow, she met novelist Carla Buckley online; the two became close friends. When Buckley heard about Milchman’s plans for the tour, she wondered, “if she [Milchman] had a crazy side to her that she had managed to hide from me.” Buckley adds, “I know a lot of debut novelists, and I’ve never heard of anyone embarking on a book tour of this magnitude.”
Cover of Snow is actually Milchman’s eighth novel. It’s been 13 years since she left work as a psychologist (she majored in English and psychology) to focus on writing. She’s since worked with three different agents and had five different early novels on submission to editors, “and we were stuck in that stage for 11 years,” she says. In the end, another novelist friend she met online took Cover of Snow and put it into her editor’s hands and Milchman had a contract within the week.
Now, about a third of the way through her tour, Milchman says she loves that while every day is different, most end with events that put her in touch with the people she cares a lot about right now: potential readers. “The reason I stayed on the road was that I wanted to be able to walk into a bookstore or library and get to meet them. I could have sat at home, in the converted closet I use for a writing space, and just kept writing more novels. But I wanted to meet them in person. And now I get to do that every day, for this book that nobody wanted to publish for so long! It’s really a miracle.”
—by Kim MacQueen
—Photograph courtesy of Jenny Milchman