Today on Awesome Authors I have the distinct pleasure of interviewing mystery author, Judy Alter. I ‘met’ Judy after joining one of the best writing organizations around, Sisters In Crime (SINC), and its fabulous sub-group, the Guppies (short for the Great Unpublished). SINC was formed in 1986 by mystery author Sara Paretsky to promote the professional development and advancement of women crime writers to achieve equality in the industry, and is a must-join for both female and male authors in the genre. It’s a great group of people and I owe SINC a debt of gratitude for all the support and information they’ve offered over the years.
And now, on to Judy’s interview:
D: Hi Judy! Thanks for being here Tell us a little about yourself and your latest release.
J: Thanks for inviting me—I’m delighted to be here.
My latest book is the fourth Kelly O’Connell Mystery, Danger Comes Home. In this book realtor/renovator Kelly finds her daughter is hiding a runaway fifth grader, her good friend Joe seems to be going back to his gangsta ways and ignoring his lovely wife, Theresa, and a drug dealer has moved into her beloved historic Fairmount neighborhood in Fort Worth.
For variety, I threw in a former Hollywood diva (so she claims) who is now a recluse and wants Kelly to do her grocery shopping for her. Kelly’s husband, Mike Shandy, badly injured in an auto accident in the third book, has been transferred from the Central District station of the Fort Worth Police to the Narcotics Division, so he’s well aware of the danger Kelly is bringing home with her friendship with the young girl and her mother. It’s a wild ride, but Kelly manages to protect her daughters and not scare Mike too much.
D: Sounds like a fun read! Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
“…I take inspiration from experiences in my own life. One of my daughters says the first Kelly book is “highly autobiographical.”
J: The inspiration for the Kelly O’Connell books comes from the part of Fort Worth I live in, adjacent to Fairmount with its authentic Craftsman houses. The first book was Skeleton in a Dead Space, which came about partly because there’s a dead space in my kitchen and partly because, at a stop sign in Fairmount one day, I looked at a house and thought “There’s a skeleton in a dead space in that house.” It went from there.
The Blue Plate Mysteries (so far just Murder at the Blue Plate Café) are based on a café in a small East Texas town where I ate frequently, and I have another book on the back burner, called right now The Perfect Coed, that came about after I heard a rumor of doctors’ wives (I was one once) who “serviced” airline pilots while their husbands were at work. I substituted coeds for the doctors’ wives.
I guess long story short I take inspiration from experiences in my own life. One of my daughters says the first Kelly book is “highly autobiographical.”
D: When did you realize you were a writer?
J: By the time I was ten I was writing short stories, and I’ve been writing ever since. Always had jobs that involved writing, including directing a small academic press.
J: Not as rocky as that of a lot of people. My first agent approached me. After that, though, I had a hard time finding agents and floundered for a while. Now I don’t have an agent but am published by a small press. It’s a great solution to the competitiveness of the quest for an agent.
“…I have something in common with the late Elmore Leonard—I left westerns because the western market left me.”
D: You’ve written both fiction and non-fiction for many years. What inspired you to transition from writing the Women of the American West series to cozy mysteries? Do you plan to write more YA fiction?
J: I have something in common with the late Elmore Leonard—I left westerns because the western market left me. Bantam stalled on the last manuscript I submitted and eventually discontinued their westerns. For several years I wrote YA non-fiction on assignment for companies that published for school libraries, but the yen to write a mystery was always there. I don’t plan to do any more young-adult books, either fiction or non-fiction, but you never know. These days, mysteries keep me busy.
D: What are you working on now?
J: I’m writing the fifth Kelly O’Connell mystery. It has no title yet but I think it will have the word “deception” in the title—maybe Deception in Strange Places. Kelly is of course the main character but the recluse from the fourth book is pivotal. In a way, this is her book.
J: I wish I wrote every day but too much else goes on—I have some editing projects on my desk for my publisher and I keep my 2nd-grade grandson after school, which means homework. I also like to keep up with friends at lunch and dinner, so sometimes the day is gone before I even think about my WIP. This morning, for instance, by the time I did yoga, got the house underway (made beds, straightened the kitchen, watered the plants), answered email, cleared up some odds and ends, it was 10:30 before I actually got to work. But when I’m on a roll, I aim for a thousand words a day.
D: Do you find you work better with or without deadlines?
J: I’m fairly compulsive, so I get things in well before deadlines and don’t really need them. But they are there in the back of my mind.
“…Writing contemporary fiction doesn’t require as much [research] because I’m writing about a world I live in…”
D: How much research do you do when you write your books?
J: When I was writing historical fiction, I did tons of research—on the life of George Custer and his wife, for instance, for Libbie. Writing contemporary fiction doesn’t require as much because I’m writing about a world I live in. I did do research on the Craftsman movement for the Kelly books and a bit on East Texas for the Blue Plate Café books.
D: In light of the huge changes in publishing, where do you think the industry is headed? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
J: Where I see myself in five years is a funny question. I’m seventy-five but I still see myself as writing at eighty. Who knows? The biggest decision for me is whether to try self-publishing or not. I’m tempted but hesitant to undertake the cash outlay to do it right, and I wouldn’t want to do it any other way. My publisher is growing and maturing as a business, and some of the changes I hope for may come about. Besides, I don’t want to learn new programs to self-publish, though I did format a couple of older titles and they’ve done well on Amazon. Mattie, a historical novel set in nineteenth-century Nebraska, does well every month; my short story collection, Sue Ellen Learns to Dance and Other Stories, not so well, though I like the stories and a couple won awards.
“…I still see myself as writing at eighty…”
D: What advice would you give to new writers?
J: Read. And don’t be easily discouraged. Don’t expect to make a fortune. Write for the joy of it.
D: Great advice. If you could time travel, either to the past or into the future, where would you go?
J: Hard one. Life was tough in the two historical eras that interest me—Scotland at the time of The Clearances (mid-eighteenth century) and the late nineteenth-century American West. I’m not at all interested in futuristic writing. In fact, I’m not much interested in time travel—quite happy to be in the twenty-first century.
D: Good point, although I think the research angle would be invaluable. Thanks again for visiting today, Judy. Good luck on the new series!
Here’s a taste of Judy’s latest mystery, Danger Comes Home:
So there I was at midnight, my thoughts whirling about Lorna McDavid and her crumbling house, when I heard those ever-so-soft beeping sounds that indicate someone has disabled the alarm system. Startled I lay for a moment listening, and then I heard the back door open and gently close. That was enough to make me crawl out of bed, barefoot, in a T-shirt and underpants. I didn’t think about how I would confront an intruder in that outfit. Nor did I stop to wake Mike or take my gun. Mike’s always after me to take the handgun he bought me but I loathe the thing, though I will say there was one instance where having it in my hand saved my life. But now all I could think of was my girls—had someone crept out the back door with one of them as hostage? Too many bad things had happened in the last few years, so my imagination sometimes gets away with me.
I raced down the bedroom hall, through the living room, dining room and kitchen, and came to a crashing halt at the back door. A soft light glowed in the guest house, as though someone had a flashlight. Shoot! I hadn’t even thought to find one. It would have taken me too long. Note to self: put a flashlight on my bedside table.
Creeping now, rather than racing, I eased open the back door, closed it quietly, and crossed the yard. Peering into a window, I saw Maggie handing a sandwich and an orange to a young girl—a very tired and scared young girl with stringy hair and wrinkled clothes. Maggie’s small mutt and constant companion, Gus, sat on the floor staring wistfully at the sandwich. Gently, I opened the door.
To find out more about Judy and her books, click on the links below: