Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Judy Alter - Guest Author

Judy Alter says of herself that she is a mother, author, hostess, alternative, and creative. Her writing she describes as varied, cozy, storytelling, lifelong, and a calling. [JMJ note: I am really struck by the adjective alternative -- so evocative]. Without further intrusion from me, here is more about Judy in her words.

You have a table for four at your favorite restaurant and can invite any three people, living, dead or fictional. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you eating (and why)?

My dinner table for four would include Eleanor Roosevelt, Barack Obama, Wallace Stegner and myself. I admire both Roosevelt and Obama for their care about the world and other people, and Stegner is one of the western writers I most admire. I think the conversation would range over the state of the world and its population as well as literature. Stegner’s work, particularly Angle of Repose, shows a great understanding of the complexity of human life. We would eat in my home, and I would cook them one of my better meals—something fancy like Coquille St. Jacques. Served with a really fine wine.

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

My most productive writing venue is my home office, with windows all around and French doors opening to the living room. On an at-home work day, I spend almost the entire day there, even eating meals at my desk. My dog sleeps companionably in a chair next to my desk. It’s comfortable, quiet and familiar. I’m at home in this room, with its wall of bookcases. Never could go to a Starbucks to write. Too many distractions.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

My most productive time of day for writing is the evening. In the mornings, I do email, Facebook, and other assorted chores, some of which come from being active in an online writers’ group and others having to do with the neighborhood publication I edit. In the afternoons, I keep my eight-year-old grandson and do third-grade homework. But in the evenings, when everyone has gone home, I can settle down and write a chunk of copy. No caffeine, but a little wine and chocolate is nice.

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

Typically I do not read nearly as much as I‘d like—maybe three books a month. They are too rarely for pure enjoyment. Some may be books I’ve promised to review; others may be background for a project. Some, like the just-finished The Mockingbird Next Door, have just plain caught my curiosity. But I sometimes sneak time out to read cozy mysteries—yes, even when I’m in the midst of one myself. I learn things from other writers’ mysteries, and reading doesn’t distract me from my own work.

What is the most challenging area for you as a writer? What are you doing to address the issue?

The most challenging part of writing mysteries for me is the plot. I get lost in the soggy middle early on and wonder how I’m ever going to stretch this out to an acceptable length. But I tell myself I’ve done it eight times before, and this will be no different from any other times. When I wrote historical biographical fiction, one of my sons said I did that because the plot was a given and I’m so *&^%poor at making up my own plots. I hope I’ve moved beyond that.

What motivates you to write?

When I was twelve, I wrote a series of short stories, and I’ve been writing ever since. I cannot imagine not writing. It’s the gift given to me—I can’t work things out in math to save my soul, but I can puzzle them out in words and make them come out right. I don’t write for money, though the bit I’ve made is a nice bonus. I write because that’s who I am. My twenty-year stint as director of an academic press was really an extension of my writing—I worked with words, I met wonderful authors, and all the time I kept writing my own books. With diverse subject matter and approaches, I’ve probably published about seventy-five books—haven’t stopped to count lately.

What motivates your protagonist (if not a series, then use the protagonist of your most recent novel)? What influenced who they are today?

For years, I wrote about women in the American West—their motivation was simply to survive and endure—from Libbie Bacon Custer to Jessie Benton Frémont. Now that I’m writing mysteries, my amateur female sleuths are motivated to right wrongs, protect people in danger, and see justice served. They are basically nurturers who stumble into mysteries and are consumed by curiosity and a desire to find out the truth before more people are murdered.

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

Maybe ten years ago Susan Wittig Albert spoke at the TCU campus, where I was press director. We chatted, and I mentioned I was trying to write a mystery. She said quite directly, “You need to join Sisters in Crime.” I did, and then the Guppies group, and learned amazing things about the world of mystery writing, things that if I hadn’t learned would have left me stumbling in the darkness. I am forever grateful to her.

For more information about Judy books, follow her at Web page: http://www.judyalter.com
Twitter: @judyalter

The Perfect Coed

Susan Hogan is smart, pretty—and prickly. There was no other word for it. She is prickly with Jake Phillips and her Aunt Jenny, the two people who love her most. She is prickly with some of her academic colleagues in the English department at Oak Grove University. When a coed’s body is found in her car and she is suspected of murder, Susan gets even more defensive.

But when someone begins to stalk and threaten her—trying to run her down, killing the plants on her deck, causing a moped wreck that breaks her ankle—prickly mixes with fear. Susan decides she has to find the killer to save her reputation—and her life. What she suspects she’s found on a quiet campus in Texas is so bizarre Jake doesn’t believe her. Until she’s almost killed.

The death of one coed unravels a tale of greed, lust, and obsession.


  1. Nice to find out more about you, Judy! Great interview

  2. Hi, Judy! A very nice interview and wonderful to get to know you better. Many congratulations on your book.

  3. Fabulous interview, Judy. I have to agree about Sisters in Crime. What a great group!

  4. Thanks all. Jim made me think about the role of my protagonists and even why I write. Terrific questions on his part.

    1. Judy a pleasure having you here today. I love finding out more about authors and am glad you shared a bit of yourself. ~ Jim

  5. Judy, I'm reading Skeleton in a Dead Space right now, and I'm finding it hard to put down. It was nice to learn more about you.

    1. Oh, Gloria, so glad you're enjoying it. The sixth in the series comes out in June. I thought you already knew a lot about me--grandson and all. But we did talk dogs, and somehow that's not in this blog. Oops. Such a big part of my life.