I'm happy to welcome mystery author Judy Alter back to Reviews and Interviews.
Today's interview is focused on Judy's newest novel, Trouble in a Big Box, and this is just one stop in a short virtual book tour.
An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter has written fiction for adults and young adults, primarily about women in the nineteenth-century American West. Now she has turned her attention to contemporary cozy mysteries. Trouble in a Big Box, the third Kelly O’Connell mystery, follows Skeleton in a Dead Space and No Neighborhood for Old Women, which received good reviews and popular enthusiasm. Follow Judy at http://www.judyalter.com or her two blogs at http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com or http://potluckwithjudy.blogspot.com.
Judy, welcome back to Reviews and Interviews!
Please tell us about your newest release.
My second Kelly O’Connell Mystery was No Neighborhood for Old Women, in which a serial killer targets old women in Kelly’s Fairmount neighborhood and Claire Guthrie, a friend and former client, shows up at Kelly’s front door announcing that she’s just shot her husband in the butt. Then Kelly’s mom, the needy Cynthia O’Connell, decides to move to Fort Worth to be near her grandchildren. Kelly, a harried, hassled, and loving single mom of two young girls, unwittingly puts her children, her mom, and herself in danger and almost derails her love life.
By the new third mystery, Trouble in a Big Box, Kelly is married to her policemen/lover, Mike Shandy. He’s badly injured in an automobile accident that kills a young girl. Developer Tom Lattimore wants to build a big-box grocery store called Wild Things in Kelly’s beloved Fairmount neighborhood, and someone is stalking Kelly. Tom Lattimore pressures Kelly to support his project, and the pressure turns into threats when Kelly activates a neighborhood coalition to fight it. And as she tries to find out who is stalking her and why, Mike is both powerless to stop her and physically unable to protect her and his family. After their house is smoke-bombed and Kelly survives an amateur attack on her life, she comes close to an unwanted trip to Mexico from which she might never return.
What inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to continue telling Kelly’s story. There are so many things that happen beneath the surface of a seemingly peaceful residential neighborhood, and I want to scrape off the top layer. I also wanted to see how Kelly and Mike would maintain their relationship, always both passionate and prickly, under pressure. And I wanted it to be Mike’s book for a change, though it didn’t actually turn out that way. The big-box store was a case of fiction turning into reality: shortly after I began the manuscript, there was a big controversy about a Wal-Mart moving into an adjacent neighborhood.
What’s the next writing project?
Murder at the Blue Plate Café, set in a small East Texas town, will be out in January/February and may well be the start of a new series. It was inspired by many happy meals shared with friends in a specific café. Names changed, of course. But it sort of satisfied my urge to write a culinary mystery and yet not fall into the catering/gourmet style of so many of those. I do include recipes—most from my friend who owned a ranch b&b nearby. And then, sigh, I’m struggling with the fourth Kelly O’Connell Mystery.
What is your biggest challenge when writing a new book? (or the biggest challenge with this book)
Plotting is always my biggest challenge. For my first mystery, Skeleton in a Dead Space, things seemed to develop of their own accord. I wonder if I’m not trying too hard to force things in the one I’m working on. I think I should listen to that old advice (the writing world is so full of “old advice”) and just get to the end of it. Then go back and figure out what doesn’t work and why. I also try to remember the writing truth that if you listen, your characters will tell you what’s next. Okay, Kelly, speak up on this one, please!
If your novels require research – please talk about the process. Do you do the research first and then write, while you’re writing, after the novel is complete and you need to fill in the gaps?
I research as I write, when questions come up in my mind. Frequently, in working of the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, I’ve stopped to research Craftsman architecture. For such a topic, I start with Wikipedia but go from there. On architecture, I had a local, knowledgeable reference. For the one I’m working on now I really need to talk to a neighborhood police officer to find out about procedure, etc. I’m working on contacting on local NPO.
What’s your writing space like? Do you have a particular spot to write where the muse is more active? Please tell us about it.
I have an office where I spend a large portion of my life, a space with a large bookcase, an ample desk which I try, unsuccessfully, to keep cleaned off, and a computer set-up that links a wireless mouse and keyboard to a laptop and remote monitor. It’s the perfect arrangement for me. I read the paper, eat meals, do everything at my desk. I think my young dog thinks she lives in this room. But it’s where I’m most at home—and where, late at night, I read for pleasure—but I always have one eye on my e-mail.
What authors do you enjoy reading within or outside of your genre?
I almost always read mysteries—but occasionally, especially when assigned a review, I branch out. I recently read Anna Quindlen’s Plenty of Cake, Lots of Candles and enjoyed it. I also just read a Polly Iyer mystery. Murder Déjà vu, that kept me biting my fingernails. But I like a lot of the familiar cozy writers—Carolyn Hart, Susan Schreyer, Diane Mott Davidson, Julie Hyzy, Krista Davis, and others. I’m reading Nancy Martin’s latest Blackbird mystery, Slay Belles, right now.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers today?
I guess the fact that I write because I don’t know any other way to live. When I’m “between projects,” as they euphemistically say, I’m lost. So on days when it really doesn’t seem to be working, I remind myself that it will work out eventually and that if I’m unhappily gnashing my teeth over a manuscript in progress, it would be much worse to be retired and wake up thinking, “Gosh! What will I do today?” I love my life, and writing is a big part of it—but so are my children and grandchildren, friends, cooking, dogs. It’s a great life!
Great to have you back, Judy. Thanks for filling us in on your writing projects!
Readers, you can read last year's interview focused on Skeleton in a Dead Space, if you like.