Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Interview with mystery author Judy Alter

Please give a friendly welcome to mystery author Judy Alter. She's here to talk about her newest book, Skeleton in a Dead Space, and all the other fun parts of her life.

Judy, please tell us a bit about yourself.
I have been a reader and a story teller since childhood and wrote my first stories at about the age of ten. I majored in English in college because I liked to read and I was going to get married and some man would take care of me—no career plans for this child of the 1950s. But that didn’t quite work out as I planned, and in my early twenties I began writing nonfiction medical articles for laymen. After earning a Ph.D., I was startled to realize I could write a novel. My first, After Pa Was Shot, pegged me as a juvenile author, a pigeonhole that it’s hard to break out of. But I had a good career writing fiction and nonfiction, for adults and y/a readers, mostly about women of the American West.

Tastes changed, and I didn’t publish for almost ten years. As I neared retirement, I began to write cozy mysteries—I’d read them all my life. Although I’d published in New York and had agents, the mystery world and the changing publishing industry were all new to me. I’ve learned a lot from Sisters in Crime and their subgroups, such as Guppies. I have a couple of abandoned mysteries in my stack, but my first published one, Skeleton in a Dead Space, launched August 29 from Turquoise Morning Press, and I hope to continue the series. The protagonist, Kelly O’Connell reflects some of my own experience as a single parent—but I surely never was involved in investigating a murder. I just read about them.

For almost thirty years, my daytime job was director of a small academic press—a very different publishing hat, but work I loved—my two careers supported each other nicely. I am the single parent of four grown children and the grandparent of seven. I live in Fort Worth, Texas, with my Australian shepherd, Scooby, and my aging domestic longhair cat, Wywy, and a new three-month-puppy, a Bordoodle (cross of a border collie and a poodle) named Sophie. I spend a lot of time puppy training these days, but I’m hard at work on the third volume of the Kelly O’Connell series. The second is already turned in to the publisher.

Please tell us about your current release.
Skeleton in a Dead Space features Kelly O’Connell, a single parent of two young daughters and owner of a real estate business that specializes in refurbishment traditional houses in an older neighborhood in Fort Worth, Texas. Kelly never thought real estate was a dangerous profession. But while updating an early-twentieth-century Craftsman house, she stumbles over a skeleton and begins unraveling an old murder. The police call it a cold case, but Kelly knows she must solve the murder if she is to finish the house and sell it. She and her two young daughters quickly become the target of threats and vandalism, and someone is telling her ex-husband in California what’s going on. Tim Spencer arrives to protect his daughters by taking them to California with him but is soon found shot to death. Then a new client barges into Kelly’s life, and she finds herself facing a gun, a deadly killer, and the solution to the mystery of the skeleton and Tim’s death.

What inspired you to write this book?
Determination to write a published mystery. I thought about creating a heroine who was a little different—not the owner of a craft store or a bakery—and decided on a real estate agent. I added the Craftsman house touch because I love old houses. Also I have a dead space in my kitchen, which we’ve wondered about for years, and one day I passed a house under reconstruction that clearly said to me, “This is the house of your mystery.”

What exciting story are you working on next?
A sequel to Skeleton involving a serial killer who targets little old ladies in the neighborhood is already turned in to the publisher, and I’m working on the third book in which Kelly is stalked and her new husband police officer Michael, injured in an automobile accident, is unable to protect her. That’s about all I know about it so far. I’m a pantser, not an outliner.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
At the age of ten, when I began writing short stories on lined paper. My mom saved them, and I have them somewhere in the attic.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Since I retired writing is pretty much my full time occupations, but I am easily distracted by household chores, cooking, lunch invitations, etc. Grandchildren can always entice me away from writing. I do try to work in the mornings—but that includes catching up on emails and blogs and FB and, if I’m inspired, Twitter. Twitter is still hard for me. Early afternoons are often good times for writing but then I quit for a nap—one of the privileges of retirement—and somewhere I try to work in either 40 minutes of yoga or four miles on my stationery bike. Late at night, I read for pleasure.

When I’m not writing, I spend a lot of time reading recipes, planning meals for guests, and cooking. My secret ambition: to be a chef (I’ll never do it—my aging feet couldn’t stand it!).

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I think, unfortunately, that my quirk is that I’m haphazard about it. I don’t force myself to spend a certain amount of time at the keyboard, although I am pretty compulsive about checking my word count. I don’t check my Kindle and Smashwords sales daily, I tune out technical discussions about computer programs on various listservs. I’m all for the non-marketing approach to marketing. I want writing to be fun for me and for that fun to reflect in what I write.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I spent a week in Scotland in the spring and came away inspired with new story ideas. I’d love to stay on Skype for two weeks and just write!

Launch parties: a local grill, mentioned several times in Skeleton in a Dead Space, will host launch parties at 7 a.m. on Saturday Sept. 24—they get lots of early Sat. morning customers who bring their books and read while they eat breakfast—and again at 5:30 on Monday, Sept. 26 to catch the dinner crowd. Seems an ideal set-up for a signing to me—caters to the local neighborhood, setting of the novel, and I don’t have to buy wine, nibbles, whatever. It’s all there for purchase. I’m really looking forward to it.

Thanks for being here today, Judy. You sound like you have a lot of fun with your writing.

1 comment:

Gail M Baugniet - Author said...

Lisa, it is always interesting to hear how an author makes her choices in areas such as mystery plot, protagonist's career, and setting for a story.

Judy, thank you for sharing your background and insights.