Writer Interviews: Judy Alter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I met Judy online through Sisters in Crime. Doesn’t she look like someone you just want to hang out with? She looks so sweet and then there is that creepy (creepy good!) cover with the hand sticking out. Love it! Here she is in her own words:

1.    Describe your writing routine and/or schedule?

Oh, how I wish I had a schedule. My ideal would be to write all morning and early afternoon, nap, and then review in the evening. Real life doesn’t work out that way. The grocery stores, doctors appointments, haircuts, all those errands of daily living get in the way. And I’m way too anxious to say, “Yes!” when a friend asks if I can do lunch or dinner. Right now I keep a five-year-old after school every afternoon which cuts into any schedule, but I’m hoping my summer will be more free.

2.    What do you do if you get writer’s block?

Keep writing, even if it’s drivel. I can go back and rewrite. Sometimes I think about the plot and where the story is going in the night. I also have a lifelong mentor, and I can discuss my quandaries with him. He usually helps a lot

3.    Who do you read, or recommend other writer’s read, in regards to craft?

I don’t read a lot of “how to write” books. I did years ago but now my advice would be to read widely in the genre you are writing in. These days I don’t get much out of theoretical advice, but in the works of others I can see what works and some things that, in my opinion, don’t work so well.  I read a lot of cozy authors—Carolyn Hart, Julie Hyzy, Claudia Bishop, Krista Davis, Susan SchreyerLorraine Bartlett, Diane Mott Davidson, Susan Wittig Ablert–oh, I know I’m leaving out lots, even some friends. I love the work of Deborah Crombie and Julia Spencer-Fleming, though I don’t consider their books anywhere near cozy.

4. Who do you read for fun? Cozy mysteries, as listed above.

5. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

Tell us about it. I knew by the time I was ten I wanted to write. I wrote a series of short stories about a spinster named Miss Shufflebaum and her blonde cocker who got her into all sorts of trouble (I wanted a blonde cocker spaniel). In high school, I submitted to Seventeen—to no avail, of course. But it was after graduate school and a Ph.D. before I first wrote and published fiction—and then it was young-adult fiction. Over the years I wrote a lot for both adults and y /a about women in the AmericanWest.

6. What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

If a mystery writer, join Sisters in Crime and Guppies—best advice I ever got, and it came from Susan Wittig Albert, who’s had great success in cozies and other genres. For any writers, read a lot, and keep trying—don’t ever give up.

7. What do you think is the most important skill to have to succeed as a writer?

Beyond basic grammar and writing skills, I think imagination, the willing to risk following where your characters take you. Not being timid or afraid about your writing.

8. What is your favorite food and/or drink?

Chocolate and wine. But a lot of other things come very close. I eat a lot of tuna salad and cottage cheese, and I’m an experimental cook—love to entertain and cook new recipes.

9. Do you have a favorite book or movie?

I’m not at all a moviegoer. It makes me nervous to sit there and think I could be doing so many other things. I usually even watch TV with only one eye on the screen, but I would like to see “The Help.” As for books, one of my all-time favorites is Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. It all comes together so beautifully, the prose is wonderful, and it captures the life of a woman in the American West with empathy and yet clarity.

10. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to share?

I’m on Facebook (Judy Alter) and Twitter (@judyalter), and I blog at Judy’s Stew (http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com.) and my food blog, Potluck with Judy (http://potluckwithjudy.blogspot.com.

I love writing and now in retirement I hope the Lord grants me many more years of health and energy because I have a lot of books to write. I have two mysteries out—Skeleton in a Dead Space and No Neighborhood for Old Women. Trouble in a Big Box comes in August. Those are all Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, but in January I hope to debut a new series, Blue Plate Mysteries, with Murder at the Blue Plate Café. A fourth Kelly O’Connell Mystery, tentatively titled Ghost in a Four-Square, comes out later in 2013.

 

Judy has written fiction and nonfiction for adults and young adults. Her historical fiction titles feature such strong women as Elizabeth Bacon Custer, Jessie Benton Frémont, Lucille Mulhall, and Etta Place, of Hole in the Wall gang fame. Now she’s turned her attention to mystery. Her first cozy, Skeleton in a Dead Space, was published in September 2011 to good reviews and No Neighborhood for Old Women appeared in April 2012.

Retired as the director of a small academic press, Alter raised four children as a single parent and has seven grandchildren, with whom she spends as much time as possible. Judy lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with an Australian shepherd and a wild Bordoodle puppy named Sophie.  

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This Writer’s Life: The American Hotel, Part IV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE AMERICAN HOTEL

In the photo above, to the far left is the building that housed the artist’s lofts. In the shadow, you can see the front of The American Hotel. Those squares are all windows, each one leading to a studio apartment. Imagine, if you will, faces poking out of each one and you will be prepared to read the following:

Hollywood Squares

If you are of a certain age, you might remember this game show where celebrities perched in little boxes that soared to the ceiling and yelled down to one another.

From Hewitt Street, the residents of The American Hotel looked like contestants on The Hollywood Squares. If anything was happening or if you needed to get in touch with another resident, you would lean your head out your window and shout until the other person stuck his or her head out the window and responded:

“Hey, Carol? Want to grab some lunch?”

Carol would stick her head out her second-floor window, craning her neck to see me in my fourth-floor one: “Yeah, man, I’m down for that.”

And because The American Hotel had no lobby, just a locked door from the street leading to the stairway, if you had a visitor, they would have to yell to you from the street.

My boyfriend would come over and yell my name and I would toss my keys down to the street from my fourth-floor window so he could let himself in.

Car Parkers

In this post, I mentioned Car Parkers who hung out in our neighborhood. Well, one day, my boyfriend and I made a colossal mistake. We had just driven home from Baja California. I think we had been on the road for 12 hours and were exhausted when we pulled up into my neighborhood. One of the homeless guys ran up to ask us about watching the car and my boyfriend lost his temper, saying something such as, “We live here. When are you going to get that through your heads?”

Not good.

We dragged our sleepy bodies into my place, grabbing our backpacks, but not cleaning out the car. Apparently, some film from our trip remained in the back seat. When we woke, my window was shattered and the film gone.

For the next two weeks, we went around to all the homeless guys offering money for the return of the film that documented our month-long trip to Baja. No go. We even ventured under the Fourth Street Bridge, a move I wouldn’t recommend to anyone.

Under the bridge, homeless encampments stretched for as far as the eye could see.

We had stumbled upon an entire subculture, a tiny hidden village in the middle of L.A. Men gathered around big trashcans, warming themselves and cooking dinner. When we arrived, silence descended on the camp. Nervously, we asked a few questions about the film and offered our reward. At one point, a kind man took us aside and warned us that we shouldn’t go any farther under the bridge unless we had a gun. That was good enough for me. We left.

When my window was broken and I couldn’t afford to replace it, my boyfriend cleaned out my car, removing anything else that could be taken. He tried to yank the radio out, but it was embedded in the dash. That sucker wasn’t going anywhere, we thought. About a month later, I woke to go to school or work and found a homeless guy curled up in my backseat, snoring and drooling.

At first, I was nice.

“Hey, buddy, time to get up. I’ve got to get going.”

He groggily sat up and blurry-eyed, asked me: Can we make a deal? Can I sleep in your car to guard it?”

“No way.”

He slowly started to pull himself out of the car as I waited, impatiently.

“Um,” he said, as we were halfway out. “Do you have any change?”

“GET OUT!”

A few blocks later, at the gas station, I saw an LAPD car. I asked  a cop how I could keep the homeless guy out of my car even though my window was broken. The cop said by simply taping a piece of plastic over the window and locking the doors, it would prevent anyone sleeping in my car again. With that simple piece of plastic, getting into my car would now be considered breaking and entering. Easy enough. I never had that problem with my car again. But I did have others.

One night about 3 a.m., I heard police sirens and a commotion on the street below, so, of course, I stuck my head out my window to watch the action. The cops on the street below had two people up against a wall. More police cars were arriving.

I saw Joe, on the first floor, had his head out the window. I yelled down to him, “Joe, what’s going on?”

“I think it’s your car, man.”

Then I noticed the cops kept shining their flashlights on my car, which was parked directly below my window. Huh? I threw on my clothes to go downstairs. I was a bit baffled. There was nothing left in that car to take. So, I thought.

Well, the thieves had cracked open the dashboard on my car to pry out the radio. One of the residents of The American Hotel had heard the loud noise and dialed 911. Like many times in my life, for some reason LAPD was a block away. Busted. They had the thieves up against the wall in cuffs. Astonishing.

The Heroin Room

The American Hotel was the place for the misfits, the loner artist, the down-and-outer who needed a place to stay for cheap. You could pay $250 for a studio apartment. But, at one end of the hall, there was what we considered the penthouse suite, the luxury apartment, the heroin room. This beauty went for $300. But it was jinxed. According to American Hotel lore, the last three residents who lived there had ended up in detox. I only remember one of them. A completely screwed up chic who sold Carol her leather jacket for $50 because she was desperate for a fix. Shortly after, she, too, disappeared into Detox Land. Most of the time the apartment was empty, so during some outrageous thunderstorms, I would often break into it and dance around the empty space with the lightning lighting up the Los Angeles skyline before me.

The Security Guard

Not long after I moved in, someone on my floor warned me about the security guard. His room was in the corner, next to The Heroin Room. All I knew of him was that he wore wire-rimmed glasses, had short grayish hair, and avoided eye contact in the halls.

“Walk past his room when he takes a shower,” Carol told me. “He leaves his door wide open. You’ll see what I mean.”

One day I noticed his door (room #405) was open so I rushed over and then pretended to be casually walking by. At first, it took me a minute to focus on what I saw. His studio apartment was nearly bare, but not quite. A nail on the wall contained a hanger with his security guard uniform. Underneath, a stack of broken-down cardboard boxes comprised his bed. His walls were lined with gallon water jugs. That was it.

Rumor was he had once been homeless and never quite got over it.

The only time I ever heard him speak was the one time I ran into him at the Little Tokyo mall where he worked. I was looking for the bowling alley and decided to ask a security guard. It wasn’t until I saw him up close that I recognized him.

When I recognized him I said, “Hey, I know you. You live in The American Hotel on my floor.”

He smiled and quietly answered, “yes.”

That was the last time I saw him.

Not long after, I came home and the cops outside the front door asked me to let them in. They immediately went up to the fourth floor (not the first time cops had been up there, by the way) and headed to the security guard’s room.

Apparently, earlier in the day he had freaked out and threatened to kill his psychiatrist, who reported him to the cops. I don’t think they found him, but he never again came back to The American Hotel and eventually management packed up his water bottles, cardboard boxes, and uniform.

Dear reader, will you stay tuned for more about my life in The American Hotel?

 

 

 

 

 

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Weekend Inspirations: My week


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My week consisted of: unearthing my summer sundresses to wear poolside with a big straw hat as I edit and review manuscripts from writer friends. Stocking up on sunscreen, fresh herbs and new thick, black pens. Nursing a child with a high-fever in the middle of the night. Finishing the first draft of BLESSED ARE THE MEEK, my second novel in my mystery series featuring San Francisco Bay Area crime reporter Gabriella Giovanni. Attending the baptism of our family’s newest member. Taking the kids to the Stone Arch Bridge to watch a surreal, somber funeral/Mardi Gras-style mini parade with gymnastics and people on stilts with the Northern Spark festival and light show in the background. Wearing my Jack Rogers sandals and loving my Longchamp Le Pliage, which totes manuscripts, moleskins, sunscreen, and even more pens. Watching the last two episodes of “Downton Abbey Season 2″ and crying a bit at the end. Spending family movie night eating pizza and popcorn and laughing with my kids and husband at Dana Carvey’s hilarious acting in “The Master of Disguise.” Reading Bryan Gruley’s STARVATION LAKE for myself and reading A WRINKLE IN TIME (again), this time to my kids at bedtime.

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Most Scrumptious Bacon-Onion-Camembert Tart

Hey, kids, it’s Food Friday here at the blog and here is my latest offering.

Such a sad and not very appetizing picture of my scrumptious tart. My only excuse is I was so into EATING it, that I forgot to take a picture of it until I had these wimpy little leftover scraps.

Ingredients:


Crust:
1 1/4 cups flour
1 stick unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
4 tablespoons milk

Filling:
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 onions, cut into strips
1/2 pound butcher-cut bacon cut into pieces
2 teaspoons rosemary, fresh or dried
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
8 ounces camembert (or brie) cheese, sliced into strips

Directions:

1. In food processor, pulse flour, butter, salt, and sugar about 8 times or until it looks like meal. Add milk a tiny bit at a time and pulse until the dough forms a ball. Take out dough and shape into 5-inch disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for one hour. Meanwhile, when it gets close to one hour, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

3. While dough is in fridge, brown onions in oil until carmelized. Add bacon and cook. Add rosemary, salt and pepper. Remove and let cool.

4. Take out dough and sit on floured parchment paper until it becomes pliable. Then roll it with rolling pin until about 11 inches in diameter.

5. Place cheese slices in center of dough in spoke pattern, leaving two-inch border around edges. Top with onion mix. Put down another layer of cheese. Fold up edges of tart, crimping them.
Put parchment on baking sheet. Bake about 30 minutes or until crust is brown.

6. Can let sit, but I usually eat hot.

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Writer Interviews: Michele Drier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m having a ball featuring former reporters turned mystery novelists. Michele and I most likely crossed paths on our reporter beats in the San Francisco Bay Area and now I’m lucky enough to have her visit my blog. I know you’ll enjoy what she has to say as much as I do. Here is Michele in her own words!

1. Describe your writing routine and/or schedule?

I write something every day I’m home, whether it’s a review or a blog or my work-in-progress.  That said, there are a couple of day every week when I’m gone, either with my grandchildren or at meetings.

I don’t work full-time any more so I can schedule my time more easily.

First I check email. I belong to several different loops and groups, so it takes a while to skim them, file, delete or answer.  Then I check fb, Twitter and add anything I need to and then I check the to-do list and calendar and all of that takes about two hours.

I tackle at least one big project every day.  Either reading someone else’s book to swap reviews, reading my critique group’s chapters or working on my next book.

I try to carve out about three hours a day for my own writing because I’m shooting for at least 3,000 words a day, but that doesn’t always happen.  Oddly, I find my most productive writing time is late afternoon, early evening, between 2 and 6 p.m.  Then I have another short spurt between 7 p.m. until about 9.

2. What do you do if you get writer’s block?

When I get writer’s block, I’ll get up and take a walk or do some housework.  If I’m stuck with a scene, sometimes I’ll just write LEAVE THIS in red letters and go on to a scene or chapter or event that I’ve blocked out in my head.  I actually sent one book to a beta reader with the red LEAVE THIS intact.  Thank God, I hadn’t used any profanity, I saw that done too often in newspapers when I was an editor.  But the best advice for writer’s block is to just sit down and write.  If you need to, set a timer for 15 minutes and just write… anything. Your will, grocery lists, birthday cards, rants at the utilities company. Once words are on paper, or pixels on the screen, usually the kinks work themselves out.

3. Who do you read, or recommend other writer’s read, in regards to craft?

I really like Chris Roerden’s books, Don’t Sabotage Your Submission and Don’t Murder Your Manuscript.  And the basic Elements of Style. For more than 20 years the AP Stylebook was my Bible and I love Eats, Shoots and Leaves for grammar and punctuation.  Not to mention Elizabeth George’s Write Away. There must be hundreds of writers who’ve written books on writing from Stephen King to Eudora Welty, so pick your genre and read, read, read.

4. Who do you read for fun?

Oh man, I read everything for fun! I love Janet Evanovich and adore Antonia Fraser. Elizabeth George is one of the writers I always buy in hardback and I’m a sucker for Daniel Silva and Robert Crais. I still love mysteries, but I read Pulitzer nominees, books short-listed for the Booker Prize and even best-sellers.  I have friends I visit a few times a year and it’s great.  He reads thrillers and spy stories, she reads post-modernist fiction.  It’s like camping in a bookstore!

5. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Tell us about it.

I won a prize for an essay I wrote in high school, but it didn’t faze me because I was going to become a chemist.  Then the first organic chemistry class in college changed my mind! I ended up as a reporter for the San Jose Mercury-News and that’s probably when I started thinking seriously about writing fiction.  That was (mumble, mumble) moons ago. I had a few starts of both a novel and a short story collection I entered into contests, but never won, so I guess I’ve known for years I wanted to be a writer.  About six years ago I decided if I was going to do this, I had to get serious, so I wrote, and rewrote and edited and rewrote my first book, a mystery called Edited for Death, which was published last year.

6. What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

Read, read, read.  And then, write, write, write.  Read as much as you can in the genre you’ve chosen or, if not a genre, read fiction in general—good, so-so and terrible.  You can learn from of it, even if it’s “I’d never write like that, how did it get published?”

Early on, find a critique group. Not your friends and family, strangers.  They’re more likely to tell you the truth.  Remember, they’re going to want you to succeed, so listen.  You don’t have to incorporate everything, but the criticism will be a mirror of how your writing is seen.

And last, grow some ego calluses.

7. What do you think is the most important skill to have to succeed as a writer?

Curiosity.  If you’re curious about the world around you, if you wonder why people behave that way, if you want to explain things, you have a story to tell. A solid grounding in the language—syntax, structure, grammar, spelling—is an added bonus!

8. What is your favorite food and/or drink?

Anything chocolate, mores’ the pity! I knew a woman years ago who was maybe a size four on a bad day. She was such a chocolate fiend, she’d start at the dessert table at any buffet. When the good fairies come to visit, that will be one of my wishes. I could live on carrots and lettuce and still gain weight!

9. Do you have a favorite book or movie?

I’m gaga for “Lion in Winter” with Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn. Last time I was in France, I went to Chinon, where Henry II died and the movie takes place.

The other one I love is Warren Beatty’s “Reds”.  Historically, it’s a turning point in history, but I think the way Beatty structured the film is just spiffy, interspersing clips of “witnesses” into the story.  I’m seeing a theme here…I guess I like films about real people and their interactions.

10. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to share?

I think your questions have touched a lot of parts of my life.  The only other items are that I have an elderly, lame cat and my bed is littered with books I’m in the middle of reading.  I’m either going to trip over the cat, break a hip and lie there some night, or get crushed to death when the pile of books falls!

Thanks so much for having me as a guest.

 

Michele Drier was born in Santa Cruz and is a fifth generation Californian.  She’s lived and worked all over the state, calling both Southern and Northern California home.  During her career in journalism — as a reporter and editor at daily newspapers – she won awards for producing investigative series. Her mystery Edited for Death, called “Riveting and much recommended” by the Midwest Book Review and a Memorable Book for 2011 on DorothyL, is available in paperback at Amazon and B&N.

Her paranormal romance series, SNAP: The Kandesky vampire chronicles, is available in ebook at Amazon.  The first book, SNAP: The World Unfolds, received a 4-star rating from the Paranormal Romance Guild.  The second book, SNAP: New Talent, is also available from Amazon the third, Plague: A Love Story, will be published in June.

 

Visit her website: www.micheledrier.com   

 

 

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