Judy Alter is a mystery author, passionate cook, and proud mother of four and grandmother to seven. Aside from her fiction, Judy has written several non-fiction books pertaining to Texas, a cookbook, and restaurant reviews in the Fort Worth, Texas area. (I'm suddenly craving Whataburger!) You won't find any recipes in her mysteries, but "Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books" is available on Amazon.
Could you tell us about your latest book, No Neighborhood for Old Women, (LOVE the title!) and your protagonist, Kelly O’Connell?
Kelly O’Connell is a harried and hassled single mom of two young girls (I think they’re adorable) and a realtor with her own company and a specialty in renovating and restoring Craftsman houses. They live in a historic inner city neighborhood in Fort Worth, Texas. Kelly is almost determinedly single, still wounded by the desertion of her husband and the girls’ father. But there’s this neighborhood police officer . . . .
No Neighborhood for Old Women is actually about a serial killer—not exactly what you’d expect in a cozy, but I think I’ve been able to use that plot thread and still stay mostly within the conventions of the cozy. When her former neighbor is the first victim, Kelly investigates, in spite of the pleas of her companion, policeman Mike Shandy, and her assistant, the colorful Keisha, that she stay out of it. Kelly knows a serial killer will hurt business, and she worries about the frightened old women in the neighborhood. And when 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, Kelly becomes her champion. Kelly knows about bad marriages and bad husbands from her own experience. Then Kelly’s mom, the needy Cynthia O’Connell, decides to move to Fort Worth to be near her grandchildren. Kelly, unwittingly puts her children, her mom, and herself in danger and almost derails her love life.
Judy, I love that you have photographs on your website that depict your character’s neighborhood. What a great way to add to the readers’ imagination, and it ties in so well to Kelly’s real estate career. What advice do you have for other author’s about “branding” their website?
My publisher, Turquoise Morning Press, has done a wonderful job of branding the first two books with thematically consistent cover design—I’ve requested the same kind of treatment for the third, Trouble in a Big Box, due out in August. And in blogging or anything about the books these days I make sure to use the series title: Kelly O’Connell Mysteries. I plan to add a “Meet Kelly” page to my Web site with photos of the neighborhood, more detail about Kelly, and a note about Craftsman architecture. Then I’ll offer a free pdf of a Kelly O’Connell short story to anyone who requests it. May take a bit to get this done.
I sense a Wild West theme on your website! Sue Ellen Learns to Dance is about women in the America West, and you’ve received awards from the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the Western Writers of America, including their Owen Winster Award for Lifetime Achievement. Tell us about your love affair with the West!
It began in graduate school because my ex-husband and I were poor as church mice and did free things, like museums. The Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth has a wonderful collection of works by Frederic Remington and Chares Russell, and we were fascinated, particularly by the sculpture. I began to study literature about the West, fiction and nonfiction, and for thirty years I wrote mostly about women of the American West. Some of my western fiction now has a second life as e-books—Sue Ellen Learns to Dance as well as the novels Libbie (a fictional biography of Elizabeth Custer’s years with George Armstrong Custer), Sundance, Butch and Me (about Etta Place and the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang), and Mattie (loosely based on the life of a pioneer woman physician on the Nebraska prairie in the late nineteenth century. I also wrote several young-adult novels about girls in the West.
Which do you think is a more difficult audience to write for--adults or children/young adults? And why?
I started out writing for young adults and found myself pigeon-holed, so it was hard to make the transition to adult fiction. In today’s market I think it’s harder to write for young adults, because they’re interested in things I’m not---horror, paranormal, etc. I could never have written and don’t think I can read The Hunger Games but my oldest granddaughters loved the books and the movie. One think that helps with either audience is my tendency to write in the first-person. I put myself in that girl or woman’s head, get the first sentence down, and go from there. I’m definitely a pantser, not a plotter. In fact, in the third Kelly O’Connell Mystery, I didn’t know “who done it” until three-quarters of the way through. Of course then I had to go back and rewrite some. Ooops, I wandered from your question—sorry.
I love Potluck with Judy! You cook like I do, only better, I’m sure. Any chance you’ll come out with a cookbook? Or do you include recipes in your mysteries?
I actually have a cookbook: Cooking My Way Through Life With Kids and Books. I sort of saw my life in four periods—growing up in a semi-British household with lots of meat and potatoes and formal suppers, marriage to a Jewish man and a move to Texas (two new cuisines all at once), single parenthood (I call that chapter “The Casserole Years”) and finally, living alone, as I do know, entertaining a lot and experiment with recipes—even on dinner guests.
I haven’t put recipes in my mysteries—Kelly’s not a good cook, too often relies on pizza or The Old Neighborhood Grill for cheeseburgers) but I’m starting a new series in January, The Blue Plate Series, about a café in a small East Texas town, and I’ll probably include recipes there. I had a friend who ran a ranch B&B and I have many of the recipes she and I cooked together. But remember, I didn’t grow up with southern cooking—never ate a black-eyed pea until I came to Texas and even then, reluctantly at first.
What’s next for you?
More mysteries. There are at least two more Kelly O’Connell Mysteries—the one in August and another sometime in 2013 which is as yet unwritten and pretty much unimagined except for a rough proposal to my publisher. I’d also like to post some more of my older books as e-books, but that depends on income from the existing ones—have to see if it’s worth the time and expense. Retirement (I was director of a small academic press) has been very good to me, and I’m busier and happier than I’ve ever been. I also keep a five-year-old grandson after school every afternoon, and that takes up some of my time.