Writer Interviews: Judy Alter

Posted by on June 19, 2012
















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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5 Responses to Writer Interviews: Judy Alter

  1. Suzanne Lilly

    Great advice, Judy. Anytime advice involves reading, I’m all over it! I’m new to cozy mysteries, but finding I really like them. No Neighborhood for Old Women was very entertaining.

  2. Joanne Guidoccioo

    Enjoyed this interview. Lots of great advice for aspiring writers.

  3. Gloria Alden

    Wonderful interview, Judy. It’s funny how people think since we’re retired we have all this time to do just what we want, isn’t it? I look forward to reading your books as soon as I lower my TBR books that I got at Malice.

  4. Taryn Raye

    Great interview and as Janie said, I love learning more about you, Judy!

  5. Janie Emaus

    Great interview. As always, it’s fun to learn a little bit more about you.