Susan Vaughan here (http://www.susanvaughan.com).
My guest today is multi-published author Judith Arnold, who lives with her family in nearby Massachusetts. Judith has sold more than 90 novels, with millions in print worldwide. She’s been a multiple finalist for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA award and the winner of RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice award in four subgenres of romance. Judith has recently turned her considerable talents to writing mysteries for Belle Bridge Books. Interviewing Judith is a particular pleasure for me because I’ve known her for years and have read many of her books, including the first book in her new mystery series, Dead Ball. Her protagonist Lainie is another of Judith’s complex characters–funny and witty but with family problems. if that isn’t enough, a murder sets her up for major trouble. Couldn’t put the book down.
SUSAN: Judith, you have a funny story about your first book sale, something about your son? Will you share that?
JUDITH: I found out I was pregnant with my first child a week after I’d sold my first book. When I got word of the book sale, friends of mine hosted a party to celebrate. I suspected I might be pregnant, but I didn’t want to share this news before I had definite confirmation. At the party, the champagne flowed like Niagara Falls, everyone drinking toasts to me. But on the chance that I was pregnant, I didn’t want to consume any alcohol. So I’d fake a sip of champagne, smile, and search for a house plant to empty my glass into. Another toast, another fake sip, and I’d duck into the bathroom and drain my glass into the toilet. I think I choked down a few mouthfuls—and I’m relieved to say the baby survived just fine. As it happened, my son and my book were both October releases that year. The name of the book was Silent Beginnings. My husband and I nicknamed our son “Noisy Beginnings.”
SUSAN: After that memorable autumn, I expect you look forward to October every year. You’ve published in a wide variety of genres. From plays to category romance to single-title romance and more mainstream women’s fiction and now to mystery. What’s it been like wearing these several hats? How do you change the mindset from one to the other?
JUDITH: No matter what the genre or the medium, a story is a story. My stories are character-driven, so whether I’m writing a mystery, women’s fiction, lit-fic, or a romance, my voice is pretty much the same. Whether the story ends with lovers making a lifelong commitment to each other or with the heroine dodging bullets and figuring out who committed the crime, my readers will find what they enjoy about a Judith Arnold book: sympathetic characters, warm humor, and satisfying emotion.
SUSAN: I definitely find those three characteristics in your stories, along with your unique voice. How do you begin a new project? Do you research first, come up with characters first, outline, or just dive in and let the creative processes take over? Paper and pencil first or on the keyboard?
JUDITH: Usually, the characters come to me. They invade my mind and tell me their stories. I try to restrain these pesky characters until I can come up with some sort of structure in which they can live their stories. I place a lot of trust in my creative instincts. I don’t outline or map out stories before I start to write. I write on the keyboard. I can’t read my own handwriting—I have trouble reading my grocery lists! Before I got my first computer, I wrote directly on a typewriter. I can type faster than I can hand-write.
SUSAN: I’m with you on writing on the keyboard. Some people think a writer’s life is glamorous, but we know better. What’s something unglamorous you’ve done this week?
JUDITH: For the most part, the writer’s life is not at all glamorous. One of my less glamorous activities this past week was rolling my mother’s bingo winnings—mostly nickels, a few dimes and quarters—into paper tubes so I can deposit them in the bank. Yesterday my options were to roll the coins or write, and I was in procrastination mode.
SUSAN: Ah, yes, procrastination, but I prefer to think of it as letting the ideas percolate. What do you like most about writing and what do you like least?
JUDITH: The actual process of writing can be a real struggle, and I’m often convinced that what I’m writing is pure crap. But then I go back and read what I’ve written, and I discover that it’s actually pretty good. I love that. I also like fussing over the words themselves, listening to their rhythm, making sure they express what I’m trying to say in an accurate and moving way. What I like least are those times when the words won’t flow. There’s usually a reason for this. Maybe my characters are misbehaving. Maybe the story’s conflict isn’t strong enough. Maybe I’m just too tired to create. But when my writing gets stuck, I feel as if I’m trying to jog in quicksand. My legs pump frantically, but instead of moving forward, I sink.
SUSAN: Is Dead Ball your first mystery? (I’m thinking Cry Uncle comes close.) Would you consider it a cozy mystery or something else? Tell us a little about the book and your sleuth.
JUDITH: Dead Ball is my first real mystery. I’d never considered myself a mystery writer, but this was definitely an instance in which the heroine invaded my brain and demanded that I tell her story. Lainie Lovett is such a wonderful heroine, I’ve already written a second book for her, and a third is gestating. Dead Ball is probably closer to being a cozy mystery than anything else, because Lainie is an amateur sleuth. She’s a forty-something fourth-grade teacher who stumbles into a murder and then has to solve it to clear her own name. Dead Ball does have some sex and some foul language, elements not usually found in cozies. But they’re essential to the story, so I hope readers won’t mind.
I’m glad you mentioned Cry Uncle, because the ebook edition of that novel is on a limited-time sale right now for 99 cents. Cry Uncle is more of a romantic suspense than a mystery, but it’s also a marriage-of-convenience story, a comedy, and a sexy romance. (I guess I have trouble coloring inside the lines. <g>)
SUSAN: Before we finish, is there anything else you’d like to share?
JUDITH: A gentle suggestion to readers: If you read a book and love it, please consider posting a review of the book on Amazon or one of the other book retail sites. It doesn’t have to be long or elaborate or analytical. A couple of sentences will do. The way the publishing industry currently functions, writers need those reviews to survive. So if you want your favorite authors to keep producing the books you love, help them out by posting a review. I know they’ll appreciate it.
Thank you, Judith for a terrific interview. I’m sure our readers will find your writing process and other insights fascinating. Our blog readers can find more information about Judith’s books at her website: http://www.juditharnold.com.