Monday, November 24, 2014

Changing horses in mid-stream by Judy Alter

Please Welcome Back Mystery Mondays! My first guest is Judy Alter.

Back in the 1990s I was riding high, publishing short western novels with Doubleday and then longer fictional biographies of women for Bantam—I was clearly a western writer especially fascinated by the stories of women of the American West. I wrote about the lives of Libbie Custer, Jessie Benton Frémont, a Wild West Show woman roper modeled on the famed Lucille Mulhall, and finally Etta Place of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fame. And I was with a major publishing house. Besides I’d written a y/a nonfiction called Extraordinary Women of the American West—I had an inexhaustible supply of women for my fictional biography series.

Shortly after the turn into this century, it all fell apart. Bantam discontinued their program (or lost interest in my work); Doubleday just disappeared. The Etta Place book was actually published by Leisure in 2004, and then Leisure, not a major company by any means, went out of business. Some of my western titles are still available as e-books—Cherokee Rose, Libbie, Ballad for Sallie, Mattie, Sundance, Butch and Me, and Sue Ellen Learns to Dance, a collection of short stories. But I had been bucked off my short ride as a western author, and I began writing nonfiction work-for-hire for school libraries. Interesting but not creative. I wanted to invent the characters and worlds of fiction.

I’ve been a devoted mystery reader since Nancy Drew first caught my attention, but I always thought someone else wrote mysteries, not me. I had tried one once, an agent (who knew less about publishing mysteries than I did) failed to sell it, and I gave up. Eventually though I decided I could write a mystery as well as some I read, and I launched myself into the world of mysteries.

After westerns, believe me, it was an entirely different world, requiring knowledge and connections I had no idea about—me, who considered herself a seasoned writer. I was humbled and overwhelmed, but I followed some good advice and joined Sisters in Crime and the Guppies subgroup and set about learning to fit into this new world. It was a long learning curve, following the wrong agents, submitting to the wrong publishers, agreeing to exclusive agreements—I made all the mistakes a newbie can make. Along the way I volunteered as a monitor for SinC and eventually became a member of the Guppy Steering Committee. I was making friends in this new world.

One thing I learned is the mystery community, while tremendously supportive of each other, is highly competitive—there so many more titles and authors working in the various sub-genres. I gave up on the agent-pushed career with a major New York firm (they had all consolidated anyway) and went with Turquoise Morning Press because they were enthusiastic about my work. To date, they’ve published five books in the Kelly O’Connell Mystery Series and two in the Blue Plate Café Mystery Series, with one Kelly O’Connell waiting in the wings.

Turquoise Morning changed their focus recently to romance fiction only, and with The Perfect Coed, I turned to indie publishing. The Perfect Coed is that original manuscript that failed, rewritten many times. What is it we keep telling new Guppies? Perseverance! Getting published as a mystery author has been a bumpy but exciting ride. Some days I think I’ll retire from my retirement career, but I’m having too much fun. And though I will never achieve the skill or status of Mary Higgins Clark and a few others, I’m comfortably at home in the world of mysteries.

A brief excerpt from The Perfect Coed:

Susan Hogan drove around Millsap, Texas, for two days before she realized there was a body in the trunk of her car. And it was another three days before she knew that someone was trying to kill her.

On the second day, she noticed a slightly unpleasant, sweet but foul odor in the car as she drove south on Main Street, headed for the Oak Grove University campus and her eight o’clock American lit class. Susan’s 1998 Honda Civic often had mysterious odors that were all her own fault. Now her mind ranged over the possibilities—leftover spaghetti and meatballs that she’d put in an icebox dish to bring to school for lunch, maybe a to-go box from her favorite Thai restaurant in Fort Worth, spilled coffee since she drank hers with cream.

No matter. She was late for her class, so she opened the windows to let the cool air of the October morning blow through the car as she passed through the town. Oak Grove was one of those towns kept alive and even attractive by the presence of a small university. Main Street was landscaped with trees, benches, and some brick paving. Boutiques and small cafes sat next to a bookstore, a lawyer’s office, and the traditional old brick-and-stone bank. Just before the campus, the street curved uphill through a city park. It was, Susan always thought, a perfect place to live and teach. She didn’t really care if it was second-tier, not as prestigious as some of the bigger universities in the state. She’d been here almost eight years, and Oak Grove was home by now.

“I’ll clean the car tonight,” she told herself, “before Jake sees it or smells it.”

About Judy Alter:

Judy Alter is the author of five books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, the newest being Deception in Strange Places; two books in the Blue Plate Café Mysteries; and the new Oak Grove Mysteries, beginning with The Perfect Coed, a mystery set on a university campus. Judy is no stranger to college campuses. She attended the University of Chicago, Truman State University in Missouri, and Texas Christian University, where she earned a Ph.D. and taught English. For twenty years, she was director of TCU Press, the book publishing program of the university. The author of many books for both children and adults primarily on women of the American West, she retired in 2010 and turned her attention to writing contemporary cozy mysteries.

She holds awards from the Western Writers of America, the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Texas Institute of Letters. She was inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and recognized as an Outstanding Woman of Fort Worth and a woman who has left her mark on Texas. Western Writers of America gave her the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement.

The single parent of four and the grandmother of seven, she lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her Bordoodle, Sophie.

Find Judy at:

Amazon / TurquoiseMorning Press / Smashwords /




Twitter: @judyalter



Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

How interesting. I didn't know this about you, Judy.

DVBerkom said...

I surely hope you don't "retire from your retirement" :-) Interesting post, Judy!