Judy Hogan’s contribution to Be A Real Writer packs a wallop. If you want to write a novel you’ll learn a lot from this short piece. If you’re a time-waster/procrastinator, you’ll feel embarrassed and guilty. If you whine that you ‘ve written two or three novels and can’t sell them so you aren’t going to write any more–publisher’s loss–read on, and learn. Judy Hogan is a perfect role model for all of us.
A REAL WRITER?
For twenty years I debated: am I a real writer? I finally decided I was. I’d been writing: diary, poetry, even a novel. Nothing published, but it finally hit me: a writer is one who writes. Then at age thirty-one my first poem was published in a poetry journal a friend, Paul Foreman, and I started, Hyperion Poetry Journal. My writing life now, at age seventy-six, is more settled, confident, and ritualized. I have five poetry books out, two non-fiction, and a mystery, Killer Frost. I expect another mystery, Farm Fresh and Fatal, and a new poetry book, Beaver Soul this fall.
I have about seventy unpublished books. I have a great drive to write and feel best when I’m writing. I use a schedule, spend two hours each morning writing in my diary, then, when I can free the time to write a book, two hours in the afternoon, and two hours in the evening. I set aside two months when I won’t be teaching or otherwise distracted, this year, July-August. I’ll do my farm work, a good break from the intensity of creating, let my mind go slack, pick figs, preserve soups for the winter, read mysteries.
Elizabeth George’s Write Away gave me my model. Once I get my basic idea, I use George’s character prompt form to brainstorm new characters: what they look like, how they talk, what their goal is, in life and in the story, significant events, etc. I want them to become alive for me. Then I start sketching out the scenes. I can usually rough out the whole novel. Some chapters have several scenes; some only one.
Then I start composition. If the story moves in an unexpected way, I trust that intuition and follow it, even if the killer changes. I often draft the whole novel in six weeks, normally 60-70,000 words. I write by hand and revise as I type it on the computer. Generally, I don’t change a lot. I compose like a Japanese painter–study what I want to make vivid, see it clearly in my mind’s eye, and when it is quite real to me, then I describe what I see and hear. I hear the dialogue better than I see the people. The roughed out scenes are a guide, and I always reread what I wrote my last session, or more if I need to get into the flow of the novel. Then I send it to two readers who like my work and help me find inconsistencies or more detail I might need. Typing and later getting it published and promoted I can do with more interruptions, but composition needs me to become immersed in my book. It’s work, but very gratifying, and it uses all of my mental life: feelings, experiences, personal history, concerns for justice. I’ve been active in my community to improve conditions, but my best gift to other people and to justice is the books I write.
Judy Hogan’s first mystery novel, Killer Frost, was published by Mainly Murder Press in CT on September 1, 2012 in both trade paperback and e-book formats. Her second novel in the Penny Weaver series comes out October 1, 2013. Beaver Soul, a poem written about her early experiences in Russia, will come out from Finishing Line Press, in KY, on September 1, 2013. Judy founded Carolina Wren Press (1976-91) and was co-editor of Hyperion Poetry Journal, 1970-81). She has also published five other volumes of poetry and two prose works with small presses. She has taught all forms of creative writing since 1974. She joined Sisters in Crime in 2007 and has focused on writing and publishing eight traditional mystery novels. In 2011 she was a finalist in the St. Martin’s Malice Domestic Mystery contest for Killer Frost. The twists and turns of her life’s path over the years have given her plenty to write about. She is also a small farmer and lives in Moncure, N.C., in Chatham County near Jordan Lake.