Welcome to the one hundred and thirty-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with women’s fiction novelist Judith Marshall. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Judith. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Judith: I’m a native Californian, born and raised in the Bay Area. As a child, I enjoyed writing, but never that about it seriously – not until 1997 when a friend sent me the book, “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.” Like the protagonist in that story, I, too, have been blessed with the friendship of a group of women who first met in high school. We’ve survived multiple marriages, dramatics divorces, and even maddening menopause together. After I finished the book, I started thinking about the value of enduring female friendship. Before long, I began playing with a first draft of a story about six women who grew up in small town America in the 1950’s, and soon I was hooked.
Morgen: Writing can do that can’t it (and isn’t that great!). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Judith: I write women’s fiction exclusively. I write what I like to read.
Morgen: It does help to read what you write. 🙂 What have you had published to-date? Can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Judith: My debut novel, Husbands May Come and Go but Friends are Forever, won the Jack London Prize awarded by the California Writers Club and was released in 2009.
Morgen: Oh wow, that’s incredible.
Judith: Shortly, thereafter, the book was optioned for the big screen. The first time I saw my book on a shelf was at my local independent book store. I took several pictures of it.
Morgen: As would I. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Judith: Since the book’s release, I have spent two to three hours a day on building my brand and promoting my book.
Morgen: You mentioned the Jack London, have you won or been shortlisted in any other competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Judith: Other than the first award, no. I don’t think awards lead to sales, but I do think they build a writer’s credibility.
Morgen: Absolutely. Is your books available as an eBook? Do you read eBooks?
Morgen: I think for most people it’ll be inevitable. I have one but with so many paperbacks around the house am a slow convert. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Judith: Yes. Over 200. I filed them away and pushed on. (BTW, I’ve found a company that will make a roll of toilet paper out of rejection letters.)
Morgen: I say you’ve got a few there. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Judith: I’ve just finished my second novel, Staying Afloat, the story of a devoted wife and mother who morphs into a sex-starved adulteress.
Morgen: That sounds fun. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Judith: I’m very fortunate. I rarely have writer’s block. My imagination is always whirring with new ideas, plot lines, or characters. If I do feel stumped, I don’t write. I put it away and go do something physical.
Morgen: Good plan. I’ve heard a few times about exercising as a good technique. When you write do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Judith: No. I start with a kernel of an idea and see where the characters take it.
Morgen: And don’t they take it… do you have a method for creating them, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Judith: Yes. I create a profile for each character, who their parents are, where they grew up, and what their greatest fear is. I work more on the inner traits rather than appearance. I think it makes the characters more interesting.
Morgen: Good plan. One of my Monday night exercises is to complete a 17-point form for a character (I usually give out magazine photos) and it’s amazing what comes out. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Judith: My critique group; a group of three other writers who have great instincts.
Morgen: Snap; my critique group… almost snap; a group of nine (then my editor). Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Judith: On Husbands, I did four complete revisions. As a new writer, I was learning my craft. On my second novel, I’ve only gone through it twice. Everyone gets better with practice.
Morgen: Absolutely, like playing the piano. How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Judith: So far, I haven’t had to do much research as the plots for both of my novels were inspired by personal experiences. As for feedback, yes, I’ve received lots of wonderful reviews and comments from readers, some that have brought tears to my eyes.
Morgen: Ahh, that’s great! 🙂 Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Morgen: Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Judith: It must be totally silent for me to write.
Morgen: Me too (or classical at the most). What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Judith: I like first person, but am experimenting with third for the third novel (seems only fitting).
Morgen: Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Judith: No. I did an epilogue in an early draft of Husbands, but an editor told me she thought epilogues were amateurish, so I cut it.
Morgen: They provoke mixed feelings so I think you have to go with whatever suits the particular piece. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Judith: No, but I do have a “leftovers” file where I keep every word, sentence, or paragraph that I’ve cut from a manuscript. They often come in handy for the next book.
Morgen: Good plan. I always keep my cast-offs because you just never know. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Judith: Like most writers, my favourite part of writing is the first draft. Revising can be hell, especially when you’re cutting something you love.
Morgen: Yep, most writers I’ve interviewed have pretty much said the same. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Judith: Don’t worry about learning the craft first. Just silence your inner critic and sit down and write. There will be plenty of time to correct and revise later.
Morgen: There will. What do you like to read?
Morgen: That made the Channel 4 TV Book Club shortlist over here earlier this year. It didn’t win (Emma Donogue’s ‘Room’ did) but it’s supposed to be very good.Judith: I read a variety of genres. Most recently I read, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lackes, which is an incredibly well-researched non-fiction book that reads like a novel.
Judith: I’m now reading a memoir written by a friend of mine, Birgit Soyka, entitled To Drink the Wild Air.
Morgen: I love that title. 🙂 What do you do when you’re not writing?
Judith: I’m a human resources consultant focused on helping small employers navigate the pitfalls of employment law. And I love to cook.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Judith: There are so many books that have helped me over the years. Some of my favourites include:
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing from Writers Digest
The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
Morgen: Brilliant, thank you. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Judith: I’m on tons of writing-oriented sites, as well as all the social networking sites. Some are more valuable than others, but it’s important to stay tuned to with what is going on in the book world and to stay connected to current and potential readers.
Morgen: It is, absolutely. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Easy to remember. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Judith: With the surge in independent publishing, the traditional publishing world is in a state of flux at the moment. Literary agents are trying to re-invent themselves. Some are injecting themselves into the independent publishing arena by offering services to writers such as editing, eBook formatting, and marketing. No matter what changes occur, you can be sure that there will always be a need for good writers.
Morgen: I think we’re all hoping so. Thank you Judith.
Born in the Napa Valley, the only daughter of warring parents thrown together out of need rather than love, Judith learned early to escape to the movies to shelter herself from the chaos at home. Slumped down in the dark, she dreamed of one day becoming a writer, someone who could express her feelings on paper. I’d say she’s there. 🙂
Update June 2012: Judith’s book is currently being adapted into a screenplay. Yay. 🙂
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