New interview with mystery author Judy Alter

I’m happy to welcome mystery author Judy Alter back to Reviews and Interviews. 

Today’s interview is focused on Judy’s newest novel, Trouble in a Big Box, and this is just one stop in a short virtual book tour.
An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter has written fiction for
adults and young adults, primarily about women in the nineteenth-century
American West. Now she has turned her attention to contemporary cozy mysteries. Trouble in a Big Box, the third Kelly O’Connell mystery, follows Skeleton in a
Dead Space
and No Neighborhood for Old Women, which received good reviews and popular enthusiasm. Follow Judy at or her two blogs
at or
Judy, welcome
back to Reviews and Interviews!

tell us about your newest release.
My second Kelly O’Connell Mystery was No Neighborhood for Old Women, in which
a serial killer targets old women in Kelly’s Fairmount neighborhood and Claire
Guthrie, a friend and former client, shows up at Kelly’s front door announcing
that she’s just shot her husband in the butt. Then Kelly’s mom, the needy
Cynthia O’Connell, decides to move to Fort Worth to be near her grandchildren.
Kelly, a harried, hassled, and loving single mom of two young girls,
unwittingly puts her children, her mom, and herself in danger and almost
derails her love life.

By the new third mystery, Trouble in a Big Box, Kelly is married
to her policemen/lover, Mike Shandy. He’s badly injured in an automobile
accident that kills a young girl. Developer
Tom Lattimore wants to build a big-box grocery store called Wild Things in
Kelly’s beloved Fairmount neighborhood, and someone is stalking Kelly. Tom
Lattimore pressures Kelly to support his project, and the pressure turns into
threats when Kelly activates a neighborhood coalition to fight it. And as she tries
to find out who is stalking her and why, Mike is both powerless to stop her and
physically unable to protect her and his family. After their house is smoke-bombed and
Kelly survives an amateur attack on her life, she comes close to an unwanted
trip to Mexico from which she might never return.
inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to continue telling Kelly’s story. There are so many things that happen
beneath the surface of a seemingly peaceful residential neighborhood, and I
want to scrape off the top layer. I also wanted to see how Kelly and Mike would
maintain their relationship, always both passionate and prickly, under
pressure. And I wanted it to be Mike’s book for a change, though it didn’t
actually turn out that way. The big-box store was a case of fiction turning
into reality: shortly after I began the manuscript, there was a big controversy
about a Wal-Mart moving into an adjacent neighborhood.
the next writing project?
Murder at the Blue
Plate Café,
in a small East Texas town, will be out in January/February and may well be the
start of a new series. It was inspired by many happy meals shared with friends
in a specific café. Names changed, of course. But it sort of satisfied my urge
to write a culinary mystery and yet not fall into the catering/gourmet style of
so many of those. I do include recipes—most from my friend who owned a ranch
b&b nearby. And then, sigh, I’m struggling with the fourth Kelly O’Connell
is your biggest challenge when writing a new book? (or the biggest challenge
with this book)
is always my biggest challenge. For my first mystery, Skeleton in a Dead Space, things seemed to develop of their own
accord. I wonder if I’m not trying too hard to force things in the one I’m
working on. I think I should listen to that old advice (the writing world is so
full of “old advice”) and just get to the end of it. Then go back and figure
out what doesn’t work and why. I also try to remember the writing truth that if
you listen, your characters will tell you what’s next. Okay, Kelly, speak up on
this one, please!
your novels require research – please talk about the process. Do you do the
research first and then write, while you’re writing, after the novel is complete
and you need to fill in the gaps?
research as I write, when questions come up in my mind. Frequently, in working
of the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, I’ve stopped to research Craftsman
architecture. For such a topic, I start with Wikipedia but go from there. On
architecture, I had a local, knowledgeable reference. For the one I’m working
on now I really need to talk to a neighborhood police officer to find out about
procedure, etc. I’m working on contacting on local NPO.
your writing space like? Do you have a particular spot to write where the muse
is more active? Please tell us about it.
have an office where I spend a large portion of my life, a space with a large
bookcase, an ample desk which I try, unsuccessfully, to keep cleaned off, and a
computer set-up that links a wireless mouse and keyboard to a laptop and remote
monitor. It’s the perfect arrangement for me. I read the paper, eat meals, do
everything at my desk. I think my young dog thinks she lives in this room. But
it’s where I’m most at home—and where, late at night, I read for pleasure—but I
always have one eye on my e-mail.
authors do you enjoy reading within or outside of your genre?
almost always read mysteries—but occasionally, especially when assigned a
review, I branch out. I recently read Anna Quindlen’s Plenty of Cake, Lots of Candles and enjoyed it. I also just read a
Polly Iyer mystery. Murder Déjà vu, that
kept me biting my fingernails. But I like a lot of the familiar cozy
writers—Carolyn Hart, Susan Schreyer, Diane Mott Davidson, Julie Hyzy, Krista
Davis, and others. I’m reading Nancy Martin’s latest Blackbird mystery, Slay Belles, right now.
additional you want to share with the readers today?
guess the fact that I write because I don’t know any other way to live. When
I’m “between projects,” as they euphemistically say, I’m lost. So on days when
it really doesn’t seem to be working, I remind myself that it will work out
eventually and that if I’m unhappily gnashing my teeth over a manuscript in progress,
it would be much worse to be retired and wake up thinking, “Gosh! What will I
do today?” I love my life, and writing is a big part of it—but so are my
children and grandchildren, friends, cooking, dogs. It’s a great life!
Great to have you back, Judy. Thanks for filling us in on your writing projects! 

Readers, you can read last year’s interview focused on Skeleton in a Dead Space, if you like.

5 thoughts on “New interview with mystery author Judy Alter

  1. Polly Iyer says:

    Nice post, Judy. I have Trouble in a Big Box on my Kindle. With judging contests and writing, I'm afraid reading has taken a back seat. I look forward to reading TinBB soon. Thanks for the mention of Murder Deja Vu. Your compliment is much appreciated. Best of luck with your new series.

  2. Amy Jarecki says:

    Great Review! Judy – If you ever find a way to keep your desk clean, let me know. I start in the morning with a clean desk, and have about 10 reference books and papers spread across it by the end!

  3. judyalter says:

    Thanks, Polly, Janie and Amy. Amy if I find the clue, I'll let you know but I don't even start with it very neat and it gets worse as the day goes on. Polly, I loved Murder Deja Vu.

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