Thursday, April 12, 2012

Author, Author all about it!!  

                     Thursday April 12th

Thanks for joining us and please welcome a wonderful author and a really great person,

                    Judy Alter

Hi Judy, so glad to have you here today, can you tell us a little about yourself?

Although I wrote about Texas and the American West for years, I am not a native Texan. I was born in Chicago. Came to Texas in 1965, got a Ph.D. in English at TCU, and worked at TCU Press, the book publishing division of the university, for almost 30 years, over 20 of them as director. I was the single parent of four for much of that time and wrote fiction at night. A longtime member of Western Writers of America, I wrote what are now considered western historical romances—Libbie, about Elizabeth Bacon Custer, Jessie, about Jessie Benton Frémont, and Sundance, Butch, and Me, about Etta Place and the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. I retired from TCU in 2009 but didn’t really retire—I just changed jobs. Now I write full time and am busier than ever. But I’ve switched to cozy mysteries.

What or who initially inspired you to become a writer?

I think I always wanted to write. I wrote my first short stories at ten, submitted to Seventeen Magazine in high school (promptly rejected), and have done public relation and publishing ever since which is, to me, a form of writing. I kept going to graduate school and majoring in English because I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I read all the usual things—Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, Frances Parkinson Keyes, but I can’t say there was any one inspiration. Reading and writing have been my life, and I wouldn’t know what to do with myself now if I weren’t writing.

What kind of research do you do for a novel and how extensive do you get?

For western historical I did a lot of research because I wanted to get the history straight. I read all of Libbie Custer’s memoirs and lots of book about George Armstrong Custer; for Etta Place, I read a lot of books but no one knows the true story and I ended up interpreting history my own way.

For my current mysteries, I don’t do much research—they’re set in the neighborhood adjacent to mine that I know well—including the restaurants, schools, etc.,, and they’re not police procedurals where I have to get things down right. The most research I’ve done is on Craftsman houses, because my heroine, Kelly, is a real estate agent specializing in renovating older homes and her neighborhood has lots of Craftsman. That kind of research can be mostly done on the Web.

Do you have a special place you like to do your writing? Such as an office, a spare room, the dining room table, your couch?

I have a wonderful office, made from a small bedroom off my living room. It’s where I spend my life—if I’m eating alone, I eat there; when I read late at night, I do so at my desk. I have book shelves all over the house, but keep the books I refer to most often in my office. It has French doors that open up to the living room and wonderful windows, so it’s a cheery space.

As a reader, what types of works do you like to read and do you think they influence the genre/genres you write in?

I’ve read cozy mysteries all my life, and I’m sure that influenced my writing today. I thought if others can write these, so can I. I like Diane Mott Davidson’s culinary mysteries. Julie Hyzy’s White House Chef and curator of an old mansion books (because cooking and old houses are two of my passions), along with some more complex mysteries like Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James books and the work of Julia Spencer-Fleming. But I’m always delighted to find a new cozy author whose work I enjoy.

What is your favorite method of in laptop, desktop, Ipad or the old fashioned pencil and paper?? And do you plot out your story or go with the flow of your muse?

I write on a laptop at my desk—but it has a remote monitor and wireless remote keyboard and mouse. I’m spoiled. I don’t do well with the laptop keyboard—really slows me down. I am definitely a pantser—I start with a rough idea of what’s going to happen, get that first sentence, and go from there, though the first sentence changes often during the process. When I wrote young-adult westerns, I used to sort of plot—I’d number from one to ten and roughly figure out what was going to happen in each of ten chapters. But as I neared the end of a current mystery, I still had no idea who done it or why. Then inspiration struck. Of course I had to go back and rewrite to stick in parts that made it plausible.

When you need a break or some time off from the trials of being a writer, what can you be found doing?

Taking care of a kindergarten grandchild (every afternoon after school), eating out with friends or entertaining at home, cooking and reading, plus caring for my two dogs. I have a full and active life and don’t devote nearly as much time as I’d like to writing.

Is there anything about yourself nobody knows that you would like to share with our readers??

My mother once said to me, “Do you have to tell everything you know?” I’m afraid I’m an open book, and there’s not much people don’t know about me, especially if they read my blog. I’m the besotted grandmother of seven, but I drive a VW bug convertible because I didn’t want to be a stodgy grandmother—and because I love VWs; I sort of always wanted to be a chef, but now my feet and back wouldn’t take all that standing. I’m addicted to Redstone’s milk chocolate with jalapenos and crushed peanuts, and I’m perpetually trying to shed 15 lbs. I’m a vocal liberal in politics and an active member of my church.

Where can our readers find you??

Pinterest and Facebook - I spend way too much time on those sites, but I learn a lot and enjoy them.

Is there an upcoming or current release you would like to share with us today and where can we find it?

Yes, definitely. My newest Kelly O’Connell Mystery, No Neighborhood for Old Women, went up on Kindle and Nook on Monday, April 9. It will be in print by May 1 and on other e-readers soon.

  and Butch, Sundance, and Me with ePublishing Works, so they’re available on Kindle, Nook, and other platforms. Pretty exciting times for me.

It's been wonderful having you here with us today.  Before we let you leave, do you have a favorite recipe you'd like to share? I like to cook and am always looking for new recipes to try and share with others.

When I had a signing luncheon at TCU, they served this dish.

Doris’ Casserole

One of my family’s favorites is Doris’ Casserole. A friend served this years and years ago. I think it came from a Mrs. America contest winner and was simply called Beef Casserole, but since the hostess was Doris, we call it Doris’ Casserole to this day. Doris was the wife of a radiology resident who was in training while my ex-husband was in surgical residency—we were all poor, and our entertaining featured frugal recipes. I almost never see Doris these days but once when I did I told her how important her recipe was in our family, and she barely remembered the dish. I also found out that another friend at that party still serves it to her family and calls it American lasagna.

First layer:

1 lb. ground beef
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
2 cloves garlic, crushed in garlic press

2 tsp each sugar and salt (I cut back on those but sugar is important in tomato-based sauces—my mom taught me years ago it sort of rounds it off.)

Pepper to taste

Brown ground beef in skillet. Drain grease and return to skillet. Add tomatoes and tomato sauce, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer 20 minutes, until it thickens a little, while you fix the noodle layer.

Noodle layer:

5 oz. (approximately—they don’t come in this size pkg.) egg noodles
3 oz. pkg. cream cheese
1 c. sour cream
6 green onions chopped, with some of the tops included

Cook egg noodles and drain. While the noodles are hot, stir in cream cheese, sour cream, and green onions.

Layer meat mixture in a 9x13 pan. Spread noodles over meat mixture.


2 c. grated cheddar

Sprinkle cheddar over casserole, bake 35 minutes at 350 or until bubbly and cheese is slightly browned.

Supposed to serve 8, but you’ll be lucky if you can feed six with it. Freezes well.

I have a recipe for something called Hill Country Casserole, which is basically the same thing, using ground venison. Haven’t tried it, but I bet it would be good. I sometimes use ground bison in this and nobody can tell the difference—but it’s cheaper and much better for you.

From Cooking My Way Through Life with Books and Kids

By Judy Alter

Judy thank you so much for being with us today and please come back and join us again.

Readers, make sure not to miss these great books by Judy Alter!

Happy reading,



  1. I loved learning more about you. And thanks for the recipe. I'll pass it on to my husband who does all the cooking!

  2. I enjoyed reading this interview. I think we have much in common except the cooking. I did too much of that over the years to want to spend any more time with it than absolutely necessary. Too bad we live so far apart. It would be fun to get together for coffee or over lunch.

  3. So cool! I didn't know you were from Chicago, Judy! Great interview and that recipe sounds delicious.

  4. Janie, Gloria and Taryn, thanks to you all for stopping by today. It was great to see you!

  5. Janie, tell your husband the recipe is easy after the firt time you've done it. And so good. Taryn, thanks, maybe I don't sound like a Chicago girl any more--I've been a Texan since 1965, thogh natives say I'm still not a Texasn. Gloria, where are you? Yep, probably too far apart for coffee but we can have coffe with each other via email. I'm at if any of you want to write me. Thanks again.

  6. Since you like to read, I wondered if you might be interested in learning more about cryptic crosswords. If so, this is a link to a post I did recently on cryptic crossword clues that involve anagrams. Cryptic Crossword Clues - Anagrams

  7. Hi Judy! Redstone chocolate with jalapenos and peanuts? That's a new one on me! It sounds like something my hubby would love...he is a chocoholic and he loves jalapenos, the hotter the better. Sometimes it's good to be an open book. That's probably why you have so many friends.