Saturday, April 12, 2014
Judy Nedry grew up in small towns, reading and imagining mystery stories since she first got hooked on Hardy Boys books. Her journalism degree took her to New York City, where she worked at Mademoiselle Magazine, before returning to Oregon as the managing editor of an alternative monthly magazine and newspaper features editor.
After she and her husband bought an Oregon winery, the focus of Judy's writing turned to her new industry. She founded Northwest Palate, a magazine about wine, food, and the Northwest lifestyle. She published guides to Oregon and Washington wines. And she wrote freelance articles for national and international wine publications.
Her first novel, An Unholy Alliance, combined Judy's love for mysteries with her wine writing and introduced amateur sleuth Emma Golden. Judy took time from promoting her second Emma Golden mystery, The Difficult Sister, to answer some questions for Rose City Reader readers.
How did you come to write The Difficult Sister?
The Difficult Sister is the second in the Emma Golden mystery series, and there was always going to be a second book. I’d planned to locate them in different wine regions, however this book sneaked up on me. It happened when I read an article in the Newberg Graphic about a 54-year-old woman whose husband left her. Lonely, she met a man on the internet. After a brief courtship she moved to Montana with him. Not too long after that her sister, announced that she was going to Montana to look for her because she’d lost contact and was concerned. I don’t know the outcome, but it didn’t sound good because the missing sister’s jewelry was found in a local pawn shop.
I get a lot of ideas for my stories in the news media because the stuff there is weirder than anything I could make up, but also rooted in some sort of truth. After the idea goes through my head, of course, it bears faint resemblance, if any, to the original idea. Emma had to get in there and help set things right . . . and all kinds of stuff happened.
The book is permeated with the atmosphere of small towns on the Oregon coast. Did the setting influence the plot? Or vice versa?
The plot was already bubbling away in my head before I found the setting. I’d created a small town in Montana called Radnor, up by the Idaho panhandle, and was planning a trip out there to get a sense of the precise setting. Meanwhile, my daughter was graduating with a Master’s in Enology and Viticulture at UC Davis. A girlfriend and I drove to Davis the long way, down the coast. When we hit the Bandon-Port Orford area THAT WAS IT. I knew that was where my story happened. Later that summer, I went over with another friend. We spent four days. Seeing the Face Rock and the properties in the back woods inland from the coast only solidified my feelings that I’d found the right location.
What is your professional background? How did it lead you to writing the two books in your Emma Golden series?
I have a journalism degree and I wrote about Northwest wine, starting out as a freelancer when our children were small and I was at home and needed an outlet. Nobody was writing about it then, at least not with any regularity, and wine magazines liked what I sent them. I later co-founded Northwest Palate magazine and got more into the food writing as well. All too much fun to be believed. When I decided to write fiction – a lifelong dream, by the way – I created Emma as a person who, like me, found her own way in that industry and was successful.
Your heroine, Emma Golden, is a feisty but flawed freelance writer of a certain age. How much of her character reflects your own? Is she an amalgam of people you know?
To an extent Emma’s character reflects mine. Mainly this is through the character’s observations of the world around her. Our minds tend to wander down the same, somewhat twisted paths. In the situations Emma finds herself in, many of her wry observations mirror my own. I think we both have a sense of wanting to see Justice, however that may manifest.
But Emma is very much a creation. In this series I try to give due to some of the mystery writers and characters who’ve gone before me. Like the protagonist in Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, the reader doesn’t know much about Emma’s appearance except that she is rather ordinary and doesn’t have a fancy wardrobe. Like Kinsey Milhone, she’s a loner. Like Miss Marple, she is snoopy and invisible.
Most people don’t pay much attention to Emma because she is over 50 and unremarkable. Only the few people she is close to know of her abilities and appreciate her. She’s got an ego, and she’d like to be in the limelight as she was in her past, but everything in her life was upended and she’s no longer that person. Like the hard-boiled detectives, she has a past and plenty of flaws.
What do you admire most about Emma Golden? What is her least endearing trait?
I like that Emma tries to do the next right thing. I like that she has lots of warts and that sometimes her choices aren’t the best, because that makes her real. Emma’s real, whatever one thinks of her. She does things her way. She has a belief system in something larger than herself, and she is a good and loyal friend. Like many of the hard-boileds, or the John Wayne characters in the old westerns, she has a code. And a mystery is just another form of the old western, with the good guys versus the bad guys. For me, Emma’s age, her hatred of firearms, and her less-than-intrepid nature are great traits because they limit her in many of the traditional arenas occupied by other sleuths. Fortunately she is an unapologetic snoop and social commentator. She’s funny – sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. And she and her friend Melody LOVE to eat!
What I don’t like about Emma is that she’s self-righteous, can be petty when her feelings get stepped on, and because she usually tells it how it is (for her at least) she often pisses people off. She can be obnoxious. While these traits certainly can annoy, they also keep things moving. There’s a reason she has them.
What did you learn from writing The Difficult Sister – either about the subject of the book or the writing process – that most surprised you?
The Difficult Sister and its predecessor, An Unholy Alliance, both taught me a great deal. The biggest learning curve came in writing that first novel. It took me to places in my head I didn’t even know were there. That is one of the absolute joys of writing fiction. Both books presented me with huge problems that needed to be solved. With both, I knew the beginning and who-dunnit, but the journey between those two points was long and convoluted.
Most surprising to me is the way many of the in-between issues of the story resolve themselves. It takes a great leap of faith to write a novel. I must have this subconscious belief that all will be well in the end. It’s similar to the belief we mystery readers have when we begin a novel. We believe the loose ends will be tied up – that’s what we love about mysteries, the very reasonable expectation that all will be well in the end and we will UNDERSTAND.
Who are your three (or four or five) favorite mystery authors. Are you influenced by the authors you read?
I grew up reading mysteries – Hardy Boys, etc. But the person who had the most profound influence on me in early adulthood was Daphne DuMaurier. She was the Queen. Real characters, innocents dragged into situations beyond their control, who had to figure out how to get to the bottom of things. I also was a big fan of Agatha Christie, but one outgrows the formulaic treatment after a time. She was amusing, but always at a distance. Then along came P.D. James and Elizabeth George and Caroline Graham and Ruth Rendell. J.K. Rowling – what a storyteller!
Do you have favorite mystery series you love to read? Which ones?
Series are my favorite. Once I find a storyteller who strikes a chord with me, I stalk her! Tana French’s Dublin homicide series; Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone; Louise Penny – I secretly hope Armand Gamache will marry me someday!; Craig Johnson’s Longmire series; Elizabeth George’s Lynley/Havers series…. I like Dona Leon, just discovered Christobel Kent and am a follower. I enjoy Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon and am completely captivated by the masterful poetry in James Lee Burke’s novels. Alan Bradley’s Flavia DeLuce series is lovely fun. (Get out the shepherd’s hook. I could go on forever.) I look for great characters first, but certainly an engaging and almost-believable story has to be there too.
What are you reading now?
I am beginning Buried by the Roan, the second of Colorado author Mark Stevens’s Allison Coil series. I’m learning a lot about elk hunting. I think Stevens is very promising, and, reminiscent of Nevada Barr, he definitely takes me to a different world.
Next after that: The Boys in the Boat for my book group. I also love really good biography.
What do you do to promote your books? Do you use social networking sites or other internet resources?
There’s the rub. It’s so much easier to write a book, challenging as that may be. I did my own book launch last December – a huge success – and am lining up more signings at local book stores after a very successful event at Annie Bloom’s Books in February. Recently got back from the Tucson Festival of Books where I did some networking and sold books. (Fabulous event!)
I have a website, promote on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites. I am happy to talk at any local book club that will have me, and have an event at the Milwaukie Public Library coming up early this summer. I also have done giveaways on Goodreads and have offered free downloads on Storycartel. I know there is more I can do, and the problem is finding the time.
Do you have any events coming up to promote your book?
The Milwaukie Library is the next one. I’ll have a couple more firmed up in the next couple of weeks. And I’m doing a private one at Manzanita for a book group next month. The main thing with me is that I am building, doing something every day to promote the books. I’m not going anywhere.
What is the most valuable advice you’ve been given as an author?
There’s also my own motto: To paraphrase Bill Clinton, “It’s the story, stupid.”
What is the best thing about being a writer?
The absolute freedom of possibility.
What’s next? Are you working on your next Emma Golden book?
The next Emma Golden novel is in the hopper. I’m having fun. I’ll be sitting in the bathtub or walking the dog and find myself “writing” in my head. I love that part, where I have a rough framework and the ideas start rushing in to fill the space.
I’m also working on a memoir of “my year as an anarchist” set in the early 1970s. It could be pretty hilarious.
THANKS JUDY! THE DIFFICULT SISTER AND ITS PREDECESSOR, AN UNHOLY ALLIANCE, ARE AVAILABLE ON JUDY'S WEBSITE, AMAZON, POWELL'S, OR ORDER IT FROM YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE.