Interview with Judy Fitzwater

Published 2013-09-22.
What is your writing process?
This question makes me laugh because the answer is haphazard. I love writing, but I have a hard time getting myself to do it. Almost anything seems more appealing--until I actually get in front of my computer and start putting down words. That's when I find myself falling into a story, an adventure, a new world, that unfolds around me and takes me somewhere completely different from my normal life. My ideal is to write at least two good pages a day. I hate throwing out material, so when I get stuck with a plot, I stop writing, and let the creative part of my brain mull over the elements I've put in my story. I find my best ideas come when I'm doing laundry or cooking or just before I go to sleep. I keep pads of paper next to my bed because I never remember my "brilliant" revelation unless I write it down. I never outline. I seldom know whodunit before I'm a good way through the book, and I like it that way--being along for the ride with my characters. I hope that makes my books fresh. If I don't enjoy writing them, I know people won't enjoy reading them.
What do you read for pleasure?
I read in every genre--fiction of all types, true crime, history, biography--whatever strikes my fancy. Mysteries have always been my favorite. While I still read them, they have to be a really good read to keep me right in the moment of the story because otherwise I find myself analyzing the construction of the plot or picking out the villain right away. It's a hazard of my craft. But a really good writer will pull me in so deeply, I can't turn the pages fast enough, and I simply don't have time to think about all of that. All I want to know is what will happen next. I also love to laugh, so books with great comedic elements are high on my list. My Jennifer Marsh Mysteries make me laugh every time I read them (which I have to do periodically for continuity), and they deliver a good mystery at the same time, at least that's my goal. Murder is not funny, so it's a delicate balance. My romantic comedy, VACATIONING WITH THE DEAD, is what I consider all out fun. And my suspense novels, DROWNING IN AIR and NO SAFE PLACE, neither of which are funny, are adventure stories, the sort I'd like to experience but only from the safety of my armchair. I write the books I want to read. I hope readers feel the same way.
Describe your desk
My desk is a mess. I have one of those open, stacking file thingies in one corner filled with the beginnings of books I have yet to finish, ideas for new projects jotted on Post-Its and clipped from newspapers, and things I should have read and never have. My current work in progress is spread about most of the writing surface with edits and corrections waiting to be added or deleted on my computer. And I have dozens of little notes for all the things I need to do or should be doing in my personal life. I also have a ceramic mug filled with pens, pencils, and bookmarks that a friend gave me. It reads "Agent's Ashes". (Rest in peace Penney Richmond, the agent I killed off in DYING TO GET PUBLISHED.) I also have two figurines of Snoopy, one in a Sherlock Holmes outfit, the other with him typing away on his typewriter. One more thing is a paperweight a writer friend gave me that has a quote from Winston Churchill that says, "Never, never, never quit".
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up on Air Force bases before moving to Kentucky where I went to high school and college after my dad retired from the service. Living in several different parts of the country, having no real home town, and finding myself in new environments taught me a lot about people and how we interact with one another. I learned that we determine who we are, even when others are constantly trying to define us. I think that's why I write about strong women. I'm more interested in how my characters react to difficult situations than how their situations form their characters.
When did you first start writing?
I started writing in college, but it took me another ten years before I started writing my first novel. And then another seven to finish it. I didn't know anyone who wrote books, and writing that first one was like climbing a really tall mountain. It seemed pretty impossible. I had gotten a freelance job writing for a weekly newspaper because I could work at home while I took care of my kids. It didn't pay much, but helped buy the groceries. It taught me discipline, how to meet deadlines, and how to make a good story out of almost anything. I also got to cover superior court for our county. I'd dabble with my book, put it away for months at a time, and then pull it out again. One time I pulled it out and found it was almost finished. So I did just that--finished it. Soon after we moved to the D.C. area, and I found a slew of people who were writing fiction. That's where I really learned my craft. I listened to every writer who was giving a talk near where I lived, I joined a writers' group, went to retreats and conventions, and was invited into a critique group. That's where I learned about the business of publishing, in addition to how to make a good story really good.
What's the story behind your latest book?
VACATIONING WITH THE DEAD is my most recent release. It's my first foray into paranormal romantic comedy. My husband and I have been going to a murder mystery weekend for a number of years. It's something I look forward to because it's just so much fun. That suggested the setting for VACATIONING WITH THE DEAD, but the real idea behind it came to me one day while I was sorting the laundry. What if ghosts were actors. What if they refused to go into the light because they knew they'd never be able to act again, and, as one of my characters put it, that would be as bad as being in hell. The idea had me scrambling to make notes. Then I had to decide if the book was going to be a mystery or a comedy. The comedic possibilities were just too strong. And so was the idea of ghosts who were in love, but who suffered from just as many romantic problems and complications as the living. The living romantic male lead inherits the ghosts along with a large mansion. To make enough money to maintain the mansion, he decides to let the ghosts do what they do best--act. So they put on mystery weekends with extraordinary special effects that aren't really special effects at all. Throw in a nosy writer for a travel magazine (the living female romantic lead), a medium, a spirit guide, a former suitor, and a wicked hotel critic, and I found myself writing an all out fun story.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
The publishing industry is changing rapidly. Traditional publishing houses are going away or cutting back. I was fortunate to get all the rights back to THE JENNIFER MARSH MYSTERIES and was able to put them up as ebooks where they've found new fans. I'm very happy with how that's turned out. Indie publishing also allowed me to put up two other books, DROWNING IN AIR and VACATIONING WITH THE DEAD, exactly as I wanted them. DROWNING IN AIR had been purchased by a large publishing company, but the line it was to be published under (which featured strong women) was pulled before my book came out. I love that book and wanted it available. It's a great adventure. And when I tried to market VACATIONING WITH THE DEAD to traditional publishers, they wanted me to make the romance between the living characters a bigger part of the story. There are three romances in that book, one with a living couple, two with ghost couples. All are emotional, loving, dysfunctional relationships that have to be resolved. Just because two of the couples are dead doesn't make them any less important--at least that's the story I wanted to tell. Indie publishing allowed me to do just that. And now I'm currently working on a 7th Jennifer Marsh Mystery because fans have let me know they want more.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Smashwords has changed my way of thinking about books. It's made me look at words/information/stories as streams, not stagnant words printed on a particular page in a particular bound book. It's helped me learn how to format for this new age of streaming words, and it's given me a distribution platform for my books to outlets that would be hard for me to manage as an independent author. It's helped me tremendously.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Writing is having a conversation with your readers. A writer doesn't get to hear the other half of the conversation, but I, as a writer, get to at least present mine. My values, my ideals, my sense of humor, all go into my books. I love that conversation. I also love the creative process itself. I love waking up with an idea that makes a difficult scene work. I love exercising that part of my brain that, in many ways, I never get to see work, if that makes any sense. I love meshing the creative, nonverbal side with the verbal. I love writing that the phone rings in a scene, not knowing who's on the other end of the line, until my fingers type the answer. I just love knowing that when I think I have no more stories to tell, another one will suddenly come to me.
What do your fans mean to you?
The people who are fans of my work are the people I'm doing this for. Art is not art if it's not shared. (I got that quote in a fortune cookie and kept it tacked to my wall for years.) I appreciate that fans understand what I'm trying to say and the way I'm saying it. I love that they love my characters, that they consider Jennifer Marsh an old friend, just like I do. I hope that I can offer them someone they can relate to in all of my books: Eva Keller in DROWNING IN AIR, who could have been any of us if our boyfriend had been shot dead and died in our arms when we were 17; Elizabeth LaRocca in NO SAFE PLACE, who married a man who kept secrets from her, secrets that could kill her.
Not everyone who reads my work "gets" it. That's okay. If they don't, I obviously wasn't writing for them. But for those of you who do "get" it, I thank you. I thank you for reading, I thank you for appreciating my work, and I hope you will continue to follow me along this journey.
What are you working on next?
My next book is the 7th in THE JENNIFER MARSH MYSTERIES. I've had a number of people ask me to continue the series, and it's been great being back in Jennifer's world with her crazy gang of friends. It's titled DYING BEFORE"I DO". Jennifer and Sam are finally ready to get married, but life is never simple for Jennifer. One of Sam's mentors, now disgraced, has turned up dead. The police think it's natural causes, but Sam and Teague McAfee suspect otherwise. It all has to do with an unsolved kidnapping....That's all I'm going to say right now. It's a work in progress.
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Latest books by This Author

No Safe Place
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 75,310. Language: English. Published: October 24, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Women Sleuths, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense
College professor Elizabeth Larocca’s worst nightmare has suddenly become reality. The shadowy past of her estranged dead husband Stephen has put her and their 23-year-old daughter in danger. His enemies are after them, convinced they know a secret Stephen took with him to his grave. They need help. But which of Stephen's friends can they trust?
Every Story Has Two Sides...Dying at Honeymoon Inn, Love after Death
Price: $6.99 USD. Words: 111,320. Language: English. Published: April 6, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Contemporary, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy
Have you ever wondered what happened to the victim in a murder mystery AFTER they died? DYING AT HONEYMOON INN is the story of Cindy Thomas's murder, solved by mystery writer and amateur sleuth, Jennifer Marsh. LOVE AFTER DEATH is the story from Cindy's point of view--after her murder. One mystery. One romance. And a whole lot of fun.
The Ferris Mansion Stories: Vacationing with the Dead, Dying at Honeymoon Inn, and Life after Death
Price: $9.99 USD. Words: 188,810. Language: English. Published: January 4, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Fantasy, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Amateur sleuth
THE FERRIS MANSION STORIES contains three delightful novels that center around a Pennsylvania Inn that offers a weekend experience with amazing special effects produced by a troupe of long-dead actors from the Twenties who haunt it. VACATIONING WITH THE DEAD is a fun-filled love story. DYING AT HONEYMOON INN is a mystery, and LOVE AFTER DEATH proves even spirits can find new love after death.
Love After Death
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 53,360. Language: English. Published: October 3, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Fantasy, Fiction » Romance » Contemporary
She never found love in life…Is it possible she’ll find love after death? Cindy Thomas dies during a performance at the Ferris Mansion, which features astonishing special effects, and finds herself surrounded by a troupe of long dead actors who aren’t special effects at all. Harvey, her dream guy, is no longer a dream. Will she opt for Heaven or find Heaven on earth in this handsome ghost's arms?
The Jennifer Marsh Mysteries Box Set Books 4-6
Price: $9.99 USD. Words: 169,540. Language: English. Published: June 16, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Amateur sleuth
Books 4-6 of The Jennifer Marsh Mysteries--DYING TO REMEMBER, DYING TO BE MURDERED, and DYING TO GET HER MAN are collected in one volume. The adventures of aspiring mystery writer Jennifer Marsh continue in these volumes as she reluctantly attends her high school reunion, chronicles the last hours of a socialite convinced she'll be murdered, and solves the mystery of "The Bride Who Died."
The Jennifer Marsh Mysteries Box Set Books 1-3
Price: $6.98 USD. Words: 164,380. Language: English. Published: January 22, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Amateur sleuth
The first three books in the popular, funny, cozy Jennifer Marsh Mystery Series are collected, for the first time, in one volume: Dying to Get Published, Dying to Get Even, and Dying for a Clue. Follow the adventures of aspiring mystery writer Jennifer Marsh as she solves her first crimes, and get hooked on this charming character.
Dying at Honeymoon Inn
Series: The Jennifer Marsh Mysteries. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 58,540. Language: English. Published: November 29, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Amateur sleuth
Jennifer and Sam are going on their honeymoon! Sounds wonderful, except that Jennifer has no idea where Sam is taking her. It's the middle of winter, so Imagine her surprise when she finds herself in the middle of a snowstorm in Pennsylvania in a "haunted" mansion for a mystery weekend. When a fellow diner face plants in her coconut cream pie, Jennifer knows murder is afoot. Book 8 in the series.
The Rocky Road to Publishing: Advice on Writing
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 34,300. Language: English. Published: August 23, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Publishing » Self-publishing, Nonfiction » Reference » Publishing & books
Noted author Judy Fitzwater lends her trademark wit to her own experiences, offering a candid look into what it truly takes to be a writer. Get a frank, fresh take on the realities of the writing life, process, and industry as Fitzwater provides practical advice, humor, and lots of encouragement for those engaged in the tough business of writing fiction. A delightful read full of candid tips.
Dying Before "I Do"
Series: The Jennifer Marsh Mysteries, Book 7. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 63,790. Language: English. Published: April 30, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Women Sleuths, Fiction » Mystery & detective » General
Jennifer Marsh is back in DYING BEFORE "I DO"! Love and murder should never go together, but murder is exactly what threatens to derail Jennifer's marriage to Sam Culpepper. One man who tried to unearth the secrets of an old kidnapping case is already dead, and now reporter Teague McAfee finds himself in danger with only Jennifer and Sam to keep him safe while Jennifer's friends plan her wedding.
Vacationing with the Dead
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 77,750. Language: English. Published: August 30, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Paranormal » General, Fiction » Humor & comedy » General
VACATIONING WITH THE DEAD is a funny, sweet, romantic comedy in which true love is not just for the living, and its obstacles don’t end after death. It all begins when Rex Ferris inherits a haunted mansion from his uncle, turns it into a vacation destination, and meets the love of his life, would-be travel writer Talia East. It’s a fun romp filled with the adventure of finding everlasting love.
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