Judy Gregerson has worked as a copy editor at a newspaper, in the marketing department of a publisher, as an account executive at an advertising agency, and then in various positions in promotion and marketing.
She has written and published a memoir, Save Me! A Young Woman’s Journey Through Schizophrenia to Health (Doubleday, 1980) and a novel, Bad Girls Club (Blooming Tree Press, 2007).
Currently she works as a freelance book editor and a marketing consultant while she finishes her degree in Human Development.
In this interview, she speaks about the factors which pulled her into writing.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
I first tried my hand at writing when I was in about the seventh grade, but I didn’t fully understand what made a story work. It frustrated me no end, so I gave it up.
I started writing again when I was in my mid-twenties. I had an idea for a memoir that I thought was very compelling, so I began making tapes of the story and eventually typing them all out on an old Selectric typewriter. After a few months of that, I had an outline and a first draft.
How did you make the transition from wanting to write to becoming a published author?
I decided when I was eight that I wanted to be a published writer. It came as my third grade teacher was reading Charlotte’s Web to the class. I thought that there could be no finer profession than writing and decided I’d do the same.
A few years later, I met a married couple who were writers and I was just mesmerized by them. They seemed so important and so special. It only strengthened my determination to be a writer. But at the time, it seemed like a pipe dream, something that a kid wishes for but doesn’t know if it will ever happen. I had no encouragement at home, everyone just smiled at me and patted me on the head and because they didn’t take it seriously, I didn’t either. But after college, I lived in [New York City] NYC. I was working in advertising and had become a copywriter, which I really enjoyed. That was when I discovered that I had that spark and I also learned that writing was a lot of fun!
I was around writers and theater people and I had a very good friend who was very encouraging to me about writing. And it struck me that if I didn’t start, I’d never get a book published, so I took the leap and started writing. Up to this point, I had read no books on writing. I just jumped in and started, going on pure instinct. And back then, there was no internet, no computers, and no writing community to turn to for help. It was just me and the white blank piece of paper.
How would you describe your writing?
I call it coming of age literary fiction. But literary fiction seems to have a bad name these days, so I’ll call it mainstream fiction.
I call my writing literary because I use a lot of symbolism and images and I use setting as a character. I also like to write “deep” which seems to be associated with literary fiction. I write about characters who have suffered some kind of loss and who are struggling to understand who they are and where they’re going. My characters are usually fairly wounded and they make a lot of big mistakes. They all have deep longing for something and they usually satisfy that longing, but not in the way they expected.
Who is your target audience?
My audience is mixed. I have many adult reader fans who have emailed or called me to talk about my book. But my book is marketed as young adult, so I also have teen readers.
My target audience, as I see them, are people who have suffered loss in a very deep way (to them at least, even if it doesn’t look huge to anyone else) and they’re people who feel very deeply. They’re also thinkers and they’re people who care about other people. I write for this audience because they’re like me!
In the writing you are doing, who has influenced you most?
I have been greatly influenced by Sylvia Plath and Ernest Hemingway. I read The Bell Jar every summer, for my birthday, and I studied it extensively when I was writing Bad Girls Club.
Sylvia could go into four levels of back story and then back out in one transition. It totally amazes me how she can keep the narrative going without breaking it when she does that. She also has that voice that sounds so clear to me when I read her story. It’s as if I am sitting there and she is personally telling me the story. It has an intimacy that few books have.
Hemingway speaks to me in another way.
He has an economy of words that puzzles me. I studied The Old Man and the Sea when I was writing Bad Girls Club and I learned the circular path of a story from him. I truly didn’t get that until I studied that book and it helped me so much with my own writing.
I also like Kathryn Harrison. She is an honest writer. You know you’re getting the truth.
How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?
My books are all based on things that I’ve experienced in life, so I’d have to say that they have really directed my writing. In fact, I tend to write about the same themes, over and over, in new and different ways.
What are your main concerns as a writer?
My biggest concern has been that I am not terribly prolific.
I write about things that really touch me and things I personally care deeply about. I can’t crank out a book a year or even every two years. For a long time, that really bothered me. I felt that would make me a failure as a writer, because what agent wants a writer who cranks out a book every three or four years? Then I realized that this is my life, my career. I can do it any way I want. I don’t have to be like everyone else. I can write what and when I want and write as many or few books as I’d like.
I have writer friends who want to sell a book a year. I’m amazed by that. I just could not crank out words like that.
Judy Gregerson [Interview_2], Conversations with Writers, March 21, 2008