Friday, March 21, 2008

[Interview_2] Judy Gregerson

Judy Gregerson has published two books -- 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).

She says her books draw heavily on things she has experienced in her own life.

In this interview, she speaks about her writing and how she got published.

Do you write everyday?

No, I don’t write every day. I work in chunks of months, very intensely. I get up, start writing, take breaks to think, go back to it, get up and vacuum, go back to it, get up and clean the bathroom, go back to it. Then I think some more.

I can write for about 12 hours at a time when I get going but four months on a book is as long as I can take and then I need time off to reflect, think, and get away from it. I may abandon a book for another four or six months while I digest what I’ve done or maybe even longer, before I get back to it. It ends when it has that “complete” feeling to it and the character has resolved her problem and learned something.

How many books have you written so far?

I’ve had two published. The first was put out by Doubleday in 1980, Save Me! A Young Woman’s Journey Through Schizophrenia to Health, which is self-explanatory. And Bad Girls Club was my next, published by Blooming Tree Press, July 2007, a small independent press in Austin, Texas. This is the story of a girl who has taken on the role of the parent in her house and who cares for her sister, her mother, and her father, while her mother spirals into madness and her father refuses to do anything about it.

I have about five or six other unpublished novels. I’m trying to find an agent now for Cracking Normal, a coming of age (young adult) story about a girl whose family moves into a trailer park and the problems that this creates in her life.

How did long did it take you to come up with your latest novel?

Bad Girls Club took me about seven years to write and finish and went through about 21 revisions.

Blooming Tree Press published it last summer. I didn’t choose them, they chose me. I sent the book in, expecting a rejection, and was shocked when they wanted to buy it. BTP is a small press, so there have been challenges in promotion and marketing, but I decided to take a year off to market the book which has helped tremendously and B&N and Borders have both just picked up the book. The nice thing is that my book is the lead title for this publisher, so it’s gotten a lot of attention, but it still requires (as do all publishing houses) that I get out there, make myself known, and sell books.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

The most difficult part of the work was finding the voice. This story is about a dark subject, so I had to ride just on the border of madness to write it. That was a real dance sometimes.

If you go too far, you lose the reader, so how do you stay just this side of the fence and make a book readable for a wide audience? This troubled me the most while writing. If it was too dark, I felt it wouldn’t capture its audience.

It took all of those seven years to get that right.

What did you enjoy most?

I really enjoyed getting into the head of my character and becoming her as I wrote. I enjoyed my conversations with her and the things she told me about herself, especially as she revealed who she was and how she felt. Transferring that into words on paper was a lot of fun and I discovered that getting into the soul of a character is the best part of writing for me.

Bad Girls Club has a certain sadness to it and a longing that pulls the reader along and none of my other books have that.

I think that narrative drive is important but I discovered in this book a way to really take the reader into the character’s head and ride along with her as the story developed. I’m not sure I could do it again, but it was very important to this character that the reader fully understand everything she thought.

What will your next book be about?

My next book is about a girl whose mother drops her off at the grocery store when she’s ten and never returns for her. She’s left with her very eccentric extended family and struggles with why her mother left, why she hasn’t come back and how she can go on without her.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I think my most significant achievement as a writer has been receiving emails from people who read Bad Girls Club and told me that they so fully experienced the main character’s life that they felt they were a part of her family.

I’ve also had people tell me that although they’ve never been abused, they felt so familiar in the territory of my story that they couldn’t put the book down. One reader even took it in the bathtub with her because she didn’t want to leave the character alone. I’ve received phone calls from crying women, thanking me for writing the book.

All I wanted to do with this book was touch people. I believe I’ve done that.

How did you get there?

You tell the truth. You tell it as fully and completely as you can and you tell it in a way that people will say, “I’ve been there! I know how that feels.”

Maybe a part of it is finding the universal human emotions that speak to anyone when they read your book.

When I started this book, it was my belief that everyone has suffered some kind of loss and it didn’t matter what kind they’d suffered, because we recognize ourselves in the emotions of other people and their experience. I wanted my book to have a “universal” appeal and it seemed the only way to do that was to capture the human experience and make it available for all to feel in my story. I think I did that. At least my readers tell me I did.

Related article:

Judy Gregerson [Interview_1], Conversations with Writers, March 20, 2008

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