Interview: Judy Alter

Welcome back Judy Alter to Mysteristas, celebrating the launch of The Color of Fear!

Fear_cover_redTypeWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?

My perfect day begins with a steaming cup of green tea and emails and Facebook. I’m not too proud to admit that I relish Facebook, both for the contacts with friends, news of writing friends and their doings, and world news (yes, I check the sources). Political rants not so much, but I read them and write some of my own because I think it’s important to share views in these uncertain times. About nine, I fix breakfast—a bowl of dry cereal or peanut-butter toast, most likely—and turn to whatever writing project is current.

Lunch of tuna salad is followed by a nap and then back to my computer to continue the current writing project. By five I’m through, and ready for happy hour on the patio, with my daughter and possibly a few friends.

On a perfect day, I’d have dinner with friends at a favorite restaurant. In this season, it would be one with a quiet and comfortable patio and not many loud customers.

If all my dreams could come true, this day would be spent in a beach-front house on Lake Michigan or a casa with a mountain view in Santa Fe. Or there’s always a cottage in the Scottish Highlands, with a good pub nearby.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

My signature meal is probably tuna fish salad, but I’m fussy about it. I go through life trying it at various restaurants—some qualify, many don’t—but my daughter makes it best with good albacore tuna (we order from a small cannery in Oregon), lots of lemon, a green onion, salt and pepper and just enough mayonnaise to bind. No eggs or pickle, please.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

A number of authors have inspired and encouraged me over the years, many of them in western writing—like Elmer Kelton, Robert Flynn, Jeanne Williams. Once I turned to mystery, Susan Wittig Albert did more than anyone to encourage me and remains a special person and favorite author.

Do you listen to music when you write? 

No. Sometimes I leave TV on without the sound.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

Dark chocolate mousse. Rich, dark, and quick (the book is a novella).

What made you interested in writing this particular story? 

A commitment to contribute a novella to an anthology (the forthcoming Sleuthing Women anthology) and a desire to bring Kelly O’Connell back to readers. I’m not sure why the story is about kidnapping a child, except that the disappearance of a child was a childhood fear carried over to motherhood, and now I worry about my grandchildren. Not excessively, but it’s there.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 

Women’s roles, food, male/female relationships. In my historical fiction, I focused on strong women who made their mark, principally in the American West. I think that focus has carried over, with a lighter touch, to my mysteries.

Tell us about your main character.

Kelly O’Connell is the owner of a small (one-person plus assistant) real estate firm in Fort Worth’s inner-city Historic Fairmount District. In the first book, she’s the single mom of two girls, but that changes in subsequent books. She’s in her mid- to late-thirties, average height, uncontrollable curly brown hair, would like to lose 20 lbs., prefers loafers, slacks and a blazer for work, wears sweat pants and T-shirts at home. Comfortably casual, not a fashionista, but she appreciates nice clothes, fine food, good restaurants. She’s an easy personality. Someone wrote, “She’s like someone you’d meet in the line at the grocery store.”

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

She’s certainly got some Nancy Drew about her, and maybe a bit of Michelle Obama in the sense of being an ordinary person, and maybe a pinch of Hillary Clinton on a small scale because she’s civic minded, concerned always about the welfare of her neighborhood and her city.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

On a whim, I might go for a good gossipy collection of women who write mystery: Susan Wittig Albert, Deborah Crombie, Ellery Adams, Ruth Reichl (she could choose the menu and she’s written one novel I enjoyed), Terry Shames, Cleo Coyle (I know, she’s two people). The talk and wine would flow, and we’ have fine food (I’m a foodie).

What’s next for you?

More mysteries, in all three series. Immediately next is a Blue Plate Café murder about a developer who decides to build (or exploit, depends on your point of view) the town of Wheeler. Haven’t decided on the murder victim yet, because the developer is almost too obvious a candidate. I’ll bring back Kelly O’Connell again, because that’s my most popular series. And I want to develop the Oak Grove mysteries with Susan Hogan—I’ll publish the second in August or September.

 Judy’s sloppy joe

1 lb. ground beef
1 15-oz. can of beans (any kind you want), rinsed and drained
½ c. chopped onion
½ c. diced celery
2 Tbsp. bacon drippings (If you can’t bring yourself to use it in this health-conscious age, use vegetable oil, but the bacon flavor really makes a difference.)
¼ c. ketchup
1½ Tbsp. Worcestershire
Dash of Tabasco
1 tsp. salt
⅛ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. oregano
¼ c. dry red wine
1 Tbsp. A-1 sauce (If I don’t have this, omit it; I can never tell the difference.)

Cook onion in bacon drippings. Add beef and brown. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 20 to 30 minutes.

Other projects simmer in the back of my mind—a novel set in the Scottish Highlands, a memoir, maybe a fictional bio of an early female pilot in this country. Lots of projects for a woman of advancing years—I’ll write my way into what I hope is a far-distant grave.


JudyCasualPortrait 002Judy Alter is the author of six books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, two books in the Blue Plate Café Mysteries; and two in the Oak Grove Mysteries. Pigface and the Perfect Dog follows The Perfect Coed in this series of mysteries set on a university campus. Judy is no stranger to college campuses. She attended the University of Chicago, Truman State University in Missouri, and Texas Christian University, where she earned a Ph.D. and taught English. For twenty years, she was director of TCU Press, the book publishing program of the university. The author of many books for both children and adults primarily on women of the American West, she retired in 2010 and turned her attention to writing contemporary cozy mysteries.

She holds awards from the Western Writers of America, the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Texas Institute of Letters. She was inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and recognized as an Outstanding Woman of Fort Worth and a woman who has left her mark on Texas. Western Writers of America gave her the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement and will induct her into its Hall of Fame in June 2015.

The single parent of four and the grandmother of seven, she lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her perfect dog, Sophie.

Follow her at (Amazon);

her blog:;

and Facebook:

Pigface and the Perfect Dog

The Color of Fear



9 thoughts on “Interview: Judy Alter”

  1. Welcome! Lovely interview–thank you for all you shared. Kelly O’Connell sounds like someone I’d like to go have lunch with, so thank you for introducing her to us, too. (Oh, but do people really put egg in tuna fish?! On purpose?!?)


  2. Welcome, Judy, and congrats on your new release!! So, I have to ask: potato chips or no on tuna noodle casserole?? I read Ruth Reichl’s Delicious! and loved all the food descriptions, she would be an excellent candidate to make the dinner menu 🙂


  3. I agree — tuna NO EGGS and dark chocolate.

    AND I love books about people I might meet in the grocery store. In fact, if I can’t imagine a character in the grocery store (even the “bad guys’ have to eat) I probably can’t imagine them in a book.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Welcome, Judy. I imagine the inside of your head looks like my grandkid’s favorite playground. (That’s a good thing.) Thanks for the recipe. The 12 year old grandson is learning to cook and I think this is perfect for him.


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