Judy Nichols – Tree Huggers

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My most recent published book is Tree Huggers through Zumaya Press. It’s a cozy mystery, featuring a divorced mom, returning to the work force as a reporter for a weekly newspaper. On her first day, two men die in an arson fire, apparently set by a militant environmental group called The Forces of Nature. Kate is assigned to cover the trial of the young man charged with setting the fire. Believing him innocent, she sets out to uncover the truth. But as she gets closer to the truth, she finds she is in danger of losing her daughter, her freedom and even her life.

Tell us something about yourself.

I am originally from Batavia, Ohio, a small town 20 miles east of Cincinnati. I’ve moved around a lot, and had many jobs–reporter, market research interviewer, substitute teacher, office temp, to name a few, finally getting married, having a daughter and settling down in Aurora, Indiana, a small town 20 miles west of Cincinnati. (Sometimes you have to go to Oz to find out that Kansas was where you wanted to be all along). In 2001, when my husband Nigel was offered a job in Wilmington, North Carolina, a lovely city on the Carolina coast, we jumped at the chance and have been here ever since. It’s not nearly as cold in the winter and we can go to the beach whenever we want.

What inspired you to write this book?

I read articles about a real life militant environmental group called The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) who burn down houses and buildings they feel impact endangered habitats. They make a point about only destroying property, not living beings. Their philosophy is that if they keep on burning down buildings, eventually the developers will leave the area. I was fascinated by this lunatic fringe of the the environmental movement and felt that their methods could be used by someone with less lofty motives as a way to commit a murder with a ready made suspect.

How did you choose the title?

It was an obvious choice. Tree hugger is a pejorative name for environmentalists, it implies that they’re naive nature nuts who go around hugging trees. The book is about tree huggers and the people who call them that.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

I already had a publisher. Zumaya had published my first book Caviar Dreams in 2003, so getting a publisher wasn’t an issue. My biggest obstacle was the amount of time it took to get it into print. Zumaya had a bottleneck of manuscripts and I had to wait in line for my turn. It was two years before Tree Huggers appeared in print. I sent lots of emails to my publisher asking when it was going to be published and she told me to be patient. And in the end, that’s how it worked. Fortunately, I’m older now so time passes much faster.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I’ve been making up stories as long as I can remember. As a child I used to draw stories in pictures, I suppose I could have had a career as a graphic novelist. My favorite class in high school was Creative Writing and I went into journalism because it seemed like one of the few professions where you could make a living writing stories. Through the years, I would write short stories that no one ever saw, until I joined a writer’s group and found that people actually liked them. Then, in 1996 when my daughter was a baby, taking a nap, I decided that instead of cleaning the bathtub, I was going to get started on the book I’d always intended to write. It took years, but I kept at it and finally finished it in 2001, when my daughter was halfway through kindergarten.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I have a Lava Lamp that I like to have going while I write. I don’t know if it helps, but I do enjoy staring at it when I get stumped.

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

Phone books mostly. I feel that character names shouldn’t sound made up, so I’ll go through directories looking for first names and last names that go together. I don’t like to use exotic names like Ariadne or Evangaline. Most, if not all of my characters have every day names like Lisa, Kate, Molly, Bryan and Roger, the names of people you know in real life.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

I learned how to write a scene with romantic/sexual tension. During the rewriting process, my editor said the omantic scene was boring, lacking the aforementioned romantic/sexual tension. I received some much needed help from a friend who liked to write romances. I thought it came out well for a woman whose idea of romance is falling asleep with her husband on the couch.

If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

I think I would have worked on a more detailed and organized marketing plan for when the book came out. When you’re unpublished, you always imagine your books are going to just fly off the shelves once they’re in print. The reality is that it takes a lot of hard work on the part of the author to make that happen.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

I read mostly mysteries and thrillers, but I also like to read memoirs and literary novels. My favorite authors are Scott Turow, because I love how he creates a complete world of fascinating characters intertwined in all his books, and Ann Tyler, for her quirky characters and wry observations. Not a lot of action in her books, but I love reading them just to see what happens.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

At the moment I’m working on two books. There’s Sportsman’s Bet featuring a ex-patriate British private investigator living in rural North Carolina (My husband Nigel is the inspiration for this character). The other is a young adult paranormal mystery called Echoes of Evil, about a young girl who can hear the sound of victims screaming when she looks into the eyes of people who’ve commited horrible crimes. I’m getting a lot of help on it from my teen aged daughter who is a big fan of YA paranormal books.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Write the absolute best book you can, and when you submit it, make sure your manuscript has no typos or grammatical errors. In your query letters, be professional. Don’t be too familiar, don’t use silly gimicks (“here’s a potholder, because this book is hot!”) and don’t be long winded. And keep at it. It takes a long time.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

The perfect reader for this book would be a working mom, someone who know what it’s like to juggle a job, family, church and romance and find the humor in it all. It’s also a good book for church reading groups. It is by no means an official Christian Book, (there’s even a bit of premarital sex that happens in between chapters) but it does have a message of faith and redemption without a heavy handed altar call.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

At my website www.judy5cents.com