Tuesday, December 13, 2011

And the Words Came Early--Deborah Meyer

Photo of Judy Hogan by Deborah Meyer


And the Words Came Early by Deborah R. Meyer

Judy Hogan lives in a rich world of words.

They are in the poetry and prose books tucked into the nooks and niches of her Moncure home.

They are in her head, tumbling around, waiting for their chance to be put to permanence.

They breathe on the pages of diaries and her numerous unpublished manuscripts.

They flow effortlessly out of her as she teaches workshops and classes around the Triangle, inspiring fledgling writers to forge ahead, inspiring seasoned writers to explore their untapped resources.

But it was just one word that she used when asked what she felt when she received an email this past October notifying her that one of her fiction manuscripts had been accepted for publication.

"Ecstasy." Hogan said.

Anyone who knows Judy will not be surprised that her work is so highly regarded but will be astonished to learn that the accepted manuscript, titled Killer Frost, is a mystery novel.

Since she arrived in North Carolina in 1971, Hogan has been helping to advance the state’s state of poetry as she was also writing her own. In 1969, Hogan was living in Illinois, and a friend, Paul Foreman, who lived in Berkeley, where Hogan had worked on a Ph.D. in Classics, suggested they found a poetry journal. So Hyperion was born.

When Hogan moved to North Carolina, she began including North Carolina poets. In the mid-70s she started organizing readings for poets.

"The women’s movement brought some angry stuff out at first but there were just a lot of women starting to write. So I started collecting women’s poetry and with a grant from the National Endowment from the Arts I published a women’s issue of Hyperion in 1980. Then in 1981 I published an issue with Southern poets," Hogan said.

Foreman, by then living in Austin, Texas, had started in 1970 Thorp Springs Press and Hogan would send poets to him. Foreman suggested that Hogan, who was living in Chapel Hill, should start a press in North Carolina and in January of 1976, Carolina Wren Press was born.

"I published Jaki Shelton Green. I left in 1991 but under my editorship we did 33 books, including one children's book. We did a play, but I was most interested in the people coming up around the fringes of the establishment. I wanted to publish the people that weren’t fitting into the place where there was already a lot of help," Hogan said.

She helped to found the North Carolina Writers’ Network in 1984 serving as its President until 1987.

Born in Zenith, Kansas, Hogan discovered the joy of writing when she had to spend a year in bed at the end of the first grade due to rheumatic fever. "Mother brought me lots of library books and then I started writing little stories and drawing pictures. That was the beginning. I was building my own imaginary world I guess. I told my father when I was 10 I was going to be a writer," Hogan said.

She was 14 when she began the habit of keeping a diary, which she still does today, filling about 200 pages a month. This includes some emails that she keeps. "You tell some things in letters you don’t say in your diary," Hogan said.

Hogan recovered from the effects of rheumatic fever but never from word fever. She said her first published piece of poetry was in the Hyperion if you didn’t count her church bulletin when she was 13. "It was a poem about being an adolescent," Hogan said.

She has published five books of poetry with small presses and two prose works.

Through a lovely, chance encounter, Hogan began a lifelong friendship with the people of Kostroma, Russia. Her first visit there was in 1990, and Hogan said she feels a great kinship with the Russians. "They care about their souls. We had such terrible images of Russians from the Cold War. Every image of them was grim and hostile," said Hogan, who found this was the opposite of truth.

In 1980, Hogan began reading mysteries before she went to bed. This habit was noticed by the landlady of a bed and breakfast that Hogan would stay at when she went to Wales some summers to write poetry. "I would walk on the foot paths of the Gower Peninsula and find a spot to sit and write."

In 1990 she sprained her ankle there and had to spend a few weeks in bed. Like the year of rheumatic fever recovery, Hogan discovered something new about herself. "My landlady said I should write a murder. So I started plotting it then and set it in her bed and breakfast with Mrs. Merritt in it. Her fictional name is Evelyn Truelove. She always had opinions and made a good character," Hogan said.

The heroine of this first novel is Penny Weaver who has gone to Wales to get away from her responsibilities for a while. She falls in love with a Welsh policeman. They get around the transatlantic issue by spending six months in Wales, and six months in central North Carolina in a fictional town of Riverdell, county of Shagbark. The town according to Hogan has elements of Pittsboro, Saxapahaw and Moncure.

Is Penny Weaver Hogan?

"Pretty much," admits Hogan.

Like Hogan, Weaver works against things that bother her, like unsafe nuclear waste. One of the mysteries takes place in the local farmer’s market. Hogan has grown food she sold at the Pittsboro Farmers’ Market. Now she is a regular customer, taking some of her homegrown produce to trade for things she can’t grow.

Hogan has written eight mysteries that feature Penny Weaver and is about to start her 9th. The Killer Frost manuscript is the sixth in the series and was a finalist in the Malice Domestic contest. Despite this achievement, no agent answered Hogan’s queries about representing her. So using her own knowledge of small presses and the knowledge she has gained being a member of Sisters in Crime, an international organization she joined in 2007 that promotes "the professional development and advancement of women writing crime fiction," Hogan became her own agent. In early October she sent the manuscript to Mainly Murder Press in Connecticut.

The book will come out on September 1, 2012 and cost around $15.00 though it will be available on Nook and Kindle for $2.99.
Without giving too much of the plot away, here are the delicious opening words of Killer Frost.

 "It was a love that came upon her out of the blue, which she knew she would never understand or be able to explain to anyone else, not even to Oscar and especially not to her husband."

There is murder of course, with the setting being St. Francis College where Weaver is teaching remedial classes in composition.

Gene Dillard became good friends with Hogan while taking her poetry classes. Dillard said, "I think Judy stands as a good representation of someone who hasn’t lost the excitement of life. There is always something new and exciting around the corner for Judy. That is something we all can strive for."

Hogan’s backyard is home to an orchard, a garden, and 14 chickens. In 2010 Hogan had 600 pears on her pear tree. She canned 23 quarts of them, froze many, and made pear preserves. She bakes her own bread and makes soup, freezing her bounty for when the garden is fallow. She lives on $1000 a month.

She needs her food to eat so this does take up some of the routine of her days. But it is the words, the writing that get the most time. For without that, Hogan would starve.
Debbie Meyer lives in Pittsboro, NC, on a 17-acre farm with horses, pot-bellied pigs, dogs and cats, and her family. She works in science publishing and writes about art and animals, two essentials in her life.

A shorter version of this article appeared in the December issue of Chatham County Line, and is used by permission of Debbie Meyer and Julian Sereno, CCL editor.


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