Sunday, October 21, 2012

Killer Frost Reader Comments--Part II.

Autumn trees at Sugarloaf Mountain (MD).  Photo by John Ewing


Killer Frost Reader Comments, Part II.

Carol Hay, writer friend, in an email (Sept. 16): I finished [Killer Frost] yesterday morning and loved it!  I like Penny very much and enjoyed spotting similarities between her and her creator.  I also feel drawn to the neighborhood community Penny and Kenneth have at home.  Is the next book a sequel?  You could knock off Sarah, and give joint custody of Seb to Leroy, Penny, and Kenneth. :) And I’m very concerned about the futures of those students!  I’m looking forward to the launch party and to the next book!  My warmest congratulations!

Elisabeth Stagg, writer friend, in an email (Sept 23): I enjoyed Killer Frost so much!  It was especially interesting to see the connections between Penny Weaver’s experiences and yours–and to see how artfully you turned life into fiction to illuminate so many important issues at HBCUs.  No shortage of scandals in higher ed, of course, including at our flagship UNC-CH.  Bravo!  And I hope to have the chance to read more of the series.

Debra Goldstein, mystery author, in an email (Sept. 27): I finished your book and truly enjoyed it.  I haven’t decided if I like Penny or Sammie or one of the younger girls best, but I want to get to know them all better.  

Rosalyn Lomax, English and Drama teacher, in an email (Oct 7, after the reading in Goldsboro):
Meeting you was a pleasure, but you are not the only new friend I have made.  I now have met and come to love Penny and all the characters who populate Killer Frost.  I treated myself to the luxury of reading it in its entirety today.   Your dialogue is natural; your characters are real; your murder mystery is intriguing; your portrayal of an issue dear to my heart, the sadness of underprepared college students and the frustration yet determination of faculty to make a difference, is very powerfully woven into the story as an integral part of the mystery itself.  Brava!

Chief Gary Tyson, Siler City Police, in an email Oct. 10: Judy, I just finished reading Killer Frost. It was one of the most incredible books that I have read.  I became engulfed in the reality of the plot.  In my mind, I became an eyewitness to a struggle that is all too common in many African American families.  The characters were indeed real.  They were as real as folks that I come into contact with on a regular basis.  The unsung heroes that make a difference in so many young people’s lives each and every day.  Folks like Malvina (AKA Margie Horton Ellison) who was community organizing before it became fashionable.*
The book flowed with such grace.  It kept me engaged.  There were also some jewels that could be plucked from the plot.  One was the awesome power of protest.  If only folks still remembered the protests of the Civil Rights Movement.  Folks would be doing more than “being sick and tired of being sick and tired” with ungodly stuff that is on the news and spoken at our kitchen tables on a daily basis.  Another jewel to be plucked was the dire need for good leadership and mentorship.  The raw kind of leadership that is willing to go down with the ship if the cause is right.  (We know that God looks after his soldiers.)  The kind of leadership that will either give a young person a gentle push, or, if needed, a swift kick in the butt to get them back on track (Mr. Oscar’s type).  The book offered a lot of drama with no blood, guts, and sex that dominates our airwaves and books in our current society. You were able to capture a lot of drama, with a few horrific moments, in a clean kind of old-fashioned manner.  How refreshing to read a modern day drama with an old-fashioned twist.
Wow!  Thanks for a narrative that reminds us all that even with the dire problems we face today, “the frost” has not destroyed our determination to overcome.

*Note: Killer Frost is dedicated to Margie Ellison, with whom I was privileged to work in our local Chatham County politics, 2005-6.  The character Malvina is modeled on Margie.

Margaret Stephens, writer friend (in an email Oct 10): Judy, what an intriguing cast of characters!  I especially like the feisty young black female students, nice and mouthy.  I’m glad you killed off the more objectionable of the faculty/staff.  Why not?  Glad that Penny stuck with her job, because she was obviously doing good there.  Curious about how kind and supportive Kenneth is.  Is he for real?  Or just a wonderful daydream?
I did feel a little like I was coming into the middle of things, especially when the community got together at Penny’s house.  But then, I was coming in in the middle–this is book five of the series, or so, yes?***  It would be nice to have had more background, mostly about the relationship and the local friends, who are a good combination of ages and personalities.  Really liked the twist with Sarah’s ex being such a good dad, the whole ‘who’s keeping the kids tonight’ bit.  Sarah has some growing up to do...
Penny and Kenneth are such unique couple, and the whole Wales/NC six-month life is special.
Good work.  What an achievement!  What a way to be celebrating your 70s!

*** Note: Killer Frost is #6 in the series.  I hope to get the early ones published soon, and #7-10 are already written.

Marie Hammond, writer friend (in a letter received 10-19-12): For me [Killer Frost] was revealing and enriching.  If it’s an accurate representation of student life at HBCUs (as I think it must be), then it’s a tragedy.  How sad for all those kids whose primary and secondary education has been such a failure.  Of course I realize that many of these students would not be in college at all except that the better African-American students are recruited by other schools.  That’s no excuse, however, for allowing so many to graduate high school without learning basic skills.  Your book is an eye-opener in that regard.
Other observations: the book is not a typical mystery, in that the plot contains many elements that have nothing to do with the murders.  The story is as much about good teaching, friendship, student rights, farming, and basic human decency as about crime.  I like that!  It reveals who you are.  In fact, Judy Hogan comes through as clearly and forcefully in this book as in any of your journal entries I’ve read.  Penny’s compassion, encouraging spirit, and willingness to work hard for the students are ideal traits for a teacher–we need more like her (you) in the classroom.
Here are [my favorite parts of the book]: 1) Rick Clegg’s speech at the Black History convocation is superb.  It’s a sermon worthy of Elaine Goolsby, simple on the surface, seemingly easy to understand, yet quite profound.  “The truth will out” was one of my mother’s favorite sayings and therefore is one of mine, too.  Did the speech come straight out of your head, or was it based on something you heard or read?
2) The ending is touching and multi-layered.  Various threads are tied together by the text of the song “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”  Merilee’s dream, her singing talent, the vulnerability of children, the sad and deprived childhood of many of the students, and how much better things could be if people cared for each other are some of the ideas suggested by the song.
So, congratulations on a good book, which I enjoyed reading.  Hope to see you at the Regulator Bookshop reading on November 8.

**Note: I did write Rick Clegg’s speech out of my head.  Elaine Goolsby is a good friend who writes sermons as a lay person in the Methodist Church.  I have heard African American preachers and speakers on numerous occasions.  My editor at Mainly Murder Press asked if they needed to get permission to use the speech.  That pleased me.  JH

Katherine Wolfe, writer friend, in an email 10-19-12: Sounds like your discussions of the book have been interesting and helpful.  I like the idea of ways St. Francis can help unprepared students.  An important topic!  As I read your book, I never thought about you presenting black students in a bad way... I just thought you were presenting them as they were.. And being their champion, practicing “tough love” to help them succeed.  I could feel Penny’s concern and joy in successes.

Pam Kilby, writer friend, in an email 10-19-12: Killer Frost introduces Penny Weaver, an intelligent, sensitive North Carolina writer and teacher.  She’s also no slouch as a sleuth, amateur variety, who not only walks the walk but jumps in with both feet.  By novel’s end the central mystery is solved, but the reader wants to know more about Penny.  For example, how did she meet Kenneth, her Welsh policeman husband, and what’s the source of the underlying tension between Penny and her daughter Sarah?  I’m looking forward to subsequent novels featuring Penny that will answer these questions and reveal more of her character while plunging into the midst of another compelling mystery.


I welcome more comments from my readers.  This is the best part! JH


  1. What wonderful and well deserved reviews of KILLER FROST, Judy. You must be positively glowing. :-) You should be if you're not.

  2. Thank you, Gloria. It is my greatest happiness since the book came out--the enthusiasm of my readers. Judy