Sunday, January 27, 2013

Accepting Life's Mysteries

My new flock of seven-month-old hens eating chickweed from my backyard and scratch grains. Photo by John Ewing, Jan 22, 2013.



Note: In the summer of 1990 I went to Kostroma, Russia, with my son Tim, for the first time to begin a series of writer exchanges with the Writers’ Organization there.  I was also in process of turning my small publishing company, Carolina Wren Press, over to others.  I spent time in France, Finland, a week in Russia, then Wales, and finally, in Devon.  JH

September 5 (Chagford, Devon): The older I get, the more mysterious life is to me.  And the less I need to understand the mysteries.  I just need to know what to believe and what to do.  Deeper than that and simpler, I need only to know who to be.  It’s clear to me that I am being who I am supposed to be (“willing to be myself” as Kierkegaard puts it), and though I wrestle with the beliefs as these seize hold of my consciousness, I have learned that any deeply planted, compelling urgency had better be obeyed.  This tends to land me on the boundary of conventional behavior or on the other side of that boundary...
From that summer, when I was twenty-one, I have been fascinated by the falling of light through leaves.  When light illumines them, how different they are!  When a breeze moves the leaves slightly, a given leaf will move from shade into sun and back again.  Most of the time our lives are in shade.  But who we are only comes close to our consciousness when light hits us, illumines and, in effect, feeds us.  Feeds us and claims us.  We belong to the light.  We are most ourselves in moments when we are in a heightened state of awareness, when ordinary reality (life in the shade) is at a little distance.  We always return to ordinary reality, but we’re changed.  Multiply that by hundreds of experiences of illumination–thousands probably–when I have felt whole, healed, ecstatic, clear, at my best, everything of a piece, everything making sense inside me and outside me, and you get a feeling for what has led me to my current state of outrageous conviction.
On one level, this love for M. doesn’t imply any acts.  It’s simply an awareness that I’ve been in a light that has fed me, valued me, changed me.  I’m in shade now–my days are quietly ordinary.  But a powerful memory is now at work inside me in the same way that sun continues to have its effect even on a plant in the shade, once photosynthesis has begun.  The memory, even when I’m not directly thinking about it, continues to work...
M. and I were completely at ease with each other.  I trusted him.  He trusted me.  If I disagreed with him–about, say, worshiping women, it was easy to say so.  I realized quickly and early–in the first hours together–that he had grasped quickly who I was, what I was like, my inner reality or substance, my dependability.  Yes, he knew he could trust me.  He knew I was like he was.  All of a piece inside.  Having conflicts, yes, but having inner sources of strength to draw on.  Not staying in despair.  Yes, two Kierkegaardian souls, willing to be ourselves. ..
I wonder if all the communication difficulties–language, distance, telephoning not reliable, the context of suspicion and fear and distrust that had, until recently, been so strong between our two countries–perhaps enhanced our forming such a deep bond so quickly...
I’m glad I don’t have to explain the rejoicing of our souls in each other’s presence.  What happened was like a happy honeysuckle vine thrusting its pink and yellow trumpets forward.  It was good.  Every question had an answer.  Whatever he said, it was easy for me to reply, and he wove garlands with my words.  We were happy in each other’s presence as if we had always been there.  We have.  As surely as these green hills have always been here.  It was like when the clouds are blown away and you can see even the fields on the farthest hills glow green, and sun inhabits and exults in the whole visible, created world.  It was like that.  That serene.  Clear.  Easy.  Right.  Beautiful.  It doesn’t have to be anything else either, and yet its conscious existence now in our souls engenders more.  It’s that more which I embrace confidently and without knowledge.  I recognize necessity when It answers my knocks at last.

This is part of a short selection of diary excerpts from September, 1990.  Part II next week!  Judy Hogan

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Warrior Spirit

This is Aleksei Belikh, a nationally recognized Russian painter, with whom I have a close friendship.  The Russian Golden Autumn is behind him.  I believe that the key issues of our 21st century are to see other people, all others, as fellow human beings and to save our home, our planet, from further pollution, so we can all continue to live here and thrive.


In celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, I post this essay by a new friend, Gary T. Tyson.  We can all take in this message and do better at taking care of each other and our planet.


A Warrior Spirit

By Gary T. Tyson, Sanford, NC

A few days ago, I attended a game that my 7th grader was playing basketball in.  She had taken a hard foul and had rolled her ankle.  She limped off to the sidelines.  I could tell she was about to cry.  As the principal was going to get her some ice, I walked down to the court where she had propped her foot up on a chair.  She had tears in her eyes, and I searched for the right words to say to her.  I simply stated, “Baby, you got to be a warrior.  Don’t let your opponents see you cry.”  Those two statements caused her to reach down deep and pull herself back together.  You see, even at her tender age, she understood that warrior spirit.
I want to speak briefly about a warrior spirit that each of us has in us.  First of all, what is a warrior spirit?  Webster’s Dictionary defines a “Warrior” as “A person engaged in some struggle or conflict.”  As I think back to some past warriors of our day, the great Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to my mind.  I read about when he was getting ready to disobey a state injunction that Birmingham, Alabama, had erected to stop their marching.  He was very troubled.  He knew that the way the injunction read, if he or anyone else violated the injunction, the law said they could be held indefinitely.  This troubled Martin because he knew that a long prison term for him could cause the Civil Rights Movement to buckle to its knees.  I imagine, as he was filled with doubt and confusion, he thought about “The Parable of the Good Samaritan,” that man who helped the man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.  I believe he asked himself : not “How long will I have to stay in jail?” but “What will happen to my people if I give up and let this injunction turn us around?”  That warrior spirit kicked in, and he put on his work uniform (khaki shirt and khaki pants) and told his closest confidants, “Let’s go march.” 
Today, my friends, this type of spirit is one that we must have.  President Obama is leading the charge to try to level the playing field.  But any time you try to level the playing field, the folks who benefitted from the uneven playing field are going to fight tooth and nail to keep that from happening.  Many of these folks are the folks who employ people.   I believe, over the next few years, we are going to see less jobs being created because many of these folks would rather go out of business than share a real piece of the pie of opportunity and treasure.  Many of these folks who have benefitted from this unlevel playing field are in the Halls of Congress and the Chambers of the Senate.  So, in many ways, the President can only do so much to level the playing field.  It’s going to take a concerted effort of the voters to vote in the leaders who have our best interests at heart.  

I had the opportunity to speak recently to a local ex-professional boxer.  I asked him what it takes to be a warrior.  He said that he respects a man who fights even if he loses.  He said he doesn’t respect a fighter who grows feathers and runs.  He stated a warrior never, ever gives up.  He said a warrior has got to be determined to fight one more round even if he gets hurt.  He stated that a warrior will fight to the end and never retreat and never surrender.  

My friends, this is a warrior spirit.  I believe this warrior spirit has got to be a part of our charge forward.  We must charge forward with the feverish determination that we will not, we cannot be, turned around.  We must tell our enemy, “You can’t hate us back to the days when we accepted inferiority.  You can’t hate us back to days when we went to the back of the bus.”  Yes, we still have that warrior spirit that entered the veins of many African Americans over 50 years ago.  Yes, today we still stand here, gladiators for justice.  

But where do we go from here?  Do we still have that “HOPE” that our President so eloquently spoke about in 2008?  Do we still believe in the “CHANGE” that we were so greatly anticipating in 2008?  I believe the answer to this most timely question has no immediate, clear answer.  But I do believe we need to take a look at what we are hoping for and what change we are looking for.  

I read an article by a young black sister recently that spoke about dreaming.  She stated she was tired of dreaming.  She stated it was time to wake up.  She stated we dream on our backs, eyes shut to the world.  She stated dreams carry us away, but when we wake up from the dream, we’re right back in the same spot where we lay down.  I concur that it’s time to stop dreaming and start executing a well-thought-out plan of action.
Dreams are kind of like hope.  Both are non-aggressive in their very nature.  The true warrior spirit has dreams and hope running through its veins.  But along with that, a warrior spirit has an acute need to take action.  A warrior spirit doesn’t believe in waking up from a dream and continuing to lie there.                            

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mental and Physical Poison

Judy's iris in April 2011, with the greening of the earth


Who says we don’t know what we’re doing when we write, whether it’s ancient Greek drama or modern mysteries?  Socrates asked Sophocles what he was doing in his plays, and Sophocles said he had no idea.  That would be consciously.

When an experienced writer sets pen to paper, she will write about what matters to her.  She may intend something light and humorous, but if her core beliefs are serious, they will be obvious to a reader, if not immediately to her.

I wrote my first mystery in 1991, at the age of fifty-four.  I hadn’t had any classes in how to write a crime novel.  No one told me how to do it, but I’d been reading the Golden Age authors like Josephine Tey, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Marjorie Allingham.  I plotted out who would be killed and by whom.  I invented my amateur detective, a mid-fifties poet, based loosely on me.  I set it in a bed and breakfast in a village on the coast of Wales.  My American amateur falls in love with a Welsh Detective Inspector.  I didn’t plan to take up any serious issues.  I do that in my poetry.  This was to be for fun.  

Looking back, however, I see the serious issues all right: the lingering hatred of the Germans after World War II, or as my landlady character calls them, “the Prussians,” and behind that, the Holocaust that also still haunts both Europe and America.

As I went along, writing new mysteries, the cultural issues that concerned me came more and more to the fore.  When I wrote my sixth novel, Killer Frost, which takes place in a Southern historically black college, with Penny Weaver teaching remedial classes in reading and writing to students, by and large, ill-prepared for college, I was very clear that I wanted to expose some harsh and tragic realities about the education of young African Americans, particularly those coming out of our inner cities, from Florida to New Jersey.

Killer Frost, which my reader friend said was my most political novel, was a Malice Domestic finalist.  I had been trying to publish the earlier books, but since this one was a finalist, and the first five had not been, I decided to work on getting it into print and six months later, I had a contract with Mainly Murder Press in Connecticut.  I had tried agents.  A few years ago being a finalist meant it was easy to get an agent, but not this time, or perhaps agents were wary of my taking up an issue like black education.

I myself had been a small press editor and publisher, and I was comfortable with that route to publication.  I was able to participate in the cover design and in the editing.  Most of the promotion falls on me, but I know that happens across the board now.  I’ve grown comfortable over the years with selling my own book.

Killer Frost debuted September 1, 2012, and I set up readings and signings around central North Carolina, did pre-sales and guest blogs.  As sales money comes in and gives me a cushion, I’ll set up more readings both in North Carolina and in other parts of the country where I have family or friends I can stay with.

One day I hope to get the first five novels into print and e-book format, as well as the five mysteries I’ve written in the series since Killer Frost.  When you debut as a mystery author at seventy-five, you can’t sit around.

Standing back, I see what I didn’t originally, that my books take up the issues I see as our new century’s most important: taking care of our planet so that we don’t pollute ourselves out of a home and learning to see all members of the family of man as equally valuable and important.  We have to stop making sub-groups out of human beings, which poisons our minds.  Differences enrich us and are to be cherished.  Our beautiful planet will feed and house us if we do our best to take good care of the earth, air, and water.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Killer Frost Review and Reader Comments IV

Judy with tomatoes, summer 2009, in garden.


Here is the second review Killer Frost has had.  Thank you, Carolyn Mulford.  You can also find it on her website


Jan. 3, 2013

Book review
Writing Teachers Will Relate to Mystery’s Setting

Anyone who has taught a basic English or creative writing course will recognize some of the characters and situations in Killer Frost, a debut mystery by Judy Hogan. 

Most of the book takes place at a financially and academically distressed historically black college in North Carolina. An idealistic untenured professor wars against the  administration to bring ill-prepared but determined students up to standard and to give gifted ones a chance to soar. He brings in Penny Weaver, a dedicated white writer/teacher, to take over both the remedial and the creative writing classes.

Hogan obviously knows both groups of students well, and some of her best scenes involve teaching rather than detecting. Finding the killer takes second place to rescuing the students from poor teaching, bad conditions, and the burnt-out and corrupt staff.  The victims’ behavior had given faculty and students reasons to want to murder them. 

The major subplot revolves around Penny’s disconcerting attraction to the professor who hired her (both are happily married). A more effective subplot involves her difficult relationship with her single-mother daughter. 

Some of the numerous characters in Killer Frost live on the page. Unfortunately some students get lost in the classroom, and neighbors overpopulate Penny’s diverse community. Most talk too much and act too little—until the fast-paced climactic scene, which ends with a satisfying twist.

Killer Frost, by Judy Hogan, Mainly Murder Press, 2012, 244 pp., $15.95 in paperback and $2.99 in e-book; ISBN: 978-0-9836823-8-7. For more information about the writer, her work, and where to buy the book, go to


Here are some new reader comments.  Always welcome!



From gifted writer Mindi Meltz (in an email 12-23-14): Great book! I just finished.  I’ve never read a mystery before.  Aside from the fact that the topic was very important and original and your treatment of it was so complex and sensitive, I really liked the ending.  Endings are important to me, and I feel like authors struggle with them; many books disappoint me at the end.  I liked that you didn’t provide any easy solutions to the many societal issues you brought up in the book–in fact, in a way, you didn’t offer any complete solutions–which is realistic and also inspires the reader to do more thinking on his/her own, while at the same time you didn’t leave the reader with a feeling of despair or “there is no solution” (which I feel is done too often in endings).  Instead there was a feeling of warmth, tenderness and admiration for both the kids who fight against impossible odds and the adults who fight for them...  It’s wonderful that you took on such a tough and meaningful topic.


From Natalya Ilyina, my Russian friend and teacher of literature at Kostroma University (in an email 12-24-12): I’ve read your novel and find that the theme is urgent here as well.  I dare say that no writer has ever tackled the problem with respect to education from the point of view you find necessary.  I think that it’s even more important than the detective part of the novel.  I congratulate you on the new niche in literature you have discovered.  Good luck! 

[Note: As a result of reading Killer Frost, Natalya, who is Chair of the Literature Department at Kostroma University invited me to a conference in April 2013, honoring their playwright Ostrovsky, but also taking up the subject of secondary and college/university education.  I can’t go, but I’ve offered to write a paper.]