Posted on July 15, 2020 at 8:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
Today we're interviewing author Judy Fishel.
Fishel grew up determined to make a difference. It went from wanting to be a missionary, to being a scientist, to becoming a great teacher.
When she retired, she wanted to answer questions she had struggled with all her life, and she wanted to write a book that made a difference.
SADYE: How did you come to see yourself as a writer, and what inspired you to seek publication?
JUDY: Starting in about seventh grade, I began to realize that what we did in school did not lead to a great education. I was learning more by reading on my own.
Most annoying was the recognition that we memorized definitions or information for a test and then, since we never seemed to use it again, we forgot that and memorized the next bit of useless information.
When I began studying vocabulary for the SAT (in about eighth grade), I developed a system of learning where I memorized about ten words a week.
I then used flashcards for at least ten weeks, spending the most time on words I had forgotten. I never understood why teachers didn’t do this.
When I retired, I had time to do research and time to write my first books, Straight A’s Are Not Enough and its second edition.
SADYE: Tell us something about your writing process that’s unusual or that you haven’t revealed before.
JUDY: Actually, before I wrote Straight A’s Are Not Enough, I had gone to many writing conferences and workshops, and for practice, we were expected to write fiction.
My favorite books were mysteries, so I began a mystery – Murder of the Obeah Man. That was fifteen years ago.
I finished the book, and it was awful. After many efforts to improve the book, I put it away and wrote the study skills books.
Last summer I went back to my first book. I used two strategies.
I chose several of my favorite mysteries and then read a chapter or less each day, talking notes on what they had done that made it a great book. I never copied what they did. I tried to learn from what they did.
The second strategy was letting the characters take over.
In my first effort, I tried to force the characters to do what I wanted. This time I listened to the characters, particularly with Jeenya Birdsong.
I would think about a situation and what Jeenya might suggest. I began having dreams of Jeenya showing me what to do.
This time, when I rewrote the book, it was hard to believe how good it was. Murder of the Obeah Man was published in June.
SADYE: What have been the most surprising, rewarding, and challenging parts of your writing career?
JUDY: When our son, Tony, was in third grade and still not able to read or write, we took him to a neurologist who told him, “Tony, you are incredibly intelligent, but you are also severely dyslexic. You might never be able to read or write.”
In seventh, still a nonreader, he taught himself to read a little – and with a third- grade reading level he made it through high school, college, and grad school.
Finally, he spent that summer teaching himself to really read – above twelfth-grade level.
Last summer Tony and I began writing his book, How Tony Learned to Read. He writes the story from his perspective, and I write from my perspective.
We are doing the formatting now, and it should be published by the end of the year.
SADYE: What experience in your past or general aspect of your life has most affected your writing?
JUDY: I was in a two-hour workshop in a library, and we were asked to write about an experience when we were most afraid. I wrote about an experience babysitting when I was a young teenager.
A family new to our town asked the owner of a gas station how they could get a babysitter for a few hours. The owner of the gas station suggested that they call me, and I said yes.
They picked me up at about 7:30 in an old truck. We drove to an old shack way out in the woods – no phone and no other people.
There were five children, each with ringworm. There was one bed. There was an outhouse. I would not sit on the sofa with roaches going in and out the holes. There were rats.
I sat on the one wooden chair with my feet off the floor. Nothing happened, but I was terrified. When I got home, I took a long hot shower.
The next book I write describes that experience but from the perspective of the migrants who might have lived there for a time. It will be called For Fear of Armadillos.
SADYE: What message or theme would you like readers to take away from your work?
JUDY: Each of my books has the potential of leaving the reader changed in some way.
Straight A’s Are Not Enough encourages the college student or others to focus on getting a great education, one that will help them reach their goals, rather than focusing on grades and remembering little or nothing.
In Murder of the Obeah Man, Jeenya can teach us many lessons. She wants to help the detectives, and neither she or her husband are able to help in the usual ways. The insights and skills Jeenya does have can inspire us all.
In How Tony Learned to Read, parents of dyslexic children might find hope and get ideas for helping their children. For some families, sharing their experiences, whether in writing or in conversation, they can get to know and understand each other in ways they had never imagined.
In For Fear of Armadillos, the reader will see life from a very different perspective, from that of some of the poorest and most miserable people -- from some of the people we depend on to pick much of the food we eat.
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Learn more about Judy Fishel on her website, where her books can also be purchased.
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Categories: Author Interview