I fell in love with Judy Goldman’s writing when I first heard her reading her essays on my local public radio station WFAE. It would be many years before I met her through her appearance at the Charlotte Writers Club and at Table Rock Writers Workshop. I was thrilled when she agreed to stop by The Writer’s Desk for an interview. To find out why I love her writing, check out Judy’s website and read her latest blog post there, in which she tells about being held up a gunpoint at the dry cleaners.
Kindred Spirit Author: Thanks for dropping by The Writer’s Desk.
Judy Goldman: Thanks for asking me!
KSA: You are known for writing memoir. What, exactly, is memoir, and why do you write in that genre?
JG: Memoir is the private life. Autobiography is the public life. Autobiography emphasizes what is remembered; memoir emphasizes who is doing the remembering. I started out writing poetry, then moved to novels, am now settling in with memoir. Memoir feels like home to me — probably because it is so close to poetry. Both celebrate intimacy. Both are like a cozy fireside chat with a good friend.
KSA: Were the first pieces of memoir intended only for you, or did you always hope to publish them?
JG: After my second book of poetry was published, I noticed that the lines in my poems were stretching from margin to margin. I was yearning to move from poetry to prose. I started writing and delivering personal commentaries on public radio in Charlotte and Chapel Hill. It was my way of easing into prose. But then I took a sharp turn into fiction, published two novels. Finally, I wrote a memoir, the genre I believe I was meant for all along.
KSA: Do you prefer writing shorter works or complete books?
JG: I like both! I’ve been having a lot of fun lately writing personal essays. Because I’m a minimalist when it comes to writing — critiques of my writing always involve the instruction to expand — I’m drawn to the shorter form. But, writing a full memoir also appeals to me. I like the idea of having a big chunk of something to return to day after day. I’m a plodder. The long form appeals to that part of me. Don’t make me choose between essay and memoir!
KSA: Is it difficult to write about family and friends, knowing that they—along with strangers—will someday read what you’ve written? Is it ever awkward or uncomfortable?
JG: What I’ve learned is that the thing you worry about offending a family member is not the thing a family member usually is offended by! The three years I was writing my first novel, The Slow Way Back, I worried that my sister would hate my book. That novel was based strongly on our relationship. But she loved the book. She especially loved the character modeled on her — a strong, bold, independent soul. What she didn’t like was that the mother in that novel was invented. The mother in the novel was manic-depressive, and our mother in real life was not at all manic-depressive. My sister didn’t like the fact that readers would assume I was writing about our mother. If only I could have worried about that part during those years I was writing the book! My advice: Don’t censor your material between your imagination and getting it down on paper. There is plenty of time, later, to decide if you need to cut or alter any part.
KSA: You teach writing. How do you encourage people who believe they just don’t have an interesting enough life to write about it?
JG: Oh, goodness, we all have interesting lives! I used to ask participants in my workshops to write about a subject they consider taboo. When we would go around the table reading what we’d written, it was always illuminating how each person had such a riveting tale to tell. It’s the dramatic truth we’re all drawn to. Equally illuminating: how one person’s taboo subject doesn’t seem so taboo to other people.
KSA: What is your writing process? Do you have a particular time and place to write?
JG: I compose and revise on my computer, which sits on an old roll-top desk, the last gift my father gave me before he died. My ideal day is to begin writing right after breakfast and to have such a clear day that I can keep writing until I go foggy.
KAS: Are you writing another book right now?
JG: Yes. And yes. I’m revising a memoir that I’ve been working on for maybe 3 years. And, quite by accident, I started a new memoir. I’ve never worked on 2 books at the same time! But a S.C. magazine asked me to write a piece for them, which I did, and then I found myself expanding that piece into a book-length memoir.
KSA: What do you like to read?
JG: I don’t really read for pleasure any more. I read to teach myself what I need to know — which, of course, ultimately leads to pleasure! I read a lot of memoir. I have so much to learn! Wonderful memoirists are my teachers. For example, if I”m concentrating on how to write dialogue in a memoir, when you obviously cannot remember every word that was said, I read to learn how others have grappled with that problem.
KSA: What advice do you have for young people who want to be writers?
JG: First, read. Read a book once for pleasure. Then read it a second time to study how the author did it. Make notes in the margins. Turn that author into your teacher. Second, write. On-the-job training is fine for a writer, not so good for a brain surgeon! You can actually teach yourself to be a better writer simply by doing it. It also helps to have a trusted reader guide you. Third, know that self-doubt is part of the job description for a writer. Rejection. Failure. All part of the picture.
KSA: Would you share a writing prompt here for young aspiring writers?
JG: What have you outgrown?
Judy Goldman’s second novel, Early Leaving, was published by William Morrow in 2004. Her first novel, The Slow Way Back, published by William Morrow in 1999, won the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction, the Mary Ruffin Poole Award for Best First Work of Fiction, and was a finalist for the Southeast Independent Booksellers Association’s Best Novel of the Year.
Her two books of poetry are Holding Back Winter and Wanting To Know the End, winner of the Gerald Cable Poetry Award (a national prize) and the three top poetry prizes in North Carolina: the Roanoke-Chowan Prize, Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize, and Oscar Arnold Young Prize.
Judy’s book reviews have appeared in The Washington Post and The Charlotte Observer. Her poetry has been published in many literary journals, such as Kenyon Review, Ohio Review, Gettysburg Review, Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, as well as in numerous anthologies. She received the Fortner Writer and Community Award for “outstanding generosity to other writers and the larger community,” the Hobson Award for Distinguished Achievement in Arts and Letters, and the Beverly D. Clark Author Award from Queens University. She also was awarded a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council, a state agency, the Arts & Science Council-Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Inc.
Judy’s memoir, Losing My Sister, was published by John F. Blair Publisher in October 2012. Excerpts have appeared in Real Simple Magazine; Drafthorse, an online literary journal; The Charlotte Observer; and Luck: A Collection of Facts, Fiction, Incantations & Verse (Lorimer Press). She has read portions from the memoir as personal commentaries on WFAE-FM, NPR affiliate in Charlotte, NC, and on WUNC-FM, NPR affiliate in Chapel Hill, NC. Poems in the memoir appeared originally in The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Black Warrior Review, and in the following anthologies: Claiming the Spirit Within: A Sourcebook of Women’s Poetry (Beacon Press); Ladies, Start Your Engines: Women Writers on Cars and the Road (Faber and Faber); and Here’s to the Land: 60th Anniversary Anthology of the North Carolina Poetry Society.
Born and raised in Rock Hill, SC, Judy lives in Charlotte, NC. She and her husband have two married children, three granddaughters and a grandson.