OTTAWA — While some published authors can afford to write full time, most work other jobs and write when they can, said Ottawa-based mystery author Judy Clemens.
“My husband has a job with benefits and I have a part time job,” she said. “I would say the majority of writers I know have some kind of other gig.”
Clemens is the author of 13 novels, with the majority of her books serving as parts of her two ongoing series, Stella Crown Mysteries and Grim Reaper Mysteries. In 2017, a young adult novel she wrote was published under the pseudonym J.C. Lane.
Clemens said she has written ever since she was a child, but it wasn’t until her son was born in 1999 that she began writing professionally.
“I’ve always wanted to write,” Clemens said. “My degree is in theater and I worked as a stage manager in Philadelphia after college before my son was born.”
She stayed home with her newborn son and began writing when he was taking naps. It was during this time she wrote her first published book, “Till the Cows Come Home” which is the first novel in the Stella Crown series.
Her love of mystery novels began in college when she read a novel written by Dorthy Sayers, Clemens said. Her interest in mystery writing grew from there until she began writing them herself, she said.
“The business can be really demoralizing if you let it,” Clemens said. “You have to be persistent. I think that’s the writing itself and getting published. If you want to get published with the big five, you do have to get an agent.”
It all starts with the excitement of beginning a new story. She said starting something new can be very exciting, but writers need to understand perfect novels are not written on the first try. The first draft of a novel is going to be a mess and will need to be fixed, she said.
Finding an agent can be harrowing work, too. Writers will need to find an agent for the genre they write and send out query letters asking if they are taking on clients. If a writer finds an agent, that is no guarantee the book is going to be published as the agent has to find an editor for the novel, she said.
“It’s tedious and discouraging until you finally get one, and then it’s awesome,” Clemens said.
In the age of technology, there are many other ways to get published that don’t involve the old-school approach, but Clemens has not tried any of them yet.
One of the main characters in her Grim Reaper mystery series is Death, she said. The idea for Death as a main character developed because of illness in her family, Clemens said.
“My dad died in 2009,” she said. “He had been sick for about a year and a half. During that time, that feeling just that death is hovering around you all the time because you’re just kind of waiting and afraid.”
Her first series was stationary and her editor wanted a new series with legs, she said. This request came at the time she was feeling death hanging around her so she incorporated that feeling into the new series with a character who had Death as a side kick, Clemens said. Her father got the chance to read the advanced copy of the first book in the series, “Embrace the Grim Reaper,” and Death was his favorite character, she said.
“Read a lot,” Clemens said, giving advice to aspiring authors. “I think that’s huge. You learn what works, what doesn’t and what’s out there. And, write whenever you can, try not to let critic in your head stop you from writing. Even if it’s only 20 minutes, you’ll be surprised what you can do.”
Reach Bryan Reynolds at 567-242-0362.