You can’t be part of the New England crime fiction community and not know Judy Copek and her husband Hans. One of the co-founders of our annual CrimeBake conference, Judy is an organizer, reader, and supporter of us all, and her own novels showcase both her world travels and her deep background in both the Boston area and our mystery community. Her new novel, Chased by Death, takes us on the road – with a thrilling and dangerous ride.
How does a book start for you?
Normally, my novels start with a special place. The Shadow Warriors was born during a trip to Singapore and then jumped to my husband’s home town in Germany. World of Mirrors came to me after a visit to the Baltic. Festival Madness arrived after a couple of trips to Burning Man. However, my new book, Chased By Death, began with a character (Maxine) who began talking to me and telling me her story. Disconcerting, to say the least. Maxine told me how her ex-husband was murdered and who the bad guys were. She guided me from the Boston area to South Florida, and I kept writing like crazy until. . . she stopped. It was like she said, “Okay, that’s enough. You take it from here.” Mentally, I was sputtering. I fumed about her leaving me on my own a quarter of the way through the story. Then, I did what any writer would. I sat at my computer, gritting my teeth, and figuring out the rest of the plot out bit by bit. Hard work.
Who in your latest book has surprised you most – and why?
The story has three points of view: Maxine, the protagonist; Lotto, the cartel boss (a boutique operation, not the cliched kind); and Honora, Maxine’s long-missing sister. All three of these characters have tragic back stories. Lotto and the sister are not the finest people, and it was intriguing to get into their heads and think like a bad person. And Lotto is funny, although he doesn’t mean to be. Being a bad guy can be fun.
When and/or where is your latest book set and is there a story behind that setting?
Chased By Death is a road novel as well as a woman-in-jeopardy novel.
It begins in a Boston suburb, and then we take the long, harrowing drive on I-95 to South Florida. I have friends there, and for years I supported software from a company headquartered in Delray Beach, so I knew the area. I’d been to Key West, but I made a special research visit to nail down some details. When the bad guys find Maxine, she and her new boyfriend, his daughter, and a kitten jump in his motor home and race up I-95 again to Boston to get into a safety deposit box. They head for the West where Maxine’s sister is reputed to be. This is a cross country trek to Reno and ultimately the Nevada desert north of Reno with Lotto’s thugs always after them. Our family took road trips with our children when they were small, so I knew the rigors of travel with a kid. My son now lives one hundred miles north of Reno (“where the pavement ends and the west begins.”) Many visits to his tiny burg familiarized me with the Nevada desert where the showdown is set.
What are you working on now?
Murder in the Northwoods is scheduled for publication either late this year or early next.
In my work in process, again, place dictated the story, which is a murder mystery set in south-central Kansas during the wheat harvest in the summers of 1953 and present time. The setting is a small Mennonite town where my grandparents were born and my mom grew up (and left). I thought it would be easy–just write it from the top of my head, as I had made frequent visits there as a child. Wrong! Everything changes including the Mennonites. I connected with a group in Cambridge who were welcoming and gave me advice of where to visit and what to see. When I made my research trip, visiting museums, colleges and archives, everyone was so accommodating and friendly that I almost felt I was “back home,” especially after a visit to my grandfather’s house. (How did it shrink so much?) I had to learn the details of how wheat was harvested and how a combine works. Writing in two periods has turned out to be more of a challenge than I expected, but I’m plugging away. Learning about 50’s music and movies and old-timey expressions has been fun. One of the pleasures of being a writer is that I love learning new things.
Which question didn’t I ask you that I should have?
What was your first book?
Witness Be Wary, my learn-to-write book, is still on my computer. It was so bad in plotting and character motivation that it was never published, but I have cannibalized bits and pieces from it. It was set in Cambridge’s Central and Kendall Squares where I worked at the time. The area I wrote about in the ’80s is almost unrecognizable in 2019. Just like small town Kansas between the ’50s and now. Everything changes, except the joys and agonies of writing.
Judith’s current novel, Chased By Death, is a woman-in-jeopardy story that ranges from Boston to Northern Nevada. In 2017, Judith and her husband were honored with the first New England Crimebake Lifetime Achievement Award. Short stories and memoir as well as three earlier novels are part of her published writing. She blogs at www.lynx-sis.blogspot.com .