The Practice of Creativity

Writer, Farmer and ‘Post-Menopausal Zest Woman’: Interview with Author Judy Hogan

Posted on: December 2, 2012

I am fortunate to live in a community known for its writers. But, Chatham County, NC isn’t just home to any type of writer. You’re more likely to find writers who are also small farmers and/or have a strong connection to the land they live on. Judy Hogan is one such writer. She’s a small farmer, editor, teacher and founder of the well-regarded Carolina Wren Press.

Judy Hogan--Debbie photo--3--Nov 2011

Judy attended a workshop I facilitated, in September, about identifying one’s relationship style to the creative self. I enjoyed meeting her and I so enjoyed hearing about her life- long love affair with creativity and creative writing. She’s one of those people that have always had a strong connection to their creative self and she has actively nurtured that relationship. I felt lucky to have a seasoned and esteemed writer participate so heartily in the workshop. Judy went on to write a blog about one of the exercises from that day.

She’s also very vocal about creating more space for what she calls ‘postmenopausal zest women’ in both literature and life. She is doing this with the debut of her main character, Penny Weaver, in her first novel, Killer Frost. We have so few complex archetypal models that explore women in their 50s-90s. I love how Judy is creating this new paradigm for our culture. May we all be as zesty, at any age, as Judy Hogan is now.

Where did the idea for your novel, Killer Frost, come from?KillerFrost-cover-2-15-12

I taught at a historically black college a few years ago. I enjoyed the students very much, and I saw many grow and change, improve their reading and composition skills (my classes were to prepare them for the regular freshman composition), but I had too many with such poor skills, reading and writing at third grade level or too convinced that they couldn’t learn and wouldn’t try, that I wanted to call attention to this problem.  I had already been taking up community issues in the previous novels I’d written, like unsafe storage of nuclear waste, air pollution, and unethical behavior in local political races.  This problem of young African Americans who were admitted to college when they had no real hope of success troubled me. They believed they could graduate from college because they had been admitted. They couldn’t even succeed in high school level work, although they had graduated from high school. They were like an endangered species with the high likelihood that they would continue, or turn to, a life of crime in order to survive.

What’s your process like when you’re working on a novel?

Once I get an idea, I work out the characters, using Elizabeth George’s prompt sheet from her book on writing fiction: Write Away.  I want to know the background, what they look like, any speech peculiarities, what they do under stress, what their goals are in life and in the novel, incidents that may have shaped them, even if I don’t use all this information.  I deliberately set up characters that will tend to have conflicts with each other. I do know my killer and my victim. Then I draft as many scenes as I can, usually to the end of the novel. This is the hardest work.  When I begin writing, I like to have a couple of months relatively free of teaching and other commitments, and then I try to do two hours in the afternoon and two hours in the evening, or about a chapter a day.  Sometimes the plot changes slightly, but generally I follow that outline, adjusting as needed.  Normally, it flows well, but I use “bum glue,” as George recommends.  I stick in my chair for my hours and do the best I can.  I can go back later and add or subtract.  I do then type it up, revising some, and I send it to the two readers I now have for their reactions, not as editors, but as readers.

You manage to pack a lot into your day! You run a farm, blog, and teach classes.  How do these different activities feed into each other and you?

My farm is very small, all, with the house, on half an acre: gardens (flower and vegetable), orchard, and chicken coop and run. I spend an average of two hours outside working in it, more in the growing season, less in winter.  It’s a good healthy balance to my writing and reading life. I also preserve a lot of food for the winter, and I normally provide half my food for the year, which saves grocery bills and gives me variety and the best possible organic food, freshly picked.

The blogging (, which I began in January 2011, has been fun.  I can write about whatever I want to: health, recipes, poetry, aging, my own book Killer Frost, and other people’s books.  My whole life is connected to my zest in these years, so it’s all apt. Since I do a lot of writing every day (journal, emails, and once a week, a poem normally), it’s not hard to find something I’ve already written to post on Sunday morning.  I also like to read other mysteries and novels, so I do post reviews of them.  It doesn’t take me long to write a review, because I write so easily now, having been writing since age seven, nearly seventy years now.

The classes I teach these years, usually only one creative writing class, in which we read good literature, and several backyard chicken workshops, do take some time.  I need more income than my social security and some farm sales (eggs, figs, leeks) provide. Teaching is my second vocation, and I enjoy it. Literary classes take more preparation time than chicken workshops, but I teach books I love and enjoy rereading, most recently Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and the novels of Virginia Woolf.  They also nourish my writing, feed my mind.  For me this all balances.

Who are some of the writers that you continually mine for technique, style, or phrasing?

I don’t exactly mine them.  What happens to me, and it also happens to my students, is that, as we read and study fine writers, we absorb and learn their vocabulary, sentence structures, content, and this enriches the creative mind, which I liken to a field to which has been added the nutrients it needs, the compost, etc. I’ve been reading classics, in Latin, Greek, Russian, French, and both English and American literature since high school. I have favorite writers I go back to over and over, Homer, Proust, Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Ezra Pound, Virginia Woolf, and Henry James. I’ve decided to reread all of the James novels this winter.  I rest more these years and give two or three hours a day to reading.

Will we see more of your main characters?  What’s your next writing project?

Yes.  Killer Frost is the sixth mystery in a series involving Penny Weaver, a postmenopausal zest woman, and her lover/husband Kenneth Morgan, a Welsh police detective. Two novels are set in Wales, where they met; the other eight, soon to be nine, take place in Riverdell, a central North Carolina village in the fictional county of Shagbark. They are part of an interracial community of activists who take up community issues. I love all my characters, and I hope to get all the books in print over the next five years.

Right now I’m working on the eleventh in the series, Fatality at Angelika’s Eatery.  I hope to finish the draft by Christmas and to start the typing. The typing works better when I’m also teaching than the composition stage, when I need more time alone to focus in on my imaginary world.

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Write what you wish to write.  A writer is one who writes. I like and often remind myself of Virginia Woolf’s words in A Room of One’s Own (p. 110): “So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.  But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere flea-bit in comparison.”

Judy Hogan founded Carolina Wren Press (1976-91), and was co-editor of Hyperion Poetry Journal, 1970-81).  She has published five volumes of poetry and two prose works with small presses. She has taught all forms of creative writing since 1974. She joined Sisters in Crime in 2007 and has focused on writing and publishing traditional mystery novels. In 2011 she was a finalist in the St. Martin’s Malice Domestic Mystery contest. The twists and turns of her life’s path over the years have given her plenty to write about. She is also a small farmer and lives in Moncure, N.C.



email: judyhogan@

2 Responses to "Writer, Farmer and ‘Post-Menopausal Zest Woman’: Interview with Author Judy Hogan"

I just read in the book section of my Sunday paper about writers who are still going strong into their 80s and 90s. I see no reason that Tom Wolfe or Herman Wouk or Philip Roth are still considered vital writers, yet women who are post-menopausal are supposed to just fade away? Nonsense! We have much still to say and none of the fear of public speaking that younger women sometimes have.


Dear Fiona,
Thanks so much for stopping by! I agree with your comment completely. As a woman in my mid-forties, I am so thankful for women in their 60s and older who continue to be daring and creative.


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Michele Tracy Berger

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