Judy Coopey has written a beautiful book about the underground railroad. Her background as a historian and genealogist helped her create well-defined characters in realistic situations–all leading the reader to flip the pages, wanting to see how it all ends! Her first book, Redfield Farm, has sold tremendously well and is one example of how an independent writer can create her own success! Below, Judy generously discusses her inspiration for her stories, what’s coming next, and how she’s managed to write such a compelling book. Thank you, Judy, for your time and insight at my blog!
Tell me a little about your books—those that are out and those that you are working on.
My first historical novel, Redfield Farm is about the Underground Railroad in Bedford County, PA. My ancestors were Quakers who lived in a small part of Bedford County then known as Quaker Valley. While doing genealogical research, I learned that my ancestors’ house might have been a station on the Underground Railroad. That piqued my interest and I set about doing research on the topic, especially as it was carried out around Bedford County. The result was Redfield Farm. I wondered what would have happened if a woman, involved in helping fugitives escape to Canada were to become intimately involved with on of them. It must have happened sometime, so I explored the possibilities.
Redfield Farm came out in August 2010, and has been selling well ever since. It was chosen by the city of Amesbury, MA as their selection for their “On the Same Page” program this spring. Both print sales and Kindle sales continue to exceed my expectations.
My second book, Waterproof is coming out in May. Set in the aftermath of the Johnstown Flood, Waterproof examines how people react to catastrophe – those life changing tragedies that mark the survivors forever. Some people seem to be getting over the trauma only to succumb to some “unrelated” event. Others run away, try to put the event behind them and never look back. But can they? A few try to undo the damage by getting even, seeking revenge on those they hold responsible for their plight. Some, with valiant effort manage to put the tragedy in the past and get on with their lives. Pamela Gwynedd is left with great responsibility, no income and no prospects. Her brother and her fiancé died in the flood. Grief has turned her mother into a catatonic ghost. Unable to cope with it all, her father just walks away. Pam thinks things could hardly get worse when Davy Hughes, the fiancé she thought was dead, reappears. But to what end? Davy isn’t the same young lover she lost. This Davy carries with him a hatred so deep, even Pam can’t seem to strip it away.
When it comes to Redfield Farm–what has surprised you most about its publication success (maybe you weren’t surprised!)?
The Kindle sales. I was flabbergasted at the numbers. I never expected to find success on my first book, but there it is. The Kindle sales are now driving the print edition sales and vice versa. I love it that books now have a life of their own with no time limits. My books can stay out as e-books for as long as I want them to.
Where do you get your ideas for your books?
I get my ideas mainly from studying history. I taught World History to high school students for twenty years and loved every minute of it. So I have an innate interest in all kinds of history, but Pennsylvania is my home state and it’s history holds an even greater attraction for me. I like to read about some seemingly obscure event and explore the possibilities of how this might have affected the lives of common people. Once I get interested in a topic, I research it exhaustively. The story usually emerges from the research.
How long have you wanted to be a writer?
Pretty much all my life. I think I wrote my first story at the age of eleven. People recognized my talent early, but I kept putting it on the back burner – college, work, marriage, children – the classic story of a woman’s life. I’m grateful to have this opportunity to write before I’m too old to enjoy it.
What’s your favorite part of writing? What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
My favorite part of writing is making up characters. I love creating them completely as I want them to be. What a sense of power! For me, good characters are more important than good plot. I may not remember the plot of Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird, but I’ll remember Huck and Scout for the rest of my life. I want to make characters like that.
The most challenging part of writing for me isn’t writing at all. It’s marketing. As a self-published author, all of the marketing tasks fall to me. I have to do it, but it takes my time and energy away from writing, and all I want to do is write.
How did you decide to publish your work on your own? Have you made any plans to seek a traditional publishing deal? Why or why not?
I’ve had a couple of agents, but I find the process of getting published too slow. I think I would make it sometime, maybe, but it seems as though an author has to make her way through multiple layers of subjectivity before the public ever gets to see her work. In today’s world, the reader really is the judge. There is no one between the reader and me. If they like my work, they’ll tell their friends and look for more. If they don’t, no amount of self-promotion is going to change that.