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Judith Marks-White

10/29/15

Ms Marks-White, humorist, novelist and columnist gave her presentation using an interview format for the most part, which consisted of questions and answers.

Q.  What is your earliest writing memory?

A.  It was a second grade poem, which impressed my teacher who later read it at an assembly.

Q.  Where are you from?

A.  New Jersey and Manhattan.

Q.  Are you an only child?

A.  Yes.

Q.  How did that impact you as a writer?

A.  It allowed me a lot of solitude time, which led to introspection.

Q.  Is writing a quiet business?

A.  Not the way I do it.  I do it in restaurants and other places where there are a lot of people around.  For me it helps the process.

Q.  Did your early years impact your writing style?

A.  Everything you are exposed to impacts your style.  My early years certainly did along with my later exposure to all types of arts.

Q.  Does your appreciation of other arts carry over to your writing?

A.  I believe it does.

Q.  What about your education?

A.  I started college as a pre-med student.  When I caused an accident in a chemistry lab the professor suggested I rethink my major.  I did because I realized I didn’t really love science. After leaving school, my first job was at Revlon.  That lasted until I was faced with introducing a Japanese gentleman to the boss.  The man’s name was pronounced “fuck-yo”.  I broke into hysterics and was fired.

Q.  What was your first writing job?

A.  It was for Time-Life books.  Then I moved to Westport in 1973 and started writing several humorous pieces.  One day I got a phone call from the Editor of the Westport News.  She asked me to write a regular humor column for the paper.  I didn’t know if I could do it by my husband said take it.  You should never say no.  So I did.  My first columns were a disaster.  I was working too hard at trying to be funny.  Later, I learned how to write humor.  

Q.  Does your humor reflect your regular life?

A.  There is always a germ of reality in my humor and for some topics like when I write about my family they are very realistic. For instance when I write about my father it reflects the closeness I had with him especially when he took me to baseball games where he relaxed and became more male and I could stuff myself with hot dogs.  

Q. What is your writing routine?

A.  In the mornings, I go over what I wrote the day before and do some editing.  At lunch I write new material at a restaurant.  But writing for columns is very different than writing novels.  For columns you write against a deadline.  For novels you have a lot of pages to fill.

Q.  How do you decide on a novel?

A.  I always have ideas for novels in my head.  My first novel came about after sending 20-50 pages to an agent I met at a party.  She then told me to finish the novel and later sold it in two weeks as a two book deal.  I was very lucky.

Q.  Is your connection to Westport reflected in your novels?

A.  My first novel was set in Westport using another name for the town.  Westport is also present in my second novel and will be again in the third.

Q.  What other authors would you have at a dinner party?

A.  Nora Ephron, John Updike and Calvin Trillin. 

Q.  How does being a mother influence your writing?

A.  My daughter was shocked by my first book, which is somewhat racy.

Q.  Have any of your acquaintances expressed reactions to your books?

A.  A friend I mentioned in a book by her real name was appalled and asked me to contact the publisher and have her name removed.  I explained that it couldn’t be done so she stopped speaking with me. 

Q.  How did the second book come about?

A.  As I mentioned, I had a two book deal and no idea what the second would be about.  But I came up with an idea that focused on the characters.  My books are all character driven.  They dictate the plot, which I don’t know beforehand.  

Q.  What about your third novel?

A.  That will involve a mother and daughter who both lose their husbands with the daughter coming to Westport to live with her mother.  Both women then find new male relationships.

Q.  Can anybody be a successful writer?

A.  If you have the desire anyone can write, but many will not be commercially successful.

Q.  What about your teaching?  You won the “Teacher of the Year award”.

A.  I starting teaching because, again, my husband said I should.  The awards came as a complete surprise. I find teaching very pleasurable.

Q.  Why is teaching such a good experience?

A.  It provides a lot of interaction, which is good.  I really enjoy it.  I am starting a writing workshop at the Westport library soon.

Q.  Do you have someone read over your work before submitting it?

A.  Yes.  I have a regular reader who does that for me. 

Audience Q & A

Q.  With your teaching, how do you impart your wisdom to others?

A.  Enthusiasm helps a lot, but nothing works with your own children.

Q.  Where do you eat lunch?

A.  Usually at the So-No café in Westport.

Q.  Do you ever doubt your own writing?

A.  All the time, but as I got older, I stopped worrying about it and now I write what I want to write. 

Q.  How do you feel about writing a memoir?

A.  Memoirs are interesting, but you have to be very well known for them to sell.  If anyone is interested in writing one, they should, but don’t expect it to sell.  They are like essays.  They don’t sell.

Q.  Does your editing ever result in a product that you are not satisfied with?

A.  Frequently, but you can’t obsess about the editing.  Sometimes you just have to go with it.  Usually, if something is good or bad you feel it.

Q.  Do you write by hand or by computer?

A.  I write by hand in restaurants then I transcribe it on a computer.  I always feel more creative when I write by hand. 

Q.  What has been the most gratifying response to your writing?

A.  I had a child contact me and tell me that my columns inspired him to become a writer when he grew up.  That was terrific.

Q.  Do you have any recommendations for aspiring unpublished writers?

A.  It is very difficult to sell a book to a publisher.  Self-publishing has become increasingly popular with some notable commercial successes.