Interview With Author Judith Peck

# Please introduce yourself and your book!

My name is Judith Peck. I am a sculptor, Professor Emeritus of Art at the state college Ramapo College of New Jersey and author of the novel Naked Under the Lights. The book is about art and family dynamics. That I am a working artist (currently showing four large steel sculptures –“Ladies of Steel”– on the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York, Gateway to the UN) a mother of four, grandma of 13, divorced after 32 years of marriage, tells you that I’m rather keen on art and family dynamics.

# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book?

When I was a student at the Art Students League in New York City taking an evening sculpture class, the serious students (I was on a year-long merit scholarship) were invited to a surprise birthday party for our teacher. I was thrilled to be in the company of well known artists, seeing them up close with their wives (well-known artists in the 70’s were only men). Everyone was in high spirits, the wife who made the party putting on a particularly spirited show as hours went by with her husband not showing up, the guest of honor in bed for the evening with a League model. This real event triggered the novel, a story about this family: a driven artist, their 18-year old daughter Sonata, idolizing her father the great artist rarely seen usually cloistered in his studio, and Ruth holding it all together with a creative fabric of her own. A mix of thread-bare cloth and knotted cord, a fabrication.

# What inspires/inspired your creativity?

There is no single thing that inspires my creativity. It is an organic energy abroil on the inside, summonable by virtually anything: A colorfully striped chipmunk skedaddling through a bush then perched on a log to clean himself, twitching and licking, then racing across the lawn quicker than I could draw a pencil line. I need to write about why a chipmunk is adorable and a mouse is repugnant. Is it beauty that makes us love them, like nature presents the baby to the parent with fat rosy cheeks and large curious eyes and smiles like bursts of sunshine – to have us treasure them and so give the care to them that they need to survive.

# How do you deal with creative block?

It is always a good idea, if you have a schedule – which I do not – to begin a writing session by going over and editing what you’ve already written before. That bit of “getting into it” can start the juices rolling, or at least cause you not to despise yourself. Forces of negativity are always ready to assert themselves. Inertia is a powerful force. The sneaky duplicity of its lack of action and its draconian effect to immobilize you must be recognized. Your brain recognize this and acts on it, ever predicting what you want and should do by what you have done. But look, you have pulled yourself away from other tasks (more productive with actual results you can see like cleaning the scabs off the microwave tray) and sat down at the computer ready to write (which nobody wants from you, least of all your family and maybe you at times). Crossing that hurdle should tell you and your faithful brain that are a contender. Move on.

Once you are writing little blocks appear along the way. Taking a walk can help. I make frequent trips to the fridge looking for the right word. I generally find a piece of cheese and begin looking for a piece of bread to put it on but invariably I also find the right word. The body is connected to the brain in many subtle ways, so it may surprise you that your legs could produce something your memory could not.

# What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

I make mistakes all the time—in daily life, consequences of forgetting, misinterpreting, moving too fast, not foreseeing possible end results. Expecting that you will do this and accepting that these goofs will occur and reoccur, it works to adapt a forgiving attitude. Scream if it helps: “For crying out loud, can’t I ever learn!” In your book, the characters may take you astray; they can revel like unruly children in taking you off the path. Before you haul them back to the logic of where they belong and tie them with stiff ropes to your plot, look first at a possible new angle on their personalities leading to an action. We reason and conclude with our pre-frontal cortex but our brain has other resources at the ready for creative thinking. Yes, it may take pages to rework from taking a new path that turns out to be a mistake, just as in life which you must accept and forgive yourself. The biggest mistakes? Not to be open to ideas you’d never have thought of when something wow! strikes you. Writing fiction is an adventure, another life, and mistakes can be opportunities.

# Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

You have in mind the emotional essence of your story, and viewing an assortment of sample images, as I did in my novel Seeing in the Dark, Arielle’s Story, I knew at once when the image came up that it was right. The cover for my novel Naked Under the Lights is my own drawing which had been created for my students in a life drawing class when I demonstrated the assignment to create a quick abstraction of the model’s pose.

# How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

I have little experience to offer here, having had few of my books reviewed.

# How has your creation process improved over time?

I think confidence and courage – one leading to the other – is the secret to this answer. The silent almost imperceptible progression of this slowly acting partnership evolves into proficiency as the many needed elements of writing a book emerge: language, organization, focus, energy. Creativity has ever been there but the process of putting it into form tests you from the start. The courage to let out this energy into compelling words and sentences, themes, plots, characters, misadventures and conclusions. Courage takes time, possibly a lifetime, for as a sculptor and writer, I am still working on it.

# What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book?

The combined worst and most surprising is how little — actually nothing — is done by the publisher to promote your book after it is published. The demands for the author, after an accepted book and signed contract, to submit promotional copy, photographs and special captions for handicapped readers, chapter summaries, permissions, index, statements by professionals for the back cover, picture for the front cover, precise reference material with page, source, credentials and address, multiple reading and responding to editorial comments and changes by a firm hired in India affording no opportunity to communicate, and enumerable other tasks all take months of hard work without help. This extra work done with the ultimate expectation, after publication, of the author herself getting the book to readers, is unfair at best considering the years of actually writing a book that the publisher wants to produce. At worst it is depressing in the extreme, in my case feeling inadequate for the job, untrained in PR, unfamiliar with social media and lacking the contacts and resources needed. This response applies more to my two non-fiction books published one this year and one the previous year and apply less to the novel. Here too I was expected by the publisher to do the promotion of my book myself. I still felt inadequate but because no plethora of preceding tasks were demanded, I was not angry. As a member of the Authors Guild I am familiar with authors having to participate in the promotion of their books, The unwelcome surprise is when so much preparation by the author is demanded, little if anything used and the book left out to dry on the vine.

# What role do emotions play in creativity?

Emotion is at the heart of most successful artistic endeavors. Artists probably have a yearning – unrequited to be sure – resulting from something they can barely name – loneliness, shame, humiliation, guilt – which drives them toward something equally nebulous (though to be seen, accepted, revered and possibly loved seems to satisfy.) Bits and pieces of these beastly emotions remain inside, compelling you to write, or create music or art or some other creation, and though you rarely see them outright, they are forceful. In my case, making sculpture came first for several decades and then came writing when I had too much to say to fit on a pedestal or even stand more than 7-foot high. So emotion rules on both ends of the creative process – for the artist and for the viewer.

# Do you have any creative tricks?

Not tricks but strategies. Forgiving myself for not being productive all morning (when suddenly busting with creative energy late afternoon into the evening – or not at all.) Having notepaper and pen always in my handbag. Ensuring that I have 8 or at minimum 7 hours sleep so that all the sights and sounds I’ve perceived during my waking hours can empty our to make room for new engaging and inspiring thoughts and perceptions.

# What are your plans for future books

I have completed the first draft of a novel about an art therapist and painter of dark abstracts, teaching at a college, who helps solve the mystery of a school shooting through her craft.

# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

After completing this lengthy questionnaire as thoughtfully as possible to deliver honest answers that might contain some value, I do not feel at all quirky. Besides, any quirky aspects of myself that exist would lie in the perceptual realm of others, so I’ll have to pass on this one.



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