The Writing Life with Judge Debra H. Goldstein, Author of 'One Taste Too Many'

Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of One Taste Too Many, the first of Kensington’s new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series. She also wrote Should Have Played Poker and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Her short stories, including Anthony and Agatha nominated “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly. Debra is president of Sisters in Crime’s Guppy Chapter, serves on SinC’s national board, and is president of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.




What got you into writing?
When I was a child, I spoke too quickly to always be understood. As a way of getting me to slow down, my father and I read poetry aloud every night. During those evening sessions, I learned to articulate more slowly, but I also came to appreciate the beauty of the written word. It was then, I decided I wanted to be a writer.

What do you like best about being an author?

Although it is exciting to see anything I write in print or in a reader’s hands, the best thing about being an author are the other writers I am privileged to interact with. Not only have I had the opportunity to meet and learn from authors I read and admired for years, but the entire mystery community has been welcoming, warm, and encouraging to me.

When do you hate it?

The only time I hate being an author is when the words aren’t flowing.

What is a regular writing day like for you?

When I wrote my first two books, I was still a sitting judge. Because the hours of my day job were demanding, my writing time was limited to weekends and between midnight and two a.m. Once I followed my passion and gave up my lifetime appointment, I thought I would spend more hours writing. I don’t. Instead, I tend to check e-mails, exercise, run errands, handle PR, do volunteer activities or meet friends in the morning and depending upon the day, write in the late afternoon, evening or early morning hours – I’m still a night owl when it comes to writing.

Do you think authors have big egos?

There are people in every field who have big egos (remember, my prior career was spent with lawyers), but I have found the authors in the mystery community to be warm and inviting. Individuals who have earned the right to have big egos are often the most congenial and helpful.

How do you handle negative reviews?

When I receive a negative review, I read it carefully to analyze its credibility and see if there is anything I can learn or improve from the reviewer’s comments. I don’t respond or defend myself, even when I want to. Early in my career, I received a scathing one-star Amazon review of Maze in Blue that accused me of everything from poor writing to not even being able to properly describe the way a main road ran. It was very difficult to not take the writer on, but I didn’t have to. The next reviewer gave the Maze a five-star rating and explained that she had been on the University of Michigan’s campus during the 70’s when the book was set. She commended me on getting everything right, including how the main road before it was diverted six months later when the new dental school was built. Her review and several others more than countered the one bad review.

How do you handle positive reviews?

Positive reviews are easy handle – I happy dance.

What is the usual response when you tell a new acquaintance that you’re an author?

Generally, when I tell people I’m an author, the first question is “what do you write?” Often, the person tries to share with me a great idea for a book that I can write, a great idea for a book the person wants to write or a great idea that we should write together. I say, “tries to share,” because I usually cut the person off mid-sentence explaining I couldn’t possibly take their idea, but they should find the time to write it because I’m sure it will be wonderful. 

To be honest, in my case, people are usually more interested in why I walked away from my judgeship. With a skeptic look, they question my sanity giving up a guaranteed income and community respect for the unsure life of a writer.

What do you do on those days you don’t feel like writing? Do you force it or take a break?

When I don’t feel like writing, I don’t force it. I may spend time attending to PR needs or volunteer responsibilities, or I may simply read a book or catch up on my recorded TV shows.

Any writing quirks?

The main quirk I have when I write is that I do it best with show music playing in the background. There is something about the mix of lyrics and music that relaxes me, while simultaneously prompting me to type at an accelerated speed. When my ideas flow and the music is playing, I type at the same pace as the beat of the music.

What would you do if people around you didn’t take your writing seriously or see it as a hobby?

I think a lot of people didn’t take it seriously in the beginning. I simply ignored them and kept on plodding along. When my books and stories began to be published and I gave up my seat on the bench, they realized how serious I was.

Some authors seem to have a love-hate relationship to writing. Can you relate? 

I can’t relate to authors who have a love-hate relationship to writing because to me, even on a bad day, it is a joy. Some people say they write because they must, but I’m fortunate to have many interests and to be able to write because I want to. If it doesn’t work, I can take a day off. When my writing is going well, I get into an unbelievably peaceful zone during which I lose all track of time, but which convinces me that writing is the right thing for me.

What’s on the horizon for you?  

2019 looks to be a wonderful writing year. Not only will my Sarah Blair series have just launched with the publication of One Taste Too Many, but the second book in the series, Two Bites Too Many will be out in October. PR for One Taste Too Many will take me to many cities and give me the ability to meet many people.

I also write short stories. This year, my short story “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” which was published by Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine (May/June 2017) was named a 2018 finalist for the Agatha and Anthony awards. Although the year hasn’t begun, I already have contracts for publication of five more stories in periodicals and anthologies.

Leave us with some words of wisdom about the writing process or about being a writer.

Read, learn to love words, and rather than talking about it, make the time to write.

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