In this interview, Judy discusses her latest book, The Gathering of Gemstones, a poetry collection. She also shares with us regarding her inspirations and experiences.
Polite On Society: Who is Judy Andrews? Tell us about yourself.
Judy C. Andrews: I am a loving, warm, inspiring, idealistic, compassionate African American woman who loves to write about the human condition as it relates to the African American experience. My greatest joy is to have people read or listen to something I’ve written and come away feeling enlightened, motivated, and good about who they are or aspire to become.
My goal as a writer is to uplift people who may feel hopeless. The characters in my work (educators, foster children, and freemasons) are usually amateur sleuths who find ways to escape danger to restore peace in their community. Characters are usually placed in challenging or dangerous conditions, but they always find the courage to prevail. Someone, really a multitude of people, helped me prevail! It is my human duty to return the care, and I try to do it through writing. I write because it is one of the things that gives me the most satisfaction.
POS: Can you tell us a little about your previous two books: An Ocean of Jewels and A Gift to Treasure?
JA: The novel, An Ocean of Jewels, is loosely based on my life. I came of age in the foster care system, from age 7 to 21, and I knew nothing about my biological family. In the novel, the main character goes on a heart-stopping, suspenseful search for answers about her biological family after her father dies on her 29th birthday. She uncovers startling truths about her parents and their relationship with each other and their family, much like I did. For example, I was ashamed to let people know that I was a foster child.
I thought I was poor. I learned after college that I came from a family of devout Catholics who lived in beautiful homes with fireplaces, in Georgia. I only imagined people living like this, or I saw homes like this on television. My cousins are teachers, doctors, lawyers, and live well in Savannah, Georgia. I learned I come from a rich heritage of Gullah/Geechee people. My father spoke Gullah to me until the day he died, but I didn’t learn about this heritage until I was an adult. The novel explores the beauty of the Gullah islands, culture, and the narrator discovers connections between her family, the Jewish Holocaust, Orphan Trains, and the history of Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Weeksville community.
The novel, A Gift To Treasure, is also one of suspense, but deals with the subjects of trafficking, insurance fraud, and the abuse of opioid drugs. Two African American women end up missing after investigating these things, and a 14-year-old girl is at the center of this story. I was horrified doing research about sex trafficking as well as the abuse of opioids within the African American community, and I decided to write about this. I was also tired of seeing hundreds of reports of missing African American women, but less than a handful of networks covering these stories in the media. African American people are rarely reported missing or there is rarely ever an attempt to solve their cases.
POS: What inspired you to write The Gathering of Gemstones: A Poetry Collection?
JA: My poetry book’s theme is based on two ideas: Dr. Maya Angelou’s belief that rainbows are divine and give us hope as well as something beautiful and positive to look forward to, physically, and metaphorically. Dr. Mary Jane McLeod Bethune believed that everyone is a diamond in the rough, and that we all have to be polished. To me, this means everyone can improve and strive to be the best. Both women were activists who wished to encourage the African American community with their work. So, my book, The Gathering of Gemstones: A Poetry Collection, was born out of these two ideas.
Since the human condition had its first experience on the African continent, I believe that the world is a hopeful place where people of the African diaspora can find peace within self. Although, we struggle in a world that continues to pillage our freedom for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, especially during this pandemic and continued display of intense racism and police brutality! There must be hope, because without it, there cannot be change. I believe change is on the way. All revolutions produced change. None of them were peaceful, but they came close to producing peace and change. And a lot of that was done through the written word.
POS: What was different for you in terms of the writing process? Writing poetry is very different from writing a novel.
JA: I don’t see much difference in the writing process between poetry and prose. In my poetry book, there are traditional genres of poetry, such as, prose poems, Shakespearean sonnets, Japanese haiku, cinquains, free verse, and experimental free verse. In my novels I try to infuse prose that is sprinkled with the poetic use of literary devices, such as metaphors, imagery, and personification. I enjoy telling stories through poetry. Poetry is really an observation of our world; a play on art imitating life.
POS: What advice would you give to aspiring writers and poets?
JA: The advice I can give to aspiring writers and poets is to not let fear of the unknown limit your writing. I had no idea what the writing business was like. I just wanted to write, everything! These days, a lot of writers look to seek to be instant hits, fame, and money! I did! That was disappointing! There are millions of gifted, talented, hard-working writers out here. What makes you one of them is that you must write every day, even if there is no prospect of income. I also believe in self-publishing because you have more control over your work (intellectual property).
When I published my first book, I was still working as an English teacher. I did that for 27 years before I retired early four years ago. Take care of your needs first: keep a roof over your head, food in your stomach, pay your bills on time to establish good credit, get a job with health benefits and a retirement plan! This maintains your survival! Then write! You can start with just ten minutes a day. You will be surprised how that time expands.
I thought I could have two careers at the same time, one as a teacher and one as a writer. It was difficult for me to do that because I equally loved both of them! I had to make a choice. While I worked as a teacher, I wrote at night, and barely slept. Before I became a teacher, I worked in the trade publishing field, which paid next to nothing. I thought I would become a journalist, because I loved writing everything, but novels and poetry were what I felt I did best.
In college, I did a lot of freelance work, which paid next to nothing. After college, I got a job working for romance publications, and I freelanced for music publications. It was very discouraging, but I enjoyed all of those press and celebrity parties. I met a lot of them! I was working for trade publications, where I was usually the only African American woman.
I had to retire early from teaching because I would have been in the hospital! My problem was I cared too much. When you find yourself giving everything you have to a job and getting very little back, you must leave. When a job begins to affect your health, you must leave.
Now that I am retired, my life is wonderful! Now, if you’re retired, you have to maintain a daily schedule and routine, or you will become voluptuous as well as complacent! As a retiree, I get to write regularly (I’m working on my fourth book, another thriller of suspense), and I get to coach and advise college students with their research papers and classes (for free). I love what I do, and I think that now I have the best of both worlds. It’s never too late to start writing. Join a writing organization, take writing workshops, or go on a writing retreat. Have a plan, budget, and courage to write your truth. Everything else will fall into place.
I’d like to thank Judy for taking the time to tell us about her books. The Gathering of Gemstones is available on Amazon.com