Member Spotlight: Judy Woodward Bates releases new mystery

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

Author and Southern Christian Writers Conference member Judy Woodward Bates has been known for years as "The Bargainomics Lady," but she's now ventured out with her newly-published cozy mystery novel.

The book, appropriately, is called A Bargain to Die For and is based on her own experience as a bargain expert; it's newly released and available on Amazon and at Judy's website.

The experience in getting the book published was an eye-opening one for Judy, and she's excited to share her insight with fellow writers and SCWC members.

I recently talked to Judy about her book, but also her varied experiences as a published author in different genres and how faith affects and propels her writing.

Q: How did you get started in writing, and specifically as The Bargainomics Lady?

I've been writing just about my whole life. When my paternal grandfather, Papa Woodward, passed away, I was in the 2nd grade. The only way I knew to express my grief was to write about it. "Papa was a good man, a kind and gentle man. He worked 'til he was 72 and then his deathbed came." I was 7 years old.

My mom did a lot of substitute teaching in the junior high part of our school, Graysville, and I had an older sister. Between them, I was taught to read by about age 3 and was reading books before I started first grade.

I was 17 and Larry was 20 when we married. I was determined not to ask my folks for help - I'd turned down a college scholarship offer to marry Larry, and needless to say, my folks weren't wild about my choice. Anyway, I pinched pennies and worked all sorts of jobs, the longest of which was in the Pharmacy Dept of UAB Hospital where the Lord miraculously pointed me back to writing. I was given the departmental newsletter to edit and I had so much fun making it into something that was entertaining rather than merely dull info. This kicked off my writing bug and I began submitting to magazines galore. At one time I had 50 rejection letters in my desk drawer (back in the day of actual paper submissions and responses). FInally, I got a few "yes"es, and began writing for some Baptist publications. Being one of their writers made it mandatory to attend a writers' workshop in Nashville each year. That's where I met Sammie Barstow and Lisa Ford. They encouraged me, and Sammie and I stayed in touch. She told me about SCWC and I attended back when it was held at Samford. I learned so much!

Meanwhile, word of my frugality opened some doors for me and I began being invited to speak at churches and civic functions. My very first speaking engagement was announced on the marquis and a TV station (33/40, maybe - not sure) showed up and put a 30-second clip on their news segment that evening. That led to many invitations to speak on TV and radio and, eventually, to my regular spots on WBRC Fox 6 News at Noon and Good Day Alabama. I began my website when the speaking opportunities first opened up, and I've been posting tips, etc. ever since. I combined a lot of the info from my posts and articles I'd written and turned them into The Gospel Truth about Money Management, my first book, published by New Hope ages ago.

Q: What other writing have you've done?

After the speaking opportunities mushroomed, I left UAB and began doing some travel writing. My first opportunity came in the form of a regular column in a small weekly newspaper. I highlighted free and inexpensive places to see around the state of Alabama, combining what eventually became "Bargainomics" (when I trademarked the word) with travel suggestions. That expanded as the speaking engagements grew. I was traveling to speak, so why not write about what I was seeing? After a number of articles had appeared in different magazines, including American Profile, North Georgia Journal, and Alabama Living, I began to receive invitations from PR firms for press trips, a.k.a. media tour, to all sorts of places. Whether I placed the article elsewhere or not, I always included it on my website's travel page, and often used info I'd learned on the press trip to introduce my audiences to new places and the best deals I'd learned about. In my second book, which I self-published under Bargainomics Publications' logo, I included some of the places I'd visited on these trips.

Q: Now you've ventured into mystery novels. How did the idea come about for the book?

I'm glad you asked! I'd written short mystery stories, but never a novel. I finally began one in earnest, and then I paid the big bucks to attend a Jerry Jenkins conference at The Cove. (I'm sure there were other speakers there, but he's who stands out.) One of his offerings was entitled "Thick-Skinned Critique." You submitted 2 or 3 chapters of your work and then returned for the next day's class to hear what Jerry and his team had to say about your writing. "Thick-Skinned" was correct, because the critiques were brutal. They didn't give out names, but they read excerpts to the entire class and did more than critique. They criticized. They belittled. They were so brutal in their remarks that one young lady jumped up from her seat and fled in tears. I'd guess she's never written another word. My writing was shredded.

Unlike the young lady before me, I left the class more determined than ever to write and certain I didn't need Jerry Jenkins' help to get 'er done. I'd been reviewing cozy mysteries for Publishers Weekly for quite some time by then, and I had learned a lot from reading both good and not-so-good whodunits.

I began a whole new mystery. The characters began to take on lives of their own - that's always a good thing in fiction - and I was sometimes shocked and sometimes surprised at how they developed. For years, I've written down ideas in notebooks, so going back and pulling up names, places, etc was easy, but most were pulled straight from my imagination. Since then, I've written  sequel, but I'm now thinking I need another book in between these two.

Q: What is your novel about?

In A Bargain to Die For, I'm myself, the Bargainomics Lady, but I'm doing segments on a fictional TV station, WEEE - "WEEE put the fun in entertainment." When I leave the station and drive to my artist cousin Millie's home/studio, we drive into Birmingham to deliver some of her art pieces to a gallery. We discover the back door standing open and the owner nowhere around. What we do find is blood on the storeroom floor. That begins an adventure to find out what the burglar was looking for (since we could find nothing missing) and how the break-in is tied to the death of another artist's son-in-law. By the time this mystery is solved, Millie and I are in mortal danger and we've learned the mystery item is, for some, to die for.

Q: How did the publishing process for this book go?

After my third nonfiction book (self-published the last two), I was pretty burnt on traditional publishers. It had been under consideration by a publisher, and then months passed with nothing happening. After 18 months, I was told it would probably be on the next year's publishing list. At that point, I pulled the book from the publisher and published it myself. And I might add that I made more money doing it this way since I had speaking opportunities, plus invitations to talk about the book on national radio programs. With the mystery, it, too, went to a publisher, was under consideration, and held for about a year. Once again, I reclaimed my manuscript, found a very savvy person to prepare the interior of the book for publishing and help me create the cover. This was an arduous process, but the finished product was worth the wait. Self-published books have had a bad rep, and rightfully so, in many instances. Proofing and perfecting (as much as possible) a manuscript and putting the final touches on a book are critical to turning out a quality product. A friend once asked me to help him with a book he planned to published. It was a series of true life short stories and they were hilarious. Only problem was he couldn't spell kat. I worked to polish the book, but he was impatient and wanted to move forward with getting it published. Since he traveled extensively to art shows, he had great opportunities to sell the book. When he presented me with my copy, I flipped to the excerpt on the back cover and read, "He hit his breaks and the car skidded to a halt." What could have been a wonderful book instead was churned out prematurely with countless errors. 

Whatever it takes to make the book what it should be, do it. No shortcuts. And let me add: don't go with one of these vanity presses who'll charge you arms and legs to turn out your book. Do your homework. Find the best fit for your project, be it Amazon or someone like Instant Publisher is located just outside of Memphis and will allow you to pick up your books yourself rather than having to pay shipping,a and their charges are reasonable. That's just an example. There are many reliable, reasonably priced publishers out there.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers in general and aspiring novelists in particular?

Do it. Write. Keep a notebook with you. I've had a lady's name in one notebook for years: Ostelle. I just love the name, and one of these days, I'm going to use it. Don't get discouraged. If you can't not write - yes, I wrote what I meant - you're a writer. Me, I can't not write. I have to. And if that describes you, you're a writer. There are no shortcuts to getting published. Few of us will write the one great novel. But we can write. Whether it's about our families, our church, our travels, or our imaginations, if it sticks in your head, it's worth writing. I can't stress enough: do your homework. Attend SCWC. Read books about writing. Join a writers' group.

Above all, write, because this is how you hone your craft. Which brings me to my final point under this question. Give your work away. Get it out there. But even when you aren't being paid, give nothing but your best. Getting your name out there is worth those giveaways. And submit, submit, submit. If I remember correctly, John Grisham's A TIme to Kill was rejected by 47 publishers before he got a yes.

Q: How does faith play a part in your writing?

Vital. As Christians, we're to "do all for the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31, NLT). I don't want my name on something that doesn't honor Him. And I want to show secular readers that you don't need profanity or sex to write a good solid whodunit. I've said this many times, but if Christians don't write the books or articles, guess who does! A book doesn't have to be sappy or soaked in Scripture passages to be God-honoring. If you read A Bargain to Die For, you'll see what I mean. And if you're a mystery buff, I'd highly recommend TIm Downs' Bug Man series.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your life outside of writing.

Larry and I live in Corner - literally the corner of Jefferson/Walker/Blount Counties. We're members of Gardendale First Baptist. We enjoy water sports and the outdoors and travel. During one of my assignments, we met a Norwegian gospel group, the Nordstrand Brothers. Since that time way back in 1998, we've become more family than friends with this group and their wives and children. We take turns visiting each other, although the pandemic spoiled this year's plans. Per and Iren Nordstrand are the closest to us of all three couples, and we've traveled a lot of the U.S. together, as well as Spain, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, and many other places, as well as covering just about every inch of Norway.

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Where can you buy A BARGAIN TO DIE FOR?

(1) You can order it from Amazon in Kindle eBook or paperback

(2) You can phone, go by, or go online to Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million & have them order it for you.

(3) You can stop by Jeff Dennis Jewelers or Gardendale First Baptist Church's bookstore in Gardendale, AL & pick up a copy.

(4) You can order a signed copy directly from me by mailing $10 check or money order to: JUDY BATES, P.O. BOX 90, EMPIRE, AL 35063.

Check out A Bargain to Die for on Amazon. (It's available in paperback and Kindle.)

Check out Judy's Amazon Author Page.

Check out Judy's Bargainomics website.

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