Life—or at least my writing career—has come full circle. My first ever published book was fiction based on a real-life memoir. My new book is nonfiction with touches of fiction in occasional dialogue and scene—faction they sometimes call it. But there have been lots of digressions between those two titles, some forty-plus years apart.
I’ve been a writer since I was ten or twelve and distinctly remember submitting a story to Seventeen when I was about that age. But my first book, After Pa Was Shot, a young-adult novel, was published in 1978. I’ve written fiction and nonfiction for young adults, adults, and even second graders. Give me a topic and I’ll write about it, but my focus for years was women of the American West, with novels about Jessie Benton Frémont, Elizabeth Bacon (Mrs. George Armstrong) Custer, Lucille Mulhall, the first woman roper, and Etta Place and the Sundance Kid.
After almost thirty years with a small academic press, twenty of them as director, I retired and turned my attention to writing mysteries. Over the years I had read so many of them, I was just sure I could write one. I told myself I’d be content if I could just have one mystery in print. Now there are eight in the Kelly O’Connell Mystery Series, three in the Blue Plate Mystery Series, and two in the Oak Grove Mysteries.
In the midst of writing mysteries, I wrote The Gilded Cage, a history-based story set in Chicago, the city of my youth, in the last half of the nineteenth century. Following the life of Mrs. Potter Palmer (Bertha Honoré Palmer) it also chronicles the Great Fire, the Civil War years with a POW camp in the city, the labor troubles that erupted in a series of strikes and riots and the notable Haymarket Riot, and the Columbian Exposition. Potter Palmer, one of the most influential city fathers, built the Palmer House, an elegant hotel with its doors open to this day.
Today, I’m back to writing about women in the 19th and 20th centuries—with publication of The Second Battle of the Alamo. I’m now at work on a book about the Waggoner family, for 165 years owners of the largest U.S. ranch under one fence. Several interesting women in that family.
I am a past president of Western Writers of America and have been inducted into their Literary Hall of Fame. I have had awards from the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame, the Texas Institute of Letters, and Western Writers of America, Inc., including their Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement, and I was inducted into the Hall of Fame in June 2015. I belong to Sisters in Crime, the Guppies subgroup of Sisters in Crime, and the Texas Institute of Letters and I am a member of Women Writing the West. The Fort Worth Public Library elected me to their Texas Literary Hall of Fame. I am also passionate about cooking. I have always loved to experiment on guests, entertain, and explore new tastes, new techniques. In the last few years, however, I’ve found myself living in a tiny house with a tiny kitchen and no stove, only a hot plate and a toaster oven. But I still cook family meals and host happy hours. You can read about my cottage living and share my favorite new recipes in my newest cookbook, Gourmet on a Hot Plate: Tiny Kitchen Tips and Recipes. And check out my new interactive blog: Gourmet on a Hot Plate. And please do check out my other cookbooks—Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books and Texas is Chili Country.
There’s a third major element to my life besides writing and cooking. I am the proud mother of four and grandmother of seven. All of them, thank goodness, live in Texas, but only one in Fort Worth—one daughter, one son-in-law, one grandchild. The grandchildren used to love to stay at Camp Juju, the guest apartment attached to my garage. But now I’ve had the entire structure remodeled into a 600-square foot cottage that is my living space. I have an office area and a living-room area, a small but upscale bath, a huge walk-in closet, a small bedroom, and that tiny cooking area. My new home is called simply “The Cottage.” My local family has moved into the main house, and we enjoy being close but not too close.
When there are no kids or grandkids here, I am content in my cottage, with my dog Sophie, and a wonderful patio and view of the deck and yard. I am blessed with a bevy of friends, caring children, and plenty of writing to do. Keep up with me at my blogs, Judy’s Stew or Gourmet on a Hot Plate—or email me at .
Last updated: February 2020
The author and her clan during the 2019 Christmas holiday!