Q&A With Judith Turner-Yamamoto

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Q&A With Judith Turner-Yamamoto

Judith Turner-Yamamoto is a journalist and author. As an art historian she came to hone her writing skills describing what she saw. Judith has written many short stories, & for many publications, including The Boston Globe Magazine, Elle, Interiors, Art & Antiques, The Lost Angeles Times & Travel & Leisure. Judith recently came out with her debut novel Loving The Dead And Gone, a Mariel Hemingway Book Club pick and winner of the 2023 Historical Novel Award from the North Carolina Society of Historians. Named the Gold Medal winner in Southern Regional Fiction in the 2023 Independent Publisher Book Awards, the book was also shortlisted for the 2023 UC-Berkeley Eric Hoffer Book Awards Grand Prize, where it was also an honorable mention in General Fiction and finalist for the Eric Hoffer First Horizon Award for Debut Fiction.   


Q: Would you like to tell the readers of the blog and I about Loving The Dead And Gone? How did you come up with the idea for the book? 

A: In Loving the Dead and Gone a freak car accident in 1960s rural North Carolina puts in motion moments of grace that bring redemption to two generations of women and the lives they touch. 

Loving the Dead and Gone found seed in my first memory at three of a tragic family death which conflated with family infidelities that came after. As writers, we tend to use our art to process and understand the emotions we’re feeling. Writing about fractured families is not an easy task, one requiring courage, vulnerability, and the willingness to face our own wounds. The harder it is to write about, where it feels too close to home, the better the material will be. Our stories have the power to heal, both ourselves and our readers. In the cracks in our families, we can find the space to explore and understand our own traumas, to navigate emotions, and to come out the other side transformed.

Q: You’ve written many short stories and wrote for many respected publications. For those who want to submit their short stories and topics for the publications you write for, what would be the steps people need to take in order to do it?

A: Start small and build your way up. I started writing art reviews as a graduate student for the University paper, then built my portfolio up with local newspapers and art magazines before approaching national publications. It’s important to hear an area of expertise that Positions you in the subject matter you want to write about. That was my curatorial experience at the Smithsonian Institution. From the arts, I expanded in to writing about books, interiors, food and travel. The same was true for fiction I started submitting short stories to smaller lesser known literary journals and worked my way up.

Q: In your bio of course you being an art historian helped your writing skills. Do you use bits and pieces of real people and places to create your short stories and your novel? 

A: I would say place is the real outsized character in this novel. Richard Peabody, editor of Gargoyle Magazine, nailed it when he said, “This bittersweet paean to a NC Piedmont hosiery mill town is a mid- 20th century time capsule of car wrecks, nerve medicine, open caskets, ghosts and gossip.” I did not have an easy relationship with the place where I grew up; somewhere I was always trying to escape, first through the magic of books and reading. The limits of very small towns, especially Southern ones, can be crushing, particularly for the questioning and intellectually curious. All this was confounded by an absent father and a boundary-less narcissistic mother, their tumultuous relationship and infidelities, and having adulthood foisted upon me at an early age. This place holds both familial connection and estrangement. You could call this story the compulsive return to a traumatic site.

Q: How long did it take you to write Loving The Dead And Gone?

A: 35 years, five rewrites, three agents, 15 awards, three other novel manuscripts. The road to publication is a lot more complicated than people can imagine. 

Q: Where is your favorite spot to sit down and plot, write and edit your work? 

A: My #Barbiecore studio –totally pink and cocooning!

Q: If you are writing book 2 now, can you reveal details about the plot or is it too soon to say?

A: My second novel, When There Becomes Here, picks up with Darlene Spencer, last seen in my debut novel LOVING THE DEAD AND GONE, has since spent eighteen restless years crisscrossing the South, choosing towns by the alphabet, where running doesn’t get her anywhere. She’s stuck, holding onto Donald Ray, who left her a widow at seventeen. A random meeting with Troy Pickett, an aspiring neo-traditional country singer half her age, puts in motion a road story set in the striving world of musical performance.

The novel unfolds in the early 1980s when country music was prime for rebirth led by an emerging generation of country music neo-traditionalists. It’s a moment when someone like Troy, from nowhere and from nothing, could break through, a moment when someone exactly like Troy did. Randy Travis released Storms of Life in 1986; the album changed the course of country music history. 

Q: If The Dead And Gone, were to be snatched up by Hollywood who would be your ideal cast to play the characters?

A: Meryl Streep IS Aurilla. The rest I’ll leave to a casting director. 

Q: Who are/were your biggest supporters of your writing goals and dreams?

A: I’ll say it was I: I had to believe that I had stories worth telling and sharing, despite the unending rejection that is part of being a writer. Today, I feel incredibly lucky to be supported by all the wonderful authors that my book has introduced me to, through public appearances, book festivals, and within the confines of Regal House Publishing. 

Q: Do you still write for The Boston Globe Magazine, Elle, Interiors, Art & Antiques, The Lost Angeles Times & Travel & Leisure? 

A: I’m really focused on my fiction at this point and only occasionally contribute to magazines.