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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Judith Peck talks about the story of her family drama, Naked Under The Lights, and what inspired her to write it.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Judith Peck about her life and career, what inspired her to write her new family drama, Naked Under The Lights, and her creative writing process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Thanks for the question. The out-the door answer is I am a sculptor whose work is included in 80 public and private collections, my contemporary sculptures mainly in bronze, steel and fiberglass. I am also a writer with 8 published non-fiction books, 2 novels and 2 children’s books. Most to my credit and joy, I’m a mother of 4 amazing grown kids and 12 grandchildren, each doing impressive things.
The behind-the-walls answer to your question of who I am, however?—Well I’m not sure, some nooks and crannies I’m still waiting to find.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
In teaching my special approach to creative movement, the children, by their actions, enthusiasm and total involvement told me I had discovered something amazing. I had unearthed what I realized were natural endowments of children, attributes they had been using since birth to learn: their physical energy, imagination and need for self-expression. All this they were exploring in my classes of movement, imaginative ideas and stories. I needed to put what I’d discovered in my classes into a form to be shared by others.
Confused about how to organize all the material in the first draft, I took myself to a local hotel to figure it out, packing typewriter, coffee, snacks and no distractions. It took a long time to find a publisher knowing nothing about how to proceed, but Prentice-Hall finally published it. Leap to the Sun: Learning through Dynamic Play sold many thousand copies and was recommended for NYC elementary schools by the curriculum head of the Board of Education.
When did you take a step to start writing?
Answering the insightful intent of this question, I will talk about the novel rather than that first non-fiction book. I tool that step realizing deep unhappiness in my marriage with no way to articulate it. In a far off luncheonette on Route 59 where nobody knew me I imbibed unnumbered cups of coffee and started the novel on a yellow pad. I couldn’t begin at home. Too ridiculous, active mother and wife carving away at stones and woods, the kids behind me in the studio modeling clay. I always seemed to tell stories in my sculpture; they were ever about people, so the urge to expand these monolithic works, free-standing or on a pedestal, was a natural outreach to words.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
This answer is hard to believe but true. I worked on the novel while I was the arts, dance and drama counselor at a summer camp .My youngest daughter, age 5 at the time, sat on my lap delighted by the ping! of the typewriter as it reached the end of each line. She just turned 60. Many iterations preceded the novel’s publication in 2020.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
The latest book, to be released October 27th of this year by Routledge of Taylor & Francis, is an expansion of a book I wrote long ago, published by Prentice Hall, on discoveries I made in young children’s learning as I taught what I called dynamic play. With the research I needed to do on the correlation of brain activity and movement corroborating my discoveries, it took a fascinating two years.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Naked Under The Lights?
I should focus on the novel’s release, which I understand is the focus of this interview. As an artist with an imperative to make creations that nobody cares about but me, I can choose my medium. Usually, starting on a project there is a need for all artists, as for me in both my sculpture and writing to try to express or understand more fully things you care about.
In Naked Under the Lights, I wrote about a girl on the threshold of becoming a woman, a wife questioning her marriage, a model exposing her nudity as a gesture of sharing, and an artist’s thinking, passions, and unresolved issues. Giving life to each of these characters I could explore the fierce but quiet thoughts behind the energy of my actions.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Naked Under The Lights?
Courage has always been my challenge (which I’m still unearthing, shovel by shovel). How to write about shame. I can talk about bedwetting until age 10 and pride myself, due mainly to a smart and caring mother, that I have self-confidence in spite of that chagrin, and pretty good at problem solving. Because I was ever a loner, not fitting easily into groups small or large, I became a people-watcher. This grants me insights which are at the heart of story- telling, but courage to explore these more intimately remains my biggest challenge.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
The protagonist in Naked Under the Lights is ultimately the family, each member holding the frailties leading to its disintegration. Sonata at 18 with no future plans, plans a party as a tribute to her father (who has largely ignored her but whom she surrounds with the mystique of an unappreciated artist) to which everyone comes but him, in bed with his model.
This event, my Art Students League teacher not showing up for a milestone birthday party arranged by his wife, actually occurred attended by impressive 20th Century artists who awaited his arrival. It was the inspiration for the novel, the family invented from there.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
Each member of this family becomes its own antagonist. Each searches through their actions and its consequences to find where happiness and fulfillment lie.
I believe, thinking about the question asked, that my own search for courage inspired the underlying pursuit in each of my characters: Bert, the self-critical painter who finds release in sexual conquest; Ruth, his compliant wife who so lacks courage, she gives up art and endures her husband’s infidelity; and Sonata, who finds so little in herself, seeks like a predator to feed on her father’s celebrity.
What is the inciting incident of Naked Under The Lights?
The inciting incident is mother and daughter folding the finished laundry together when Sonata, having no plans or goals after graduating high school, begs to make a 50th birthday tribute for her father. The scene reveals Ruth’s feelings about her husband’s womanizing and his lifelong lack of interest in his daughter. The conflicts in this family’s relationships are established.
Propelled forward then is the disastrous tribute planned by the idolizing daughter who in missing her father’s emotional presence through her life and dismissing her attentive mother as merely there, sets the downward spiral of the family. A later propulsion is the discovery of how Sonata’s young brother died.
What is the main conflict of Naked Under The Lights?
The downward spiral of family disfunction by virtue of each member’s actions and frailties constitutes the accelerating conflict. The discovery of how the young brother died opens a wound that resonates on the future actions as well as the past. On the way, art itself is seen as a force whipping the winds of upheaval even as it inspires the passions that surge.
Did you plot Naked Under The Lights in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I did not plot the book in advance. The book evolved as I wrote it, the characters almost telling me what their next moves would be.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Naked Under The Lights need?
No, I neither sought nor received any editing. I feel confident in the grammatical aspect of writing and felt no need of that. However, by some never-before-happening good luck, I was winner of the grand prize at a NYC writers conference and awarded a critical review of the novel. I took it of course and benefited.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
I would offer the usual advice, which is always invaluable; that is to sit down and write. Only then can the characters you’ve invented reveal themselves to you, their director. Additional advice is to continue to take things in: nature in all its changes, people in their mannerisms, behaviors, appearances; and your insights into what is not revealed. Reading masters of language and observation like John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates, and popular writers like Jodi Picoult for engaging plot, is good advice too.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I have completed a first draft of another novel about an art therapist who helps to solve a murder through an analysis of a drawing. The novel is on hold as this year has had me involved in the publication of two non-fiction books with Taylor & Francis. One is a manual titled Art and Social Interaction detailing a 40-year program I instituted at Ramapo College in which undergraduate college students share art activities side by side with jail inmates, psychiatric patients, frail elderly, domestic abuse victims, and underserved youth while learning about the major domestic issues of our time. The second book, Dynamic Play and Creative Movement: Powering Body and Brain, demonstrates how physical movement works with the brain to propel learning in young children and make it the joyful habit it normally is.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Nothing is perfect, so I have reservations about everything I’ve so-called accomplished; but I accept that and keep going with new ideas and efforts towards bringing ideas to life. The ultimate effort, I suppose, is towards a life well lived. I used to think, when I was forty, writing that first novel and fearing I would die before finishing it, that it was ok; that with adoring, feeding and chauffeuring my four kids, teaching dance, making sculptures, managing a household and husband, I had lived 4 times those years.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
- Website sculpture – https://jpecksculpture.com/
- Website books: https://iapbooks.com
- Website novel: https://www.ariellesstory.com/
- Website novel: https://www.nakedunderthelights.com
- Website parenting: https://www.smartstartsinthearts.com/
- Website art techniques: https://artscraftssculpturebooks.com/
- Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/JudithPeckArtandWriting/
- Twitter – https://twitter.com/JudithPeckArt
- Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/judithpeckarts/
- Blog – https://iapbooks.com/blog-posts/
- LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/judithpecksculptor/
- Amazon Author Page – https://www.amazon.com/Judith-Peck/e/B086LJFC1C
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