A former high school English teacher with graduate degrees in psychology, Judy Renee Singer has been in love with horses since childhood. She has covered the equestrian world for more than a decade, writing for Dressage Today, Horse Play, and The Chronicle of the Horse, which named her a top feature writer in 1996. Her experience with horses ranges from saddle breaking to riding Grand Prix Dressage. She rides and writes in Orange County, New York.
Author biography courtesy of Broadway Books.
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Some sassy, surprising outtakes from our interview with Singer:
"I'm not a natural blonde."
"I think that chocolate seven-layer cake should be legislated as the national dessert."
"Everything in my life inspires my writing, which scares my family and friends."
"I suspect that I'm an alien."
"My No. 1 love is my family. I adore my husband and my daughters, they are the best ever put on this planet."
"My second loves are the animals in my life: cats and dogs and horses and guinea pigs and birds. I love elephants, too, but I don't have any at the moment. I detest cruelty to any living creature. And I love seeing a lot of flowers in my garden. I love rain. Watching it, that is, but not getting wet from it."
"My favorite way to unwind is to spend time with my horses or training horses and students to ride dressage. It's awesome to watch a horse learn what you want and then give it back to you. To know that it trusts you."
"I also like baking something terrific and feeding it to my friends and family. And there's always a book on my nightstand and music playing in the house (except in my office)."
"Um -– and don't forget sex and laughter, although not at the same time."
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In the fall of 2004, Judy Renee Singer took some time to talk with us about some of her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
I think it would have to be One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. It was the style that I found so liberating -- that if you can imagine something, you can capture it on paper. That though our lives have limits in reality, there are no limits when you write. You can soar.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez -- His book introduced me to the freedom and imaginative spirit of magical realism.
Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley -- I loved the skillful way she wove all those narrative threads together, and it had horses in it, so this was a shoo-in.
Anything by James Thurber -- The laconic, sly humor that infuse his stories made a big impression on me when I started writing.
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand -- Well, there's the horse thing again, but it also possesses just plain good writing with a lot of energy to it, and great narrative flow.
On Writing by Stephen King -- Yep, that's the way it is, not the autobiography part, which was interesting, but the writing part.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster -- A real old favorite of mine. It's so clever. I love wordplay.
Anything by James Herriot -- His writing is simple, straightforward, humorous, and charming. And always has animals in it. The time period he writes about and his style relaxes me and gives me a sense of peace like no other book.
1984 by George Orwell -- So prophetic and relevant, although when I read it, I thought things like could never happen in the United States, but now I see it as a warning that if we let our freedoms get nibbled away, we could very well end up the police state he wrote about.
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger -- What angst! It never goes out of style. And the slow, insidious breakdown of Holden is scary and sad.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Dr. Oliver Sacks -- A fascinating look at neurology gone haywire. I love this kind of stuff.
My Horses, My Teachers by Alois Podhajsky -- You gotta love horses and dressage to understand this choice, although it's a very charming, cheerful and accessible book about the Lipizzan horses. My favorite way to unwind.
There are dozens of other books that I love, but in the interest of brevity....
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
I love good movies and I have so many favorites. Chinatown for its superb writing, Summertime in Venice for its restraint and beautiful acting by Katharine Hepburn, Seabiscuit because it was sentimental and horsy, Citizen Kane because it was intriguing and brilliantly acted and directed, Schindler's List because it was heartbreaking, 2001: A Space Odyssey for its sheer beauty, American Splendor for its brilliant creativity, The Third Man, mostly because I loved its brooding flavor and great music, and all the old Charlie Chan and Godzilla movies, and the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers.... I could go on forever!
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
Like my taste in movies, my taste in music is very eclectic: Vivaldi, Strauss, Bizet, Chopin, Scott Joplin, the Beach Boys, the Platters and doo-wop, bluegrass, Jacques Brel, Willie Nelson, Joni Mitchell, the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler... but when I'm working, my office has to be dead quiet.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
I'm dying to dig into Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell by Susanna Clarke. It has such a terrific premise and goes off into a fantastical voyage. I just bought it.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
Books are the best gifts in the world, because they "give" forever. You can read them, get lost in them, and go back to them like an old friend. I like to tailor the book to the person. I personally love books about science: black holes, parallel realities, brain dysfunctions, string theory, aliens, as well as any good fiction. I love books. I even love good children's books -- they are such treasures of writing and art combined.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I have to have my coffee first thing, to kick-start my brain. And I think I have a little OCD going on because everything in my office has to be in its place, neat and orderly, before I can sit and write. I also have this goofy-looking little stuffed horse that sits on my printer and watches over me, advising me on grammar every once in a while. I read my stuff aloud to him, too. And I'm never without a pad and pen so that I can jot down ideas, dialogue, etc., before it disappears from my brain.
What are you working on now?
Everything! Two screenplays, a novel about a true story of a hostile biotech company takeover, a World War II true story, a book about finding love with the help of the Kabbalah, which -- well, never mind, it's gonna be funny -- and a possible sequel to Horseplay.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I had been writing for horse magazines and newspapers for nine years before I started my book, but it gave me experience and enough confidence in my "voice" to write a novel. I'm in my -- ahem, well -- I'm not a kid, but I'm living proof that you can follow a dream and have it come true, no matter how late you come to the party.
Horror stories? Oh yeah! The first agent I ever sent my manuscript to rejected it because, as she wrote me, it had too many "I"s in it, despite the fact that it is a first-person narrative. The second agent, recommended by a mutual friend, never even bothered to reply, not even when I enclosed an SASE, and later followed up with a postcard for her to mail back, to just let me know that she received it. Hmmph! Even the White House answers its mail! The third agent was meant to be. A warm and wonderful gal who is very enthusiastic and funny and a joy to work with. I love her.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Be prepared to work hard because writing is work. Don't whine. Read, read, read everything you can get your hands on, in every form and every subject, because it all goes in that big stewpot in the back of your head, to be ladled out when you need it. Be inquisitive, learn as much as you can about what this world is all about, and write all the time. Work on developing your own unique voice. And it wouldn't hurt to take a course in screenwriting to learn structure and how to tighten your dialogue and move your scenes/chapters, etc. It makes for very economical writing. Also, take some courses in writing if you haven't already, so you can learn what good writing is.
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