Co-authors Marcia Fritz and Heidi Siegmund Cuda explore why they wrote their real life story about the life of Judy Ray Herzog, A Wretch Like Me, on The Table Read, “The Best entertainment magazine in the UK“.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Marcia Fritz and Heidi Siegmund Cuda about A Wretch Like Me, their book co-authored about the real life story of Judy Ray Herzog.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Marcia: I am a retired CPA, graduated with honors with a BS in business from the University of Southern California in 1974. I am married with one son.
I am a fifth-generation Californian on my mothers’ side (Swiss), and a 7th generation US citizen on my dad’s side (German Dutch, North Carolina). I grew up on a farm in Sutter County north of Sacramento.
Heidi: I am an Emmy award-winning investigative reporter and pro-democracy truth activist, who has authored multiple pop culture books with Ice T, on 2pac, and Sublime. This is the first book on my own imprint, thanks to the partnership I have with Marcia Fritz: Coral Winds Media (www.coralwindsmedia.com).
When did you first WANT to write a book?
M: As a CPA, I routinely wrote reports on clients’ financial matters, tax planning, investment strategies, business plans, and various consulting engagements. The challenge was to simplify complex subjects into language that readers could understand to ensure decisions were made based on an accurate understanding of the facts.
While consulting governmental agencies, I became aware of instances where reports generated by staff were often badly slanted, with serious omissions that caused their employer (eg. Politicians) to make poor decisions. I often told myself that after I retired, I would start writing books about subjects that were often misunderstood.
H: When Marcia gets an idea, she is a dog with a bone. She first brought it to me in 2019, and then we regrouped in 2021, and when I signed on, we had the book ready to go within six months. Judy’s interviews were like nothing I had ever experienced. A breath of fresh air, and also a gut punch at the same time.
When did you take a step to start writing?
M: I learned a little about Judy Herzog’s life and decided her story needed to be told.
H: I started on April 15, 2021, and we had our first draft by November. Marcia had done a lot of leg word in advance.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from idea to release?
H: My first book, the Ice Opinion, with Ice T, started after the riots of April ‘92, and we had the first draft by fall.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the fist idea to release?
M: I started writing in June 2019. I stopped writing after about three months and, after two years, contacted Judy to pick it up again. This time, I asked Heidi Cuda to assist me. The break occurred because Judy was having a hard time answering my questions about her very hard life growing up. She was clearly experiencing PTSD from her rough childhood and I was frightened triggering her memories would cause her harm.
Heidi was able to re-interview Judy beginning in April of 2021, and she filled in blanks I had in the rough manuscript I had written. We finished the book in January 2022.
H: Six months.
What made you want to write A Wretch Like Me?
M: I have always had a natural interest in understanding the hardships of destitute people living in our country and how they survived. In my career, I audited government programs designed to assist those in poverty and saw firsthand the applications of those needing assistance. The Forms submitted, often with help from staff, were very institutional and sad. But I never went into their homes, talked to them, or really learned how they were able to cope from day to day.
I also was very interested in what Judy said about her father’s incest of her and her sister, and that he had been murdered. He had also been sentenced to prison, but Judy wasn’t entirely sure why. We had to dig deep to find out what he had done.
H: I had never encountered a story from the point of view of a starving, abused child before, that was so profoundly blameless. We can all learn life lessons from Judy.
What were your biggest challenges with writing A Wretch Like Me?
M: I initially wrote the book in the third person describing Judy’s life. After Heidi started interviewing her again, we both felt the story would read better using Judy’s own words, which are very plain and matter-of-fact. The difficulty was Judy jumping around in her memories, and Heidi and I had to work hard to piece everything together, fill in the blanks, and add color when needed in order for it to flow and be accurate and interesting, too.
H: I was determined to stay true to Judy’s voice, and Marcia gave me space to do just that. She was a partner every step of the way.
What was your research process for A Wretch Like Me?
M: I obtained transcripts of Judy’s father’s trial, newspaper clippings of his murder, newspaper clippings of Judy’s birth and her grandparents’ accident, and her brother’s letters. Heidi traveled to places Judy lived: Kemmerer, Wyoming, Flagstaff, Arizona, Ogden, Utah, and Sparks Nevada. I researched period clothing, her father’s car, and Spanish settlers in New Mexico.
I also researched how poor people prepared meals and stayed warm, Boy’s Town history, the school nutrition program, and Judy’s father’s military record. We interviewed Judy’s family members who provided us so much additional information, we created a separate chapter solely on their memories.
H: Wow, Marcia and I both have an investigative bent–her from a CPA perspective, and me from my reporter background–we did recon, court transcripts, side visits, news archives, you name it!
How did you plan the structure of A Wretch Like Me?
M: Judy just turned 80 this month, and the book covers her entire life. She is a war baby and married before the woman’s liberation movement began. She experienced the 1960s as a young mother. She was confused about religion being raised both as a Catholic and a Mormon. She experienced racism. She had an abortion. She was married multiple times. The best way to describe her life was chronological.
H: This book is groundbreaking stylistically and could only have been written in this way because I am a scholar of the great groundbreaking writers who came before. From James Ellroy to Raymond Chandler, Anita Loos, and Carson McCullers, this book has all their DNA in it.
I chose a very film noir approach to the writing, visual short dark vignettes, that are woven together to create a very evocative story. It is not without humor, which is its greatest strength. There is no self-pity in this book.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did A Wretch Like Me need?
M: I provided research and a transcript of Judy’s life to Heidi and edited Heidi’s work. My husband Ken did the copy edit.
H: Marcia is an eagle eye editor, matched only by her husband Ken, who painstakingly coy edited it each step of the way. What a team!
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
M: I am partial to nonfiction. There are so many amazing TRUE stories that are never told, why do we ever need to make something up?
H: Sit your ass in the chair.
Can you give me a hint about further books you’re planning to write?
M: Heidi and I are writing a book on the history of our tax code starting with my ancestors before the Revolutionary War.
H: Marcia and I are collaborating on a very disruptive tax code book, as well as a book on the vast trolling underground. We are also hoping to become an imprint for some of our favorite first-time authors with great stories to tell. We are only interested in disruptive genre-breaking content.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
M: Absolutely it was worth the effort. So many readers have told me they had no idea about some of the topics covered in the book, and it opened their eyes in a way that they see things differently now. The book is not political, but I know it will generate conversations around subjects that have not been addressed sufficiently about our society and mores.
H: The 30+ five-star book reviews confirm a job well done. I couldn’t be more pleased.
Pop all your book, website, and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Heidi’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/heidicuda/
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