By Glen Dromgoole
March 16, 2003, The Bryan-College Station Eagle
If Judith McNaught had found it easier to learn to play the piano, she may not have become a best-selling novelist.
In an interview, McNaught related that she had left her job as assistant controller for a trucking company and was enjoying her free time reading and doing charity work. She had a passion to play the piano, so she bought a piano and hired an instructor.
She was, she said, awful. After six months, she gave it up and decided to try her hand at writing instead. That was more than 20 years and 30 million books ago.
Her first novel was Whitney, My Love, with the major characters named for her daughter, Whitney, and son, Clayton. The historical romance was rejected often, and it wasn’t published until after two later romances, Tender Triumph and Double Standards, had been successful in the mid-1980s. Whitney, My Love, was reissued in hardcover in 1999.
She hit number one on the New York Times list in 1988 with Something Wonderful.
Her new book, Someone to Watch Over Me (Atria Books, Simon & Schuster, $25), debuted this month at number three on the New York Times bestsellers list.
This book was a long time coming, resulting in the release date having to be postponed six times, McNaught said.
The Houston-area author said she started over three times, shelving her first two manuscripts because they just weren’t going where she wanted them to go. Finally, the story for Someone to Watch Over Me began to take shape last June.
From July through mid-January, McNaught said, she was a slave to her writing, often working seven days a week and up to 18-20 hours a day.
Like her other books, Someone to Watch Over Me is fast-paced and features strong, loyal, compassionate, intelligent female characters — a Broadway actress who is suspected of killing her philandering husband, and a savvy, intuitive female detective who plays a major role in solving the murder.
McNaught, who made her name first as a romance novelist, weaves several threads of romance throughout the book. But this is more of a mystery novel than a romance — what might be called “romantic suspense.” The author said she writes “women’s fiction,” although she also has a following among male readers.
McNaught lives in Clear Lake, between Houston and Galveston. She moved to Texas from St. Louis after her husband died. She was on a book tour to Dallas, and “I fell in love with Texas,” she said. “The people in Texas were so nice.”
Her parents, brother and children still live in Dallas, but on a trip to Houston a few years ago McNaught decided to buy a boat and move there. She doesn’t have the boat anymore, but she can see Galveston Bay from her 12,000 square foot home.
Active in children’s charities and breast cancer causes in Houston, she has also been an advocate for women’s literacy. She worked literacy into the plot for the novel Perfect and a response card was inserted, resulting in thousands of women volunteering to tutor women who couldn’t read.
“I got all the credit for doing this great thing,” she said, “but it was the women who took six months to teach someone to read who should get the credit.”
After she became a best-selling novelist, she bought a new grand piano — one that plays itself.
•Texas Reads is a column on books by Texas authors or about Texas subjects. Glenn Dromgoole is a Texas author and journalist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright: The Bryan – College Station Eagle