DC Published Authors Collective: Judy Ann Ritter

Judy Ann Ritter earned her bachelor’s degree from UW-Madison and her master of education–professional development degree with an emphasis in environmental sciences from UW-Whitewater. She believes her love of writing began in college, when she was inspired by an amazing American literature professor. Ritter taught middle-school science in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, for 27 years. Her books are available at Novel Bay Booksellers in Sturgeon Bay, and 

In what way does your connection with Door County influence your writing?

I now reside in Sturgeon Bay, where I started taking classes to write a book with the help of a wonderful group of like-minded authors in the Door County area. Their advice and encouragement helped me to publish my book in December of 2019.

Talk about your writing process.

My published book, Following My Path: Striving for Justice and Social Change, is a book about my sister-in-law, Esther Ritter, who started writing in her journals as she endured a 20-year journey with ALS. When her hands became weaker, she needed my help, so she would tape her journals, and I would type them. 

When she was in the last couple months before she died, she asked me to finish her book. It provides readers with the opportunity to learn how they can continue living their lives while finding joy and peace with the time that they have left.

What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?

A good story is one of the most important elements of good writing. Including all the senses in descriptions help to bring the reader into the story. It is also vital to use good grammar, and editing software helps after doing the rough draft. 

What are you currently reading?

I am now reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, which is a powerful, mesmerizing story of love and the Second World War during the Nazi occupation of France.

The following is an excerpt from Following My Path: Striving for Justice and Social Change.

I am in the spare bedroom, hibernating inside because of the icy winter blasts in Wisconsin. Today there was a blizzard, and tonight I had to change bedrooms because of the howling north winds, which shook the windowpanes, and I couldn’t sleep.

It is nights like this when my mind drifts to fantasies of living in sunny Mexico, which warms my soul. I imagine the tropical sun tanning my skin while I stretch out on the beach. Gentle, salty sea breezes blow in from the Pacific Ocean. I can almost smell the spicy Mexican cooking and taste the juicy tangerines bursting on my tongue with their heavenly sweetness. Laughing children surround me, singing songs, and townspeople stop to say hola and send smiles my way.

Then I wake up in this dreary room with the gloomy, dark-blue-colored walls, alone once again. The people I meet in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, are social workers, psychologists and a few friends when they aren’t too busy. I don’t want the isolating, impersonal social services to be my life; I need friends with similar interests. Being handicapped is not my primary focus in life.

In my early thirties, I joined a commune in the New Hampshire wilds called The Wooden Shoe. We planted and harvested crops, prepared meals, and comforted and argued with each other the way other families do. As work crews, we toiled on the land to make money needed for raw materials or items we couldn’t make.

After three years, I left to see where life might take me next. Joining the members of the Clamshell Alliance of Environmental Groups, I protested and blocked the construction of a nuclear-power plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire. The police jailed us in an old National Guard armory for our efforts. But this started the grassroots antinuclear movement, and we were proud. Yes, I was a gypsy, but I was a gypsy with a cause.

By the 1980s, I was having problems with balance. I was unsteady using stairs. Helping my nephew learn to ride a bike, I ran along beside him but kept falling. I remembered ice skating with my friends in California in 1979, but when I visited Boston just three years later and tried to skate, my legs vibrated so much I couldn’t keep them steady. Even when walking down hills, I had to concentrate on taking each step.

My attempt to swim was the last straw. When swimming underwater, I breathed through my nose, got water into my trachea, and came up gasping for air. Flailing my arms, I made it to the pool edge. I tried again, first taking deep breaths and holding my breath as I dove. But the same thing happened again. I had no control over breathing in the water. Jumping into the pool holding my nose worked, but I hadn’t needed to do that since I was little and first learned how to swim. I remember diving off rafts without even thinking about breathing. 

My symptoms were getting worse, and I wondered why. Could I have a brain tumor interfering with my thought-action patterns?

I consulted a neurologist at a nearby hospital.

“After listening to your symptoms, I believe you should have some tests,” he said.

My insurance would pay, but a CT scan of the brain with a contrasting dye and a myelogram including a spinal tap wasn’t what I expected. Yikes! Speechless for a moment, I tried to gain control. 

“Okay, when?” I whispered.