Local author moves from assembly line to lines of type
Credit Judy Lennington’s retirement career to a blizzard.
It was the winter of 2009 and earlier in the year, the Johnston resident had called it quits at TechnoCap in Warren after 10 years. In all, she’d spent the past 38 years working factory assembly lines.
Her husband, David, an avid reader and a history buff, hadn’t yet retired from TechnoCap. So while he was at work, Judy sheltered from the winter chill inside their house near Mosquito Creek Reservoir.
“We got 18 inches of snow. I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ So I decided to write a little story for him,” she said.
The novel, “Saving Diana,” was set in the south-central mountains of Pennsylvania in the 1850s and 1860s. The title character, Diana Lewis, is one of six daughters living in a log cabin with parents William and Agnus Lewis. Everyday life gets turned upside down by the Civil War and advances such as the building of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Long after the snow melted, Judy Lennington kept writing. It was sort of a love letter to her husband.
“He would come home every night and read three of four more pages until the tale ended. He said, ‘You have to publish this.'”
That was an absurd notion, she said. “I’m a factory worker, not a writer.”
David disagreed. “When I would get the pages every night, I’d look at her and say, ‘She wrote this?’ It was so captivating, so professional. It brings you into the story. I didn’t think she had that in her.”
Judy polished up the manuscript and emailed it to four publishers. Two said no, one didn’t answer. The fourth, Dorrance Publishing Co. in Pittsburgh, sent her a contract.
Lennington said the novel, released in February 2012, is her only traditionally published book. She’s self-published since at a rate of about two, and sometimes three, books a year. The latest release, “Bend in the River,” is her 14th, and the 15th book, “Equine Empire,” should be out by the end of the year.
“I think if I would have started this at another time in my life, I don’t think it would have worked,” Judy said.
It helps, David speculated, that she was born into a family of storytellers in Rogers in Columbiana County.
“Rogers back then was like a little Appalachia,” he said. “Her grandfather was a moonshiner. Her dad led horses (with delivery wagons). Her dad was still telling stories right up to the end. He was 92 when he died.”
Judy said, “I remember sitting on the porch and my grandfather started telling stories, then my dad. I think of myself not as an author but as a storyteller.”
“She never has writer’s block,” David said. “We were in Hanoverton for Peddler Days. She was set up right in front of Spread Eagle (Tavern and) Inn to sell her books. She got to talking with Dave Johnson, the owner, who showed her around and talked about the history of the inn.”
Conversation moved to the legend of a ghost that haunts the three-story inn built in 1837. That conversation became the basis for her novel “The Innkeeper.”
“Everywhere she goes with her books, she meets people and gets ideas,” David said.
The Lenningtons have moved back to Columbiana County, in East Palestine. A good deal of her novels are set in the small towns surrounding her.
“I get inspired by all these little Ohio towns where there’s nothing there,” she said.
“Bend in the River” is set in 1847 Wellsville, where 8-year-old Jack Gideon lives with his grandparents and father in a small house built from the wood of a raft on which his great-grandparents floated down the Ohio River. They settled where the river bends.
In the “The Old Brick,” a postal worker in Negley solves an old mystery of missing children after a homeless family moves into an abandoned brick house across the creek.
But she refuses to be limited by a single genre or a locale.
“Deb” is science fiction about a woman trying to figure out who are the four strangers who appeared after she was zipped into a body bag after a traffic accident, and why can she now move objects with her mind and heal people with her touch.
“Twin Mirrors” is a time travel book, “Equine Empire” will be the fourth book in a series — following “Snow,” “Daffodils” and “Blue Grass Dynasty” — focusing on a Kentucky thoroughbred horse breeder and his dysfunctional family, and “Pauline and the Prince” is set in medieval times.
Her lone nonfiction book is the story of her father’s life. “Mud Sock,” which was the nickname given to a then-mucky Rogers, traces her father’s early life from his boyhood working horse-drawn deliveries to his landing on Utah Beach during World War II. She’s considering a sequel to pick up after the war.
Judy said she’s often asked for advice from people who wish to be authors. But in the end, she said, it’s up to the writers themselves.
“There are people that have ideas that I think aren’t going to go anywhere. But that is my opinion. ‘Game of Thrones’ — I wouldn’t have thought that would ever do anything. You never know where it’s going to take you. If that’s what you want to do, do it.”
Her advice: “Write it first. Go back later and do the editing.”
Then, “Stick with it. Don’t just think you’re going to do one book and make it. I’ve been doing this since 2011. They’re just now taking off.”
And if you think you’re a little unusual, well, you are.
“We’re dreamers,” she said. “We’re different. We see things differently than other people.”
Lennington’s books are available at online sites such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or by calling her at 330-219-7793. She also sells her books at various signings and festivals in the area throughout the year.