SOMEWHERE in the late 1970s, the sport of tennis went from quietly refined to downright bombastic.
Think of Jimmy Connors’ fist-pumping antics or a red-faced John McEnroe breaking his racket in a tantrum—it was a time when the game broke loose from staid conventions, dressing the court for the thrilling spectacle it’s become since.
Author Judy Fogarty witnessed the rise of this new, more colorful game and recreates the excitement of those years in her new first novel, Breaking and Holding. The Isle of Hope resident weaves tennis throughout the tale of lonely housewife Patricia Curren, who is seeking independence in a time when not just tennis but society itself was breaking away from established codes.
A native of Savannah’s Kensington Park neighborhood, Fogarty studied and sang classical music before embarking on a marketing career. She spent almost two decades working for the Branigar Organization, the developers that built the Landings at Skidaway Island. Her stints with other nearby golf and tennis communities have given her intimate access to the workings of the clubhouse.
Released in August, Breaking and Holding is already in demand for readings around the Southeast, including one this Thursday, Sept. 1 at E. Shaver Booksellers. We caught up with the author on her way out of town for a signing in Greenville, NC, to talk about writing, 70s tennis wear, and how her book just might end up in the hands of the sport’s most famous players.
How has tennis figured into your life?
Judy Fogarty: I fell in love with tennis in 1978. My husband, Mike, and I were at the University of Georgia, and they had just built a fabulous new tennis stadium. They hosted the NCAA Men's Tennis Championship, and on a lark, I went to a match, just something to do. I had never been to a match, I'd maybe held a racket a couple of times, I was not a tennis player. I am still not a tennis player!
So I go, and John McEnroe was the number one seed. He was a freshman at Stanford, 19 years old, and he played against a guy named John Sadri, who was from North Carolina and had the most incredible serve but wasn’t expected to be in the finals.
Today, that match is known as “The Match,”—it went for four hours and twenty minutes. McEnroe won, but he never broke Sadri’s big serves on the tiebreakers. I fell in love with tennis then and have been in love ever since.
And how does tennis figure into your writing?
Tennis is the conceit of the Patricia and Terry’s love story; it serves as an extended metaphor throughout the book. It’s also a perfect set-up for any kind of story, because you have all the language there:
Love, match, fault, double fault, serve, return, advantage, break and hold. They can tell the entire story—while you’re talking about breaking or holding serve, it’s also about being broken and being held.
The novel takes place in the 1970s, around the time you were bitten by the tennis bug. When did you decide to write the book?
Well, I wrote the book—well, I wrote a book—in 1978, called Love Thirty. Those were the days when you were literally cutting and pasting—I mean, making revisions, you actually cut the paper and pasted it in somewhere else.
I had a manuscript like that, and I made a copy and boxed it up and submitted it to an agent, who picked it up. I got some lovely rejection letters from some big publishing houses so I put it away in the attic and forgot about it to yellow.
Then I watched a Wimbledon match in 2007 and thought, maybe I’ll go read it, just for fun. And it was ridiculous! I was very young when I wrote it. But then I’d hit a part and say, “this is good,” or, “this makes me want to cry.” I thought, well, I did OK with this before, I’ll just tweak it. It’ll take me a couple of months and I’ll submit it again.
Well, months became years, and it became a totally different animal. The heart of the story is still there, the obsessive love story, but many elements were added.
Why did you choose to keep it set in the 1970s?
When I pulled it out of the drawer, my first thought was that I’d make it modern day, because tennis has changed so much and I love it so much more now.
I mean, in ‘78, there were wooden rackets. The men wore white short shorts, for heaven’s sake. It was laughable! So I thought, oh, that’s easy to change.
But what I couldn’t change was the technology. There are things that happen in this book—the most climatic scenes—that could never happen now. There would have been a text message, there would have been a call from a mobile phone. In the story, people are split apart and there’s a desperate search—because you can’t just sit down and type someone’s name into Google.
This is also a story of two women, struggling in the 1970s. One is very career-oriented and wants to succeed in the male-dominated workplace; she is very much a feminist when that was still new. Her friend is locked in a desolate marriage and doesn’t have the courage to be out on her own.
Did you have support from other women while writing this book?
Oh yes, my writing group—we call ourselves The Savannah Scribes. We’re in our fourth year, and it’s just an incredible group. Everyone is so talented and nurturing, there’s no competition, which I think is pretty unique for a writing group. We’ve become very close. We take turns submitting, and I would not be where I am without them.
I understand that Breaking and Holding will be in the players' lounge at the upcoming U.S. Open. How did you swing that, speaking of tennis language?
[laughs] Ha, good one! The tournament organizers provide magazines and international newspapers for the players to read. I'm going to have 25 copies of the novel in there, just for something different.
As a first time novelist, it’s really hard to break in. Just getting an agent and a publisher is hard enough, and beyond that, you have to do a lot of your own marketing. That is my background, though this ended up being more of a lark.
I wanted to see what I could do with the U.S. Open, and I found a way in through “Contact Us” form on the website. They came back with a few possibilities, like being in the gift shop or giving the books to the players as gifts. And somehow we ended up with the player’s lounge.
And now Venus and Serena and Andy Murray could be reading your book!
I don’t who’s going to pick it up, but I hope whoever does enjoys it as much as I do watching them play.
Breaking and Holding booksigning with Judy Fogarty
When: 4-6pm, Thursday, Sept. 1
Where: E. Shaver Booksellers, 326 Bull St.