A WRETCH LIKE ME: The Shocking and Beautiful Story of Judy Ray Herzog
What People Are Saying About “A Wretch Like Me”
“This book serves as a reminder to be kinder.”
Rosie O’Donnell, actor/activist
“A visceral and devastating exploration of poverty and male violence, that plunges you into a half-forgotten world of hungry, Depression-era America. The power in ‘A Wretch Like Me’ is not only in its depiction of suffering and pain but in its bringing to life one woman’s strength and determination to make her own life.”
Sian Norris, Byline Times
Los Angeles, California–February 14, 2022. The brand-new non-fiction book, “A Wretch Like Me: The Shocking and Beautiful Story of Judy Ray Herzog” began receiving five-star reviews just days after authors Heidi Siegmund Cuda and Marcia Fritz released it on Amazon under their new publishing imprint, Coral Winds Media.
Told in a series of short story vignettes, “A Wretch Like Me” is the gripping real-life account of Judy Ray Herzog, a survivor of hunger, incest, and intense transgenerational trauma. Like the hard-knock life chanteuse Edith Piaf, Judy openly shares the details of her childhood, the intense hunger, physical abuse, and the secrets that took place in her family’s one-room shack in the mining town of Kemmerer, Wyoming.
Hailed internationally as the first book to delve into “hunger porn”—the intersection of hunger and sex—Cuda and Fritz knew they could not look away from Judy’s truth. To ignore Judy’s story would be to force the genie back into the bottle for the discomfort it may cause.
They believed Judy’s story had to be told in all its complex horror and beauty, and at times, uproariously macabre humor. From its complicated interracial elements and the religiousness that had her caught between two faiths, Mormonism and Catholicism, to the poverty and incest that scarred her early life, “A Wretch Like Me” is as brutal as it is honest. Her story is bleak, but it’s not without hope. Despite its darkest moments, Judy makes it through this thing called life, finding exquisite joy through her love for her children and dancing on each teardrop.
The book chronicles her unflinching description of hunger, of a childhood spent dreaming of food and scheming ways to find food. Whether it was cooking worms on an old soup can lid, prowling for food scraps in a neighbor’s dog bowl, or crawling under rows of theater seats to find popcorn or candy on the floor, Judy did what she had to do to try to cure her hunger pains.
Born in 1942, Judy was rejected and marginalized by the white community in which she was born; they dismissed her as a “dirty Mexican.” Even though her lineage was far more complicated, she and her siblings were the proverbial angels with dirty faces.
They had no shoes, no underwear, and no showers except for the monthly bath they received at the Southern Hotel, a brothel where a kindly prostitute let them scrub the dirt off one child at a time until the water was black. Judy recalled trying to scrub the brown from her skin to be like the other girls.
In “A Wretch Like Me,” the authors depict the trauma that took place in Judy’s home—her father Logan Herzog’s relentless and reckless pursuit of sex: his constant sexual demands of Judy’s mother; his repeated molesting of Judy—the only times she experienced affection from her father; and his notorious deviant sexual behavior in the dance halls of Wyoming and Utah in the ‘40s and ‘50s. That he was as charismatic as he was evil makes the telling of this story even more compelling. After his release for incarceration because of a 1957 felony conviction for “lewd and lascivious” behavior toward a nine-year-old girl in a movie theater in Nevada, 44-year-old Logan Herzog prowled the gin joints one time too many; he preyed on the wrong woman in the wrong bar. On May 7, 1961, he was murdered in cold blood while sleeping in his car. The key suspect was a jealous husband, but the crime was never solved.
As Cuda and Fritz investigated Judy’s world, they learned that the subject matter addressed and exposed was more common than they realized, and they dedicated the book to those who might still be suffering the ravages of their unhealed past:
“To the hungry, the marginalized, and to anyone feeling they are unloved, you are not alone. Let this book be your safe space to release any anguish you might still harbor and to celebrate the complex pain and beauty of life.”
The book’s title was taken from the Christian hymn, Amazing Grace (1779): “Amazing grace, How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now I’m found, Was blind, but now I see.”
The lyrics began to haunt the authors as they listened to Judy list her hardships as a girl and young woman, an awful example of the way society treats those on the margins.
With minimal narration, Judy speaks directly to readers, sharing her blunt, unfiltered truth, which could only be told by lived experience. “A Wretch Like Me” is the unvarnished reality of the unsafe, the unseen, the marginalized, and the unfed.
In her witty way, Judy quips: “She should have been a chorus girl,” her love of dancing is celebrated throughout the book. Rather than become a chorus girl, she survives one abusive marriage after another to ultimately become a nurse’s assistant, and be put in charge of an entire psych ward, which as Judy notes in her iconic humorous way, she’d been preparing for her whole life.
The authors’ goal, as Rosie O’Donnell noted, is to encourage a kinder world, to emerge as better people having read Judy’s story.
As Cuda and Fritz write in the book’s forward, “This is a book that reveals why people love monsters. Sometimes, they are closer than you think.”
And as the book’s readers have noted, “A Wretch Like Me” will linger in your heart, long after you have turned the final page.
Judy, who still dreams of being a dancer, says it’s her goal to be an angel. We think she already is one.
More quotes on “A Wretch Like Me”:
“Judy sounds like an angel on earth,” Darlene Ortiz, co-author with Heidi Cuda of “Definition of Down: My Life with Ice T and the Birth of Hip Hop.”.
“A vivid, engrossing, and poetic story that gets more unpredictable by the page. A Wretch Like Me goes where most authors won’t, and the world is a less lonely place for it.”—Ben Apatoff, reporter, educator, and author of “Metallica: The $24.95 Book” (Bloomsbury).
Quotes by Judy Ray Herzog:
“It was a lifetime of hunger. It was a hunger every day. When you’re in that situation, you don’t think of anything, the future, the past; you’re just in that moment, trying to survive.”
On her father:
“The only time he touched me was when he was molesting me.”
“I always managed to find my own sunshine; beyond the clouds, there was always a little hope there.”
On life goals:
“I think I am on this earth going through all this because I’m working to be an angel.”
About the Authors:
Authors Heidi Siegmund Cuda and Marcia Fritz have been teaming up for a decade to tell hard stories with unflinching realism. Heidi Siegmund Cuda is an Emmy award-winning investigative reporter and activist, who has authored more than a half dozen books. Marcia Fritz is a nationally renowned political consultant on public finance whose experience as a retired C.P.A. makes her particularly adept at forensic reporting and understanding the challenges for those living on the margins, that struggle the most with life’s transitions. This is the first book on their new imprint, Coral Winds Media.
A Wretch Like Me:
The Shocking and Beautiful Story of Judy Ray Herzog
by Heidi Siegmund Cuda and Marcia Fritz
Coral Winds Media |January 23, 2022. Available as e-book and paperback.