Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Conversation with Mystery Author Judy Penz Sheluk

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Judy Penz Sheluk

We are delighted to welcome author Judy Penz Sheluk to Omnimystery News today.

Judy new first in series mystery is The Hanged Man's Noose (Barking Rain Press; July 2015 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the opportunity to catch up with her to talk more about it.

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Omnimystery News: Tell us a little more about the principal characters of The Hanged Man's Noose.

Judy Penz Sheluk
Photo provided courtesy of
Judy Penz Sheluk

Judy Penz Sheluk: Emily Garland is a freelance writer in Toronto, Canada. Tire of reporting on the same old condo stats, newly single (her fiancée has dumped her for a personal trainer with legs up to her ears), and motherless (her mother has recently committed suicide), Emily is ready for a change. When she is offered a lucrative assignment in the small town of Lount's Landing to find out the true story behind a development plan, she goes for it.

Emily quickly learns that not everyone in town is happy about the proposed conversion of a school into a megabox store, least of all Arabella Carpenter, the outspoken owner of The Glass Dolphin, an antiques shop on the town's historic Main Street.

I've been a freelance writer since 2003, specializing in antiques and the residential housing industry, and so I do identify with both Emily and Arabella. Of course, I'm still waiting for that lucrative assignment to come my way! As for Arabella, her motto is "authenticity matters." Khaled Housseini (The Kite Runner) is quoted as saying "And that's the thing about people who mean everything they say. They think everyone else does too." That's Arabella, but it's also me. Because I think authenticity does matter, that what we say shouldn't just be rhetoric.

OMN: How do you expect these characters to develop over the course of the series?

JPS: Both Emily and Arabella change over the course of The Hanged Man's Noose, and there will be more changes in the sequel. I had a creative writing instructor once, Greg Fallis (he is also a talented author), who gave me some wonderful advice: "Remember, to your characters, this isn't a story." I try to keep that in mind when I'm writing.

OMN: Into which genre would you place this book?

JPS: I classify The Hanged Man's Noose as "amateur sleuth with an edge." What I mean by that is that the book has all the standard elements of a traditional cozy — small town setting, amateur sleuth, no overt sex or violence but there are no cats, crafts or cookie recipes. I even set up a Goodreads Listopia for that category.

OMN: How would you a tweet a summary of it?

JPS: The Hanged Man's Noose: small-town secrets and subterfuge lead to murder in a tale of high-stakes real estate wrangling gone amok.

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

JPS: I am a complete and utter pantser. I have tried to work with an outline, even took a course on how-to do it through Savvy Authors, but it just doesn't work for me. I do start with a premise (what if such-and-such happened) and I usually have the end written (or at least know what the ending will be) pretty soon after the first few pages, but the rest of it is pure pantsing.

To me, the panster is the equivalent of someone who gets in the car and drives, looking for signs along the way to get to their ultimate destination. It can be a lot of fun, because you're open to discovering all sorts of unexpected people and places along the way. But you can also get stuck in a town you don't want to visit (sometimes called Writer's Block) or get completely off track with nothing much to show for the experience.

The plotter, on the other hand, is armed with a GPS (and probably a paper road map as a backup). Maybe a little less adventurous than the pantser, but far more likely to reach their destination without incident — though I expect that even the most diligent plotters make the occasional U-turn as their story unfolds.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these found their way into your series?

JPS: I'm a runner (though perhaps plodder is a more apt description). I try to run 3-5 times a week, and the distance varies by what I may or may not be training for. I've done 4 marathons, several half marathons, but I'm slow. I'm definitely in the "To Complete" category vs. on the podium. If I'm not training for something, I'll run 3 to 5 miles three or four times a week. Emily Garland is a runner, though that fact isn't important in The Hanged Man's Noose.

I'm a golfer. I prefer 9 holes to 18 and belong to two 9-hole ladies leagues. I'm not particularly good, but I am passionate. Unfortunately, I live about 90 minutes northwest of Toronto, Canada, so our season tends to be May to mid October. The sequel to The Hanged Man's Noose will feature golf in a very prominent way.

I love to walk along trails. There's a great nature trail near my house that winds around three golf courses. If I'm not running that day, I'll walk the trail.

I'm also a voracious reader. I read every day.

OMN: What's the best advice — and harshest criticism — you've received as an author? And what might you say to aspiring writers?

JPS: Agatha Christie is quoted as saying, "Write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you're writing, and aren't writing particularly well." It's great advice.

I remember being really proud of a short story I had written and reading it to three friends in a critique group setting. When I finished, they all said, "Hmmm … there's no real story here and the ending isn't plausible." I was crushed, but later on, rereading it, I realized they were right. I've revised that story a dozen times, but it's still lacking. One day, I'll get it right.

Advice to aspiring writers: this is actually something I read somewhere a long time ago. Make time to write every day: The writing muscle is like any other muscle, the more you exercise it the stronger it becomes.

OMN: How did The Hanged Man's Noose come to be titled?

JPS: The Hanged Man's Noose is the name of a pub in Lount's Landing, a town named after a colorful Canadian traitor who was hanged for treason in Toronto in the 19th century. The town and the pub are fictional, but Samuel Lount was a real life politician who happened to be representing the wrong party!

OMN: Was it also your working title while you wrote the book?

JPS: Yes, The Hanged Man's Noose was the working title. I usually come up with a title before I start working on something. That way it seems real.

OMN: The cover of your book is quite striking. How involved were you with its design?

JPS: I was really fortunate in that I was able to work with the publisher, and the artist, Craig Jennion, on the cover. I wrote a blog post to describe the process, and how we came up with the final design.

OMN: What kinds of books did you read when you were young?

JPS: I grew up on Nancy Drew, and in my teens, I graduated to Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh. I knew I wanted to write a book "some day" and it would probably be a mystery.

OMN: You mentioned you're an avid reader today.

JPS: I try to read one book a week, and one book of short stories (typically crime fiction anthologies, but not always) a month. My go-to genre is mystery/suspense, but I also read other novels. Two of my favorite [non-mystery] novels are Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden, and The Way the Crow Flies by Ann Marie MacDonald. Both are very dark reads, but the storytelling is exceptional. I'm also a big fan of Amy Tan.
I love mystery series! My favorite characters include Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, Louise Penny's Armand Gamache, John Sandford's Lucas Davenport, Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, and James M. Jackson's Seamus McCree. What I love about each of these characters is the way the authors have built their arc, allowed them to grow.

OMN: What's next for you?

JPS: I've just finished Skeletons in the Attic, which is another amateur sleuth mystery, although all of the characters in it (with the exception of Arabella Carpenter) are new. Arabella has a small role in the book. I love it when authors do that: Tana French is a great example of someone who does this very, very well.

I'm currently working on the sequel to The Hanged Man's Noose. In this novel, Arabella will be the protagonist and Emily will be along for the ride. At least, that's what I think now. As a pantser, anything is possible!

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In her less mysterious pursuits, Judy Penz Sheluk works as a freelance writer/editor. She is currently Editor of Home BUILDER Magazine and Senior Editor, New England Antiques Journal. Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, and International Thriller Writers.

For more information about the author, please visit her website at JudyPenzSheluk.com and her author page on Goodreads, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Hanged Man's Noose by Judy Penz Sheluk

The Hanged Man's Noose by Judy Penz Sheluk

A Glass Dolphin Mystery

Publisher: Barking Rain Press

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)iTunes iBook FormatKobo eBook Format

Journalist Emily Garland lands a plum assignment as the editor of a niche magazine based in Lount's Landing, a small town named after a colorful 19th century Canadian traitor. As she interviews the local business owners for the magazine, Emily quickly learns that many people are unhappy with real estate mogul Garrett Stonehaven's plans to convert an old schoolhouse into a mega-box store. At the top of that list is Arabella Carpenter, the outspoken owner of an antiques shop, who will do just about anything to preserve the integrity of the town's historic Main Street.

But Arabella is not alone in her opposition. Before long, a vocal dissenter at a town hall meeting about the proposed project dies. A few days later, another body is discovered, and although both deaths are ruled accidental, Emily's journalistic suspicions are aroused.

Putting her reporting skills to the ultimate test, Emily teams up with Arabella to discover the truth behind Stonehaven's latest scheme before the murderer strikes again.

The Hanged Man's Noose by Judy Penz Sheluk

6 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for hosting me! It was an absolute pleasure.

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  2. What a fun interview, Judy and thanks for the shout out to the Seamus McCree series.

    ~ Jim

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  3. Nice interview, Judy. I just finished reading your book and loved it! Waiting for book number two.

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  4. Excellent interview! The Hanged Man's Noose is on my TBR list.

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  5. Thanks Joanne. I hope you enjoy it. Let me know when you've read it and your thoughts!

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