ROCCO welcomes: Judy Penz Sheluk to the blog!
Judy Penz Sheluk's debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man's Noose, was published in July 2015 by Barking Rain Press (www.barkingrainpress.org). Her short crime fiction appears in World Enough and Crime (Carrick Publishing), The Whole She-Bang 2 (Toronto Sisters in Crime), Flash and Bang (Untreed Reads), Live Free or Tri: a collection of three short mystery stories, and Unhappy Endings: a collection of three flash fiction stories.
In her less mysterious pursuits, Judy works as a freelance writer, specializing in art, antiques and the residential housing industry; her articles have appeared regularly in dozens of U.S. and Canadian consumer and trade publications.
Past editorial responsibilities have included the roles of Senior Editor, Northeast Art & Antiques, and Editor, Antiques and Collectibles Showcase. She is currently the Editor of Home BUILDER Magazine, and the Senior Editor for New England Antiques Journal.
Judy is also a member of Sisters in Crime International, Sisters in Crime - Guppies, Sisters in Crime - Toronto, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers, Inc. and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. She lives in a small town northwest of Toronto, Ontario.
Welcome, Judy! Tell us a little about your background
Thank you ROCCO. I’ve been a freelance writer and editor since 2003 and work from my home office in Alliston, Ontario, Canada. I’m currently the Senior Editor for New England Antiques Journal (NEAJ) and the Editor for Home BUILDER Magazine (HBM). Before I started writing for a living, I worked as Credit and Collections Manager, among other things. That sort of work takes it’s toll on a person after a while. I was never really cut out for the corporate world.
- Tell us a bit about the Hanged Man’s Noose
Here’s the official blurb:
Small-town secrets and subterfuge lead to murder in a tale of high-stakes real estate wrangling gone amok.
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 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.
- How do you “get to know” your characters
By writing about them, having them talk and think. For example, in Noose, Arabella Carpenter, the owner of the Glass Dolphin antiques shop, is known to be a tad irascible and to her, authenticity matters above all else. Once I knew that about her, I could also gauge how she’d react to different situations. The same thing applies to all of my characters, even the very minor ones. After all, they may step up into a larger role in a future book.
- How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
I have tried outlining but it just doesn’t work for me. I do start with a premise, i.e. in The Hanged Man’s Noose, a greedy city developer comes to a small town with plans to build a mega-box store on the town’s historic Main Street, thereby impacting the small businesses there now. Then I build on that with what I call my “what if” strategy. What if this happened or that happened. And I go from there.
- Which do you consider more important, plot or character?
Great question. Both are really important, but the characters need to be believable if they are to carry the plot. I don’t necessarily have to like them, but I have to at least feel as if they are authentic.
- What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
Getting traditionally published. I was so naïve, thinking that my background as a journalist would pave the way and make it easy for me. And I really wanted to be traditionally published, versus self-publishing, at least for the first book. I needed the validation that someone else believed in my story. I wrote a blog post on my early experiences looking for an agent/publisher titled The First Cut is the Deepest. Here’s a link: http://www.judypenzsheluk.com/2015/01/10/my-publishing-journey-the-first-cut-is-the-deepest/
- What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
I’m working on the sequel to The Hanged Man’s Noose. I’m also writing some short mystery stories for a couple of anthology callouts. Finally, I have another series I’m working on. It’s also a mystery series but it is quite different from The Hanged Man’s Noose. I can’t imagine not writing.
- What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
It varies so much by my magazine schedule. NEAJ is a monthly magazine, and HBM is bi-monthly. When those deadlines blend together (two weeks every other month), it is very difficult to do any sort of fiction writing, though I do try.
When I have the time, I will write every day for at least a couple of hours, usually more. If a story is coming together for me, I’ll forget to eat and just focus on the writing.
- If you could take only three books with your for a year-long writing retreat in a gorgeous setting with no library, which three would you take?
This is one tough question, because I don’t tend to reread books (since there are so many on my to-read list), but I think they would be:
G is for Gumshoe, the first book I read by Sue Grafton. It made me go back to read A-F, and I’ve read every one of her books since. So hopefully, I could see, all these years later, what resonated with me so deeply.
The Way the Crow Flies by Anne-Marie MacDonald. Very dark, and loosely based on the Stephen Truscott case. I read it many years ago and it still haunts me.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I read it many years ago, as a young girl, and again about five years ago. It really is the gold standard for non-fiction.
- What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
Keep putting words on the page. If you only write one page a day, that’s 365 pages in a year. And that is a book (in fact, Noose is only 270 double spaced typewritten pages). Understand that your first draft will be flawed. Be prepared to revise and rewrite at least three times, and probably more. Even the Stephen Kings of the world revise and rewrite.
- What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
I’m not sure if it was crazy, but I did a Half Ironman a few years ago (Steelhead, Benton Harbor, Michigan), and I really hate cycling. In fact, I sold my bike not long after. For those who don’t know what a ½ IM is, that’s a 1.2 mile open water swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run. All in the same day! When I was training, I was out cycling with a friend and a dog jumped out of a car onto my back. Needless to say I crashed but I kept training on an indoor trainer in my basement (because I’d hurt my wrist and could not shift gears).
- What’s one thing your readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I write listening to talk radio. Newstalk 1010 Toronto and Talk 640 Toronto, depending on the host/topic. I learn a lot from talk radio, and I find I can tune it out easier than music. It’s like background noise to me much of the time.
· What question do you wish interviewers would ask? (And what’s the answer?)
How did you enjoy your time on the Ellen DeGeneres Show?
Hahaha…still waiting for the invite. But I’ll be ready to dance with her.
· Where can we learn more about you and your work?
My website is www.judypenzsheluk.com, where I blog about the writing life and interview other authors and editors. I’ve also got a lot of other content on there, including some of my freelance favorites. It’s been a work in progress, but I update it regularly.
Just for Fun:
Night or Day? Day
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) Dog (ROCCO: HMMMMM)
Beach or Pool? Beach
Steak or salad? Salad
Favorite Drink? Tetley “Warmth” Cinnamon Rooibus tea. Or Chardonnay. Really enjoy a glass of white wine after a long day.
Favorite Book? I have to pick just one? Impossible. Maybe Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery because it was the first book I fell in love with as a kid.
Favorite TV Series? NCIS. Even named my Golden Retriever Gibbs.
Favorite Movie? The Sting
Favorite Actor: Used to be the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was brilliant. Maybe Matt Damon. He seems like a down-to-earth guy.
Favorite Actress: Meryl Streep. Did you see her in August: Osage County? Amazing.
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Pina Colada
Hawaii or Alaska? Damn, I want to visit both places. Okay, Alaska. No, wait, Hawaii…
Finish this sentence: If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be Truman Capote.
If I had just one wish, it would be to write the great Canadian novel. Something that really and truly made a difference.
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be no one. My life has never been perfect, but I’ve lived it on my own terms.
Find Judy at www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she blogs about the writing life and interviews other authors. You can also find Judy on
Win an eBook copy of The Hanged Man’s Noose (PDF, ePub, or Kindle) by commenting on this post. Winner will be randomly selected. Contest closes midnight, April 12.