For today’s edition of 20 Questions, I have the pleasure of welcoming Judy Penz Sheluk. Judy has just released a book, Skeletons in the Attic, on August 16th. She is going to tell us about that work and about her inspiration along with a bit about herself.
Please enjoy this edition of 20 Questions:
Q1) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
The first time I read Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery. I was about eight at the time, and it’s a story about Emily Starr of New Moon, Prince Edward Island and her desire to become a writer. She would write every night by candlelight in her “Jimmy book.” Of course, life got in the way and it would be many, many years before I wrote my first novel (The Hanged Man’s Noose), but I named my protagonist Emily. It seemed only fitting.
Q2) How long does it typically take you to write a book?
The first book, The Hanged Man’s Noose, probably about 15 months start to finish. The second book, Skeletons in the Attic, about a year. Now I’m working on the sequels to both for 2017 publication, so I won’t have the luxury of that much time. But it’s like anything else you do; once you’ve done it and figured out what works and what doesn’t, it gets easier. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Q3) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Insane! I’m the Senior Editor for New England Antiques Journal, which is a monthly magazine, and the Editor for Home BUILDER Canada, which is bi-monthly. Being an editor means assigning content, editing the content, writing bylined articles, and writing all the non-bylined filler. When NEAJ and HBM are on deadline at the same time, it can be pretty crazy. So I write/edit all day, and then I write my books or short stories. Sometimes I reverse the order…the muse gets pretty confused and sometimes she’s too tired to write.
Q4) What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Not sure if it’s a quirk, but folks are always surprised to find out that I write listening to talk radio, either Newstalk 1010 Toronto or Talk 640 Toronto. I switch around depending on the host and topic.
Q5) How are your books published?
My two novels are traditionally published. Barking Rain Press in Vancouver, Washington, publishes The Glass Dolphin Mysteries (The Hanged Man’s Noose) and Imajin Books in Kelowna, BC publishes The Marketville Mysteries (Skeletons in the Attic). I have a couple of short story collections that I have self-published on Amazon (Live Free or Tri / Unhappy Endings), and I also have some short stories in traditionally published crime fiction anthologies.
Q6) Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Life. The premise behind The Hanged Man’s Noose is that a real estate developer comes to a small town with plans to build a mega-box store on historic Main Street, thereby threatening the livelihoods of the shop owners. I’ve seen first hand how incensed people can become when it comes to unwanted development. I merely took that situation and said, “What if someone was willing to murder to stop it?”
The premise behind Skeletons in the Attic is that my protagonist, Callie Barnstable, inherits a house from her late father. In order to inherit, she has to live there for a year and try to find out who murdered her mother thirty years before, when Callie was six. The thing is, she didn’t know about the house, and she always thought her mom had left for another man. That idea came to me while waiting in my lawyer’s office. I was there with my husband, Mike, to revise our wills. The opening scene in the book is culled directly from that experience. The rest of the stuff I just made up!
Q7) If you don’t mind sharing, when did you write your first book and how old were you?
My first book, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published in July 2015. As for my age, I’m a fair bit older than my protagonist, who is 36. But I used to be 36, so we have that in common.
Q8) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
In summer, I’m a passionate, if not particularly good, golfer. I belong to two ladies 9-hole leagues and I also golf at other courses. I seldom do 18, mainly because of the time it takes. I’m also a runner; I’ve done a few half marathons and four full marathons, but when I’m not training for an event, I’ll drop back to 5k (3 miles) three times a week. Winter is better to do long distance training, since I’m not golfing. I’m also an avid reader, mostly mystery, but I do read other genres.
Q9) What is your favorite book?
I don’t know if I have a favorite book of all time. I loved The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, but In Cold Blood by Truman Capote probably influenced me more, since I first read it when I was about ten (and have since reread as an adult).
Q10) What do your family and friends think of your writing?
They’re all really supportive and they tell me they like it, but that might be because they don’t want to be the victim in my next story. My husband says he sleeps with his eyes open!
Q11) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I knew it would be hard work, but I was surprised at how hard it can be. Some days the words flow and others…not so much. But it’s funny because after I’ve written the first draft, and I go back to revise, I’m often surprised at what I’ve written. It’s like I don’t even remember writing large chunks of it.
Q12) What do you hate most about the writing process?
There’s nothing about it I really hate, though sometimes I worry that I won’t get another idea. I feel very fortunate to be able to write for a living, albeit a very modest one. Especially since I used to work as a Credit and Collections Manager. Now that’s depressing work.
Q13) How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
Two books so far: The Hanged Man’s Noose and Skeletons in the Attic. I don’t have a favorite. Although they are both mysteries, they are very different books. Noose is third person, alternating POVs, Skeletons is first person, one POV.
Q14) Do you have any suggestions to help us become better writers? If so, what are they?
To quote Agatha Christie: “There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.”
Q15) Do you get feedback from your readers much? How and what kinds of things do they say?
I blog about the writing life, and I’m very honest. I share the good, the bad, and the heartbreakingly sad. Those posts seem to really resonate with people. There’s this illusion that you write a book and publishers and agents will be clamouring for it. The reality is quite different. I don’t get a lot of other feedback, although I’d welcome it.
Q16) What is your preferred reading audience?
People who like to buy mystery novels and are willing to try a lesser known author. In all seriousness, my books have no overt sex, violence or bad language (there’s the odd bastard but that’s about it), so they are appropriate for any age or gender.
Q17) What do you think makes a good story?
The characters have to seem like real people and the premise has to be plausible, even if it means stretching the plausibility meter some. I like to be able to turn the pages quickly, so I’m not overly fond of books with a lot of description.
Q18) As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be a journalist, but it took me a long time to realize that dream. I spent many years in the corporate world of Credit and Collections. In 2003, my day job was downsized. I decided to try my hand at freelance writing for magazines and newspapers. It was easier then, to break in. Print media was still vibrant. The freelance writing led to the editing gigs. I’ve never looked back.
Q19) Where can we find your books?
They are available in print and eBook and you can find them on Amazon, Chapters.Indigo, AbeBooks.com, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play, Barnes & Noble, and some indie bookstores.
Q20) Will you give us an excerpt from one of your favorite works?
This scene is taken from Chapter 2, when Callie Barnstable, the protagonist, has learned that in order to inherit the house her father left, she has to move in and find out who murdered her mother thirty years before. A mother she thought had left voluntarily…
“I work at a bank call center. The only thing I know how to investigate is customer complaints.” I tried to process everything Leith had told me. “You said I needed to move into the house. What if I don’t find out anything?” What if, as was entirely likely, there was nothing to find out? What if I found evidence that implicated my father?
“Your only obligation is to try, and of course, to live there.”
“If I don’t want to?”
“Fifty thousand dollars would be held in escrow for renovations. Misty Rivers would be allowed to live in the Marketville house, rent-free for the period of one year, with the proviso she investigates your mother’s disappearance. I would be given weekly progress reports, for which she would be paid one thousand dollars per report. The same sort of progress reports you would be expected to give, should you agree to take this on. The entire fifty thousand dollars would be paid outright should the mystery of your mother’s disappearance be solved before the year was up.”
Weekly progress reports saying what? The lilac was back in bloom? I wanted to scream. Instead I asked, “What happens after a year?”
“Misty Rivers moves out. The house will come into your full possession, to do with what you like. No more strings.”
In the meantime, some swindling psychic would be pawing through my mother’s belongings and living rent-free, probably without any interest in clearing my father’s name. Not on my dime and not on my time.
“As I mentioned earlier, your obligation ceases one year from the date you move in. After that, you’re free to do what you wish. Sell the house, continue to live there, put it back on the rental market. The fifty thousand dollars for renovations would be available from the moment you move in. Any dollars not used for renovations will come to you free and clear.”
“And what becomes of Misty Rivers?
“She’s on a five-thousand dollar retainer, should you decide to consult with her.”
I couldn’t imagine doing any such a thing.
But it looked as if I was moving to Marketville
About Judy Penz Sheluk:
Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published in July 2015. Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series, was published in August 2016.
Judy’s short crime fiction appears in World Enough and Crime, The Whole She-Bang 2, Flash and Bang and Live Free or Tri.
Find Judy on her website/blog at www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews other authors and blogs about the writing life.
Find Judy’s Books: