You ever meet or discover an author and think, “Hoo boy! I gotta get to know this one better”?
Well, Judy Penz Sheluk is one of those authors.
This week, I got to talk to Judy about her books (she writes mystery with a splash of suspense), where she gets her ideas from (be careful: everything that happens in a writer’s life may end up in one of their stories), and the most famous person she ever met (which led her to blurt out something unexpected).
Looking for another author to follow and new books to read? I’ve got a wonderful one to share with you…
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I have so many friends and acquaintances that are authors, so I can’t name them all because I’m afraid I’ll leave someone out! But I will say that for those who are looking to connect with other authors, a great resource is Sisters in Crime (I belong to International, Toronto, and Guppy branches). Attend any major conference (Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, for example) and there will be a Sisters in Crime breakfast. Your local chapter will have monthly meetings, and Guppies, which started as the Great Unpublished, now includes published and unpublished authors. When I joined Guppies, I was unpublished, and the mentorship from published authors was incredible. After I was published, I kept my membership as a way of giving back, but I still continue to gain knowledge. Recently, I wondered if the expression, “Great minds think alike” was a Toronto thing, and so I asked on the Yahoo Digest. I had dozens of authors from all over the U.S. and Canada respond (it isn’t).
I also belong to Crime Writers of Canada. Once again, I joined as an unpublished (Associate) member, and now I’m a Professional member. CWC does so much for the Canadian mystery scene. For example, in February, I went to the Ontario Library Superconference on their invite, and was part of an author group who could do a short presentation on my latest novel, Skeletons in the Attic, to the many libraries represented. Afterwards, the group met at a local pub for a drink. You cannot put a price on that sort of networking. Recently, I was asked if I’d like to be part of the CWC Board of Directors, and so I’ve thrown my name in the hat. The voting is in late May. Whatever the outcome, that’s an honor.
I also belong to the International Thriller Writers, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. I was able to meet many of the members of SMFS at Bouchercon in Raleigh in 2015. At the time, I had just been published, and I find short crime fiction incredibly difficult to write, so having lunch with some really well known names in short fiction was inspiring, to say the least.
My advice to any writer, published or not, is to join an association that works for your genre. Go to one conference a year. Invest in yourself!
What’s the most surprising review you ever received?
My first 1-star review. I’d come off a run of 5-star reviews for Skeletons in the Attic, and so when I saw the 1-star review, it took my breath away. I know, as a reader and writer, that reading tastes are subjective, but I think the first 1-star review is going to sting, no matter who your are. The reviewer said something along the lines of “I didn’t actually mind this book, and read it all the way through, but I don’t think it’s worth 5 stars. The only way to lower the rating is to give it 1-star.
I went to my Sisters in Crime Guppies Yahoo Digest to lament my first 1-star review. Surprisingly, I received all sorts of “Congratulations, welcome to the club!” One author even told me it was a good thing. “No one trusts all 5-star reviews,” she said. “You just became legitimate.”
Did you grow up with books? If so, what were your favorites and why
Definitely. My mom read to me every night until I was able to read myself. My favorite story was Heidi. She must have read that to me 100 times, and if she tried to skip ahead, I’d say, “Hey, you missed a part.” When I was a kid, she worked part-time at Zeller’s Department Store in the Toy Dept. She would buy me a new Nancy Drew book every week. I had the whole collection at one time. When I was a teenager, my mom gave the set to a woman at her work, for her daughter (by then she was working at a bank). It broke my heart. I LOVED those books! Years later, my mom admitted she should have asked my permission first, and that she’d made a mistake. I just hope the other girl loved those books as much as I did.
What genre do you write in, and why? What fascinates you most about that genre?
Mystery with a splash of suspense. It’s my go-to genre for reading (although I do read other genres). I try to write books and stories that I would like to read. I also read a lot because I truly believe reading is the best teacher. Want to learn how to pace a novel? Read John Sandford. Want to see how much a writer can evolve over time? Read Sue Grafton from A to X. Want to learn the art of setting? Read Louise Penny or Tana French. Want to learn to write a humorous mystery? Melodie Campbell and Joanne Guidoccio are great examples. Mel is also a great study in the novella. And I love anthologies. What better way to read the best in short crime fiction?
If you could be any animal, what would it be and why?
A Golden Retriever. I’ve owned 4 Golden Retrievers (my current Golden, Gibbs, is about 1½ years old), and a Golden mix as a kid. They live a very pampered life with me. They get to run, go for walks, swim, sleep, eat, play fetch, get petted and groomed.
Name one book you’ve read that you wished you’d written.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. It made me laugh, cry, get angry, rejoice. The BEST ending ever. I read it just after I lost my last Golden, Copper, at 12 ½ years old. It comforted me in a very dark time.
Tell us about your most recent book. What prompted you to write it?
I started writing Skeletons in the Attic while trying to find a publisher for my debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, the first book in the Glass Dolphin Mystery series. I didn’t want to stop writing, but I couldn’t bring myself to write the sequel to a novel that hadn’t yet found “a home.”
The idea for Skeletons in the Attic came to me while I waited with my husband, Mike, in our lawyer’s office. We were there to update our wills, and his goldendoodle kept us company while our lawyer was detained at court. The opening scenes of this book are culled directly from that experience. Let that be your takeaway from this: everything that happens in a writer’s life may end up in one of their stories.
Who was the most famous person you ever met?
Many years ago, when I was just a teenager, I was in Los Angeles visiting friends of my mother’s, and we ran into Robert Wagner in front of a restaurant. I’ve never been a huge celebrity follower, but I loved Natalie Wood (I used to watch that movie Gypsy whenever it would come on TV) and I even tried to wear my eye make-up and hair like hers. Anyway, I looked at Robert Wagner, and he knew we had recognized him, and he said, “Hello” with a big smile. And I blurted out, “I really love your wife!” He laughed and said, “So do I.”
What was your most exciting moment as a writer?
Without question, signing my first contract (for The Hanged Man’s Noose, with Barking Rain Press) in July 2014. It had been such a long journey – I’d started writing it in December 2011, and had faced so much rejection. But I never gave up on my story, or myself.
I’m hoping there are lots more exciting moments to come!
Do you have any strange writing habits?
I write listening to Talk Radio. I have two go-two stations, Newstalk 1010 Toronto and Talk 640 Toronto, and I switch between them depending on the host/topic. On the weekend, there’s lots of advertising type of shows. There’s a car guy, and a veterinarian, and a lawyer who does employment law. I listen to them all. Sunday mornings there’s a trivia show I quite like. I don’t know how I can write and listen to talk radio (not to mention answer trivia in my head) but it works for me.
As an author, what’s the best thing you love about, or from, readers?
When someone says that they couldn’t put my book down, it makes my day. I also love getting feedback on my blog/website. I feature a lot of other authors (interviews, New Release Mondays etc.) but every other Friday I write a post on my writing life. I’m honest about my experiences, and I’m always grateful for feedback from readers. To this day, my most popular post remains “The First Cut Is the Deepest” about my search for an agent. It spawned several other posts in my One Writer’s Journey, and set the stage for how I wanted to shape my blog.
What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there…
Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder.
Callie’s not keen on dredging up a thirty-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?
Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose (Barking Rain Press), was published in July 2015. Skeletons in the Attic (Imajin Books), the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series, was published in August 2016. Her short crime fiction is included in several collections.
Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
Find Judy on her website/blog, where she interviews other authors and blogs about the writing life. You can also find Judy on Facebook (facebook.com/JudyPenzSheluk) and Twitter (@JudyPenzSheluk) and on her Amazon author page.
WANT TO MEET JUDY? Judy Penz Sheluk will be at Malice Domestic in Bethesda, MD, April 28-30, and at Bouchercon Toronto, October 12-15. If you’re there, be sure to seek her out to say hello!
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