Monday’s Friend: Judy Penz Sheluk
Today I’m pleased to welcome mystery writer Judy Penz Sheluk to the blog.
SJT: So you hail from Canada, like my amateur sleuth. What do you think makes Canadians stand out from other nationalities?
JPS: I don’t know that we do, or perhaps if we do, we’d rather not, preferring to keep a low profile (although our current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, don’t seem to be particularly camera-shy!)
Canada, and by definition, Canadians, are changing, especially in the major urban centres, which have become very ethnically diverse. Toronto, where I grew up, has changed dramatically over the past two decades. Once quite one-dimensional, it’s now a huge International melting pot. If there’s a food you’re hankering for, you’ll find the real deal in Toronto, from Vietnamese to Indian and everything in between. I’m not sure if that’s so different from any other major city. Probably not.
I think, though, as Canadians we are often compared with our neighbours to the south, and there is a difference. One thing that always makes me laugh is the way we look at travel. A Canadian going to the U.S. will say, “I’m going to Chicago or New York, or Miami or Dallas.” An American will say, “I’m going to Canada.” Doesn’t matter if that’s St. John’s, Newfoundland or Vancouver, British Columbia. I suspect the same would hold true for travel to the UK. A Canadian would say, “I’m going to London or I’m going to the Cotswolds.” An American would probably say, “I’m going to England.”
SJT: When did you first know you were destined to be a writer?
JPS: Destined? I’m not sure if it was destined, but always knew I wanted to write (although it took me years to do anything about it). As a kid, I used to make up stories in my head all the time. I’d have a storyline going on for a couple of weeks, like a TV series, until it came to an end. Then I’d start another one. I always thought everyone did that. I found out later that’s not the case. Part of it is because I was an only child of very strict immigrant parents (they emigrated from post-war East Germany (mom) and then-Yugoslavia (dad) to Nottingham, England, where they met…and then to Toronto in the 1950s, when they married). They were both teenagers during the war, and I think the memories made them a bit overprotective. Anyway, I spent a lot of time in my room, reading Nancy Drew and L.M. Montgomery, and making up stories in my head. Put like that, I suppose it sounds quite horrid, but it wasn’t. I loved going to my room and sometimes I’d purposely get into trouble so I could go there to be by myself. I still value my alone time. I can be social, but I’m happiest in my office, writing stories, my dog under my desk.
SJT: Who would you cite as your influences?
JPS: Agatha Christie had a profound impact on me. I read every one of her books (including her six romances penned under the name of Mary Westmacott) during my teens/early twenties. I always knew I’d want to write a mystery, when I was ready to start writing.
Truman Capote. His book, In Cold Blood, was nothing short of spectacular. In a time when there were no 24/7 news cycles, Capote captured the horrific murder of the Clutter family, and he humanized murderers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock while doing so. I can remember reading it as a young girl and thinking, “Wow, that’s how you paint a picture with words.” I’ve reread it as an adult, and while it doesn’t pack the same punch today (we’re so desensitized to violence), it’s still beautifully written. One of my favourite movies is Capote, starring the late Seymour Philip Hoffman. Hoffman won an Oscar for his portrayal of Capote and it was well earned. If you haven’t seen it, you must.
SJT: Have you always written mysteries, or have you ever ventured into other genres?
JPS: I wrote a few “literary” stories in the early 2000s. That’s when I first started trying to write and started taking workshops. Three of those flash fiction stories were published in THEMA, a literary publication out of New Orleans. I self published the collection on Kindle (Unhappy Endings) earlier this year.
Once I started to write mystery, however, I never looked back. It’s my go-to genre to read, and reading is the best teacher. I also want to write stories that I’d like to read.
SJT: What advice would you pass on to beginner writers that you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?
JPS: I always quote Agatha Christie when I’m asked this. “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.” It’s the best advice I can offer. If you decide to wait for the muse to pay you a visit, you’ll grow old without a single word on the page!
SJT: Tell us about the new book.
JPS: I’m ridiculously excited by it, and it’s gotten some amazing advance reviews. It’s very different than The Hanged Man’s Noose (my first novel, July 2015), which is told in third person, multiple POV. Skeletons in the Attic is told in first person, one POV. Here’s a brief synopsis:
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?
SJT: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
JPS: I love being outdoors. In the summer, I golf in two ladies leagues. Only 9 holes, more because of time than anything else. I’m a runner. I’ve done four marathons, and a bunch of half marathons, 30ks, 10ks etc. These days, I’m not training for anything in particular, so I’ll run 5k three times a week. You can always ramp back up (though it does get harder as you age up!). I also enjoy walking my ten-month-old Golden Retriever, Gibbs. I’d like to get running with him, but his leash training needs to come a ways first. I’ve had Goldens most of my life. I can’t imagine life without a dog (although I would not miss the dog hair). I also enjoy going to our cottage/camp on Lake Superior in northern Ontario. It’s a far drive from where we live (8 hours) but it’s beautiful and a great place to write while my husband, Mike, does his man cave stuff (moving rocks, splitting firewood).
SJT: What’s next for you, writing-wise?
JPS: I’m currently working on the sequel to The Hanged Man’s Noose and hope to have that into the publisher this fall. I’ve also been asked to write a sequel to Skeletons, so that is a priority. And I’m planning a new series, novella-length. Another mystery series, but a bit more light-hearted. To quote Erica Jong, “When I sit down at my writing desk, time seems to vanish. I think it’s a wonderful way to spend one’s life.”
Thank you for having me.
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.
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 at www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews other authors and blogs about the writing life.
Find Judy’s books on Amazon: Amazon UK