Elementary, my dear Watson

Even though I love reading—I do watch my fair share of television. One of my favorite shows is Elementary. What’s not to like: Sherlock Holmes, Lucy Liu and murder mystery all in one neat package. But what I like most about it is that at least once per episode I have to look up a word Sherlock uses. The man is British you see, with a vast vocabulary. But then, it’s a TV show, so it’s possible the screen-writers are assisting.

The other day (I confess I’m a bit behind with watching) Sherlock used the word “quisling.” The guy he was talking to didn’t blink—obviously, he belonged the quisling-is-part-of-my-vocabulary cohort of the population. I guess it’s just me and my husband who have been under-educated.

Every time this happens I am a little annoyed. It’s nothing but envy really; I’d love to be able to string sentences together like Sherlock. Still, the question remained: what on earth is a quisling? Turns out, it’s not something you want to be called.

Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian politician, who founded the fascist party in Norway in 1933. He was the prime minister of a pro-Nazi government from 1942-1945. After the war, he was sentenced to death for high treason, amongst other charges. A quisling therefore, is a traitor—a collaborator with the enemy.

“Quisling” is an eponym: a person, thing or place after whom/which something is named. Our language has many of them. If you’re lucky, and you invented something cool, your name may live on forever. Like the Diesel engine, the Jacuzzi, a leotard, or pasteurization.

Back in the day, a physician could describe some terrible affliction and lend his/her name to it. Like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. Even though these people did important work, it’s not the most pleasant way to be remembered. When you’re suffering from a bout of salmonella, you won’t be interested in knowing it was named after a vet called Dr. Salmon. Actually, according to Wikipedia it was his assistant who discovered the bacteria, but Smithella doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

I couldn’t find many examples of words like “quisling” – where the name itself becomes the type of person you’re referring to. (And to answer your question, yes, I actually waste time thinking about stuff like this…). One can be a Don Juan, or a Casanova—or a Sherlock for that matter. It must be pretty awesome to have written a book that’s so well-known, one of your characters becomes the eponym. Like Jekyll and Hyde, or a Scrooge. We refer to an Odyssey, a Faustian bargain, or Big Brother, and even though we may not have read the books in question, the meaning of the words is ingrained in our language.

Not many writers will accomplish this, but don’t let that keep you from trying. Your next literary work could provide us with a new addition to our language—and as a writer, I think there are very few things as cool as that!

 

 

 

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

One question I get regularly, as a writer of stories with a paranormal slant, is whether I believe in ghosts. My children are particularly obsessed with this. Even though I think having a sixth sense would be tremendously interesting—or immensely terrifying, depending how the experience would turn out—I can’t say I have ever actually seen a ghost.

That said, I think many of us have had, at some point in time, an experience that defied a rational explanation. I don’t necessarily always need a rational explanation; sometimes things just happen. Maybe it’s just intuition kicking in at the right moment. A gut-feeling. Or maybe we do all have a sixth sense, somewhere deep down, only to stir and warn us when “something” triggers it.  I like to keep an open mind—the brain is after all a fabulous thing. Then again, it’s also very much capable of deluding us.

Many years ago, I visited a friend in Edinburgh, Scotland, and we went on a ghost-tour. Edinburgh is a really good place for things like that; Scotland is riddled with ghosts apparently, if you believe the rumors.  My friend and I signed up for a tour that went underground, through Mary King’s Close. It’s an area that used to have very narrow streets, called closes, lined by high buildings. Back in the day the poorest people would live on ground level (where all the sewage and waste was piled up), and the richest people would live on the top floor, as far away from the stench as possible.

In 1753 this area was covered up for the construction of the Royal Exchange.  The ground level of the buildings was used as foundation, and the closes were covered up. But they are still there.  It’s eery alright, being down there in the near-darkness, with a guide whispering spooky stories.

One of stories we were told was about when the plague visited Mary King’s Close in 1644. To quarantine the people living there, the close was completely sealed off, essentially leaving the people within to perish without food or water. For days the people screamed, begging to be let out, until finally the screaming subsided. It is said that a little girl, named Annie, who died of the plague, still roams the place, looking for her doll.

A story like this is enough to curdle your blood, morphing any shadow into a little girl searching for her doll. Or worse.

Did I see a ghost? No. And neither did my friend. But we were certainly creeped out.

If you dig around on the internet, there are several websites stating that this story is not true. The people were provided with food and water, even a doctor. Healthy people may have been sequestered elsewhere. I truly hope so, cause otherwise they were imprisoned in a plague-infested area. And the flees didn’t stop biting.

Whether the story is true or not, the tour was well done. And very memorable. If you like to be spooked, I would highly recommend doing a ghost tour in Edinburgh; there are plenty to choose from!

Funny thing is, I did have a “strange” experience in Edinburgh. My friend and I stayed at a large house that was completely empty, aside from the two of us. She mentioned that some people, who had stayed in this house, had eerie, frightening experiences while sleeping in one of the guest rooms. She did not tell me which room, but instead dared me to walk around the house—on my own—and see if I could identify the room. I did (highly skeptically), but to my surprise there was one room that stood out. It was identical to any of the other rooms I’d seen thus far. However, when I entered, the temperature seemed to drop several degrees. The room felt “different,” for a lack of a better word. It wasn’t like there was something evil present, or like I suddenly had unwanted company. But I remember feeling so uncomfortable that I wanted to leave the room. I didn’t finish my tour of the house. I knew this was THE ROOM, and it was.

But of course, I had been looking for this room, with heightened perception. The question is, if I had been assigned this room for the night, unaware of the stories, would I have noticed the same discomfort?

I firmly believe in science—I’d like to think everything has an explanation. It’s just that we haven’t figured out everything quite yet. And for some things, maybe we’re not supposed to either. Because when it comes down to it, we all need a little bit of mystery every now and then.

Author Interview – Harriet Steel

This month I interviewed Harriet Steel, the author of  The Inspector de Silva Mysteries. The series takes place in Sri Lanka, when it was still called Ceylon, during the late-colonial era. I recently read the first book: “Trouble in Nuala,” which is a wonderful, slower paced, classic-feel mystery novel. The main character, Inspector de Silva, is Sinhalese; his wife, a former governess, is English. The characters and the setting, including the Ceylon culture and the British domination, occupy the center of the story; the mystery itself moves along almost quietly. All combined, this provided a very rewarding read. I knew little about Sri Lanka, but Harriet made the island come alive. 

Welcome Harriet. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m married with two grown-up daughters and three grandchildren. My husband and I live in Surrey in the UK. It’s near London but very rural in parts, and we both enjoy walking in the countryside near home. Apart from walking, I like to spend time with family and friends, go to the theatre, visit art galleries, and of course, write.
Originally, I qualified as a lawyer and worked in that field before my writing became more than a hobby. I started with short stories, many of which were published in magazines and anthologies, but I didn’t really plan to be more ambitious. That changed when I was a finalist in a national short story competition run by BBC television.
Part of the prize was a day spent with bestselling UK author, Joanne Harris. It was an inspiring experience. At one point, she was asked what advice she’d give to aspiring writers, and her answer was succinct: drop the word “aspiring” and just write. I decided to take her advice and embark on a novel. I wasn’t sure what to write about though, only that I wanted it to be something historical as I’m a great fan of historical novels as well as mysteries. Then I came across the remarkable story of the notorious, but today little known, Victorian adventuress and dancer, Lola Montez, and knew I’d found the perfect subject. I wrote three more historical novels before turning to crime with The Inspector de Silva Mysteries.

Trouble in Nuala takes place in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the 1930s; why Sri Lanka and why the specific time period?

It’s the perfect combination of a country I love and the Golden Age of detective fiction.

How did you prepare yourself to feel confident writing about the 1930s AND about a country you don’t live in (in the 1930s!)?

A high-risk choice I admit! But having written several historical novels beforehand, I was used to carrying out research and immersing myself in times past. I think it’s something that gets easier as you gain experience. I read whatever I could lay my hands on, whether it was fiction or non-fiction. I also watched films and looked at images from those times. Google is a wonderful resource!

Can you tell us a little about the main character, Inspector de Silva?

Shanti de Silva is pragmatic but principled with a dry sense of humor. A happily married man, he likes books and gardens as I do. There are so many murder mysteries around that feature detectives with messy private lives. I wanted Shanti to be a normal kind of man who must deal with abnormal situations as part of his job.

What/who is your favorite book/author?

What a difficult question! I read widely and in a variety of moods, so I find it very hard to choose only one book or author. I think we’re incredibly lucky to have such an enormous choice of reading these days. I recently visited an ancient house that’s in the early stages of restoration. A nineteenth-century owner was an avid book collector and in the process of cataloguing the contents of his library, someone found a book of poems that had belonged to King Charles I. From the inscription on the flyleaf, they realised it must have been in his possession while he was waiting in the Tower of London to be executed. The rest of the inscription read Dum respiro speroWhile I breathe, I hope. The book was obviously well used. I found it an incredibly moving reminder of how rare and precious books were in the days when only the privileged few had the chance to own them. Indeed, most people couldn’t even read.

However, to make some attempt at answering your question more specifically, in the historical genre, some of my favorite authors are Elizabeth Chadwick and Hilary Mantel. Blending history and mystery, I like S J Paris and C J Sansom. With other mysteries, I’m not fond of anything with a lot of graphic violence; I prefer writers of the Golden Age like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, also contemporary authors such as Elly Griffiths or Will Dean. I love it when a writer conjures up a strong sense of place as they do. I also read a fair few cozy mysteries to keep up with what’s happening in the genre I write in. In the classics, it has to be Jane Austen. I have an enduring weakness for Mr Darcy!

Yes, me too… although in my mind he will always look like Colin Firth.

What’s your writing routine?

I don’t have a rigid one, but I try to write each day, even if I only achieve a few hundred words. You can’t edit what’s not on the page. Ideally, I prefer to write in the morning when I’m at my most alert!

Are you working on anything at the moment?

I’m working on the seventh book in The Inspector de Silva Mysteries: working title Rough Time in Nuala. The story centers around the machinations of the members of the Royal Nuala Golf Club. It’s a world de Silva has had very little previous contact with. I like to take him out of his comfort zone from time to time.

I look forward to reading it. Thank you, Harriet!

 

You caHarriet Steel Publicity Photofind Harriet Steel on her website, her Amazon Author Page and on Facebook

How big is your TBR pile?

Apparently, the Japanese language has a word for the TBR pile: Tsundoku—buying books and not reading them. I love the word, but what I don’t know is if “tsundoku” also implies the intent to read those books. After all, the idea of  a to-be-read pile is that the books will be read at some point, so just having them sit there is not that useful. Besides, I don’t have enough space for a tsundoku.

I am always looking for new books, but the trick is to remember which books I wanted to read. Before I had children, I would spend hours just browsing the bookstore and return with a bag full of new treasures. I would write down the names of books I still wanted to read—a list that invariably would get lost somewhere in a pile of other lists. These days, if I have an afternoon to spare—but seriously, who am I kidding. I really do not have any afternoons to spare.

Fortunately, there’s technology. I find the Goodreads site is an excellent resource to keep track of which books I still want to read, and a great way to discover new books. Reviews are right there, which makes the choice a lot easier. With one click I can add those books to my TBR list: a most efficient way to never forget a good book (and it takes up a lot less physical space in my house). Compared to some other people on Goodreads my TBR pile is a light-weight. Right now I have about 130 books on there. I sometimes run across people who have over 30,000.

I have always wondered about TBR lists that big—I would never get through a list comprised of so many books. Even if I would read a book a day (which I don’t) it would be impossible. A list that huge would give me stress and reading is supposed to be fun. My TBR list is meant for books I actually intend to read (someday). I can see the appeal though; I suppose it’s like having a virtual, pre-selected bookstore at your fingertips and any book you’d choose would be one you’re interested in. I just don’t think it would work for me. But, even though I strive to cross off at least ten books a year from my TBR list, it’s growing faster than I chip away at it. Still, I try to keep it manageable.

The thing is, my choice of books is not solely based on my TBR list and plenty books I read never make it on there. Goodreads is a site where popular books will create a buzz and therefor become more even more popular. It also depends on how many contacts you have or how many people you follow, since this determines part of the exposure; you see which books they read and whether they liked it or not. If I would just stick to Goodreads to find new books, I think it would restrict my reading experience; I’d miss out on a lot of other good reads that way.

Sometimes I wander (it’s really not wandering, more like a quick stroll) through the library and will just randomly select a book, which can lead to an interesting evening—or not so much—but I like the potential of surprise it holds. There’s something sentimental about it—it’s how I picked books when I was a child. Our library was small, but for me the children’s section was a gift that kept on giving; it always promised something unexpected and exciting: an escape from dreary, rainy afternoons, new adventures in uncharted lands, and a vast supply of imaginary friends. Nowadays, I still dig through my son’s stack of library books for the occasional read, since I have never quite lost my inner middle grade reader.  His books are less complicated, yet have plenty of excitement. What’s not to like?

Then there are books from other indie authors, which I’d never find on my own on Goodreads because they often don’t have that many reviews and don’t create the same amount of buzz—yet can be as enjoyable as the more conventional published novels. I always try to read a fair number of these every year.

Do you keep a tsundoku? How do you manage your TBR list? I’d love to hear other people’s experiences!

 

 

Book Release: The Secrets of Sinclair Lodge

The third book in the Dunnhill Mystery Series is available for pre-order!!

Can you tell I am excited?

SecretsSinclair

Release date: December 17!!!

Click here to order!

In Sinclair Lodge, you are never alone…

Sara Eriksson has moved to Dunnhill, a charming, small mountain village tucked in the Northern Cascades, to be closer to her boyfriend David. The start of the winter season has transformed the town into a snow-lover’s paradise—but perhaps not the paradise Sara had in mind.

Sara’s bank account is a disaster. Work is hard to come by. David, who is mourning the loss of his grandfather, has withdrawn into an obsession for skiing—an obsession he desperately wants to share with Sara. She doesn’t know how to ski, but David is determined to teach her. And if that wasn’t enough to deal with, she stumbles upon a dead body.

When an unexpected job offer comes her way—tutoring a young girl in the famed Sinclair Lodge—her problems seem to be solved. However, she quickly finds out they are only getting started. As she mingles with the rich, powerful and disturbing members of the Sinclair household, she becomes entangled in a web of secrets, lies and intrigue. Before long, her haunting dreams and visions return, slowly exposing the terrifying truth.

But what is the truth? Whom can she trust? And who might be coming for her? The journey ahead is a treacherous one. She soon realizes she has to watch her step, for there is danger hiding in every corner…

 

 

A Hundred Years to Never Forget…(Let’s read some books about the Great War)

It’s been a hundred years since the end of World War I—an appropriate time to highlight some books I read this year on this subject. The books are all different—the main characters have different nationalities and the books are set in different locations—providing an interesting perspective.

World War I has always appeared as a messy affair to me. First, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia, and based on alliances, other countries joined in; with Britain, France, Russia, Italy and the US on one side and Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire on the other. Eight and half million soldiers and seven million civilians lost their lives in the span of four years.

But a book usually focuses on one region. Let’s start with The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. It’s set in France during World War I (and World War II) and embraces the role women played in it. The book has two closely connected storylines. In 1947, we get to know Charlie, an American girl trying to locate her French cousin, who is presumed dead. In 1915, we follow Eve, who works as a spy for the Alice Network in France during World War I.

I liked the story set in 1915 the best. The danger of Eve’s job, the double standards she had to deal with as a woman in her profession, her resourcefulness and bravery, all made it impossible for me to put the book down. I don’t know as much about World War I as I would like, and I certainly didn’t know about the Alice Network. The afterword by Kate Quinn is a wonderful addition; much of the book is based on true events.

It’s so easy to ignore women in history who did amazing things. Because, let’s face it, back in the beginning of the 20th century women weren’t supposed to do “amazing things.” The women who were part of The Alice Network, lived in a time in which they were still not allowed to vote, yet they showed themselves capable enough to spy on the enemy and put their lives at risk. For me, Eve’s story alone made this book an excellent read.

As Kate Quinn explains in the afterword, the Alice Network and Alice Dubois, or Louise de Bettingies, really existed. She organized a vast and highly effective network of informants in the area of Lille. Louise was captured by the Germans in 1915, and died in prison in 1918, before the end of the war.

My interest wsparked by reading The Alice Network, led me to pick up a classic describing life in the trenches: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (written in 1927). Mr. Remarque himself was a soldier on the German side. Instead of glorifying the war, his descriptions of the carnage and total despair these men faced, paint a vivid picture of the utter madness of war. In a few passages, he flat-out taunts the people in power, questioning why the common men always end up fighting a war that was not theirs to begin with. Not surprisingly, the book was forbidden by the Nazi regime. Mr. Remarque had to flee Germany soon after publishing it and in 1938 his German citizenship was revoked.

Some of the areas of fighting in West-Europe, initially nothing but scarred fields of mud and craters, were cordoned off after the war and have since then developed into lush forests, but unfortunately, some are still littered with (unexploded) shells. Other areas apparently are still toxic, containing high levels of arsenic. For reference, check out this article in the Atlantic.

I have never visited any of the battlefields in West-Europe, but this summer we went to Slovenia and Italy, where there was extensive fighting as well. Triglav National Park, in Slovenia, is a beautiful mountainous area—you can hardly imagine its bloody history while enjoying the amazing views of emerald rivers, pristine waterfalls and rocky mountain tops. My daughter decided that if there are fairies, they’d be sure to live in this place.

The fairies may have thought differently a hundred years ago. An estimated 300,000 soldiers died and 700,000 were wounded on the Soča Front. The Italians invaded this part of Slovenia to open up the way to Vienna, but instead faced years of fighting the Austro-Hungarian army uphill.  Then, in 1917, a German offensive blew right through the Italian defenses. The battle of Kobarid (Coparetto) and the following retreat has been well described  in A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, who himself was an ambulance driver in this area during the war.

I read A Farewell to Arms during high school, but I will admit it was kind of lost on me at that time, and I discarded it as a depressing love story. Having reread the book after our visit to Slovenia and Italy, I can say I appreciate his writing style and tone a lot more than I did when I was younger. The love story was still very sad, but having a better sense of the places he described deepened the reading experience.

It’s been a hundred years—how easy it would be to stop remembering. But if we let time erase the memories of the horrors of war, who is to stop us from making the same mistakes over and over again? These three books are all poignant tales that will ensure you won’t forget.

The Three Legs of Sicily

I love traveling with my kids. They see the world differently; there is always something to wonder about. It reminds me to keep wondering. There are things I don’t notice anymore because I’ve seen them before. And then there are things I don’t notice because I wasn’t paying attention.

During our travels this summer, we spent two wonderful days in Sicily, Italy, a place I’d never been to before. Two days are not enough. It’s a fascinating island—the references to Sicily in Greek Mythology are numerous, there is a lot of history, good food and of course, the Mediterranean Sea. Besides that, when in Sicily, you can’t fail to notice a few things. One, the number of churches. Two, the references to The Godfather. And three, their flag. The depiction on it is everywhere—T-shirts, bibs, you name it.

The Sicilian flag is not your usual stripe/triangle/star equivalent—instead it has three, dare I say, rather shapely legs, and a winged head in the middle. Which begs the question; why three legs? And who’s the head? I was asked these questions many times by my inquisitive ones, but I had no good answer. And I couldn’t call a friend, as I was overseas and did not have cell service. Google was painfully out of reach.

Curious, I looked it up when we were back in the USA. The three legs are a triskelion, which is an ancient symbol. I am not sure why there are human legs involved in the shape, but it definitely catches the eye. There are Greek coins from Sicily dating back as far as 300 B.C. with this three-legged symbol. The triskelion apparently represents the three “points,” or the triangular shape, of Sicily.

The head—shockingly—is Medusa. I can honestly say it would never have occurred to me. I remember reading about Medusa, and she wasn’t that friendly. Adorned with snakes for hair, a set of boar tusks and wings, she was not considered very “pleasing”. So unpleasing in fact, that beholding her appearance would turn anyone into stone.

I was surprised to find that her image was actually used frequently throughout ancient history. It was used to keep evil away or plainly served as a warning, implying the Goddess Athena’s protection. In Sicily’s case, Athena was the patron goddess of the island.

Even in modern times Medusa continues to fascinate us. For instance, she is displayed on the symbol of Versace, but instead the image shows her from before when she was turned into a snake-haired, evil monster and is still a beautiful young maiden: a symbol of beauty, that everyone falls in love with.

Of course, now the cat was out of the bag, and my kids wanted to know who Medusa was. Good grief. Greek mythology is a bit brutal, meaning, I always have to tweak stories here and there (a lot). The challenge is censoring enough but not too much—and shielding my iPhone from my son who desperately tries to read over my shoulder as I go along.

I admit I censored—heavily. Apart from the brutality, the last message I want to convey to my (young) kids is how a woman gets molested (by Poseidon), and then gets punished for it by an angry Athena, who turns her into a hideous monster. So much for justice, female solidarity, or just speaking out in general.

Anyway, that’s just the beginning of the story. Perseus (one of Zeus’ sons) is ordered by King Polydectes, who’s a jerk, to cut off Medusa’s head and bring it to him. The Gods help Perseus by giving him a helmet of invisibility (Hades), winged sandals (Hermes), a sword from Hephaestus and a mirrored shield from Athena. The reflection of his shield allows him not to look at Medusa directly, which is how he gets the job done. After Medusa is defeated, the winged horse Pegasus springs from her body—her child with Poseidon.

Medusa’s head, as it turns out, comes in handy. Persues uses it on his travels to change Atlas into a mountain (the Atlas Mountains in northwest Africa) and, when he finally returns home, King Polydectes into a statue. He then gives the head to back-stabbing Athena, who puts it on her shield, so she can turn her own enemies into stone. Which is why the image of Medusa is probably more of a reflection of Athena’s protection than of Medusa herself.

There are different versions of the myth apparently, but this was the one I came across. It’s hard not to feel for the poor woman.

My daughter asked me if Medusa ever lived in Sicily. Good question. I told her I didn’t think so and anyways, I reassured her, she’s dead. I explained that she most likely never existed in the first place, but my daughter believes in fairies and magic (she really liked the Pegasus part, after all, it’s almost like My Little Pony), so I’m not sure I convinced her. I promised her nothing in Sicily would turn her into stone.

My daughter wasn’t so sure. She pointed out how we’d seen Sicily’s volcano, Mt. Etna, and the scars of lava covering the landscape, as evidence of the most recent eruptions.

True enough.

But lava is not all bad. It brings fertile soil. And on the flag, Medusa’s head is surrounded by three ears of wheat—signifying the fertility of the land.

Isn’t it amazing, the stories one flag can tell…

Autor Interview – Judy Penz Sheluk

This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Judy Penz Sheluk, the author of the Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. I have read several of her books and loved them all. If you like small town mysteries with a strong, female lead character, look no further. Her books feature murders, antique stores, coffins and tarot cards—all the good stuff! On September 21, the second book in the Marketville Mysteries, Past and Present, is coming out. Certainly something I am looking forward to! 

Welcome Judy!

What made you start writing? Was it something you always did or picked up later?

I’ve been writing stories inside my head for as long as I can remember, certainly as far back as elementary school. I thought everyone did that. It wasn’t until a few years after I was married, and commuting a fair distance to work, that I mentioned a story I’d been “working on” to my husband. He was like, “You write stories in your head?” And I said, “Yes, don’t you?” He bought me a Creative Writing Workshop for my birthday. That was in 2000. I remember the first time I had to read a story out loud to the class. The theme was “painful teenage memory.” I wrote Cleopatra Slippers (later published in THEMA Literary Journal). When I looked up from reading (nervously and badly), everyone had tears in their eyes, and a couple of people were actually crying. I remember thinking, “Maybe I can do this.” That was 2002.

Which character mostly resembles you?

They all have a bit of me inside of them. For example, Emily Garland (The Hanged Man’s Noose; A Hole in One) is a runner, a journalist, and she’s in her early thirties. I’ve run 4 marathons and countless half-marathons, I’ve been a journalist since 2003, and I used to be in my early thirties! Arabella Carpenter (same series) has a motto “Authenticity Matters” and I very much follow that philosophy. Calamity (Callie) Barnstable (Skeletons in the Attic, Past & Present) is also a runner. She’s also inquisitive, no-nonsense, and somewhat haunted by her past. I’ve got a few skeletons in my attic, too.

How do you come up with ideas for your books?

From life. For example, The Hanged Man’s Noose was about a greedy developer who comes to a small town with plans to build a mega-box store, thereby threatening all the local businesses and indie shops. We see that happen all the time. I just thought, “What if someone was willing to murder to stop it?” My latest book, Past & Present, was inspired by the contents of my late mother’s train case. As I started researching her journey, I knew I’d found my latest idea for a book.

Any specific writing routine? Bound to a specific location? Favorite chair?

In my Philipsburg Blue (Benjamin Moore historical colors) office on my iMac or at our camp on Lake Superior, watching the water, on my iPad, or sometimes, by writing longhand in a notebook. Never in a public place like a coffee shop. I don’t know how people can do that. I generally listen to talk radio when I write, though sometimes I’ll write with country music in the background. When I’m super focused or easily distracted, I opt for silence.

You have a publisher. What would you say to all the indie-writers out there? Should we all try to get one?

I have a traditional MWA approved publisher (Barking Rain Press), but in February 2018 I started my own imprint, Superior Shores Press, so I’m now a hybrid author. However, I think if you’ve never been published, trying to self-publish right off the hop would be incredibly difficult, if only because you won’t understand the business (because publishing is a business) and you won’t have a following. After 3 years of books, blogging, and other social media, I’ve developed a modest following (not in Stephen King territory yet but hope springs eternal), and so I thought it was time to take the leap.

Who are your favorite writers (and why)?

John Sandford for his dry humor and bang-on pacing. The late Sue Grafton, who improved with every book and made me want to write mysteries. Agatha Christie for leading the way.

What do you do to relax?

In the summer months, I love to golf. I still run, but not the crazy distances I used to (sometimes I think a marathon would be fun, and then I get a grip on reality). I love walking my dog, Gibbs, a three-year-old Golden Retriever. I read a lot, mostly mystery and suspense.

What would you tell any writers out there that are struggling?

Don’t give up. The Help by Kathryn Stockett was turned down 61 times over three years and it’s brilliant. Accept constructive criticism and learn from it. Write every day, even if you only have 15 minutes to do it. You can’t edit a blank page.

Last question… What can you tell us about your latest book?

Ha! I thought you’d never ask. Here’s the back of the book synopsis.

Sometimes the past reaches out to the present…

It’s been thirteen months since Calamity (Callie) Barnstable inherited a house in Marketville under the condition that she search for the person who murdered her mother thirty years earlier. She solves the mystery, but what next? Unemployment? Another nine-to-five job in Toronto?

Callie decides to set down roots in Marketville, take the skills and knowledge she acquired over the past year, and start her own business: Past & Present Investigations.

It’s not long before Callie and her new business partner, best friend Chantelle Marchand, get their first client: a woman who wants to find out everything she can about her grandmother, Anneliese Prei, and how she came to a “bad end” in 1956. It sounds like a perfect first assignment. Except for one thing: Anneliese’s past winds its way into Callie’s present, and not in a manner anyone—least of all Callie—could have predicted.

Past & Present is now available, http://authl.it/afj. Publication date Sept. 21, 2018.

Thank you Judy! 

More about the author: Judy Penz Sheluk is the Amazon international bestselling author of the Glass Dolphin Mysteries (The Hanged Man’s Noose; A Hole in One) and the Marketville Mysteries (Skeletons in the Attic; Past & Present). Her short stories appear in several collections.

Judy is also a member of Sisters in Crime International, Sisters in Crime – Guppies, Sisters in Crime – Toronto, International Thriller Writers, Inc., the South Simcoe Arts Council, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves on the Board of Directors, representing Toronto/Southwestern Ontario.

Find her at http://www.judypenzsheluk.com or at Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Bookbub.

Slaying the Dragon

It’s been a while since I wrote a post. Stuff happened. More accurately: Shingles happened.

Shingles gets its own capital S. Why? Because Shingles sucks. Big time. Are there worse things than getting Shingles? Absolutely. But still, it was a miserable affair.

For those of you who haven’t made their acquaintance with Shingles, let me introduce you. It’s a reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox. After one recovers from the chickenpox, usually sometime during childhood, the virus does not die as one would expect. Instead, it takes a long, nice, quiet vacation somewhere within nerve tissue near the spinal cord, while we continue life, blissfully unaware of its presence.

That is, until it decides the holidays are over. Pox, apparently, is an old medieval term for curse. Ha! Well put. During a period of poor resilience the lurking virus pops up like an evil jack-in-the box, travels along a nerve to the skin and produces a localized, nasty rash, as well as a tremendous amount of pain.

I never thought about Shingles before it slithered its way in—or rather—out. Why would I? I haven’t reached the age when they start offering vaccination for it. Surely young people don’t get it, right? Wrong, unfortunately.

The chickenpox virus is a member of the Herpes family—the medical term for Shingles is Herpes Zoster.
Zoster is derived from Greek, meaning “girdle” or “belt”. Shingles’ rash looks like a belt when it’s located on the torso, as it wraps around one side. The English word “Shingles” most likely comes from the Latin word  for “girdle,” which is “cingulus.” It has nothing to do with the roof of your house. Even though my six-year old kept asking me why the roof was making me sick.

Yes, why indeed? Not the roof, but why did I get Shingles? I did not feel like I was overly stressed. Yes, I was possibly chronically sleep deprived and I had just recovered from a cold, but that was not anything I hadn’t handled before. Be that as it may, the Shingles hit me hard. Sitting in the doctor’s office, my rash solicited the empathetic “Oh my, I haven’t seen it this bad in quite some time!” which no patient wants to hear ever, although I appreciated the frankness of it. It sure validated my intense discomfort. Shingles, as I discovered, can be extremely painful.

I had some time on my hands to think about this pain—that is, after I slept for a week. It’s quite amazing how many different qualities pain can have. As it turns out, Shingles is an absolute treasure trove for descriptive writing. It felt like a dragon had lodged itself in my liver, where it strangled me with its tail, while simultaneously breathing fire and stabbing me with its nails.

Shingles’ pain is relentless and exhausting, even after the skin has healed, and because it’s nerve pain, it doesn’t respond well to normal pain medication. There is something about chronic pain and having to grit your teeth the whole day. Let’s just say I was not easy to be around with. At some point the healed skin started to itch terribly as well, and upon scratching it would erupt in flames, so it was either pain, itch, or burn, or all of the above. Next time I am contemplating killing off an unlikable character in one of my books, I may just consider giving him/her Shingles instead.

So, what did I do? There’s not much you can do unfortunately. I took my anti-virals. I rested and wallowed in my misery. And I hoped it would go away—which is not a given. For some people the post-herpetic nerve pain can last a long time. I was reluctant to take any medication other than Tylenol or Ibuprofen, so I finally opted for some acupuncture. Whether it was this or just the natural course of the illness, I’ll never know, but after weeks, the pain did slowly improve. Now, three moths later, it’s more like background noise: annoying at times, but ignorable.

During all this, my website languished, as did my Facebook page. I worked on my work-in-progress, but only when I felt up to it. In the summer we took a long vacation and I focused mainly on family time, resting and maintaining a healthy life-style.

I cannot tell you how grateful I am the dragon is on its way out.  Slowly withering away, it still softly claws at me every now and then, but hopefully soon it will take its last breath.  And I pray it has not created any offspring to come back and find me; one visit was more than enough.

Think Spring

Think Spring

That’s what I told myself as my kids had a snow day earlier this week. But it’s not easy when you look outside, and everything is white.

“Think spring,” I said, when I took the trash can down the driveway two nights ago and had to lug it through inches of icy slush. And why not? Obviously, my plowing service is thinking it’s spring as well.

“Think spring,” I tell my children, when they complain of still having to bring their snow pants to school mid-April. They are sick of winter. And frankly, so am I.

I have relatives in the Netherlands raving about their beautiful tulips and their magnolia trees bursting with blossom. Instead, my daffodils still have to find their way up. I don’t blame the poor flowers; if I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t want to come out either.

The birds in my yard have been out of sorts. Most have now returned for—yes, spring—but building a nest in this weather must be an uncomfortable task. My dog is miserable. She freezes her paws off, as well as her you-know-what, every time she has to go pee. We are all done with winter, yet it keeps lingering, like that unwanted guest you so desperately want to leave your house but can’t get rid of.

But yesterday, the most amazing thing happened. The sun came out, the temperature hit a balmy 50 degrees Fahrenheit, snow started melting, and despite the unfortunate hailstorm shortly after that, I am pretty certain that finally, spring is starting. Why? Because I looked at the calendar (it is mid-April…) and at the weather forecast. It’s coming. And those few sunny hours reminded me that soon, my children will want to go outside again.

There’s only one problem; I am writing the next book in The Dunnhill Series, and it’s set in…right, winter. And even though I am so done with the cold and snow, I still have to write about it.

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I decided that winter would be the right season for book 3. Maybe because when I started writing, it was winter, and I wasn’t yet sick of it. Besides, Dunnhill is in the mountains, and winter in the mountains is much better than winter in Michigan. And maybe I imagined I would write faster and be done by now, but with three antsy children—let’s just say it’s not going as fast as I hoped.

You could argue that as a writer the season within a book shouldn’t pose too much of a problem. Just “think winter” right? Normally I would agree, but here in Michigan, when spring finally arrives, something strange happens. Suddenly there’s flowers everywhere, as spring rushes like mad into summer—lush, green and warm—it truly is glorious. And during that time, the idea of winter becomes like a whiff of smoke, elusive and fleeting. The moment the weather warms up, most of us Michiganders seem to get hit with collective amnesia and forget about winter. If we’d remembered, we’d all leave this state for good.

This is why I need winter. You know—to hold on to what winter really feels like. My lawn is turning green and I am already starting to forget. The truth is, I have no desire to remember. I am ready for spring. Book or not.

Over the next few months, I’ll try my best to think winter while sitting on my deck, enjoying the sun and the only thing cold will be my drink. But if spring in my book happens to arrive a little early, I hope you will understand.