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.

Author Interview – Janice Richardson

This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Janice Richardson, the cozy mystery author of the Spencer Funeral Home Series. I read the first book in the series, Casket Cache, in which we meet Jennifer, a funeral director in Niagara (Canada).  While she is trying to solve a compelling mystery, she also has a funeral home to run. Not your most common profession, I grant you, but…it made for a very interesting, different, and most of all, appealing read.

I have to admit I wasn’t sure what to expect when I decided to read it, and I was hesitant at first. Like many people I read to escape, and a funeral home wouldn’t be my first pick. However, it turned out to be a lovely read. Written with emotion, this is not your typical cozy; the stories of Jennifer’s workdays and the grief of her clients feel very real. But Jennifer is compassionate, empathetic and kind, and a wonderful protagonist to follow.

Welcome Janice! To start off, can you tell us a little about the Spencer Funeral Home Series?

Recently I watched the PBS special Into the Night:  Portraits of Life and Death.  What a beautiful and compelling documentary.  As baby boomers age, people are confronted with their discomfort around death and dying and learning to face their fear and uncertainty.  It was an uplifting, gentle, positive and at times, sad documentary.

It is for those reasons I wrote the series. First—to educate readers.  Not everyone has been in a funeral home, or had to speak with a director or plan a funeral.  It is a traumatic and difficult time.  Second—to present a portrait of a funeral director in a way that was realistic and endearing.  Last, but not least, I wanted the story to entertain without being silly or disrespectful.

Since the series was published I have noticed more funeral directors have jumped on the bandwagon and are writing fictional stories about the funeral profession and helping to allay the fear, secrecy and unknown.  There are memoirs galore by funeral directors (The Making of a Funeral Director is my non-fiction contribution), all of which make for interesting reads, the fictional reads open new doors for readers who don’t like non-fiction.

What made you start writing?

The memoir was written in the ‘90s and put away.  With the advent of self-publishing, I chose to spruce it up and put it out there.   It is serving its purpose, I have students and individuals who are looking at funeral service who write me to say the book helped them.  That means the world to me.

As for the cozy mystery series, it just sort of happened.  I moved from the northern part of the province to the south, leaving behind my life as a special needs mom.  For a while I felt lost.  I did not plan to write a book, let alone a series.  It just happened, pouring out onto the keyboard over a two year period. Being alone became a pleasure, my special needs children are happy and well cared for, so it was time to move on.  The books helped me with that process, almost writing themselves.

Just like Jennifer, you were a funeral director yourself.  What made you choose the profession?

When I was eight, my adopted mom took me to a relative’s funeral.  She was a realist, an old school nurse who didn’t sugarcoat life lessons.  She explained everything to me.  I loved the solemnity of the funeral home and service, the peaceful atmosphere and the support the funeral director provided.  My instinct was to comfort people who were crying and sad.  At the graveside, as I watched the committal, I knew then and there I wanted to be a funeral director.  It was years before I was able to go to college and pursue my chosen career.  I have no regrets.

What is your writing ritual?

Ha ha – it’s 90 miles an hour, up to 12 hours a day.  Add to that half the night chasing plot bunnies.  I do like absolute quiet, which is possible since I’m retired.  I sit in an easy chair, laptop on knee, fingers flying.  Stopping to eat, stretch or go outside and sniff the air is an inconvenience.   That method does make for some serious rewrites and edits, but it’s how I write.

You write about the place where you live (Niagara).  What do you love most about your home town?

The Niagara region is beautiful.  I moved here six years ago and often wonder why I didn’t move south sooner.  The peninsula has a temperate climate (for Canada), the Niagara region known for its wine, fruit, and tourism.  Toronto is a few hours north, Niagara Falls is 25 minutes away, the US border is ½ hour away.  My town is on the old Welland canal, similar to the Erie Canal across the border.  When I want excitement, I go to the Falls for the attractions, casino, and shopping. I love the vineyards and orchards and lavender fields.

Are you and Jennifer much alike?

Hmmm.  I would like to think so.  Jennifer would be the ideal funeral director.  She has her weaknesses, she is driven, doesn’t like to ask for help.  As we get older, as the years pass and we reflect back, there are chapters or paragraphs in our lives that we wish we could rewrite.  An author is given a chance to do just that in their characters. I think Jennifer is a composite of several people I admire and respect and the type of person I wish I had been sometimes.   In the last book she faces some major challenges.  I left it up to the reader to decide how the story ends.  I know how I wanted her to face the future and I love it when readers share their version of how it should end.

What do you like most about being an author?

Encouraging new authors is one the best jobs an author has.  Now that I have published five times and my books are doing well, I enjoy encouraging and supporting others.  It can be as simple as retweeting or liking a post or offering support by reviewing a book.  We are a community.  Attending Facebook events, local author events or signings is part of giving back.  I am so grateful for the support I received when I started from beta readers, my editor, authors, bloggers and friends.

This is so very true. Support within our community is invaluable. 

It was very kind of you to interview me and review Casket Cache, Lucia.  Your Dunnhill series is a delightful read and I look forward to reading more of your work.

Thank you Janice, that warms my heart! And thank you for sharing your story. It was wonderful to hear more about you and your work, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.  

You can find Janice on Goodreads, Twitter and Facebook, and Casket Cache is currently free as e-book (Amazon and other retailers)

The Lost Ones

As 2016 has passed, and we are starting 2017, I can’t help but think of the writers we lost last year. A few of them made the “celebrity death list,” and they and their books are well known. Think of Harper Lee, who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, Umberto Eco from The Name of the Rose, or Elie Wiesel, the Nobel-Peace-Prize winner who wrote Night, and just recently, Richard Adams, the author of Watership Down. Their books had much publicity, and some were translated to the movie screen, ensuring that they and their work will not be easily forgotten.

Wikipedia has a 2016 death list of famous people as well, which includes more writers, known and lesser known, from all over the world. The list itself is pretty extensive and primarily comprised of international athletes, politicians, actors and singers, but also more obscure professions like wine-producers and serial killers. I am not sure who decides on the “notability factor” —I also spotted a polar bear, a cockatoo, a penguin, as well as a horse and a cat.

Most writers on this list appeared to have made it to a very respectable age. If this means writing induces longevity, this is encouraging. But maybe it just means one usually has to spend a long life writing to become notable. I suspect this might be the case.

A few writers mentioned stood out, primarily because it seemed to me they left us too early, with plenty of writing still ahead of them. I am an avid reader, but had never heard of them prior, or read their books. Despite that, they are not unknown writers, often with fame in their own country. Somehow their stories struck me. So I decided to find their books and read one from each of them. To celebrate their work, since their words will remain, even after they themselves have long gone.

The first writer I wanted to highlight is Roger Hobbs. I read his debut novel, Ghostman, which is a crime novel. He wrote it during his last year in college and it was published in 2013, made the NYT bestseller list and won several awards. Warner Bros. bought the movie rights.

ghostman

I will say up front, books like these are not my usual read. Nevertheless, I cruised through it as I found it to be slightly addictive. The pace is high and the plot well thought out. It is violent at times, but then it revolves around a heist and quite a few merciless criminals, so that wasn’t completely unexpected. It’s well written and very descriptive (sometimes a bit too much… perhaps) which usually read well and made it easy to imagine what was happening.

I found the lead character not unsympathetic, but he has a personality that is very hard to pin down. Despite this, his character was surprisingly well-developed. He comes across a bit cold, and his life seems devoid of real relationships; as a reader it made it harder for me to bond with him, but for the story, it works! He is a ghostman, after all.

For a debut novel, and for a writer as young as he was, it was quite impressive. Roger Hobbs wrote a second novel, Vanishing Games, which I haven’t read yet, but look forward to doing so. He never finished his third. He died last November from a drug overdose at the age of 28. I can only imagine that with his talent, he would have written many more.

RIP Roger Hobbs.