by Grace Topping
THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE
Small-town secrets and subterfuge lead to murder in a tale of high-stakes real estate wrangling gone amok.
Journalist Emily Garland lands a plum assignment as the editor of a niche magazine based in Lount’s Landing, a small town named after a colorful Canadian traitor. As she interviews the local business owners for the magazine, Emily quickly learns that many people are unhappy with real estate mogul Garrett Stonehaven’s plans to convert an old schoolhouse into a mega-box store. At the top of that list is Arabella Carpenter, the outspoken owner of an antiques shop, who will do just about anything to preserve the integrity of the town’s historic Main Street.
But Arabella is not alone in her opposition. Before long, a vocal dissenter at a town hall meeting about the proposed project dies. A few days later, another body is discovered, and although both deaths are ruled accidental, Emily’s journalistic suspicions are aroused. Putting her reporting skills to the ultimate test, Emily teams up with Arabella to discover the truth behind Stonehaven’s latest scheme before the murderer strikes again.
Judy Penz Sheluk spent many years working as a freelance writer in the fields of art, antiques, and residential housing. Working for multiple publications on a variety of subjects and constantly juggling deadlines, is it any wonder that her thoughts turned to murder? Judy’s debut novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose was recently released and is filled with interesting details gathered from her freelance writing. When she isn’t busy promoting The Hanged Man’s Noose, she blogs about her journey to publication and works on the second book in her series.
Welcome, Judy, to Writers Who Kill.
In The Hanged Man’s Noose your two main characters, Emily Garland, a writer, and Arabella Carpenter, an antiques store owner, have their own points of view. What made you decide on this approach? Will you continue with two POVs in your series?
|Judy Penz Sheluk|
In my first drafts, I alternated POV between Emily and Arabella, having them share the stage. (Simon Brett, a prolific UK writer, does this beautifully in his Fethering Mysteries). However, I couldn’t find a U.S. publisher who bought into the two-protagonist approach—I had lots of “Love the book, love the writing, need to know who the protagonist is”— especially as I had other chapters with another character’s POV. I finally settled on Emily as the protagonist and Arabella as her sidekick, and rewrote most of the other POV chapters, retaining just a handful. Thankfully, Barking Rain Press liked that approach.
I’m currently working on A Hole In One, the sequel to Noose. In that book, Emily will take a back seat to Arabella, who will be the main protagonist. But there will still be two POVs.
I always enjoy books where I learn something new. You provided interesting information about art, antiques, and property development and made it quite a natural part of your story. How much did your experience as a freelance writer in these areas prepare you to write a mystery?
It’s made a huge impact. I’ve been the Senior Editor of New England Antiques Journal (www.antiquesjournal.com) since 2007, and I have learned a lot about antiques and art and history during that time. I’m also the Editor of Home Builder Magazine (www.homebuildercanada.com) and have written for other builder-type magazines in the past. I remember one builder saying to me, “People complain about urban sprawl. The reality is, sprawl is the house built next to yours.” I took that sentiment and embellished it for The Hanged Man’s Noose.
Being a freelance writer since 2003 has also given me the opportunity to interview hundreds of people from all walks of life. It’s been such a gift. And I’m now great at trivia!
You are a big proponent of asking lots of “what if” questions to help you develop your short stories and your novels. How does this help you with your writing?
For me, every story starts with “What if?” What if a greedy developer came to a small town with plans to build a mega-box store? What if he had a past relationship with the reporter who comes to investigate it? What if there’s an antiques shop owner who will do anything to preserve the history of that same small town, no matter the personal cost? What if there are others in that same small town with secrets they’ve long hidden? That’s the premise behind The Hanged Man’s Noose. “What if” helps me to go from concept to getting the words down.
One reviewer said of The Hanged Man’s Noose, “Compelling characters with hidden connections and a good, old-fashioned amateur sleuth getting in over her head without the distraction of cats, spirits, or recipes makes Judy Penz Sheluk’s Glass Dolphin series one to read.” From this can we take it that your book isn’t a cozy? How do you categorize your book?
James M. Jackson, author of the Seamus McCree mysteries, said that. If you love a good read, please check him out at www.jamesmjackson.com. But to answer your question: By definition a cozy is a mystery set in a small town without overt sex, bad language or violence, with an amateur sleuth solving the crime (which is always “off stage.”). Noose definitely fits that profile, but there are many what I might call “cozy” cozies: stories that include cookie recipes, or craft patterns, or cats or ghosts that help solve the crime. The Hanged Man’s Noose has none of that. I like to define it as “amateur sleuth with an edge.”
Please tell us about the Glass Dolphin.
It’s the dream of Arabella Carpenter, who has been accumulating antiques forever. She finally opens a shop on the Main Street of Lount’s Landing. The shop is named after her first antiques find: a pair of Boston and Sandwich glass dolphin candlesticks. I wrote about the history of B&S, and a bit about the candlesticks, in my inaugural July newsletter. If folks are interested, they can sign up here: http://eepurl.com/baabOX and I’ll send them the July newsletter, and add them to the email list. My next newsletter will be in November. I plan to send one about four times a year.
With a background as a freelance writer for various publications, you have a wealth of experience writing nonfiction. What do you find more challenging: writing fiction or nonfiction?
I’ve never written a nonfiction book, which I suspect would be every bit as challenging as writing a novel, probably more so because the research would be really intense. Writing a 750 or 1,000 word magazine article, after doing the research/interview, usually only takes me a couple of hours. It used to take me a lot longer, but after 12 years, it gets a lot easier. Here’s hoping the same holds true for writing novels!
The job of promoting a book now seems to fall on the shoulders of the writer rather than the publisher. You seem to have jumped right into the promotion arena with lots of enthusiasm. Any advice for soon-to-be published writers?
I started my website in 2013 when all I had was a bad first draft and a dream, and gradually built it up to what it is today. Then I joined Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook, over the next year or so. So what seems like jumping in was actually a lengthy process. But I remember going to Bloody Words mystery writer’s conference in Toronto in June 2012 and attending an agent panel. Their message: “Get your social media platform ready before you need it. You need to prove you’re ready for prime time.” I took that advice to heart, and it has paid off. I had a small following before getting published and more importantly, I learned a lot without being pressured on a timeline. So that would be my advice to soon-to-be-published writers, or even hopeful/aspiring writers.
You’ve been very generous in promoting the works of other writers on your website and blog, both publicizing their books and conducting interviews. How do you balance the time you spend helping others, promoting your book, and writing the next book in your series?
I live by the motto of paying it forward. I’ve had many people help me to get to this point, especially members of Sisters in Crime Guppies – a phenomenal group – and Crime Writers of Canada. By interviewing other authors, not only do I pay it forward, I offer readers of my blog another perspective on the writing life. And I’m able to introduce them to some great books at the same time. It’s a win-win.
Balancing my freelance/editing work, with writing fiction, with promotion can be tricky. You have to be really organized. Some days, one part of the equation will take over by necessity (i.e. a deadline), so I have more of a weekly plan than a daily plan. For example, I try to write 6,000 words a week on my book, vs. so many words a day.
As a Canadian writer with a novel set in Canada, have you faced any challenges finding an American audience? How about a Canadian audience?
My hope is that The Hanged Man’s Noose transcends borders. I think as readers, we are used to reading about locations that are different than where we live—it’s one of the things that draws us to a book. Canadian author Louse Penny has found great international success with her Three Pines series, which is set in the Eastern townships of Quebec.
Thinking of Louise reminds me of a funny story. I recently did an author signing at Chapters (a large Canadian bookseller with multiple locations across the country) in St. Catharines (in the Niagara Falls area). I was handing out bookmarks to anyone who looked like they might be interested and attempted to give one to a woman who was holding Louise’s latest novel. When I approached her, she told me she didn’t like Canadian crime or Canadian authors!
Tell us about your journey to publication? Was it a long one filled with challenges?
I blog extensively about this on www.judypenzsheluk.com, in a series called My Publishing Journey. My best advice is to go to the archives “One Writer’s Journey” and start at the first post titled My Publishing Journey. It’s an honest look at my experience, and I hope it helps others.
I’m a big fan of recorded books. Any plans for your book to be distributed in audio format?
Not at this time, but I’d like to explore the possibility. I’m going to add that to my 2016 goals! Thanks for suggesting it.
What’s next for your main characters Emily Garland and Arabella Carpenter?
Arabella makes a guest appearance in Skeletons in the Attic, which is a mystery novel I am almost ready to send out to the world for publication consideration. It takes place in Marketville, a largish town south of Lount’s Landing. It’s more of a suspense/cozy, told in one POV in the first person.
Arabella and Emily will be back in full force in my sequel to The Hanged Man’s Noose. So far, it’s a very rough draft, and I don’t like to talk about it until I really nail down the story. I’m a complete pantser. I can’t work from an outline!
Thank you, Judy.
You can learn more about Judy Penz Sheluk at the following sites:
The Hanged Man’s Noose is available at all the usual suspects, including Amazon and directly from the publisher.