Wednesday, September 7, 2016

An Interview With Judy Penz Sheluk by E. B. Davis

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?

Barking Rain Press last year released Judy Penz Sheluk’s first book in her Glass Dolphin mysteries series, Hang Man’s Noose. Last month, Imajin Books released Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in her Marketville series. Because I like paranormal cozies, and the title suggested there might be a woo-woo factor, I decided to read Skeletons in the Attic first. It isn’t a paranormal mystery, but there is a psychic element. The book is more a traditional mystery, but its twists will keep you turning the pages as you discern illusion from fact.

Judy’s writing strengths include creating unexpected characters. They aren’t who they seem to be, not only because their significance to the mystery are unknown to main character, Callie Barnstable, but also due to her preconceived notions of them. Callie shoots from a defensive position. Why? Not only was the mystery solving thrust on her by her late father, but, after moving to Marketville, she also discovers too many people know more about her parents than she does. She’s cautious, and she has every right to feel on guard—from the nosy neighbors to her mother’s best friend, who Callie didn’t know. Finding out her family secrets takes Callie on a journey that shatters her firm life structure tumbling her through a surprise trap door.

Please welcome Judy Penz Sheluk to WWK.                                                                             E. B. Davis        

Your two series are linked. How?

They aren’t really linked, although Arabella Carpenter, who is a major character in Hanged Man’s Noose, has a very minor role in Skeletons In The Attic. I enjoy it when other authors do this (Tana French is a master at this; so is Michael Connelly).

The other similarity is the locale. Skeletons In The Attic takes place in Marketville, a town in Cedar County. Lount’s Landing, the location for Hanged Man’s Noose, is also in Cedar County. The locations are highly fictionalized versions of Newmarket and Holland Landing, which are in York Region in Ontario, Canada.

The biggest difference in the two series is POV. Hanged Man’s Noose is told in third person, with multiple points of view. Skeletons In The Attic is told in first person, from the protagonist’s POV.

Barking Rain Press published Hanged Man’s Noose. Why the new publisher for Skeletons In The Attic?

I was just about finished Skeletons In The Attic when news came out of the publishing world that Berkeley was greatly reducing their mystery line, and Five Star was getting out of the mystery genre altogether. I’d almost signed with Five Star but selected Barking Rain Press for Noose, and I knew a number of authors who had been impacted by those events.

Although I love Barking Rain Press as a publisher, I made a decision not to put all my books in one publisher’s basket. I contacted Barking Rain Press and told Sheri Gormley, the acquisitions editor, what I was planning to do. She was very supportive and I am currently hard at work on the sequel to Hanged Man’s Noose.

The next step was to find a publisher for Skeletons In The Attic. I had read Kristina Stanley’s Descent, a Stone Mountain mystery, and really enjoyed it. I’d been following Kristina on Facebook and her website for a while (I love her Farley Fridays series, which feature her dog). I checked and saw her publisher was Imajin Books out of Kelowna, BC. I liked that the publisher, Cheryl Tardif, was also a published author. Imajin opened for submissions on March 15, 2016. I sent my package in that day, and was completely upfront about Barking Rain. A week later I had a contract. It doesn’t often happen that quickly, as you know, but Cheryl loved the story. From there, it was fast tracked for an August publication.

Do you plot a book as a single title? Do you plot character arc through the entire series?

The hope is that each of my books can be a standalone – at least that is how I plan to write the sequels to Hanged Man’s Noose and Skeletons In The Attic—but there will also be reference to the earlier book(s).

As far as plotting goes, I am such a pantser I have no idea where the story is going until I’m writing it. I’m a chapter a day kind of writer. By that I mean I write a chapter, and leave off with a hook of some sort. That “hook” will make me think of how the next chapter will unfold. I truly have no idea how my book is going to end until very close to the time that I get there.

That said, characters in a book, like people in real life, have to grow and evolve, even if it’s only in a minor way. I try to ensure that all of my characters have that ongoing evolution based on the events that have happened in their lives.

Do you agree that you can’t judge a person by his or her dog?

I think you can, in a way. For example, most “dog” people tend to be very breed loyal. I’ve had four Golden Retrievers in my adult life, and a Golden-mix as a kid. My current Golden is 10 months old. His name is Gibbs, after Leroy Jethro Gibbs on NCIS. My last Golden, Copper, was 12 ½ when he died.

I was surprised Callie readily quit her job. Being a member of the bank’s fraud unit sounds like an interesting job. Wasn’t it?

My niece, Ashley, worked at a major bank in their fraud unit call center when she first graduated from university with a degree in criminology. From what she told me, most of the calls involved lost PINs and that sort of thing. Anything involving identity theft tended to get bumped up to someone in a supervisory or management capacity. Besides which, Callie was going to be paid about three times more to investigate her mother’s murder than she was making at the call center. Where do I sign?

Callie’s father’s will compels her to solve her mother’s murder. Did he fear he wouldn’t live long enough to do so? Or, did he know due to her work in the fraud unit, she possessed better skills at solving mysteries than he did?

We learn very early on that the lawyer, Leith Hampton, is not happy with the (fairly recent) codicil demanding that Callie move into the Marketville house in order to inherit. But James (Jimmy) Barnstable had become increasingly obsessed with his wife’s murder thirty years ago. He had even gone so far as to entrust the investigation to a psychic, Misty Rivers, should Callie not take on the assignment. The fact that Jimmy added the codicil to his will indicates that he worries he might not live long enough to do the job himself, but the why of that is just one more unanswered question until Callie starts digging into the past.

Callie likes chocolate chip cookies and has a compulsive habit of applying cocoa lip balm. Can habits/compulsions be inherited?

I don’t know of it’s an inherited trait, but I do know that I am addicted to The Body Shop’s cocoa butter lip balm. I have one tube in my office, one in my bedside table, one in my purse, one in my golf bag…I thought it would be fun to give Callie that addiction.

I also love cookies, though chocolate chip isn’t actually a favorite. But the peanut butter cookie recipe that Callie finds—that is culled from my childhood. My mom wasn’t much of a cook or a baker, but her peanut butter cookies were amazing. I still have her recipe.

Constable Arbutus intrigued me, but she wasn’t utilized in this mystery. Will we see her in another book?

Yes, but I try not to get too involved with the police side of things. I don’t know much about police procedures, so I try to keep it to the bare minimum. An amateur sleuth can do whatever she/he wants. The police have to follow protocol. As a fun aside, Arbutus was the name of a street in my childhood neighborhood in Scarborough (a suburb of Toronto).

What is vanilla rooibos tea?

I can’t believe you’ve never had it. Rooibus is a red bush found in South Africa. Tea made from it is caffeine free and you can get plain or other flavors. Tazo makes a great Vanilla Rooibus. Starbucks used to sell it, but they no longer sell the Tazo line (a big mistake, in my humble opinion). I searched everywhere for it when they abandoned the line and finally found Tazo Vanilla Rooibus at WalMart, of all places. Tetley also makes a nice (and less expensive) Vanilla Rooibus, but I’m not sure if you can buy Tetley in the U.S.

Although you describe Marketville as a commuter community an hour north of Toronto, it seems like a small town. Is it still a small town?

Marketville, which is loosely based on Newmarket, Ontario, started life as a commuter town but now has about 85,000 people, though a lot of people still commute to Toronto to work. The Marketville in the book is much smaller.

Does anyone want to discover their parents’ secrets?

Probably not all of them!

Your ending solved the mystery, but it didn’t tie up all the loose ends. I can understand how those loose ends would make for a great beginning to the next book. Was that the intent?

I actually think that all the ends have been tidied up as best as they could be, though some of those ends are not completely resolved because too much time has passed and/or the individuals who could clear things up are dead. I have no plans to revisit this story line in the next Marketville mystery. Some things are better left as a mystery!



  1. Lip balm and chocolate chips...but not together. I work as a probate paralegal and sometimes someone will come in to draw a Will or Codicil that you just know has a huge backstory. I am so intrigued by the premise of this book.

  2. Welcome to WWK, Judy. Both of your books sound like ones I want to read so I wrote them down on my TBO list, especially his latest one. Good luck with both of them.

  3. Hi, Judy. Welcome to WWK! I read and enjoyed Hanged Man's Noose, and it sounds like I have another fun read to look forward to with Skeletons in the Attic!

  4. I like the idea of characters making cameo appearances in a different series. Congratulations! I know how hard you've worked on publicizing and marketing your books.

  5. Terrific interview, Judy and Elaine.

    Congratulations, Judy, on the publication of "Skeletons in the Attic." If it's half as good as "Hanged Man's Noose," I know I'll enjoy it.

  6. Thanks for sharing so much information with us. I liked having you explain your reasoning behind some of the things you've written, and how you've handled having two publishers.

  7. I am so sorry to just be stopping in now...somehow this post just slid right by me! I want to thank you all for taking the time to read my post and comment.
    Kait: It must be interesting to work as a probate paralegal.
    Gloria: thank you for the welcome
    Julie: So glad you enjoyed Noose. Do let me know how you like Skeletons once you've read it.
    Margaret: Thanks. The cameo appearance is always fun. I love it when authors do that!
    Grace: You are too kind! Let me know how you enjoy it.

  8. I am in constant awe of people who manage to write such intriguing series of novels, not once, but repeatedly!

    Thanks for sharing with us.