by Grace Topping
One of the best things about traditional mysteries is the puzzle they present—readers trying to solve the mystery based on the information and clues the writer weaves into the story. Judy Penz Sheluk, in her most recent mystery, Past and Present, provides readers with an intricate puzzle that had me turning pages. I didn’t want to put it down.
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.
Welcome back, Judy, to Writers Who Kill.
The latest book in your Marketville Mystery series has your main character, Calamity “Callie” Barnstable forming a team for her Past & Present Investigations business. What exactly is her business?
|Judy Penz Sheluk|
Her team includes a genealogist, a research librarian, an antiques expert, and a resident psychic. What do these different areas of expertise bring to the team?
I’ve recently become somewhat fascinated by genealogy and relatives I’ve never met. I thought an expert in this field could explore that in their investigations. The research librarian culls old newspaper articles looking for information. The psychic specializes in tarot, and she’s started a Misty’s Message page that has proven to be far more helpful than Callie (who wasn’t crazy about the idea) could have anticipated.
Occasionally Callie relies on the aid of someone with a skill in psychometry or psychometrics. What exactly is that?
Psychometry is another name for object reading. It’s based on the theory that the human mind radiates an aura in all directions, which impresses everything within its orbit. Since all objects are porous, the minute holes in the object’s surface collect fragments of the mental aura of the person who possessed the object. There’s no scientific evidence that psychometry exists, and skeptics explain alleged successes of psychometry by cold reading and confirmation bias. Callie definitely leans towards the side of non-believer.
The team members are quite skilled in doing research using various media. Since you write about it so convincingly, do you have a background in doing research?
I’ve been a fulltime freelance writer and editor since 2003, with a lot of that work done for a wide variety of trade and consumer magazines (home building, finance, agriculture, antiques, engineering, pile driving, travel etc.). One of the skills you acquire pretty quickly if you want to be successful as a freelancer is the ability to research, which usually includes talking to experts (people love talking about their work/passion). Behind each of my team members’ research is me, the author, making sure even the small details, like old train schedules and ship menus, are accurate.
In her dealings with a psychic and psychometrics, Callie went from being a complete skeptic to a hopeful cynic. How about you? Are you a complete skeptic or a hopeful cynic?
I’m a bit of both. I think there are people who may have psychic abilities. I also think there are plenty of fraudsters. When I was about sixteen, my mother and her best friend, Kay, dragged me to an “event” where a blind psychic would go into the audience, take a proffered object, and tell the owner something about it (for something like $10 a pop). At the time, Kay and my mom were big on going to fortunetellers, Kay being recently divorced and actively looking for a replacement husband and impending news of where or when she’d find one, whereas my father had died of stomach cancer two years earlier, widowing my mother at age 41. She was looking for answers, too, though her hope was that she’d hear from my father on the “other side.”
Anyway, being the stellar teenager that I was (hey, this my version of the story), I agreed to go with them and so off we went. I’ll admit to being a major league skeptic, especially after the first few objects garnered generic responses like, “The person who gave you this ring meant a lot to you, didn’t they?” and so forth. It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud.
When my turn came, I handed him a gold locket given to me by my father two month’s before his death. I was expecting the usual rhetoric when the psychic doubled over, clutching his stomach, his face writhed in pain, tears trickling down. I watched transfixed, wondering how he could have felt my father’s pain while holding that locket, when he handed me back the locket and said something along the lines of “He is watching over you.” My mom and Kay became life long believers. I never went to another psychic.
Callie is always reaching for a cup of rooibos tea. What is rooibos tea?
OMG, you’ve never heard of rooibos tea? You are missing out! It’s herbal, no caffeine, and the tea is made from the leaves of the African rooibos bush. My favorite blend is by Tetley Tea and it’s called Warmth. It's a blend of cinnamon, spices, and rooibos. I think it may only be available in Canada. Well, we need the warmth up here, at least in the winter!
Editor’s note: I discovered rooibos tea is also available in the U. S. and will have to try it.
After successfully publishing books with an established publishing company, you took a huge step and set up Superior Shores Press, your own imprint. What prompted this step?
When I signed my contract with Barking Rain Press (www.barkingrainpress.org) in 2014, I never dreamed I’d want to self-publish. But I’ve learned a lot about the business since then, and I’ve also realized that when you’re with a small press, most of the promotion lands on the author’s shoulders. Even so, the author has no control over pricing etc. and the process of getting published is painfully slow.
I set up Superior Shores Press in February 2018. I hired a professional editor for Past and Present, one I’d worked with from Barking Rain, and also a professional proofreader. I hired a cover artist, Hunter Martin, and I love the cover. I’ve had input before, but never control over every step. It’s quite exhilarating. Whether I earn back the money I invested upfront remains to be seen, but if I was doing this, I was doing it right.
Now that you have four books in print and some short stories, what do you know now that you wish you had known when you started writing?
That the writing part does get easier. You learn to be more efficient with your time and your words. I’d also tell my old self to buckle up and get used to doing a lot of shameless self-promotion.
What’s next for Callie and her team?
I’m midway through book 3, which was inspired by an article I read in my local newspaper. Beyond that, I can’t say. I’m terribly superstitious about stuff like that.
Thank you, Judy.
For more information about Judy and her books/short stories, visit her at http://www.judypenzsheluk.com