Judy Penz Sheluk (who I first met as a member of the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime) is the author of two mystery novels: The Hanged Man’s Noose: A Glass Dolphin Mystery (July 2015) and Skeletons in the Attic: A Marketville Mystery (August 2016).
What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?
I usually have talk radio on while I’m writing. I switch between Newstalk 1010 Toronto or Talk 640 Toronto, depending on the host and topic. I find it easier to zone in and out of talk radio than a music station. If I’m editing, however, I need silence, because I like to read the work out loud, or have my computer read it to me.
Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?
Definitely a panster. I’ve tried writing to an outline but it just doesn’t work for me; I might have a vague idea where I’m headed, but that can, and usually does, change along the way. When I’m working on a novel, I try to write a chapter a day, vs. a specific word count or x number of hours. If I end the chapter with a bit of a hook, then I look forward to continuing the story the next day.
When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?
There was a time when I finished every book I started, but life is too short, and there are too many books that I want to read. If there are really sloppy spelling errors that will do it for me. I recently put a book down after two chapters because the protagonist had auborn hair. But sometimes, it’s just because the story doesn’t connect with me. If it’s a book that has come highly recommended, or won awards, I’ll put it aside and try again in a couple of months. On occasion, the second try will connect. But if it doesn’t, I won’t give it a third try.
Do you read reviews of your books? Why or why not?
Yes, I do. I’m not obsessed with checking them every day, but I do check at random. If someone has taken the time to read my book and write a review, I think I owe it to that person to read what they’ve written. Besides, a great review from a stranger can make my day!
When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?
My first drafts are very clean. Because I try to write a chapter a day, and my chapters tend to be on the short side, I edit as I go along. Once a week, I’ll go back and do a quick reread of what I’ve written and make revisions. So the final draft is usually pretty close in length and content to the first.
How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?
The premise of Skeletons in the Attic is that the protagonist, Calamity (Callie) Barnstable inherits a house in Marketville after her father dies in an at-work accident. The inheritance is tied to the condition that she must live in the house and find out who murdered her mother thirty years before, when Callie was just six years old. The catch? Not only did Callie not know about the house, she’d always believed that her mother had left voluntarily.
The idea came to me when I was sitting in my lawyer’s office with my husband, Mike. We were there to revise our wills, but our lawyer was delayed in court. In fact, the opening scenes of the book are culled from that experience, which serves as a reminder: beware of what you say and do around a writer. Everything is grist for the mill.
What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?
To quote Agatha Christie: “There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.”
To find more information about Judy Penz Sheluk, visit www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she blogs about books and the writing life.
Here’s a blurb for Skeletons in the Attic:
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?
Find Skeletons in the Attic: http://www.imajinbooks.com/skeletons-in-the-attic