Today I have author Judy Penz Sheluk with me on Moving Target. Judy’s first mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was released last month by Barking Rain Press. Its protagonist, Emily Garland, lands a plum job as the editor of a niche magazine based in a small Canadian town. She soon learns that many of the town’s residents are unhappy with real estate mogul Garrett Stonehaven’s plans to convert an old schoolhouse into a mega-box store. And then a vocal protester against the project dies. Is the death really accidental?
Judy’s short crime fiction has appeared in World Enough and Crime (Carrick Publishing) and The Whole She-Bang 2 (Toronto Sisters in Crime). Judy is also a freelance journalist, specializing in antiques and the residential housing industry. She lives in a small town north of Toronto.
Judy, was there a specific incident or incidents that inspired The Hanged Man’s Noose?
It actually started as a short story in a creative writing class taught by Barry Dempster, an award-winning Canadian author and poet. The story itself wasn’t particularly good, but I loved the town I’d created (Lount’s Landing) and my protagonist, Arabella Carpenter, an antiques shop owner. I’d always wanted to write a book, so I took the premise and expanded it. Somehow Emily Garland took over and Arabella became her sidekick!
Does Emily Garland resemble you?
Emily is a journalist, and so am I. She also a runner, and I’m a runner too. And we’re both bacon-eating vegetarians. It was easy for me to give up meat 30-something years ago (at a time when such choices were considered “unusual”) but I’ve never been able to give up bacon. Of course, Emily is only 32, and I’m…not!
Did The Hanged Man’s Noose take a lot of research? If so, what did it involve?
I named my fictitious town of Lount’s Landing, Ontario, after the real Samuel Lount, who was hanged for treason in the 19th century. The Hanged Man’s Noose is the name of the local pub in my novel, and its owner, Betsy Ehrlich, is a history buff. So there was some research involved in getting those facts right, although a lot of what I learned I didn’t use. That’s always the case with research, in my experience. The antiques side of things was easier. I’ve been senior editor of New England Antiques Journal since December 2007. I’m by no means an expert on antiques, but I’ve learned a lot over those eight years.
Are any of your characters based on real people?
I’d have to say no, although in my mind’s eye, Levon Larroquette (Arabella’s ex and a major character in the book) looks like a young Kris Kristofferson. I find it helps to visualize real people as I create my characters.
What were the most difficult scenes to write in the novel and why?
I am the least romantic person on the planet, and my husband will attest to this. While there really isn’t any romance in the book, relationships are forming and people are flirting with one another, etc. For me, those scenes were the most difficult to write.
Is The Hanged Man’s Noose the first book in a series?
I certainly hope so. I’m now outlining book two, this time with Arabella as the protagonist and Emily as the sidekick. I just couldn’t bring myself to write a sequel to a book I hadn’t sold. In the meantime, I’ve written another mystery, Skeletons in the Attic. I’m hoping to send it out for publishing consideration in a few months. In Skeletons, Arabella makes a brief appearance, but the town and primary characters are all different. Both, however, are set in fictitious towns north of Toronto.
You are a published short story writer as well as a novelist. What is the difference between a short story and a novel? Is it only length?
The short story is definitely an art form unto itself. The best writers only make it look easy. Take Annie Proulx’s collection of stories, Close Range, which included “Brokeback Mountain.” Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana developed the screenplay from that short story, and they didn’t have to embellish it one bit.
Which do you prefer writing, novels or stories?
Definitely novels, although I’m trying to get better at short stories. I’ve been reading a lot of crime fiction anthologies. I believe that reading is the best teacher.
Do you have a plot nailed down before you start writing?
With novels, I am a total pantster—flying by the seat of my pants. I have a rough idea of the premise, who dies and who did it. That’s my idea of an outline. For short story, I find I need more of a roadmap. But that style of writing doesn’t come naturally to me.
How do you find time to write fiction around your journalism career?
It’s a challenge, although I’m very organized and self-disciplined. I try to make time to write fiction every day, even if it’s only for an hour. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way.
How long does it take you to complete a book?
I try to write 5,000 words a week, which gives me a very messy first draft in about four months. But so far I’m averaging about 15 months from the start to the finished product.
Who has influenced you the most in your fiction writing and why?
I mentioned Barry Dempster above. In 2003, I took his creative writing workshop. It was my first foray into fiction writing and I wrote a short story called “Cleopatra Slippers.” It was published in THEMA, a New Orleans-based literary magazine. That story changed my life. I stopped wanting to be a writer and became one. I’ve never looked back.
What has been your greatest reward as an author?
The greatest reward has come from the writing associations that I belong to—Sisters in Crime International, Sisters in Crime Toronto, Guppies (which stands for The Great Unpublished) and Crime Writers of Canada — and the many supportive authors I have met, both in person and online, as a result. Thanks to SinC and CWC, I have found early readers/mentors in Janet Bolin and the late Lou Allin, and an MWA-approved publisher in Barking Rain Press. Belonging to an association of like-minded folk also reminds me that I’m not alone on my journey.
Judy, all the best for the success of The Hanged Man’s Noose!