Schmoozing with author James Moushon

Thrilled to be interviewed by American mystery author James Moushon today on HBS Author’s Spotlight. James and I chatted about a wide array of topics: current writing projects, book covers and the role of social media in book marketing to name a few.

A resident of Scottsdale, Arizona, James is the author of the Jonathon Stone Mysteries: Black Mountain Secrets, Game of Fire, Operation Alpha Dog and The Cajun Ghost. He’s a wonderful example of an author who go to great lengths to help other authors. He has interviewed and showcased more than 700 authors and their books on HBS Author’s Spotlight, and another mystery 1,100 authors on HBS Mystery Reader’s Circle.

Check out his interview with me here.

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Plotter or pantster?

Just returned from beautiful Minden, Ontario, where I gave a four-hour workshop on Structuring Your Novel. Twelve keen participants at the Minden Cultural Centre. Thankfully, my voice held out.

Minden, Ontario

Minden, Ontario

When the Haliburton Highlands Writers and Editors Network approached me about a workshop –“Any focus you like,” said HHWEN’s Kay Millard — I thought of the issue I’d grappled with for years: the perceived stalemate between plot and character. Was I a plotter or a pantster?

Too often, plot and character are viewed as separate entities. To the point where we often pit them against each other, trying to determine which is more important. But nothing is further from the truth. Plot and character are integral to each other. Remove either one, and you risk creating a story with great parts but not  a great whole.

The three acts of the novel correspond to the three stages of the hero’s motivation. Each change in his motivation signals the arrival of the next act. The character drives the plot, and the plot molds the character’s arc. They can’t work independently.

That’s what we looked at yesterday in Minden. Hope it made a difference t0 12 fellow writers.


Tuesday Oct. 18. Reading and discussion with the Mesdames of Mayhem at Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Library, 599 Mount Pleasant Road, 7 p.m.

Saturday Nov. 5. Reading and discussion with the Mesdames of Mayhem at Toronto’s Leaside Library, 165 McRae Drive, 2 p.m.

Sunday Nov. 6. A Triple Dose of Crime. Authors Rosemary Aubert, M.H. Callway and Donna Carrick launch their short story collections at Sleuth of Baker Street, 907 Millwood Road, Toronto. 2 p.m.

Tuesday Nov. 15. Reading and discussion with authors Lisa de Nikolits,  John Oughton, Heather Babcock and Terri Favro. Toronto’s Annette Street Library, 145 Annette Street, 6:30 p.m.

Thursday Nov. 17. Workshop on writing mysteries, sponsored by Scarborough Arts Council. At Toronto’s Kennedy/Eglinton Library, 2380 Eglinton Ave. East, 2 p.m.

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Back from Paris!

eiffel-towerI’d forgotten how truly beautiful this city is. Magnificent views of Sacré-Coeur Basilica from one of our windows, and a southern vista from another.

Ran ourselves ragged visiting museums, the Palais Garnier opera house (no Phantom in sight), Père Lachaise Cemetery (graves of Chopin, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Colette, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Pr0ust, Molière, Maria Callas, Rossini). Even Paris’s sewers.

Now we’re nursing colds at home. But it was well worth the coughs and the sniffles.

Photos by Ed Piwowarczyk.


Maria Callas's monument.

Maria Callas’s monument.

At the Flame of Liberty near the Pont D'Alma. Diana, Princess of Wales, died in the tunnel under the bridge in 1997.

At the Flame of Liberty near the Pont D’Alma. Diana, Princess of Wales, died in the tunnel under the bridge in 1997.


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Books, books…and more books!

Word on the Street was a resounding success at Harbourfront Centre yesterday! Bright sunshine all day long, authors, readers and books, books, books!

With 2 Mesdames of Mayhem (left to right): Lynne Murphy, Cathy Dunphy and Sylvia Warsh in profile.

With 3 Mesdames of Mayhem (left to right): Lynne Murphy, Cathy Dunphy and Sylvia Warsh in profile. Photo by Ed Piwowarczyk.

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Word on the Street time again!

toronto-logo-png-optIt’s Word on the Street time again in Toronto. Tomorrow, Sunday Sept. 25, an estimated 200,000 authors and readers will gather at Toronto’s Harborfront Centre for the city’s annual public literary event.

There will be author readings and interviews, contests, and a lot more. And it’s mostly free entertainment, except for book purchases and author cruises on the Tall Ship Kajama. Tickets for the hour-long cruises are $20 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under.

As you browse the booths of authors and their books, please come by and see me. I’ll be at:

  • CRIME WRITERS OF CANADA‘s booth 541 from noon until 1 p.m.
  • THE MESDAMES OF MAYHEM’s booth WB12 from 1-4 p.m. The Mesdames have their own booth for the first time this year, and I’ll be manning it with Catherine Astolfo, Lynne Murphy, Madeleine Harris-Callway, Lisa de Nikolits, Donna Carrick and Sylvia Warsh.
  • And SISTERS IN CRIME’s booth WB11 from 5-6 p.m.

Hope to see you there!

Check out the complete Word on the Street schedule by clicking here.

Harbourfront Centre is at 235 Queens Quay West, just steps away from Lake Ontario. If you plan to take public transit, the TTC subway line from Yonge-Bloor to Osgoode station will be closed this weekend. Take the #509 or #510 southbound streetcars from Spadina station.


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TIFF highlights: ABACUS

A great start to my run at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival—ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail. Steve James’s documentary about the only U.S. bank to be criminally indicted in the wake of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis is a David and Goliath story about a family’s fight to save its business and clear its name—at the price of $10 million in legal and court costs.

Abacus founder and chairman Thomas Sung with daughters Jill Sung, CEO (centre) and Vera Sung, director.

Abacus founder and chairman Thomas Sung with daughters Jill Sung, CEO (centre) and Vera Sung, director.

Thomas Sung, who arrived in the United States in his teens and trained as a lawyer, opened Abacus Federal Savings Bank in New York City’s Chinatown in 1984 to help fellow Chinese immigrants secure loans to buy homes. The film follows the five-year ordeal of Sung and his four daughters, three of whom now run Abacus, after the bank was charged with falsifying loan applications. The Sungs never disputed that fraud took place at their bank. When they uncovered it, they reported it to the regulator and fired the employee behind it.

The story got virtually no coverage outside of NYC’s Chinese American media.

James captures lovely family moments as the daughters go to bat to defend their family’s honour and its contribution to the Chinatown community. This family refused to be a scapegoat for the large financial institutions that needed taxpayer rescue.

Sung, his wife Hwei Lin, and their daughters were at yesterday’s world premiere, and received standing ovations.


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What’s behind Skeletons in the Attic?

What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there…

Skeletons in the Attic Front CoverCalamity—Callie—Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, although she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville, a house she didn’t know existed. But 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 30-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 fulfil her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?

Author Judy Penz Sheluk is on Moving Target today to tell us what lurks behind Skeletons in the Attic, her second mystery. It was released by Imajin Books on Sunday.

Judy, what is it about the cozy sub-genre that appeals to you?

I wouldn’t call my first mystery The Hanged Man’s Noose (2015, Barking Rain Press) or Skeletons in the Attic traditional cozies. Yes, both have amateur sleuths as protagonists and both are set in small towns, but my idea of a true cozy includes cats, crafts and cookie recipes, or variations thereof. I refer to my mysteries as “amateur sleuth with an edge.”

Hanged Man’s Noose and Skeletons in the Attic are set in small towns. What do you like about small-town settings?

The insular nature of small towns allows the setting to become a character. Add to that the common perception that everyone in a small town knows everyone else’s business—when, in fact, we all have secrets—it is the perfect storm for murder and mayhem!

You give a lot of setting details in Skeletons. How important is setting to a mystery novel?

Hugely important. As a reader, we have to suspend our disbelief—how many murders could there possibly be in Cabot Cove, and yet we still watched Murder She Wrote week after week. If the setting isn’t believable, that disbelief gets stretched beyond reasonable boundaries.

What inspired Skeletons?

I was sitting in my lawyer’s office with my husband, Mike, waiting to draw up new wills. Our lawyer was delayed in court, which gave me plenty of time to think: what if I wasn’t here drawing up a will? What if I was here for the reading of a will? The story developed from there. But the opening scene in Skeletons is directly culled from the experience of waiting in my lawyer’s office.

Are any of its characters based on real people?

No, although most of my characters are composites of people I’ve met or known.

I’ve had readers tell me they were certain that I based my Pat Tierney protagonist on them. Have readers ever told you they know the real-life counterparts of one of your characters?

Someone once said that Emily Garland (the protagonist in The Hanged Man’s Noose) must have been based on me, because she is a journalist, and I’ve been a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers since 2003. But actually, her sidekick, Arabella Carpenter, the antique shop owner, is more like me in terms of personality (her motto is Authenticity Matters, and that’s also my belief). I also share her passion for shortbread cookies.

You’ve given a lot of thought to your character’s names—Calamity Barnstable, Misty Rivers and Leith Hampton in Skeletons. And Arabella Carpenter and Levon Larroquette in Hanged Man’s Noose. What do you look for in a character’s name?

They honestly just come to me. I jot them down in a notebook, then I Google the name to make sure they aren’t names of someone famous. For Calamity, I wanted a main character named Callie, but her mom was an old movie buff. I found a clip on YouTube of Doris Day playing a much-fictionalized version of Calamity Jane and singing Secret Love, and thought, “That would work. She was originally going to be Callie Barnes but there were a few Callie Barnes when I Googled that name, so I expanded the last name. A character’s name also has to suit his or her occupation and personality. [Here’s a link to the YouTube video, which is quite funny, and yes, the movie does play a part in the book:

When Hanged Man’s Noose was released last year you said that you are a pantster when it comes to plotting. Did anything change in the way you put your second novel together? How did you go about it?

Still a pantster. I try to write a chapter a day, with one day off every week for good behaviour. I try to end each chapter with a hook so I’ll want to get back to working on the book the next day. And, of course, I hope that the hook will keep readers reading.

That hook will take me into the next chapter and possibly spark ideas for future chapters, but it’s all very fluid for me. I can honestly say that I usually don’t know whodunit until I’m near the end of the novel. At that point, I have to backtrack a bit to add some clues, but I’m still doing that in the first-draft stage. It’s probably not the most efficient way of writing, but it’s the only one that seems to work for me. I’ve tried working to a word count, I’ve tried NaNoWriMo. That made me feel as if I was back at my 9-5 job as a credit and collections manager (a depressing job if there ever was one). So the chapter-a-day strategy works for me. Sometimes that’s 600 words and sometimes it’s 2,000.

After the first draft, I “select all” and change my font colour from black to blue, changing back to black as I finish the editing. I find changing the colour helps me find things I might otherwise miss. Once I’ve finished the second draft, I have the manuscript printed at Staples. I read the manuscript and mark it up with notes/corrections because I see things differently in print. My husband also reads it, and he can spot a plot hole from 100 yards! But overall, the manuscript is usually pretty clean. There are revisions to make, but they aren’t major.

What was the best reader feedback you’ve received about Hanged Man’s Noose in the year that it’s been out?

There’s a review posted on Barnes & Noble by Lit Amri for Reader’s Favorite. I don’t know the reviewer and seldom check B&N, so when I stumbled upon it, it made my day. My favourite line in the review was, “I can easily imagine it as an enjoyable mystery TV drama.” Hello, Hollywood, are you listening?

Is Skeletons the first book in a series?

That’s the plan, although at this point I’m still noodling ideas around in my head.

With two mystery series in the works, how will you find the time to develop both lines?

Great question, given that I’m also senior editor of New England Antiques Journal and the Editor of Home BUILDER Magazine. I sometimes feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day or days in a week. But then I get writing and I get lost in the story. The chapter-a-day routine works well, too. I can almost always find time to write a chapter, especially since I tend to write short chapters of 700 to 1,000 words.

You’ve seen the release of two mysteries in the past 13 months. Is it necessary for an author to put out a book a year to build a readership?

I honestly don’t know. Probably. I know that if I like an author’s book, I’ll look for other books by that writer. I’m interested to see if sales from Skeletons will result in additional sales for Noose.

What have you learned about book marketing over the past year?

That it’s hard work. That it takes a lot of time; much more time than I expected. That the best efforts don’t always get results, but doing nothing isn’t an option. That attending writing conferences (I attended Bouchercon Raleigh in October 2015 and Malice Domestic in April 2016) is expensive and exhausting, but the connections you can make are priceless. That I can read out loud and/or answer questions from an audience without fainting or throwing up!

I’ve also learned that my favourite part of marketing is building of relationships with other authors, and trying to promote their work, whether by hosting them on my blog or sharing their news on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest. It’s a win-win. Most authors will return the favour in some form, as you’ve done today. Thank you for hosting me.

Judy, all the very best for the success of Skeletons in the Attic!

thJudy’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.

Follow Judy on One Writer’s Journey, where she blogs about her writing and interviews other authors.

You can purchase Skeletons in the Attic on Amazon.





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