Interview with Judy Penz Sheluk

PAST & PRESENT has a different tone than your other series The Glass Dolphin Mysteries. What was the inspiration for this series?

I started writing SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC (book 1 in the Marketville Mysteries) while I was shopping for a publisher for THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE (book 2 in the Glass Dolphin Mysteries). Everyone told me to write the sequel, but I couldn’t bring myself to write a second book in a series if the first book didn’t sell.

The idea for SKELETONS IN THE ATTICS came to me while waiting in my lawyer’s office with my husband, Mike. We were there to update our wills, but our lawyer had been delayed in court. While Mike read back issues of Bicycling Magazine, I started jotting down ideas: What if I was there to inherit? What if there were strings attached to that inheritance? I wrote the first chapter the minute I got home, and because I wanted it to be different from Noose, which is written in third person, alternating POVs, I wrote it in first person. I’d never written in first person before then, but now I much prefer it.

Past & Present (book 2 in the Marketville Mysteries, and the sequel to Skeletons) was inspired by a train case I found in my mother’s clothes closet after she passed away in September 2016. Inside were her immigration papers, a document from the T.S.S. Canberra, the ship she came over on, her original passport. My mom had never talked much about her life before coming to Canada, and now it was too late to ask her. So I began tracing her journey, and in so doing, I knew I had a story, or at least the beginning of one. It honestly felt as though my mom was with me in spirit as I wrote the book, and many of the obstacles my protagonist, Callie, faces, I faced in doing the research. In fact, the release date of PAST & PRESENT (Sept. 21) marks the two-year anniversary of her death.

This series deals with secrets from the past and airing out dirty laundry, which is one of my favorite tropes. What made you decide to have your protagonist set up this kind of investigative service?

In SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC, Calamity (Callie) Barnstable inherits a house (she knew nothing about) from her father, who died in an occupational accident. There’s a codicil in the will that stipulates that Callie must live in the house for a period of one year and try to find out who murdered her mother thirty years before, when Callie was six. Callie works at a bank call center, and knows nothing about investigation, but she accepts the condition, moves into the house, and uncovers all sorts of secrets from the past, many that would have been better off left buried.
In Past & Present, Callie is faced with going back to another dead end 9 to 5 job, or taking the skills she’s learned in Skeletons to her own company, Past & Present Investigations. Her first client is a woman hoping to find out more about her grandmother, Anneliese Prei, who immigrated to Canada in 1952 (as my mother did) and was murdered in 1956. The name is a nod to my mother, Anneliese Penz. I think she’d like that, having a character named after her. There’s also an Anton in the book, and that was my late father’s name (SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC was dedicated to his memory).
But yeah, delving into the past, it can be messy. We all have our own skeletons hidden away, our own dirty laundry we’d rather not air. Maybe that’s why it’s so much fun to write about.

Are your two protagonists very different from one another? What makes each woman stand out?

Actually, I have three protagonists! In THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE, the protagonist is Emily Garland, and thirty-something freelance journalist who lands an undercover assignment in a small town battling a real estate developer’s desire to convert an old schoolhouse into a mega-box store. Emily is a bacon-eating vegetarian, a marathon runner and newly single, having been dumped by her fiancé for a personal trainer who is all fake tan and toned legs. Emily’s sidekick is Arabella Carpenter, the owner of the Glass Dolphin Antiques shop.

In A HOLE IN ONE (book 2 in the Glass Dolphin series), Arabella takes center stage. She’s heading into 40, a little hotheaded, and she’s a stickler for authenticity in antiques and people. She’s also still in love with her ex-husband, and he with her, not that either of them would admit it. Arabella is my favorite character: She even has a small role in both my Marketville mysteries.

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable is now 38, a little jaded and when it comes to romance, she’s convinced she has the Barnstable family curse, or at the very least “loser radar.” She is also relentless in her pursuit of the truth, no matter cost to her personally.
Each of these women are strong and smart and loyal to their friends—they don’t dither or do crazy things to land themselves in trouble—there are no “I Love Lucy” moments—but they’re not without flaws. One of the things I read in my reviews (yes, I read all of my reviews) is that the characters seem like real people. That to me is the greatest compliment, because they are real to me.

Do you find it difficult to write two different series? Do you have plans to continue both?

I’m halfway through book 3 in the Marketville series and should have the first draft finished within a couple of months. I hope to continue Callie’s journey with a book 4, but we’ll see. One book at a time.

I’ve started book 3 in the Glass Dolphin series. In my mind, it was always a three-book series and I know how it will end. I also have a beginning. The middle is still a mystery to me.

What made you decide to try the hybrid publishing route? And what does “hybrid” publishing mean?

Hybrid means you have a traditional publisher and self publish. 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 & 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 ever step. It’s quite exhilarating.

Are you working on anything right now that you want to talk about?

The two books I’ve mentioned. I also have plans to produce a short mystery story anthology under the Superior Shores Press umbrella– but I haven’t worked out the details of how I’m going to do that yet. I don’t want to get into paying royalties, which means I have to determine how much I can afford to pay each author after factoring in all the other upfront expenses. But it’s something I really want to do, so that’s on my 2019 radar. I’m also researching a couple of non-fiction, non-mystery, projects, no specific timeline. And I have an idea for a standalone suspense. I’ve written a couple of chapters, but it’s very early days for that one and I’ve set it aside until I get my book 3’s finished. Last, but not least, I’m collaborating with a friend on a “caper” type novel. Not sure how that’s going to go, but I’m up for the challenge.