Mystery Thriller Week Author Spotlight: Judy Penz Sheluk

 

Today I’m pleased to welcome Canadian mystery author, Judy Penz Sheluk, to my blog. Although I haven’t read her books (yet!), I’m a fan of any novel with characters fighting to preserve a small town’s historic district from big box stores. I think Judy and I are on the same wavelength! Here’s more about Judy…

judy-penz-sheluk2158Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose: A Glass Dolphin Mystery (Barking Rain Press), was published in July 2015. Skeletons in the Attic (Imajin Books), the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series, was published in August 2016. Her short crime fiction appears in several anthologies and collections. Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find out more at her website/blog, www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews other authors and blogs about the writing life.

noose2161Back Cover Blurb From The Hanged Man’s Noose:

Small-town secrets and subterfuge lead to murder in this fast-moving, deftly written tale of high-stakes real estate wrangling gone amok.

Journalist Emily Garland lands a plum assignment as the editor of a niche magazine based in Lount’s Landing, a small town named after a colorful 19th century Canadian traitor. As she interviews the local business owners for the magazine, Emily quickly learns that many people are unhappy with real estate mogul Garrett Stonehaven’s plans to convert an old schoolhouse into a mega-box store. At the top of that list is Arabella Carpenter, the outspoken owner of an antiques shop, who will do just about anything to preserve the integrity of the town’s historic Main Street.

But Arabella is not alone in her opposition. Before long, a vocal dissenter at a town hall meeting about the proposed project dies. A few days later, another body is discovered, and although both deaths are ruled accidental, Emily’s journalistic suspicions are aroused.

Putting her reporting skills to the ultimate test, Emily teams up with Arabella to discover the truth behind Stonehaven’s latest scheme before the murderer strikes again.

View all of Judy’s books on Amazon.

Interview with Judy Penz Sheluk:

Thanks for joining me today, Judy! When did you first know that you wanted to become a writer?

I’ve always wanted to write. As a kid, I wrote stories in my head, on the way to school and back again. I thought all kids did that! In 2003, I left the corporate world to try life as a freelance writer. I’ve never looked back. In late 2011, after taking some courses in Creative Writing, I decided to start The Hanged Man’s Noose. It was an instant addiction.

If you could spend the day with any character from your novel, who would it be? Why?

I love Arabella Carpenter. She owns the Glass Dolphin, an antiques shop owner and the sidekick in The Hanged Man’s Noose, the first book in my Glass Dolphin Mystery series. She’s going to be the protagonist in the sequel, and she has a small role in Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in my Marketville series. Arabella is smart, feisty, loves shortbread, chardonnay, and cognac. She’s also loyal to her friends—even her ex-husband, Levon— wears her heart on her sleeve, and firmly believes that authenticity matters in people as well as the antiques she sells.

If your book was made into a movie, who do you envision playing the leading roles?

Jennifer Lawrence for the protagonist in Skeletons in the Attic, Callie Barnstable. Bradley Cooper for her next-door neighbor and possible love interest, Royce Ashford. Chris Noth in the role of Leith Hampton, lawyer.

What attracts you to writing in the mystery/thriller genre?

It’s what I read, and I’m an avid reader – about a book a week and at least 3 or 4 mystery anthologies or collections a year. I try to write what I’d like to read. People ask if it’s difficult to separate the books I read by other authors from my writing, but the reverse is true. A well-written or clever mystery inspires me to try harder. Reading is the best teacher.

How do you deal with rejections and/or negative reviews?

I won’t lie. Rejection hurts, but there isn’t a writer, alive or dead, who hasn’t experienced rejection. When I was shopping for a publisher/agent for The Hanged Man’s Noose, I wrote a heartfelt and honest blog about the experience titled The First Cut is the Deepest. It still gets a lot of hits, as does the series, My Publishing Journey. I’ve also blogged about Learning from Rejection.

Both Noose and Skeletons have primarily good ratings, with an average of 4.18 and 4.34 respectively on Goodreads. When I received my first 1-star review (after a string of 5-star reviews on Amazon) for Skeletons, I was crushed. I went to my fellow Sisters in Crime Guppy group and lamented. I was congratulated for finally making it “into the club.” Apparently readers are leery of a book that only has 5 star reviews. Then I went and looked at the reviews for Gone Girl, and sure enough, among the 5 stars there were a few 1 stars. I felt comforted by that: I should be as successful as Gillian Flynn!

Thank you for sharing your insights, Judy! I know many of us wish we could be as successful as Gillian Flynn. It’s been a pleasure learning more about you and your books.

Check back on February 5th for my next interview with environmental thriller author, Pamela Lazos!

 

 

BARN SHADOWS COVER REVEAL!

I’m so excited to share the cover of my new YA Mystery, BARN SHADOWS (Dark Horse, Book Two) which will be released March 14, 2017! Many thanks to Caroline Andrus who is a cover designer with my publisher, Fire and Ice. Her design captures the essence of my story while tying it in perfectly with the first book in the series–TRAIL OF SECRETS. I also love, love, love the color scheme! So without further ado…

 

barnshadows42737

 

Does the cover make you want to know more? Here’s the back cover blurb:

The darkest secrets can be found in the most innocent places…

Brynlei returns to the prestigious Foxwoode Riding Academy determined to work through her condition as a “highly sensitive person” and win the Top Rider Award. When she stumbles over an antique doll near the construction site of a new barn, a series of inexplicable occurrences force her to confront another one of Foxwoode’s long-buried secrets.

Meanwhile, swirling rumors of Foxwoode’s strained finances, the arrival of a strange new girl in her cabin, and a brush-off by Brynlei’s former love-interest contribute to the troubled atmosphere and distract her from her riding. After a suspicious fire threatens her life, Brynlei realizes someone close to her is lying. But who? Could a decades-old tragedy and the dangerous happenings at Foxwoode be more closely entwined than she ever imagined?

For those of you who haven’t read Book One yet–don’t worry! There’s still time… In the meantime, thanks for stopping by and let me know what you think of the new cover!

The Emotional Stages of Editing

heart-touching-feelingsRecently, I’ve been working with a copy editor to put the finishing touches on my YA mystery, BARN SHADOWS (Dark Horse, Book Two). Our mission:  to identify and correct all typos, grammatical errors, inconsistencies, and overused words/phrases in my novel. Thankfully, we’ve almost reached the end of this back-and-forth editing process which has been successful (yeah!), but also a roller coaster ride of emotions. Because I experienced a similar set of emotions when editing my first novel, I’ve outlined my own Emotional Stages of Editing below in order to help other writers going through this harrowing ordeal–or at least to make them laugh.

Emotional Stages of Editing:

  1. Fear–Your publisher notifies you that the copy editor has your manuscript. She’s probably reading it right now. Will she like it? Will she hate it? Will she understand your jokes? You break out in a cold sweat and lie down in the fetal position while repeating positive phrases in your head.
  2. Anger–A few days later, you click open the Word doc entitled, First Round Edits, expecting to see a few extra commas and comment proclaiming “WELL DONE! BEST BOOK I’VE READ ALL YEAR!” but what you see instead is a blur of red typing and strikethroughs. As your eyes focus on the specifics, the heat rises to your face and your hands shake. Why has the word “that” been added to the third sentence of the opening paragraph? Why have those two short sentences been combined into one long run-on sentence? Where is the joke about the baby llama who works at the cheese factory? This editor is trying to ruin your book! You’re sure of it!
  3. Despair–After exchanging a livid email voicing your displeasure with the suggested changes, the editor sends you a point-by-point outline of why she made each change. You slump into your chair and suck in your breath as you realize she was right–an em dash does work better than a comma in that sentence, and the word “that” is sometimes grammatically necessary. How could you have made so many mistakes? Your book must be horrible. Once again you curl up in the fetal position, only this time no positive thoughts pop their way into your head.
  4. Determination–After several martinis and a good night’s sleep, you open your “motivational phrases” Pinterest Board and realize that no mountain is too tall to climb and everything worthwhile is worth fighting for. You determine to get through these edits, one by one, word by word, sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter. You sit down at your computer and start re-reading your book for the 803rd time.
  5. Hope–The editor looks through your responses and sends you round two edits. Hey! There are only a few comments this time. And she added that joke back in–the one about the baby llama and the cheese factory! She probably realized how funny it was the second time she read it. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  6. Joy–All edits have been approved by both parties. The work is done! You jump up from your chair and wish you had a co-worker to high-five. Your dog will have to do. Soon your publisher will present you with the most dazzling cover ever created. Oh, the joy of all this hard work coming together! Editing isn’t so bad after all…o-book-wrapped-gift-facebook

A Night to Remember

As I may have already told you, I was shocked and elated when I found out Trail of Secrets had been named as a Finalist in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards (First Novel). I read about the upcoming award ceremony at the Newberry Library in downtown Chicago, but wasn’t sure I wanted to take the time to attend. My husband, on the other hand, REALLY wanted me to go. He convinced me it was important to be recognized for my hard work and even took two days off work to go with me. The event also happened to fall close to our eleven year wedding anniversary, so we decided to make a weekend out of it. I’m so glad we did.

We dropped our kids with grandma and drove five hours to Chicago where we spent a whileBook Awards 3 shopping on Michigan Avenue and visiting our old haunts. (We lived in Chicago for many years before moving back to Michigan.) After cleaning ourselves up, we walked to the Newberry Library for the ceremony. Having never attended a book award ceremony, I was nervous and had no idea what to expect. The people who ran the event did a terrific job making us feel welcome as we walked through the front door. A smiling woman handed me a name tag and goody bag filled with extra award stickers and information on all the other winners and finalists’ books. Someone else escorted us into the room and introduced us to several of the judges. Dozens of authors and their guests mingled, each author holding a copy of their book. Waiters and waitresses circled the room with glasses of wine and champagne and appetizers. It was like being at a wedding where the books were the stars.

My nerves subsided, as I fell easily into conversation with a group of authors and judges. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in everyone else’s books, and with seventy categories of winners and finalists, there was a quite a variety of books. I was amazed by how far people had traveled to attend the ceremony and what a big deal being there actually was.

At last, the Awards Chairperson began announcing the Finalists and Winners in each category. Only the people who attended the ceremony had their books announced. When it was my turn, I walked up on the stage (focusing very carefully on not tripping) with my book cover on the screen behind me and lowered my head to receive the medal. I shook hands with Awards Chairperson and Coordinator and exited the stage. That was it–my fifteen seconds of fame!

IMG_1097

The top three winners gave short speeches and there were a few more photo opportunities. I left the award ceremony feeling happy and reinvigorated by all of the positive energy. After two hours of conversation, speeches, and clapping, my husband and I were ready for a quiet dinner in the big city. We caught a cab and made it to our eight o’clock dinner reservation right on time.

Book Awards 1IMG_1124

Trail of Secrets is an Award Finalist!

IndieBookAwards2Several months ago while searching online, I happened to come across the website for the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. I perused the site, checking out the categories and last year’s winners. A category for First Novels under 80,000 words caught my eye. I had a first novel under 80,000 words! I thought, “Why not?” A couple of hours later I was standing in line at the post office to mail off a few copies of Trail of Secrets to Seattle, Washington. Then I got busy with life and completely forgot about this book award competition.

Fast forward to yesterday. An email from the Next Generation Indie Book Awards waited inCover with Sticker my inbox, promising “exciting news.” I still didn’t let myself get my hopes up. Perhaps the exciting news was only to let me know who the winners were. It didn’t mean anything. Then I read the first word- “Congratulations!” and I started to realize maybe this really was “exciting news.” As I read further, I realized Trail of Secrets had indeed been selected as one of five Finalists in the First Novel (under 80,000 words) category!

For all of the lonely, depressing, and frustrating moments that writing can bring, it can also provide the highest of highs. I know because that’s how I felt yesterday after reading that email. I’m so glad I took the chance and entered my book. I’m not sure if I’ll attend the award ceremony in Chicago in May. Regardless I am basking in the glow of unbiased validation of my book. There’s no better feeling!

Writing Inspiration is Everywhere

Please stop by fellow Fire and Ice author, Nina Mansfield’s, blog today to read my guest post on writing inspiration and to enter to win a digital copy of Trail of Secrets! Nina is the author of Swimming Alone (Fire and Ice YA, 2015), a fun and suspenseful YA mystery. I read it a few months ago and highly recommend it to any mystery-lover!

CLICK HERE to visit Nina’s blog – NOT EVEN JOKING

Not Even Joking

Please stay tuned to this blog for an exciting announcement related to the imminent release of my children’s picture book, Henrietta’s Hoof Polish!

 

Writing and Marketing in the New Year!

2015-2016The new year brings a sense of renewal and hope–something most writers can always use! I kicked off my 2016 with several writing resolutions, including completing (and perfecting) my latest YA novel, Barn Shadows. I’m continuing my quest for an agent for my recently-completed thriller, Top Producer, and thinking of new and exciting ways to market Trail of Secrets. I plan to attend at least two writing conferences. Finally, I strive to read at least five books on writing in 2016.

I’m on track in the reading department. This month I read Stephen King’s highly-on writing stephen king tenth anniversaryacclaimed book, On Writing, and loved it! It was not what I was expecting, especially the first half which was more of a memoir and less of a “how-to” book. The second half covered the nuts and bolts of the writing process, as it applies to Stephen King. I found the whole thing engaging and difficult to put down. I don’t often read books more than once, but this is one that I may revisit in the coming year.

As for revising my work in 2016, I plan to make more use of a tool I discovered through my publisher called EditMinion.com. This fun website allows writers to paste one chapter at a time of their writing into its screen. The program identifies common mistakes, such as over-used words, clichés, adverbs, and so on.  The best part? It’s free! While the program may not replace the use of a human editor, it is a great way to get an extra set of (virtual) eyes on any work-in-progress.Minion_Coloring_Pages_03

Now for marketing in the coming year…I plan to win awards. Many awards. But if that doesn’t work out, I’m going to check out BookBub — a website which compiles free and deeply discounted books for its readers based on their interests. Authors may list their books when they have a sale or if they’re willing to give away their book for free for a limited time.  One word of warning, listing a book on BookBub takes some planning, as the website approves each book individually and coordinates posts with the book’s sale dates.

So that’s me. What writing tools and marketing ideas do you plan to use for 2016?

Be sure to check back in a couple weeks, when I’ll report back on the top five things I learn at the upcoming Write on the Red Cedar conference in Lansing, MI!

Things I’ve Learned in the Two Weeks since Publication

Welcome to my new writing blog, which is dedicated to all things writing, reading, and publishing.

It’s been a little over two weeks since my young adult mystery, Trail of Secrets, was published, and it has been a whirlwind! Things have not always gone as I’d envisioned. (Nope, still not on the Best Seller’s List), but I have learned a ton about book marketing, the publication process, and managing expectations. For all the new authors out there who are preparing for, or stumbling through, their first book release, I thought I’d try to make things easier by sharing a few things I’ve learned:

SONY DSC1.  Friends and family can be your biggest supporters, but not all of them will be. On publication day, I kind of thought all of my family and friends would be as excited as I was about my book release–you know, in a “shout-it-from-the-rooftops” kind of way. It is true that a handful of them certainly were. In fact, I can name several people (some who are not even close friends) who went way beyond my expectations when it came to supporting and promoting my book. The thing I realized, though, is that while most people will offer their congratulations to you, they will never be as excited as you are about your book’s release. This was a shocker to me. After all, if one of my friends had a novel published, I would be ALL OVER THAT. I’d buy it, read it, and leave a review all before release day was over. But I’ve realized over the past two weeks that everyone does not view books the way I do. People have busy lives filled with careers and kids and drama. While they may have been sincere at the time they promised to buy a copy and leave a review, it might take them months to get around to it, if it ever happens at all. Maybe they are overwhelmed with other commitments. Maybe they are jealous. Maybe they don’t enjoy reading books. Whatever the true reason, don’t take it personally. Thank the people who ARE helping and supporting you. They are invaluable. Most of all, remember that YOU are the biggest champion of your book.

2.  Twitter works! This may be the most surprising revelation of all, coming from me–a former Twitter-hater. I’ve been using Bitly to shorten and track the number of clicks on my links. I can’t believe how many people click through! TweetDeck allows me to schedule multiple tweets in advance so I don’t have to be checking my phone and/or computer constantly. In the last two weeks, I’ve seen first-hand how effective Twitter can be in pushing people through to websites, blogs, and purchase links. I’ve also discovered the magic of hashtags. (More on #hashtags below!)
3.  Do a goodreads giveaway. In Twitter terms, that’s a #goodreads #GIVEAWAY! I set up a Goodreads giveaway for Trail of Secrets a week before it was published. I chose to run my giveaway for a month and give away a signed goodreads_fcopy of my book to three winners. It has almost been a month now, and 427 people have entered the giveaway. That is 427 people who have seen my book and read the description who otherwise may not have. As of now, over 200 people have added my book to their “To Read” shelf on Goodreads. In my opinion, that’s well worth the cost of the three signed copies I’ve agreed to send out!
4. Book reviews are hard to obtain.  I never thought that finding an objective person to review my book would be almost as difficult as getting it published! Bloggers who review books for free are swamped. Sure, there are the paid reviews, but few of us are eager to shell out $500 for a review. I’ve sent queries to between thirty and forty free reviewers and have received five responses. Even when someone agrees to do a review, the timeline could be several months out. I wish I knew this before my book was published. If I did, I would have spent more of my pre-publication time submitting for reviews.
5.  Make friends with librarians. I don’t know why, but I was scared to approach librarians with my novel after it was published. Librarians often seemed unapproachable and intimidating to me. Despite my irrational fear, I forced myself to take a copy of Trail of Secrets to the teen librarian at our local library. I positioned my kids in front of me in the hope that she would be softened up by 8cxKn4E6itheir pudgy, little faces. It turns out, she was less than thrilled to be presented with my book. She did, however, agree to read it. “If it meets the library’s standards,” she said, “then we’ll buy a copy for the library.” I waited on pins and needles for several days, entirely sure that she was going to hate my book. Imagine my surprise when I received an email from her several days later saying that she “really, really liked” my book. She said she would buy a copy and recommend it to teens who enjoy mysteries and/or like horses. She also left a 4-star review on Goodreads. What?? This was the last thing in the world I expected from her, but it was a terrific outcome. I realized that librarians can be amazing proponents of authors. I’m trying to find the time to approach more librarians in my area. Lesson learned.
6.  Share your news! You never know what kind of opportunities are lurking in the shadows. I posted my publication news on my local SCBWI list-serve, expecting to receive a few half-hearted “congratulations.” Instead, I was met with thunderous applause and several opportunities I never would have received had I stayed quiet. First, I was invited to submit a guest post for the Michigan SCBWI blog. I also received an invitation to be a speaker at a teen writing conference in November. I’m a little nervous about this second one, but I’m going to do it. These are both tremendous opportunities that could become great resume-builders. So, don’t be shy. Share your news!
Are you a recently-published author who is navigating your first few weeks or months of publication? Tell us what you’ve learned!