Guest Post

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Sunday, October 23, 2022


cj Sez: Okay, folks. Lyrical Pens has enticed internationally published author Judy Penz Sheluk away from her Lake Superior home (and golfing buddies) just long enough to answer some questions about her writing life and introduce her latest novel: Before There Were Skeletons. Read on and become fascinated with how this busy author stays on track …

LP: When did you realize you wanted to write?

JPS: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write. As a kid, I used to write stories in my head, a practice I continued into adulthood. It took decades to summon up the nerve to put the words on paper.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? lake sup 

Judy's photo of Lake Superior
as seen from her gazebo
Hybrid. My debut novel and a couple of others were originally picked up by two small presses. One has since shuttered its
doors completely, the other is now only publishing her own novels. Being “orphaned” twice, I decided to indie publish and set up Superior Shores Press. In addition to my own novels, I have edited and published three multi-author collections of short mystery.

The mass market paperback versions of my Marketville and Glass Dolphin series were also picked up by WWL Mystery, a division of Harlequin, which is a division of HarperCollins. 

Where you do most of your writing?

Desktop computer, home office. I cannot begin to imagine writing in a coffee shop. But I always have a notebook with me wherever I am, and scribble ideas anytime one strikes me. I even have a notebook and pen with LED light next to my bed

(cj Sez: Judy reported that she pretends to get her story ideas while walking the golf course.)

Is silence golden when you write, or do you like some accompaniment…music, a TV program,  some kind of white noise?

Silence or talk radio. I can tune out talk radio (unless I’m editing, then silence). I can’t tune out TV or music. 

Characters are usually composites of real and imagined people. How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real lifefrom your life in particular?

I like to joke that everything interesting that happens to me ends up in one of my stories. Of course, I haven’t killed anyone or solved a cold case. But I definitely get my ideas from real life, and develop characters based on my observations of people I’ve known or have met in passing. I’ve even included a scene in one of my books about a man who butted in front of everyone who’d been waiting in a long lineup at the dollar store. Let’s just say it wasn’t my finest hour – or his – but it was fun to recreate. 

Do you have a particular process to name your characters?

Lots of ways but one way is that I read the credits on TV shows and movies. For example, in my latest book, Before There Were Skeletons, I have a new character, Denim Hopkins. The Hopkins is a nod to a friend of mine who passed away a few years back. The Denim is from Denim Richards, who plays Colby Mayfield on Yellowstone. I knew Denim would be a great name (and of course, she has a stepbrother named Levi). 

I’ve also offered “Name the Character” for charities a couple of times, which is a great way to give back a little. 

Whatever name I conjure up, I always Google to make sure it’s not the name of a famous athlete or celebrity. 

Real settings or fictional towns? Country or city? Ocean or mountains?  (Just answer one)

Fictional town with references to real places. For example, Marketville is near Toronto.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable used to be addicted to cocoa butter lip balm, but I’ve weaned her off of it over the series. I don’t suppose that’s too quirky, but I try to avoid anything gimmicky, and I think it works. I get a lot of reviews mentioning how authentic my characters are. That’s important to me.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written), which would it be? Why?

I’ve recently fallen in love with Fredrik Backman’s novels, especially Beartown. His wry observations of human character are simply brilliant. I’ve caught myself crying while reading, not even realizing my face is stained with tears until the page is wet. An incredible author. 

What’s your biggest writing / editing pet peeve?

Using a substitute word for said. People cannot chortle or snort a sentence. Besides, said becomes invisible to the reader. All the rest becomes noise and the author trying to be too clever. 

You’re stranded on a deserted island. Besides food and water, what are your three must-haves?   

My golden retriever, Gibbs. 
He brings me so much joy simply by his joy of the simple things.

The complete works of Agatha Christie. She was prolific, so I’d have a lot of books, and her work stands up to this day. 

The complete series (including the Netflix movie) of Gilmore Girls. I never tire of Lorelei and Rory. 

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?

I’ve had more than a few, but I’d have to say my two days working at a sock box factory. I made the boxes that someone else would put a tie and pair of socks in, and someone else would shrink wrap. They used to sell those sets in Kmart and Zellers and Woolworth’s. It was a summer job. I was fired for not keeping up with production. 

What title is at the top of your to-be-read list? Why?

Right now, it’s The Winners, book 3 (and the final book) in the Beartown series by Fredrik Backman. I’m also listening to all of Sue Grafton’s alphabet series in order on audio – I read them all ages ago, and it’s been fun rediscovering Kinsey Millhone. I’m currently on G is for Gumshoe, which means F is for Fugitive is on the top of the TBR list. 

Tell us about Before There Were Skeletons . . . where you got the idea, how long it took from concept to publication, and how you came up with the title. (The title is usually a real challenge for me.)

Titles are easy for me, mostly because I usually let them come to me organically as I write, but in this case, the title came first. The original concept was a prequel to Skeletons in the Attic (book 1 in the Marketville series), taking place in 1978 and written by my protagonist, Callie’s, mother. But I just couldn’t seem to get the voice right. After several attempts and several thousand deleted words, I realized it had to be Callie’s story, her delving into her mother’s past and coming to terms with how her decisions impacted Callie’s life. Early on, I realized that would be a sub-plot, and the main plot would be a new cold case for Callie to solve, that of a mother who went missing in 1995, leaving behind a one-year-old baby.

Anyway, here’s the official back-of-the-book blurb, which sums it up rather nicely: 

The last time anyone saw Veronica Goodman was the night of February 14, 1995, the only clue to her disappearance a silver heart-shaped pendant, found in the parking lot behind the bar where she worked. Twenty-seven years later, Veronica’s daughter, Kate, just a year old when her mother vanished, hires Past & Present Investigations to find out what happened that fateful night.

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable is drawn to the case, the similarities to her own mother’sdisappearance on Valentine’s Day 1986 hauntingly familiar. A disappearance she thought she’d come to terms with. Until Veronica’s case, and five high school yearbooks, take her back in time…a time before there were skeletons. Find it in trade paperback, large print, and e-book at your favorite retailer. Universal Book Link:

About the Author

A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the bestselling author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries and The Marketville Mysteries. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including the Superior Shores Anthologies, which she also edited. 

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she served as Chair on the Board of Directors. She lives in Northern Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Find her at


cj Sez: Thank you so much for stopping by, Judy. I’m inspired, and I love Gibbs. Not only does he have the name of one of my favorite TV characters, but he’s gorgeous, and I want to squeeze him. Best wishes for best-seller sales and rave reviews for Before There Were Skeletons


That’s it for today’s post. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same. Raising prayers for your health and safety. 


No inflation here: THE DAWGSTAR and DEATH ON THE YAMPA, my fast-paced, exciting suspense/thriller ebooks, are now low-, low-priced at $2.99.

P.S.  The Haunted Book Shop has signed paperback copies of my books in stock. TO ORDER, contact The Haunted Bookshop here:  

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  1. Thanks so much for hosting me today. I will admit I made a mistake with my Sue Grafton books...the next one in line is H is for Homicide!

    1. cj Sez: Happy to have the opportunity to interview you, Judy. Re: Sue Grafton reads...let's just say you're working backwards. Again, best wishes for great sales and reviews.

  2. I love knowing another author has named characters from closing credits. A friend and I used to have regular movie afternoons and she would never leave a theater until the last name is scrolling upward. After a while, I realized there were some pretty cool names to be found and stashed away!

  3. cj Sez: What a neat story that is. I was the one usually trying to beat the crowd exiting the theater. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


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