Welcome to my Second Acts Series!
Today, we have Canadian author Judy Penz Sheluk sharing insights from her multi-act life and introducing her debut novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose.
Act One: Childhood Dreams
I can remember reading Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery when I was about eight. It’s the story of Emily Starr of New Moon, Prince Edward Island, and her quest to become a writer/journalist. I remember thinking, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a writer.”
It wasn’t outside of the realm of possibility. I was an avid reader from an early age (my main fare was Nancy Drew; in high school I graduated to Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and John D. MacDonald. I had good marks in English. I had a plan. Even better, I had a dream.
Act Two: Credit and Collections
The plan changed. Instead of going to school to study journalism, I went to work in the credit department of a major insurance company and took college night classes in business administration and accounting. I worked my way up the corporate ladder, becoming the youngest Division Credit Manager in the company’s history. I still thought about writing, emphasis on thought. I didn’t actually do any writing—unless you count composing collection letters as writing.
I didn’t stay with that insurance company (I wanted to move back to Toronto), but I did stay in the Credit and Collections field, going from company to company as the recession hit and middle management jobs were “right-sized.” I eventually landed at a company two miles from my house. The commute was great. The job was mind-numbingly boring. I started thinking about writing again.
Act Three: Creative Writing Courses
My husband, Mike, bought me a PC and enrolled me in an online Creative Writing school. I whizzed through the 20 course units. Entered and won first prize in a writing contest for beginning writers. Sold a magazine feature article for the princely sum of $75.
That’s when fate intervened. The day I received the check for $75 I received the news that my mind-numbingly boring job was being made redundant. I thought about the job-hopping over the past ten years and I knew I just couldn’t do it any longer.
Mike encouraged me to try freelance writing for a year. If I could earn something—not what I had been earning but at least enough to put food on the table—we’d look at year two.
That was May 2003. I’ve never looked back.
Act Four: Finding Fiction
My freelance writing career took off in leaps and bounds. Before long I was writing regularly for AntiqueWeek, Antique Trader, New England Antiques Journal, Antiques and Collectibles Showcase Canada. Worried I’d be pigeon-holed into writing only for the antiques market, I attended a home building conference in Toronto and landed a few freelance assignments for a handful of home building associations, including Ontario Home Builder and Home Builder Canada. I specialized in “green” building and energy efficiency. Those led to some features in other trade publications. Before long I was writing about farming innovations (I grew up in Toronto, Canada), travel in Manitoba (have never been there) and a host of other things.
In 2007, I was offered the position of Senior Editor for New England Antiques Journal (www.antiquesjournal.com), a job I still have and love. In 2009, I was offered the position of Editor for Home Builder Canada (www.homebuildercanada.com). That took some thought. It would mean giving up some of the freelance work. Then again, it was a sure thing. I accepted the job and continue with it to this day. The bonus of both these gigs is that I work from home and can work my own hours. As long as the work gets done, no one cares WHEN it gets done.
Along the way, I kept taking creative writing courses, both online and in workshop format. I wrote a few short stories, mostly bad, managed to get a couple published. But there was nothing of consequence. And then on Christmas Eve, 2012, I had an ah-ha moment. If I didn’t start writing my novel, it would never get written.
With time off between Christmas and New Year’s from all my jobs, the time was right. I started writing The Hanged Man’s Noose on Christmas Eve 2012 and wrote seven days a week until I finished the first draft a few months later. I used to joke that if I was a plumber in my day job it might have been easier. After all, at the end of the day, a plumber (or whatever the job is) looks upon writing as an escape. I went from writing to writing. And yet, The Hanged Man’s Noose was an escape. The world and the characters I created became real to me, and I couldn’t wait to revisit them.
It took the help of a developmental editor and a copyeditor, along with two beta readers to get The Hanged Man’s Noose to the point where it was worthy of sending out for publication. Yes, the editors cost me, but I looked upon the expense as another creative writing course, and the investment was worth every penny. Not only did I polish up the manuscript, I learned what to do (and not do) for the future.
It wasn’t easy, but I landed a contract with Barking Rain Press in July 2014. More editing (this time paid for by the publisher) and in July 2015, The Hanged Man’s Noose was released to the world. You can read all about my publishing journey on my blog. Simply click on the archives, select One Writer’s Journey, and the subhead My Publishing Journey. Start at the beginning, if you dare. It’s all there, the hopes, the dreams, the cheers, the tears…
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.
The Hanged Man’s Noose is available at all the usual suspects, including Amazon.
You can also read the first four chapters free here.
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Wow! I’m in awe of your diverse talents and inspiring journey. Best of luck with all your literary endeavors.
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This is a very insightful interview into your career path, Judy. I like that you said that you looked upon the expense of editing as it being another creative writing course. I tend to justify the expense similarly – a private course where all the attention is on my work. 🙂
Thanks for commenting Carol. I agree, many writers think hiring an editor isn’t necessary but in my opinion, it’s an essential investment, especially for first time novelists.
Wow. That’s quite the journey from the credit department to fantastic fiction writing. And thanks to your husband for buying you that PC and enrolling you in a creative writing school. He’s sounds fabulous.
Thanks Kristina. It was quite a journey! Mike has always encouraged me to follow my dreams (I suppose that’s why I dedicated the book to him!)
And he deserves it!
I enjoyed finding out more about your life and work. Persistence in writing does pay off.
Thanks Jacqueline for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Yes, writing does take stick-to-it-tiveness!
Thank you Joanne for hosting me and I love the layout! Well done, you. Thank you Charmaine for taking the time to comment. Yes, I am a very determined woman. This can be good and not so good (sometimes I’m determined to do something stupid!). Thanks Debra for your kind words.
You are one determined woman, Judy. I admire you and your climb through life.
Interesting and most successful second act – plus, it is a great read.
Thank you Debra! I’m still working on my latest act, and loving it!