Guest: Judy Penz Sheluk

Edith here, who can’t believe it’s December already. I’m delighted to have Canadian judy-penz-shelukmystery author Judy Penz Sheluk as our guest today to kick off the last month of 2016. Judy and I each had our debut novels published by Barking Rain Press, and we’ve both spread our wings and flown farther afield since. I recently read her latest, Skeletons in the Attic, and loved it. Take it away, Judy!

Regional Authors

When fellow Sister in Crime Edith Maxwell invited me to post on Wicked Cozy Authors, my first thought was, “but I’m not a regional author. I’m not from New England.”

That led me to think…what exactly is a regional author? While I personally don’t think someone has to be born and bred in a particular area to write about it—especially in our Internet world where we can travel virtually—it is vital to get the details right. Readers will be quick to point out any inaccuracies. That said, the setting in a novel should be treated as another (important) character. As writers, it is our responsibility to create a world that readers can believe in. A good book is like a passport to another place— not just the major landmarks, but also the tucked away places only the locals know about.

It’s also important to layer in regional idiosyncrasies. For example, a visitor to Toronto, Canada, will call it TOE-RON-TOE, each syllable clearly defined. A native Torontonian will call it TORAWNNO (spoken quickly; Torontonians speak really, really fast; there’s no southern drawl north of the border!). Those same visitors will also find a myriad of Tim Horton’s coffee shops. Canadians love their “Timmy’s.”

Toronto’s Lake Ontario skyline

Agatha Christie was the master of creating atmosphere and place, whether she was at the English seaside, or solving a murder in Mesopotamia. I’ve never been to Minnesota, but when I sit down to read the latest John Sandford novel, I feel as if I’m returning to familiar territory. Tana French has helped me discover Dublin. And anyone who’s read Louise Penny has visited Three Pines, even though it’s a fictional town in Quebec.

The following shot is Newmarket’s historic Main Street. Marketville, the town in Skeletons in the Attic, is loosely based on Newmarket. The historic Main Street in Judy’s book, The Hanged Man’s Noose, is also loosely based on this street.


But what about me, and my novels? If I’m talking to a fellow Canadian, I’ll say, “My books are set in fictional towns north of Toronto,” whereas if I’m speaking to an American, I’ll say they take place in fictional towns in Canada. That’s probably because, if I am talking to someone in the U.S., they will invariably say, “Oh, I love Canada. I was there last year.” It may be they were in Vancouver, British Columbia (about 3,000 miles away from Toronto), or Montreal, Quebec (about 350 miles away), but it’s all Canada! Whereas, a Canadian will never say, “I was in the U.S. last year.” They’ll say, “I was in Chicago,” (or Dallas or Boston.)

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Above is Judy’s one-year-old Golden Retriever, Leroy Jethro “Gibbs” at her cottage (sometimes called a camp) on Lake Superior, near Sault Ste. Marie, in Northern Ontario. A regional difference: the US/Michigan side of the area is known as the Upper Peninsula.

I find it an amusing distinction…but it’s also much more than that. When I’m writing, I need to be ever diligent when it comes to introducing my readers to the world that I’ve created. Then again, the same came be said for any “regional” author…whether they’re in Canada, California, or New England.

Readers: Do you have a favorite regional author or region you like to read about?

skeletons-in-the-attic-front-coverSKELETONS IN THE ATTIC

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

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, 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 thirty-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 fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?

Skeletons in the Attic is on a .99 promotional sale from December 1 through 15 on Amazon Kindle. It is also available on Kindle Unlimited and in trade paperback at all the usual suspects. Paperback: 

An Amazon International Bestselling Author, Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published in July 2015. Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series, was published in August 2016. Judy’s short crime fiction appears in several anthologies. Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find Judy on her website/blog at, where she interviews other authors and blogs about the writing life.


39 Thoughts

  1. Hi Judy. I am also a native Torontoian, and I agree that we say our city name quite differently from visitors…for me, it’s even shorter: TRAWNO!
    Your post about regional mysteries is interesting…and I agree again about the distinction between US mysteries and those set in Canada, and how they are marketed/described. We rarely say a “Northern Ontario” mystery or a Kelowna (BC) mystery. And I do love it that you set one of your books in a fictional town north of Toronto (Marketville), and I had a feeling it was loosely based on Newmarket!

    1. Hi Grace, what part of Toronto are you from and where do you live now? I grew up at Kennedy and Ellesmere (Scarborough) area. I moved to Peterborough after school for a job with an insurance company. I’ve moved around a bit since then, but always within a couple hours drive of Toronto. I lived in Newmarket for a couple of years, and in Holland Landing for 25 years. The Hanged Man’s Noose is set in “Lount’s Landing.”

      1. Hi Judy, I grew up in Willowdale (Yonge/Steeles) which was not built up in the early 1970s at all! I lived in mid-town Toronto from 2001 (Yonge/Lawrence) until I moved to Ottawa in 2014 for work (feds). And I forgot to mention that I enjoyed reading The Hanged Man’s Noose which as you say is also set in a fictitious town north of Toronto.

    2. Hi Grace…I totally know the area you grew up in. I’ve only been to Ottawa once (for my first marathon) but I hope to get back there and see it without having to run 26 miles! Thanks for the kind words about Noose.

      1. Judy, Ottawa is a great city with lots of opportunities for winter and summer activities without having to do a marathon: cycling, hiking, skating, snowshoeing, x-country skiing! Hope you come and visit again!

  2. Thank you Edith and the rest of the Wicked Cozy authors for inviting me today. It was great fun to write this post, and I welcome any questions. I’d also love to know if readers have a favorite “regional” series.

  3. I love reading cozy mysteries that take place anywhere as long as the author makes me feel at home there. I like to picture everything and feel “cozy” in my space. The book sounds good.

  4. Favourite regional mystery is tough. Many cozy mysteries that I read are set in a specific (often small) town. A few authors whose books evoke an atmosphere of place that I love include: Cara Black’s Parisian mysteries, Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight PI stories set in the UP (Upper Peninsula) of Michigan, William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor mysteries set in Minnesota and Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks Yorkshire police procedurals.

      1. Judy, yes I have enjoyed reading Sara’s Lake Placid books, Thanks for mentioning her!

  5. One of the things I love about setting books in Massachusetts is all it’s quirks. Well, they are quirks to me, a native of Iowa. Very interesting, Judy and welcome to the Wickeds!

  6. Welcome to the Wickeds, Judy! Thank you for the pronunciation lesson, since so many of us will be in Toronto for Bouchercon next year. I never did get Nawlins right, and I probably won’t get this, either, but it’s worth a try.

    1. We look forward to seeing many of the Wickeds at Bouchercon! I have been told I have a distinct Toronto accent because I say TRAWNA (or TRAWNO) …no pronouncing the second T. But it’s totally OK for visitors to say TOE-RON-TOE, as Judy indicated above.

  7. Welcome, Judy. I love Canada. (Grew up near the border, halfway between Ogdensburg-Prescott and Alexandria Bay-Hill Island bridges), and I know how to pronounce Torawnno–I’ll be sure to give the Wickeds a lesson next time I see them, LOL!. I especially love poutine, food of the gods and goddesses. Congratulations on your book.

    1. Thanks Susannah. Maybe you’ll come to Bouchercon in Toronto 🙂 It’s funny, but I’ve never tried poutine. I may be the only person on the planet who doesn’t care for french fries…chocolate yes, french fries, not so much!

      1. There should be a dessert poutine–apples, cheese curds, and caramel? Those flavors work for apple pie with a crumb topping and a slice of cheddar melted on top…

    2. I do love cheese curds…I like your poutine dessert. I remember there used to be a pie shop in Toronto at Midland and Eglinton, The Pie Tree. It had this saying on the menu “Apple pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.”

  8. Not all of us would say that we went to Canada. I’d specify which part I was in. But I’ve had the same thing happen to me. If I say I’m from Southern California, people have assumed I meant San Diego and treated me like I live in San Diego even though I’m three hours from San Diego in Los Angeles.

    There is no region I love to read about more than others, but if the setting comes alive for me, I’ll look forward to that each time I return to a series.

  9. Thanks for visiting the Wickeds today, Judy! I love books set in Scandinavia. There is something so elegant about the spare language and bleak landscapes.

  10. Hi Judy! Thanks for being on the blog today. I love reading about different places – and I especially love when the setting comes alive for me in places I’ve never visited. Like the Longmire books, for example.

    1. Hi Liz, yes, setting is such a great way of “traveling” and sometimes “time traveling” isn’t it? I have not read the Longmire series, but I will definitely look into it.

  11. I really enjoy reading books set in Michigan, since it’s my home state. There seems to be quite a few cozies set in some of the small towns along Lake Michigan and a couple set on Mackinac Island. It’s interesting to read about places I’m familiar with. As for a favorite author, I like so many authors, it’s hard to pick one or two. When I’m reading a book that I like, that’s my favorite author at the time.

  12. Judy, I’m halfway through Skeletons…and loving it. I agree with you on how much fun it is to travel through books, what I call traveling it vicariously. I read a series of Pat Baker’s books and one book took me on a road trip across Canada, from Ontario to Vancouver, BC. I loved the descriptions along the way and felt as if I were there.

  13. Judy, I checked and I had bought a Kindle version of Skeletons in the Attic in August. My TBR pile is in the 1000s, and I have many books I am supposed to read this year first. But I promise to read Skeletons before the Toronto Bouchercon!

  14. The Murdoch Mysteries fans all know where Toronto is. I have all nine seasons on DVD.
    You’re right about geography. Living near Seattle, I always think of Canada as BC. When I lived further north, all we got was Canadian television. Before the border crossing got to take so long, my son played soccer in a league that did exchanges with Vancouver. So Canada feels more normal and part of my locale than Eastern Washington.

    1. Interesting Merrily. I’ve actually seen Maureen Jennings, author of the Murdoch Mysteries books, three times at author readings. She is the most unassuming person you’d ever imagine. Very nice. One talk, she read the first chapter of her book, and then showed a clip of the same scene from the TV show…there was virtually no resemblance between the two. Fascinating.

      1. That sounds fairly normal. I was at a conference once and John Saul said if you had a film made out of your book they changed it, and then you cried all the way to the bank.

      2. Yes, Merrily. Same thing with Gail Bowen, another Canadian author. Had a couple of CBC specials that were dreadful. At an author reading, someone asked her what she thought of the adaptations. She said, “the checks cleared and my kids got through university.” I’m waiting for Hollywood to call 🙂

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