Guest Judy Sheluk

Edith here, milking the end of summer for all it’s got! And happy to welcome Judy Penz Sheluk back to the blog. She has a new book out – A Fool’s Journey, book 3 in her Marketville Mystery series – and a story about three research assistants! But first, the book blurb:

In March 2000, twenty-year old Brandon Colbeck left home to find himself on a self-proclaimed “fool’s journey.” No one—not friends or family—have seen or heard from him since, until a phone call from a man claiming to be Brandon brings everything back to the forefront. Calamity (Callie) Barnstable and her team at Past & Present Investigations have been hired to find out what happened to Brandon, and, if still alive, where he might be. As Callie follows a trail of buried secrets and decades-old deceptions only one thing is certain: whatever the outcome, there is no such thing as closure.

Facts in Fiction: Tattoo Flash at Auction

From 2007 to 2018, I was the Senior Editor of the now defunct New England Antiques Journal. In that role, I received a lot of press releases from auction companies. In August 2018, while I was working on A Fool’s Journey, this popped into my Inbox from Ripley Auctions:

“Six early American original tattoo flash art sheets attributed to Charlie Wagner and Sam O’Reilly – an astounding representation of American history, folk and outsider art – sold for a combined $41,375 at an auction held July 28th by Ripley Auctions, online and in the firm’s Indianapolis gallery, located at 2764 East 55th Place. The top sheet finished at $11,250.

The six sheets were found in the bottom of a trunk in the attic of an 84-year-old career Marine Corps officer. The trunk had been in storage for over 40 years. All six of the sheets carried estimates of $3,000-$4,000 each.”

There are moments in a writer’s life when it truly feels as if the writing gods are on your side. This was one of them. I knew tattoo flash (the term used to describe tattoo designs/generic artwork) would play a role in Journey, and now I had a cool fact to incorporate into the story. But how?

I decided to have my Marketville Mysteries protagonist, Calamity (Callie) Barnstable, owner of Past & Present Investigations, contact her old friend Arabella Carpenter, owner of the Glass Dolphin antiques shop. Unfortunately, Arabella doesn’t know much about flash art, but her antiques picker ex-husband, Levon, has a small collection and the three agree to meet. Here’s a brief excerpt of their conversation:

Levon to Callie and Arabella: “I’ve built up a small personal collection, mostly vintage stuff, but a few by contemporary artists. When I started collecting I was in a small minority. But flash art now gets top dollar. At the July 2018 at Ripley Auctions in Indianapolis there were six original tattoo flash art sheets attributed to Charlie Wagner and Sam O’Reilly which sold for more than forty-thousand dollars.”

Callie: “I have no idea who they are, but that’s a lot of money.”

Levon warmed to his subject. “Sam O’Reilly learned tattooing in the Navy, patented the first tattooing machine in 1891, practiced in the Bowery in New York City. Charlie Wagner apprenticed with O’Reilly, patented his own tattoo machine in 1904, sold his machines and his own brand of ink. He died in 1953, but was a tattoo artist for fifty years. But it’s the backstory that’s a picker’s dream.”

“Do tell,” I said, leaning forward. The man could spin a story.

“The sheets were found by an antiques collector in the bottom of a trunk in the attic of an eighty-four-year-old career Marine Corps officer. The collector paid $10 for it.”

“Wow, ten dollars for forty-thousand plus. Not a bad return on investment. I don’t think what I’ve brought has anywhere near that value, but…” I opened my briefcase, handed over the sketchbook, and watched silently as Arabella and Levon carefully studied each page.

And that’s how a press release about tattoo flash (and two characters from my Glass Dolphin mystery series), found their way into my latest book.

Readers: What’s the favorite fact that you’ve learned from reading a work of fiction, and why?

Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of the Glass Dolphin Mystery and Marketville Mystery series, and the editor of The Best Laid Plans: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense. Her short stories can be found in several collections. Judy is also a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Vice Chair on the Board of Directors. Find her at


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13 Thoughts

    1. Thanks for hosting me today, Edith. I loved being Senior Editor for New England Antiques Journal, not just because our team was so incredible (they were) but because I’d get these cool press releases that often fuelled my too active imagination. This was one of those cases. Sadly, NEAJ folded…the case of so many print media newspapers/magazines.

  1. I love this story, Judy! Congratulations on the new book. A few years ago a friend sent me an ad for an estate sale for a retired CIA agent. I finally used it in my upcoming book, Sell Low, Sweet Harriet.

    1. Thanks Sherry, I love how we can take something like an ad (which PR basically is) and use it in a story! Everything is grist for the mill.

    1. Thanks Barbara. I really got immersed in this book and hope you enjoy it.

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