Write Where You Know

by Judy Penz Sheluk

Hi–Barb here, pitch hitting for Edith after her recent hand surgery. We wish her all the best.

My, er, Edith’s guest today is author Judy Penz Sheluk, who has an interesting take on some time-honored writing advice.

Take it away, Judy!

Writers are often given the advice to “write what you know,” which is all well and good, except that I write mysteries. And despite an over-active imagination, I’ve yet to murder someone, investigate a cold case, or solve a crime. So in my case, “write what you know” isn’t particularly good advice. But “write where you know,” that’s something altogether different.

When I first starting writing my Glass Dolphin cozy mystery series, many folks told me not to set my book in Canada. “Americans won’t read it,” they warned, expressions grim. “Louise Penny is the exception, not the rule.”

But I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, and I’ve lived within two hours of that city, mostly in small towns, for all of my adult life. Add to the mix that I’ve never been much of a traveler (I don’t count a week in the Bahamas or the occasional writers’ conference as being a “traveler”) and I couldn’t imagine setting my book in some fictional U.S. town. After all, just like the people in them, every small town I’ve lived in has had its own distinct personality.

And so, being the optimistic dreamer that I’ve always been, I set the Glass Dolphin mysteries in Lount’s Landing, a fictionalized version of Holland Landing, where I’d lived for twenty years. Instead of the Holland River, the Landing (yes, Holland Landing folks refer to it as “the Landing”), I’ve got the Dutch River. Instead of neighboring Newmarket, I’ve got Marketville (though I did borrow its Main Street of indie shops and restaurants for Lount’s Landing).

Why Lount’s Landing, you might ask, and the answer is simple. When I first moved to the town in 1990, one of my first stops was the Holland Landing Public Library. Outside, there was a historical plaque commemorating Samuel Lount, who’d been hanged for treason in 1838. Fascinated, I researched Lount’s story. His history, and his hanging, is an integral part of The Hanged Man’s Noose, book 1 in the series.

In book 2, A Hole in One, Glass Dolphin antiques shop owners Arabella Carpenter and Emily Garland decide to sponsor a hole in one contest at a charity golf tournament in hopes of promoting the store. Unfortunately, finding a dead body in the woods has a way of mucking things up, but the golf course, and the third hole where the body is discovered, is based on Silver Lakes Golf Course in…you guessed it…Holland Landing (did I mention I have an overactive imagination?).

Where There’s A Will, book 3, wraps up the series with Emily getting married and house hunting, and Arabella and her ex-husband, Levon, hired to appraise the contents of an estate. Now, I’ve never been in real estate, but I’ve bought and sold enough houses to know the lingo and it was great fun to include some of that in the book:

Location, location, location! This rustic four-bedroom, two-bathroom Victorian charmer on desirable Walnut Street includes a generous garden for your green thumb and a high-ceilinged lower level with loads of potential. Put your own stamp on this one. Motivated vendor.

Emily had seen enough houses to know that “rustic charmer” translated to “needed serious renovations,” whereas the “generous garden for your green thumb” meant an overgrown, weed-infested plot of land, and the “lower level with loads of potential” was realtor speak for an unfinished basement.

And so that’s my take on “write where you know.” I’m going to miss writing about Lount’s Landing, though I expect Arabella, Levon, and Emily will continue to make guest appearances in my Marketville Mystery series. As for whether the decision to set the series in Canada was a mistake, I’ll let you be the judge. Here are the latest sales stats from Amazon for US and Canada:

US: 95%

Canada/Australia/UK: 5%

Readers: Do you enjoy books set in locations outside of the US?

About the book: Emily Garland is getting married and looking for the perfect forever home. When the old, and some say haunted, Hadley house comes up for sale, she’s convinced it’s “the one.” The house is also perfect for reality TV star Miles Pemberton and his new series, House Haunters. Emily will fight for her dream home, but Pemberton’s pockets are deeper than Emily’s, and he’ll stretch the rules to get what he wants.

While Pemberton racks up enemies all around Lount’s Landing, Arabella Carpenter, Emily’s partner at the Glass Dolphin antiques shop, has been hired to appraise the contents of the estate, along with her ex-husband, Levon. Could the feuding beneficiaries decide there’s a conflict of interest? Could Pemberton?

Things get even more complicated when Arabella and Levon discover another will hidden inside the house, and with it, a decades-old secret. Can the property stay on the market? And if so, who will make the winning offer: Emily or Miles Pemberton?

Find the Glass Dolphin Mysteries on Amazon : https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KFLQ6KH

Photo courtesy of Ontarioplaques.com

About the author: A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: the Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including The Best Laid Plans and Heartbreaks & Half-truths, 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 serves as Chair on the Board of Directors. Find her at http://www.judypenzsheluk.com.

49 Thoughts

  1. Judy, congrats on the new book!

    I do like books set outside the US, but that comes with the caveat that the story itself has to be good. Set in another country or here in the US where I am wouldn’t matter if the story is bad.

    Typically, stories that are set in either Ireland or Scotland seem to be the other country set mysteries that I respond to the most.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Jay. Agreed, the book has to be good, no matter where it is set. I love books set in the UK. If you enjoy books set in Ireland, you should check out Tana French’s Dublin police series.

  2. It’s very enjoyable to read books set in places I’ve never been as well as fun places I have visited. For places I’ve never been, it’s a way to travel without the expense or hassle. It’s like imagining yourself there. On the rare occasion it’s someplace I have been, it’s fun to see if they worked any place I’ve seen into the story which makes me feel sorta like I’m am part of the story.

    Congratulations on the upcoming release of “Where There’s A Will” which sounds wonderful. Can’t wait for the opportunity to read it.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Thanks Kay. I agree, it’s like traveling without having to go through customs! And these days, most of us aren’t traveling any other way.

  3. Part of the appeal of books is getting to read about different places, especially those set outside of your own country. I think your Amazon stats prove I’m not alone in thinking that!

  4. Hi Judy, congratulations on Where There’s A Will. It sounds spectacular.

    I love reading books set outside the US. Doesn’t matter where, but it is important that the author is comfortable and familiar with the setting.

  5. I like books set outside the US as long as the story is good. It’s a great way to travel without leaving home.

    1. Thanks Christi. I hope you’ll check out my books. If you enjoy cozy mysteries without the cats, crafts and cookie recipes, the Glass Dolphin series is a good place to visit.

  6. I love to read books set in all locations. It’s my way of traveling now especially during covid. I really like books based in Italy. I hope to go there some day.

    1. Hopefully you will get to Italy one day! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  7. I love this, Judy. Thanks for sharing! I’m from Indiana and, for my money, there’s not much better than reading a story set outside the U.S. It’s a great way to “travel” without the expense of a car or plane ride!

  8. Best wishes to Edith on a speedy recovery. Hands and feet hurt the worst, I think.
    I love your perspective Judy. Write what you know, while good advice, is definitely limiting. Write where you know is a great thought. Your books sound very interesting and yes, the setting is the most attractive aspect. I think many Americans are drawn to Canada. We are so close and one would think we should be so similar, but we are not. Fascinating to me. I look forward to reading your stories.

  9. To Edith – Get well soon. I hope you recovery goes swiftly and isn’t to painful!

    I love reading books set in other places and a mystery makes it fun!

  10. Series sounds great. since we were all interested in “cozies” and Agatha Christie, I would say mysteries from elsewhere are perfect for any reader! A Canadian Series is just over the border and that isn’t far away! Great setting for your series and I love that it had an historic start!

  11. Thanks for visiting, Judy! I love reading books set in far-off places. I traveled with my husband to Toronto a couple of years ago and thought it an utterly delightful place!

    1. Thanks Jessie. Toronto is a nice city though like any city there are pockets that are less desirable!

  12. I will admit that I tend to be drawn to books set in the US, although I do enjoy visiting other country if the rest of the book interests me. I do see too many set in Canada, so that is a draw right there.

  13. Hi Judy. Before my Maine Clambake series found a home it was rejected by publishers as “too regional.” But I knew better and thankfully so did Kensington. People love to read about places different from their own.

    1. Too regional! Well, you showed them, didn’t you Barbara…I think as authors we need to believe in our stories, first and foremost, and if the setting is authentic to us, it will be to the reader.

  14. Our son was married in Canada in the Ice Chapel during the Ice Festival in Quebec in February a few years back. We all wore kilts for the ceremony and reception. It was COLD! However, we so enjoyed our one and so far only visit to Canada. I enjoy reading about a good mystery and depend on the author to make me visualize the setting. Having a book take place outside of the US is OK by me! Good luck with the new book.

      1. Our DIL read The Happy Hollister’s book about the Ice Festival and decided as a child that she wanted to marry in the Ice Chapel. Stories make an impression on us at every age!

  15. I’ve never heard of this series, but it sounds wonderful. I doubt that I’ll ever get to Canada, so so an armchair trip just might be on my future.

    1. Hi Debbie, I think you’d enjoy the series though each book can be read as a standalone, it’s always good to read in order: The Hanged Man’s Noose, A Hole in One, and Where There’s a Will.

  16. Thinking of you, Edith, and hope the pain isn’t too awful.

    I love reading books where I get to revisit places I know, like Ontario, or places I’ve never been and get to learn about. As much as I love to travel, obviously right now, armchair travel is a safe substitute.

    Now I have two new (to me) series to pursue. Yay!🤩

    1. I hope you check them out Ginny! And as you say, armchair is the way to go these days.

  17. I’m definitely going to have to check into this series. I wonder why a certain local blogger friend never mentioned this one to me.

    Oh, In my family the saying is “where there’s a will, there’s a relative”. You have to understand there are six lawyers in the family. Some of them second generation.

    1. That’s funny! I went to a good friend, Dan, who specializes in estate law. He was an invaluable resource…he also forced me to take the story in a different direction because my original idea wasn’t the way law is practiced. But I love, Where there’s a Will, there’s a relative.

  18. I enjoy reading stories set in foreign places as well as those set in the US. I visited Quebec, Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Vancouver, and Victoria. Canada is so beautiful.

    Get well soon, Edith. Stay safe and well, everyone.

    1. Thanks Sally. All the places you mentioned are beautiful. I went to Vancouver and Victoria for the first time 2 years ago for Left Coast Crime and sightseeing. British Columbia is a 5 hour plane ride from Toronto but it was on my list forever.

  19. As a U.S. reader, I most definitely enjoy reading books set outside the U.S. I love learning about places I’ve never been, or if I have been there, I enjoy recognizing the landmarks. Congrats on your new release, Judy!!

  20. I’ve set several stories in the place where I used to live (same area as Sherry’s From Beer to Eternity). It does improve the writing I think.
    Canada has always had a certain fantasy feel for a lot of Americans so I think your decision works.

    1. Thanks…I think it was the right decision, or at least, the only decision I could make, personally.

  21. Sounds like a book I’d love to read if I ever get through the (currently) 13,889 unread emails and 50+ past-due ARCs.
    I LOVE books set outside the US so long as it is clear WHERE they are set so I know what the underlying culture is. Driving on the left side of the road is a problem in the US and many other countries, but NOT in Britain and many British former colonies, for one example.

    1. Thanks Barbara. It’s very clear where my books are set — though we drive on the same side of the road as US. Hope you find time for them.

  22. Location, whether in Canada or the United States, doesn’t matter. What matters is the story. I’m biased though because I live in Canada. I won’t lie; stories set in Nova Scotia catch my eye faster than stories set elsewhere, but I’ve read stories that took place around the world and outside this world.

    I agree with writing where you know. It provides a unique opportunity to share a place that may never have had a story take place in it.

    Good luck with your book, Judy.

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