Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Guest Post: Judy Penz Sheluk-- When Less Needs More: The Story Behind THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE

Please welcome author Judy Penz Sheluk as she explains the background to her new mystery ….

When Less Needs More: The Story Behind THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE

As writers, we are often asked where we get our ideas. In the case of my debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, the story began in a Creative Writing Workshop. The short story itself wasn’t particularly brilliant (or even particularly good), but it did set the stage for what would eventually become The Hanged Man’s Noose, the first novel in the Glass Dolphin Mystery Series. Consider the opening:

“Arabella Carpenter’s day started off just like any other, with a three mile walk from her one bedroom apartment in midtown, to The Glass Dolphin Antiques on Main. The unit, as she referred to it, was on the tenth floor of a sterile glass and steel tower. The apartment had been somewhat optimistically billed as “overlooking” Lount’s Landing, although to do so required leaning over a small balcony and precariously craning one’s neck to the left.

Not that there was much to see. Lount’s Landing was a once small village that had, over the course of several decades, accepted growth with some reluctance, and urbanization in bits and bytes. The end result was a rather schizophrenic mix of high-rise condos and sprawling McMansions, amid an assortment of post-war bungalows, freehold townhomes, and dreary neighborhood parkettes.

The Glass Dolphin, on the other hand, was housed within a meandering warehouse conversion in what the locals liked to call the old part of town. In keeping with the building’s “industrial authenticity,” the architects had preserved some of its quirkier details, including exposed glass block and brick, wide pine plank floorboards, and tall open ceilings with the original ductwork on view. A cynic might suggest that conserving such details also saved the developer money, but no matter, such ambience was the perfect backdrop for a modern day antiques shop. At least that’s what Arabella had told herself last month when she signed a three-year lease.

She decided to name the shop after her first antique find, a sapphire blue Boston & Sandwich pressed glass candlestick, circa 1840. Arabella loved the way the dolphin’s head rested on a slab glass base, its mermaid-like tail curling seductively upward.

Still, there were some, among them Arabella’s ex-husband, who might say that this wasn’t the time to invest heart and soul (not to mention one’s hard fought life’s savings) into brick and mortar, especially when so much of today’s antiques trade was negotiated online. But while Arabella respectfully acknowledged that an Internet presence may be necessary, replacing lemon oil and old leather for search engines and live bidding was as foreign to her as relinquishing the tactile feel of page and paper for a Kindle.”

Yes, I know what you’re thinking: the opening is far too longwinded for a short story. After all, we’re at 370 words and there’s still no hint of a mystery. But part of me had already fallen in love with Arabella Carpenter, an irascible thirty-something throwback in time who loves antiques and hates social media. I knew I couldn’t let her languish in the pages of an unpublished short story. I knew I had to create a world for Arabella to live in.

I wish I could tell you that I immediately began outlining The Hanged Man’s Noose, or that the ideas and the words flowed onto the page, tumbling upon one another in their rush to get out. The harsh reality is that it would be another year before I even started on the novel.

Now, I can blame any number of things for my procrastination, and probably did at one time or another, but undoubtedly my most ironic excuse was this: I was already too busy writing. You see, in my day jobs I’m a freelance writer, and the Senior Editor of New England Antiques Journal and the Editor of Home BUILDER Magazine. Those who aren’t familiar with the role of magazine editor might think all an editor does is assign features and tweak punctuation and grammar, but the truth of the matter is we do all that, plus write a good deal of the copy (much of it without a byline).

So the “too busy writing” excuse become my official mantra. “Other folks write to get from their day jobs,” I’d lament to any poor sod who was willing to listen. “If I was a plumber, and I plumbed all day, writing would be my escape.”

Thankfully, Arabella Carpenter wasn’t listening. Instead, she continued to live on in my head, prodding me with new ideas and stickier situations. “What if a big shot, big city real estate developer came to the sleepy little town of Lount’s Landing?”

Hmmm …

“What if he had plans to convert the deaccessioned elementary school at the foot of historic Main Street into a mega-box store?”

Double hmmm … I’d seen firsthand how animated small town folks can be when it comes to development—not that I’d ever heard of anyone getting murdered over it. But the idea stuck with me, until finally, on the morning of Christmas Eve, 2011, with nearly two weeks of time off looming ahead of me (and no real vacation plans), I decided to take the plunge. After all, what was I going to do for the next twelve days if I didn’t write? It wasn’t like I could take up plumbing.

I’m not saying it was easy, and I’m not saying I didn’t make my fair share of rookie mistakes. I may make my living as a writer and editor, but I discovered early on that writing a 70,000-word amateur sleuth mystery was a far cry from writing a 1,000-word fact-based feature article. In fact, truth be told, the first draft was nothing short of abysmal. What that first draft did, however, was prove to me that I could write as an escape from my day job, and escaping to Lount’s Landing, to Arabella and company, became as vital to my daily routine as exercise, eating and sleeping.

I’ve been asked if Arabella is like me, and the short answer is no, although I do admire her unrepentant expectation for authenticity in objects and people alike, and I’ll admit I can be every bit as irascible.

I also share her passion for cookies.
Stay tuned for Judy’s next post: When More Needs Less—The Story Behind “Beautiful Killer,” a flash fiction story in the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s FLASH AND BANG anthology.

Judy Penz Sheluk ©2015

Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published July 2015. Her short crime fiction is included in The Whole She-Bang 2, World Enough and Crime, and most recently, Flash and Bang, the first anthology by members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find Judy at, where she blogs about the writing life and interviews other authors.

Buy Links
The Hanged Man’s Noose is available in print and eBook at  and all the usual suspects including Amazon

Flash and Bang is available in print and eBook from Untreed Reads , as well as all the usual suspects, including Amazon    

Social Media Links

Twitter:  @JudyPenzSheluk


Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

Thank you Kevin, for the opportunity to come onto your blog!

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Thank you!!!!!