Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Guest Post: Judy Penz Sheluk: Becoming a Professional Writer

Please welcome back Judy Penz Sheluk today….

Judy Penz Sheluk: Becoming a Professional Writer

“There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.” Agatha Christie.

I spent the better part of my teen years and early twenties devouring Agatha Christie books, until I’d read every one, though my preference leaned heavily to stories featuring Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. I even went so far as to read Christie’s six romance novels, penned as Mary Westmacott.

My fascination with Christie fueled my desire to write murder mysteries. But like Christie, for many years I was an amateur. Actually, amateur is overstating it. I was more of a “want-to be” writer. You know the type: the person who says they’re going to write a book “one day.”

For me, “one day” took about three decades from the time I put down Curtain, Hercule Poirot’s final mystery. In between, I worked as a Credit & Collections Manager, a Sales and Marketing Coordinator, and over the past thirteen years, a freelance writer and editor. It wasn’t my fault, you see. I was waiting for the muse to show up. I knew once the muse made an appearance I’d be ready to write that book.

Except the muse never came for a visit. Not even after I bought some shiny new writing software for my computer. [Here’s a head’s up for those of you who don’t know: you still have to WRITE the story!]

Sometime in the early 2000s, I decided to take a creative writing class taught by Barry Dempster, an award-winning Canadian author and poet. It was Barry who told me, “The muse will never come unless you let her know you’re going to be there. Make time to write every day, even if it’s only for thirty minutes, even if all you’re doing is sitting there, staring at a blank page. One day, the words will come.”

They did. Faced with ten days off of all my freelance gigs, I started writing my first book, The Hanged Man’s Noose, on Christmas Eve 2011. I wrote every day, including Christmas and New Year’s Day. By the end of that ten-day period, I had a few chapters written. It never got easy…but it did get easier, and by February 2013, I’d finished writing and revising the book. Then I tried to find an agent, and when that didn’t work out, I went to work looking for a publisher.

I knew how elusive that muse could be, and I knew I should start another book, but I couldn’t bear to write the sequel to a book I hadn’t sold. I started Skeletons in the Attic, determined to make it as different from Noose as I could: Noose is written in third person, with multiple (primarily two) POVs. Skeletons, on the other hand, is written in first person, and entirely from the POV of the protagonist, Calamity (Callie) Barnstable. But this time, the Christie quote actually applied to me. Somewhere along the line, I’d stopped waiting for the muse to show up and graduated from want-to be writer to amateur writer to professional.

Some days, the muse is slow to appear, but that doesn’t stop me any more. To quote Agatha Christie once again, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

Judy’s latest release is Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in the Marketville Mysteries. Here’s a brief synopsis:

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?

Find Skeletons in the Attic:

SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle for the special introductory price of .99 (reg. $4.99). Find it here :

Judy Penz Sheluk ©2016

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 August 2016.

Judy’s short crime fiction appears in World Enough and Crime, The Whole She-Bang 2, Flash and Bang and Live Free or Tri.

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 her writing journey.


Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

Thanks for hosting me today, Kevin! I'm happy to answer any questions or comments.

jrlindermuth said...

A post that should be shared to all those people waiting for the muse. Enjoyed getting to know more of your background, Judy.

Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

Thank you John. That darned muse can be stubborn!

Marian Stanley said...

Enjoyed this posting, Judy. Wonderful comments about just sitting down to WRITE rather than continually prepping!
What time of day do you write and FP you set yourself a schedule?

Kristina Stanley said...

Great insight into writing. I believe that writing every day does bring the must to me. Sometimes I may only write a few words, sometimes 1000s, but I do know if I'm not actually writing then the story doesn't happen. I can't seem to drive the story forward unless my fingers are moving. I enjoy getting insight into how others write. Thanks for sharing.

Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

Hi Marian, I don't have a set time to write, because I still have obligations as the Editor of Home BUILDER Magazine and Senior Editor of New England Antiques Journal, and my fiction writing revolves around getting that work done. But I do make an effort to write every day, and when I hit the NYT Bestseller list and get that movie deal, I'll give up the day jobs! (Hey, if you're gonna dream, you might as well dream big!) Thanks for commenting.

Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

Thank you Kristina. Whatever you're doing is certainly working! Love your Stone Mountain Mystery series.

Earl Staggs said...

Well said, Judy. Every once in a while, I need to remind myself it ain't gonna happen till I make it happen.

Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

Thanks Earl. I can still remember buying that writing software as if THAT was going to be the silver bullet. Nope!

Jan Christensen said...

Judy, great words of wisdom here. It seems every one of us had to learn that lesson along the way, that writing every day is really the only way to get a story finished in a reasonable length of time. It appears we actually have to tell our minds we're going to write, and something then happens. Good luck with your next project, and I hope to read someday you made the NYT bestseller list.

Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

Thank you Jan!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Judy,

Just as you say, the only way to be a writer is simply to write--consistently and often and preferably every day. Of course, many responsibilities get in the way. But pit bull persistence does pay off in the long run.

Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

Jacqueline, I love that pit bull persistence...thanks for stopping by!

Susan Oleksiw said...

You're absolutely right about the muse and getting the story written. The only way is to sit down and write. I too love Agatha Christie, and I admired her ability and productivity.

Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

Yes, Susan, and imagine she wrote all those books without cut and paste! I cannot begin to imagine.

Kaye George said...

Another testament to persistence. You couldn't have had a better role model, and now you're off, following in her footsteps! Congrats on getting the books out, and on arriving!

Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

Thank you, Kaye! You know all about persistence!