Today I’m pleased to welcome guest author Judy Penz Sheluk with some advice for writers.
Judy Penz Sheluk: Creating a Fictional Town
When I started writing Skeletons in the Attic, I wanted to create a fictional town that readers could believe in. I also wanted my protagonist, Calamity (Callie) Barnstable, to be a fish out of water. I decided to make Callie a single woman born and raised in the city—Toronto, in her case—who’s forced to move to the town of Marketville.
Here’s a recap of the basic premise:
Callie isn’t surprised to learn that she is the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate: she’s the only child of two only children, and she hasn’t seen her mother since she walked out on Valentines Day, 1980. What does surprise her is that she’s inheriting a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed—and the condition attached to the inheritance: move to Marketville, live in the house, and find out who murdered her mother.
Callie describes Marketville as “a commuter community about an hour north of Toronto, the sort of town where families with two kids, a collie, and a cat moved to looking for a bigger house, a better school, and soccer fields. It didn’t sound much like her…” and while she’s not keen to move there, she doesn’t have a lot of choice.
As a former city girl, also born and raised in Toronto, I can remember feeling much the same way about the town of Newmarket, which is also a commuter community about an hour north of Toronto. Nevertheless, my husband, Mike, and I bought our first house there in the late 1980s (houses in Toronto being outside of our financial means). Newmarket and the surrounding area have seen considerable development since then, but I can still remember my mom saying, “They have houses that far north?”
Mike and I moved again in 1990 to the neighboring—and even smaller—community of Holland Landing, which served as partial inspiration for Lount’s Landing in my novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose. Lount’s Landing’s Main Street, however, was inspired by Newmarket’s Main Street. That’s the great thing about being a writer and fictionalizing a setting. You can pull your favorite things from one place and put it in another! In the case of Marketville and Lount’s Landing, I’ve also taken the liberty of making them much more “small town” than they actually are.
One of my favorite things about Newmarket and the surrounding area is the Nokiidaa Trail system, which follows the East Holland River and links the communities of Aurora, Newmarket and East Gwillimbury/Holland Landing. I’ve had the pleasure of running on those trails many times, and I decided to let Callie, my protagonist in Skeletons, enjoy those same trails:
I could have done a lot of productive, potentially case-solving things on Saturday; ‘could have’ being the operative words. Instead, I gave myself permission to take the day off from sleuthing and carpet removal to explore the twelve-mile paved trail system that ran through the center of Marketville. According to the Town’s website, the trail followed the Dutch River and passed through parks and green spaces, past wetlands and historic cultural sites, and had links to trails in two surrounding towns. It sounded like a runner’s paradise.
Bio: 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 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.
Judy now lives in Alliston, Ontario, a small town even further north of Toronto, with her husband, Mike, and their Golden Retriever, Gibbs. Find her at www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews other authors and blogs about the writing life.