Terminally Ill Onstage and Sugar and Vice in the World

Terminally Ill cast: undercurrents 2024

Hope Sze: Stefanie Velichkin-Hitgano

Elvis: Corinne Viau

Archer: Brandon Nguyen

Kameron: Malia Rogers

Ryan: Song Wang

Mme. Bérubé/Tori: Melissa Yi

Director: Micah Jondel DeShazer

Playwright/Producer: Melissa Yi

Stage manager: Tamara Laplante

Writing is lonely. We want to connect with readers, but even bestseller Lee Goldberg says he may never see people reading his books in public with the advent of ereaders.
Solution: TURN YOUR BOOK INTO A PLAY. That’s what I did! The header photo is our final cast for the undercurrents festival.

Photo above of Stefanie Hitgano as Hope Sze resuscitating Melissa Landry as Elvis (photos by Jen Derbach from the TACTICS workshop).

And here you see Kameron (Eponine Lee) stepping forward. She played Juliet in R+J at Stratford. Shakespeare, Melissa Yi, same, same. 😊 Tucker was Dora-Award winning theatre maker Richard Lee, sitting with Hope, and Micah Jondel DeShazer, our director, sits above them.

Well, now it’s time for Terminally Ill to debut at the undercurrents festival in Ottawa Feb 8-10, 2024!

February 8: 8:30pm

February 9: 7:00pm

February 10: 3:30pm

Buy your tickets here: https://ottawafringe.com/show/terminally-ill/

Strictly optional: would you like to cosplay?

The audience can be part of the show if you want. Some ideas:

  • A medical outfit like scrubs or a white coat, in honour of Dr. Hope Sze
  • Elvis gear because our escape artist is also an Elvis Presley tribute artist
  • Protestor wear. A group called Nelvis wants to ban Elvis!

Have fun!

I’ll have a merch table, which means you can also buy the book Terminally Ill if you like.

I’ll also have copies of the brand new Hope Sze thriller: Sugar and Vice! In case you hadn’t figured it out from our “sweet” photo at the top.

Yahoo! Massive thanks to our donors for supporting the arts!

Judy Penz Sheluk: No Fool’s Journey

Judy Penz Sheluk
Judy Penz Sheluk

Judy Penz Sheluk and I first met at the Ontario Library Association’s annual conference, where were both part of a presentation by author members of Crime Writers of Canada. She introduced herself to me and invited me on her blog, so of course I fell for her immediately. But since I’m not half as organized, it’s taken me this long for me to land her on my own blog. Read all the way through for a surprise at the end!

Q: One of your heroines, Callie Barnstable, spends a lot of time organizing her thoughts and writing down details of her meetings. Her father’s manta is “A dull pencil is sharper than the sharpest mind.” Sherlock Holmes’s instant evaluations seem brilliant, but I suspect true investigations involve a lot of legwork and note taking. What do you think?

A: I’m personally hopeless without writing things down. I have a notebook next to my bedside table, along with an LED pen (so I can write in the dark when flashes of brilliance come to me in the middle of the night), and I have a separate notebook for every current work-in-progress, where I jot down things that occur to me as I’m writing in Word. That might be possible character names or timelines or ages of characters (including year of birth, how old they were at certain years, etc.) I even have a “promo notes” notebook. I’m not Callie, but a lot of her quirks are my quirks. 

Q: Tattoos! The Medical Post ran an article on doctors with tattoos and patients’ reactions. If it’s not too much of a spoiler or too much of a personal question, Callie visits a tattoo parlour in A Fool’s Journey. Do you have any tattoos? 

A: I don’t have any tattoos and no plans to get one, because, like Callie, there is nothing in this world that I can imagine wanting permanently inked on my body. I think back to my late teens, when, after breaking up with my boyfriend, I became obsessed with butterflies — “Butterflies are free.” I had butterfly earrings, necklaces…you get the idea. Well, fast forward a few (and I won’t say how many) decades and I have absolutely no affinity towards butterflies. But had tattoos been in vogue at the time, I’m sure I’d have at least one or more butterflies somewhere on my body. 

Q: I was excited that the book opens with Callie inheriting $365,000 from her grandmother conditional on her investigating the disappearance of 20-year-old Brandon Colbeck. Now I have to go back and start with book #1, Skeletons in the Attic, where Callie inherits a house from her father, conditional on her investigating her mother’s murder 30 years ago. It seems like Callie’s family keeps dying and giving her big-ticket items with strings attached. As an author, what attracts you to the idea of a mysterious inheritance?

A: Ha! Yes, Callie’s been lucky with her inheritances, hasn’t she? In the case of Skeletons, the idea came to me while my husband and I were at my lawyer’s office to redo our wills. Our lawyer was delayed in court and while Mike read back issues of Bicycling magazine, I started jotting down notes (of course I have a notebook in my purse!): “What if I was here to inherit vs. write a will? And what if there were strings attached? And what if…” By the time our lawyer arrived, I’d written chapter one. In fact, a large part of the opening scenes are directly culled from that experience. With A Fool’s Journey, I wanted to show Callie coming full circle: she’s no longer the Toronto city kid/fish out of suburban water that she was in book 1. Another inheritance, and how she handles the case, demonstrates how much she’s grown.

Q: The case in Past and Present, book #2, involves a grandmother who met a “bad end” in 1956. Do you also enjoy researching mysteries set in the past, since all three books’ cases take place 20-60 years ago?

A: I was really struggling for an idea for book 2 in the series. At the time, my mom was very ill (COPD and related health issues). Going through her closet after she passed away, there was a small 1950s train case. Inside were her immigration papers from England to Canada on the TSS Canberra in 1952, her German passport (she moved to England after the war), her mother’s (my grandmother’s) and my father’s death certificates, as well as some photographs and postcards. I’d never seen any of these things and she never spoke of her life “Before Canada” and marrying my father. I started by researching the Canberra through Pier 21, the Canadian Immigration Museum, and also through a friend of mine who collects ocean liner memorabilia. Before long, I was viewing things as if I was Callie, and honestly, that story just seemed to write itself after that. It was as if my mom were with me. The book was published Sept. 21, 2018, exactly two years after her death, and it’s dedicated to her memory.

Q: What made you decide to set your books in the fictional town of Marketville instead of the town of Newmarket?

A: Some of the landmarks are similar to Newmarket, but I’ve taken a lot of liberties with the location. It just seemed better to give it a fictional name. I did the same with my Glass Dolphin series, where Lount’s Landing is loosely based on Holland Landing, where I lived for 25 years.

Q: I liked the hint of romance in A Fool’s Journey. Do you like adding a bit of personal relationships to your fiction?

A: Gosh, no. I’m the least romantic person on the planet (just ask my husband) and I tend to skip over romantic scenes in books I’m reading. As a result, I really struggle with adding romantic elements to my books. But in real life, people have relationships, and so my characters do, too. I will say, however, that I love the relationship between Arabella Carpenter and her ex-husband, Levon Larroquette (Glass Dolphin series) because they’re so clearly meant for each other and refuse to admit it.

Q: Very sorry to hear that your traditional publisher, Barking Rain Press (BRP), closed on July 7th. When you received the news, you were on vacation, and A Fool’s Journey, was slated to release August 21st. I understand that you poured yourself some very expensive Chardonnay. And then what did you do? 

A: To be honest, BRP’s closing wasn’t a huge surprise. The publisher had gone through a plethora of personal problems over the past 18 months and it finally wore her down. I wrote a blog post about it “When Things Go South When You’re North: The End of Barking Rain Press” for anyone interested in learning more, including details of the re-release of my two BRP titles (Skeletons in the Attic and A Hole in One). http://www.judypenzsheluk.com/2019/08/08/when-things-go-south-when-youre-north-the-end-of-barking-rain-press/

Q: What do you foresee for the future of writing and publishing, and your own journey in particular?

A: I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do think as more small press publishers open, with little idea of the amount of work or capitol outlay involved, and the razor thin profit margins, there will continue to be more authors “orphaned” as those same presses shutter their doors after a handful of years. I also think more authors will self-publish, but unfortunately, many of those will look at it as a “fast track” to getting published and won’t invest in professional editing, proofreading, and cover art, all of which, to my mind, are essential, at least if you want to cultivate a following. As for medium-to-large presses, there will continue to be mergers and acquisitions. Publishing is a tough business. 

As for my future, I need only look at my past. I spent years working in the corporate world in management positions. I walked away in 2003, took a huge pay cut, and started freelance writing/editing, loved it, and never looked back. In 2018, I walked away from my last freelance gig to concentrate of writing books fulltime. Erica Jong said, “When I sit down at my writing desk, time seems to vanish. I think it’s a wonderful way to spend one’s life.” I couldn’t agree more.

And here’s your surprise. Judy and her husband on her wedding day! I re-wore my wedding dress on our anniversary last month, and Judy sent me a picture of her wedding too. They look fab!

Judy Penz Sheluk is the bestselling 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 http://www.judypenzsheluk.com and on Amazon.


The Italian School for Assassins: Peril. Passion. Pasta.

Ooh! Have you ever wanted to go to assassin school for your birthday?

Me neither. Luckily, Octavia (“V”) Ling is crazy enough to do it for you.

Italian Assassins cover POD front-FINAL

When Octavia “V” Ling spots the ad for The Italian School for Assassins, she figures that it sounds like a crazy workout, better than pole dancing, and exactly the kind of nuttiness she craves for a birthday that ends in a zero.
Except, when V lands in Florence, the other assassin students seem…awfully serious about this whole execution thing. As in, V’s roommate tells her, “If I catch you breaking into my locked weapons cache, I will eat you.” And she ain’t joking.
Plus the orientation consists of the students attacking each other.
So who can blame V for sneaking out for a drink with a hot young Italian guy? The only problem is, V wakes up the in morning with a teeny hangover and a huge problem: someone killed her Scary White Female roommate. And the rest of the school kind of blames V.
Uh oh.

Now available on Amazon, Kobo, Nook, iPhone/iPad, Sony, and other formats.

Sneak preview follows.

~

Prologue

My roommate Rebecca’s alarm kept ringing.
Not just any alarm, but a recording of “Für Elise.”
Now, I like Beethoven as much as the next woman, but not at 4:30 a.m. Italian time, or any time, for that matter. I dragged my pillow over my head, rumpling my bird nest hair more than I managed to cover up my ears. It was a very thin pillow, though. Do Italians not like pillows as much as Canadians do, or is crappy bedding part of the preparation to become an assassin?
In case I forgot to mention it, I’m training to become an assassin. In Florence, Italy. For fun, not for serious.
Anyway, the bit of cotton batting hardly blocked out the tinny keyboard recording going nu-nu-Nu-nu-Nu-nu-nuuu…
I cleared my throat.
It kept playing.
“Rebecca,” I rasped. My temples ached. While everyone else had crashed last night, worn out from all the assassin drills, I’d snuck into Florence proper and discovered a bottle of red wine with my name on it.
Nu-nu-Nu-nu-Nuu-nu-nuuu…
I didn’t want to fight with my roommie. First of all, she’s tall, blonde, and fearsome, kind of like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, only more humourless. Rebecca told me that if she caught me breaking into her locked weapons cache, she would eat me. I was like, “Um, you mean in a gay way? I don’t actually play for that team.” And then she hissed. Yes, actually hissed. From Uma to African rock python in 2.2 seconds.
I did ask Mr. Anderson if I could switch rooms, but he just stared at me with his dead grey eyes. And considering that he’s ex-IRA, ex-CIA, and ex-actly as scary as Rebecca of Murderbrook Farm, if not more so, I just chirped, “Never mind! It’s fine!” and vowed to spend as little time in my room as possible.
I don’t know what I was expecting from assassin school. I guess I had it all wrong because it was in Italy. You know, the country shaped like a boot? I thought they made everything fun here. Well, not Mussolini, but fashion, art, language, opera, and foooooooood. And wine. I can vouch for last night’s wine. Not to mention the hot young Italian dude who drank it with me.
But you know, even Elizabeth Gilbert didn’t just stay in Rome and eat for a year. She did spiritual stuff in India, and—what was she doing in Bali again? Besides humping the real-life version of Javier Bardem? Anyway, I decided I should have a mission for my fortieth birthday. Not just “Hey, let’s go downtown and pay strippers for a lap dance”—not that there’s anything wrong with that, and my best friend, Jen, did exactly that for hers—but it’s predictable, you know? Happy fortieth, do something fake naughty like ogle naked men with Day-Glo penises. Happy 18th, drink. Happy 65th, retire (or whatever it is you do when you’re 65).
So when I saw the little online ad for a school for assassins in Florence, I was like, Wassup? That sounds like a crazy workout, better than pole dancing, and exactly the kind of nuttiness I need for a birthday that ends in a zero.
So maybe it’s not so surprising that I had the teeniest bit of a hangover on Day 2. And I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the workouts, especially since Psycho Rebecca got her alarm mindlessly playing “Für Elise” over and over and over, in the middle of the night. Oh, sorry. The pre-dawn, was what she called it. “I arise at pre-dawn, in order to accomplish my exercises,” she said last night, staring down her nose at me. The woman had to be six feet tall in sneakers.
“Cool,” I lied. What else was I going to say, even though I’d rather stay out until dawn instead of rise and shine it?
At this moment in time, I’d gotten three hours of sleep. You know what Zyang Ziyi says is the best thing for skin? Not cream that’s you couldn’t afford if you sold your left kidney. It’s sleep. And if you saw her radiant skin in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you’d be hitting the sheets pronto.
So that was what finally made me sit up in bed. If Rebecca the Directa (I know that makes no sense. I’m out of jokes. It’s 4:39 in the morning! I’m going bananas from Beethoven!) got up to exercise before shutting off her alarm, then I’d have to do it for her.
Yep, I’m that kind of woman. Don’t mess with me.
Even in the middle of the night, thanks to the moonlight and possibly an outside porch light, I could make out the black outline lump of her blankets, and her little bedside table only had a few objects on it, one of which must be her phone or her alarm. Most people don’t use travel alarm clocks anymore, but the music was so annoying, I figured Rebecca had made an exception.
Nu nu nu Nuuuuu, nu nu nu Nuuuuu…
The wind stirred the paper-thin curtain at the window between our beds. Crickets chirped. And a train Dopplered in the distance.
Oh, for heaven’s sake. How was anyone supposed to catch Z’s around here?
And then, as the sleep seeped out of my brain, I watched the curtain stir a third time and remembered that I’d closed the window last night, when I came back from drinking. I get cold easily, even in Italy, and this is a stone building. Damp and cold are the operative words. And Rebecca had already activated the ceiling fan. So I’d figured I’d close the window but leave the fan on, risking her ire, plus I was drunk and happy from making out with the Italian guy, so I shut and locked the window.
Now the window was wide open. Or at least open enough to make the breeze blow.
My heart thudded in my chest almost as much as my brain felt like it was hammering against my temples.
Okay. It was possible, even likely, that Rebecca had woken up and opened the window again while I was passed out. But I turned to stare at the unmoving lump of blankets in Rebecca’s bed.
All we were issued was a wafer of a brown wool blanket, a white sheet, and a meagre square pillow, which was why I was wearing my trusty red fleece jacket to bed, plus full-length pyjamas.
That small amount of bedding would not account for the full-sized bump in her bed.
Rebecca was still here, either dead asleep, ignoring the siren call to exercise, or…
She was just plain dead.
I held my breath and stared at the lump. I waited for a twitch of limb or a little sniff to indicate that she was animate.
Da da da Dah, da Dah da Dah.
Right. There was no way I’d catch her clearing her throat, with all of this racket, and even with my eyes adjusting to the darkness, I’d be driven crazy donkey shapes before I figured out yes, she was alive (yay?) or no, she was dead (boo, I guess).
I’d have to turn the light on.
If she was alive and I woke her up, she would kill me. Probably with something sharp out of that weapons cache she kept locked in a steel box in our shared closet.
If she was dead, she was…dead.
Which one would be worse?
Nu-nu-Nu-nu-Nuu-nu-nuuu…
Okay. The worst was me and Beethoven, frozen in indecision forever.
I took a step toward the light.

~

“[S]cintillating…V has a great voice. Combined with the imaginative plot, this is a character who calls out for a series. At once Everywoman and Heroine. A woman through whom we can comfortably live adventures that enthrall, yet which [Yin] make us believe are just a little bit beyond what we ourselves might achieve with a few more trips to the gym, a few less kids, a little less attraction to the couch and the 65” TV. And though I would judge Octavia as directed more toward a feminine audience, I was quite gripped by her adventures, her wit, her insights, and of course her making out, which she carries off in grand style.” –Richard Quarry, author of Midnight Choir

~

Buy now to take advantage of Kobo’s 50 percent off sale here!Or enjoy it on your Kindle, Nook, Apple, or Sony device.

Happy holidays!

So You Want to Write a Mystery…

IMG_1222

Will shoot for milk

I did a WritersFest workshop on writing mysteries. That was the idea, anyway. Actually, most people wanted to talk indie publishing and making money. It wasn’t until I checked my notepad later that I found some mystery craft questions, which I will answer here.

I also randomly picked a winner for the book draw. But because it was a mystery workshop, and I’m a pain the bum, I’ll announce the winner at the end of the post.

Question 1. How do you keep the protagonist hidden until mid-point?

I don’t. I like to have the protagonist, the main character, front and centre. In general, I don’t recommend hiding anything in a mystery.

Mystery readers are smart. They like to piece clues together. If you just hide information, they’ll throw your book across the room. So give them the information they need, but distract them while you’re doing this. It’s like the author’s a magician, saying, “Look at the hand, look at the hand,” and the audience is hypnotized by the bunny he pulled out of the hat and completely misses the knife he’s carrying in his left hand. Kris Rusch said that Ellery Queen is the best at this.

Or, to put it another way, check out this Daniel Simons’s awareness test video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo). The clues are always there. But the reader has to piece them together.

I’ve got to work on this myself.

Question 2 & 3. How do you plot your mysteries? How do you effectively incorporate plot twists into your book?

I like to write by the seat of my pants, surprising myself, and then I go backwards and try to braid it all together. Fun but inefficient.

If you’re more organized, I highly recommend Camille Laguire’s blog. This is my favourite post, about how to turn a missed phone call into a plot device. Brilliant: http://daringnovelist.blogspot.ca/2012/12/writing-cozy-mystery-twisting-your.html. She outlines plot here (http://daringnovelist.blogspot.ca/2013/06/plotting-game-movie-of-week-plot.html), comparing it to a movie of the week.

And now, moving on, since people may be tired of hearing about me (another secret of writing–don’t bore the reader):

Thanks to Jodi White for trekking all the way from Toronto to join in WritersFest, after I asked Kobo to participate. (How many corporations would do this, and donate five Kobos to give away? And did you know that for every e-book you buy on that Kobo, a portion of the sale will go to the local Coles bookstore in Cornwall, because they support indie booksellers?)

I also learned from Jodi that the best way to link to your book is through the ISBN, and that Kobo now has a separate children’s section, which just might help spike children’s book sales. They’ll also start a reader loyalty program next year.

Thanks to everyone who came to WritersFest. Time is valuable when you’re pursuing the writing dream. I especially thank those of you who spent your hard-earned money on my books (and in Linda’s case, at least three times). I really appreciate it. Thank you.

Finally, I just have to give a shout out to Joseline Beaulieu, a multi-talented tour de force who not only expertly teaches me yoga at Sunset Yoga, but also belly dances with sabres, has a degree in marine biology, and raises money for the Madagascar School Project. She came to the workshop and brought me a card, an armload of flowers, and a squash. A squash! How could you not love this woman? You’d be hard-pressed to create a character this unique!

Joseline Beaulieu, sabre dancing to raise money for Child Haven

Joseline Beaulieu, sabre dancing to raise money for Child Haven. That’s right, she puts us all to shame.

So now that I’ve kept you in suspense long enough, who won the book draw, based on a randomly selected number?

Congratulations, Judy S!

I finished my latest novel! Assassinate away!

It’s called The Italian School for Assassins.

I’d written maybe 1000 words a few months ago, but really started it August 10th and finished it this morning, September 14th. It needs lots of work, but…yay!

Now you can vote on the cover. These are just mock-ups, so relax. I’ll clean up the  colours, fonts and centring on the real deal, e.g., I know you can’t see my name on the stone arch.

italian asian clothed copy

italian asian naked copy

I also finished recording my first audiobook yesterday (The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World). w00t! Now I just have to figure out how to edit it. Yoiks.