Judy Penz Sheluk Draws Inspiration from the Movie White Christmas and Agatha Christie’s Advice

Many writers enjoy penning short fiction, but I don ‘t know many who single-handedly create and edit anthologies. Judy Penz Sheluk has taken on this role not once but four times! This month, she celebrates the release of her fourth anthology, Larceny & Last Chances. I loved learning more about what inspired her latest anthology, her process for selecting stories, and her own writing process:

First off, congratulations on the release of your fourth anthology, Larceny & Last Chances. Can you share with our readers how you got the idea for the theme of the anthology, and what inspired you to create and edit it?

Believe it or not, it was the movie White Christmas. I was thinking of that movie and some of the classic lines in it, and my epigraph comes from a line in the movie (“Surely you know that everybody’s got a little larceny operating in them.”—Bing Crosby (as Bob Wallace) White Christmas. And then I realized that the underlying theme of that movie was last chances. Larceny & Last Chances also fed into my love of alliteration.

What is the selection process like? Do you have a team of readers, or do you make the story selections on your own?   

I read all the stories as they come in and then slot them as No or Maybe. Nos are notified right away so they can find another home for the story. Just because it doesn’t work for me, doesn’t mean it won’t work elsewhere. I try to offer a reason, and a suggestion or two. Once the submission period closes, I reread all the maybes, cull them down a bit more (can’t have 2 stories about a black cat, for example, one would have to go). When I’m at about 35 stories, I’ll have another reader read and offer opinions on Yes or No and why. For Larceny, that was Andrea Adair-Tippins, a librarian I met while doing a workshop. Andrea offered to help and I was grateful for her insights.

You started out in short fiction and have published many short stories. What in your opinion makes a strong short story? And what issues do stories tend to have that don’t get accepted for publication, especially when it comes to inclusion in an anthology?

Less is more. Ditch the backstory, ditch every character who doesn’t propel the plot forward. There’s no time to dipsy doodle in short fiction. I’d say most short stories I read (even those I accept) can be pared down by 10% and in so doing, a stronger story will emerge. #1 reason for rejection? The story doesn’t meet the theme. No matter how good, if it doesn’t meet the theme, it won’t work. #2 reason? The interpretation of the theme is too obvious (if it’s your first thought, it’s probably too obvious).

Since leaving the corporate world, you’ve done a variety of writing, including short fiction, novels, and guides for writers, as well as founded your own press and created and edited anthologies. Do you have a favorite writing-related project that you’ve done?

There are times in every project where I question my sanity. That said, I’m happy when I’m immersed in writing, whatever the format. But I’m also happy to read a short story and think, “Oh, if the author only changed this or that, it would be so much better…” and I’m able to do that on a small scale with the anthologies.

I loved reading that from the time you were a child you had “stories in your head.” Is that still true? And now that you’re a professional author, do you make more of an effort to write ideas down when they come to you?

I have notebooks everywhere in the house! I even have a notebook and an LED pen that lights up at night, so I don’t have to turn on the bedroom lamp at 2 a.m. when inspiration strikes. I’ve learned long ago that if I don’t jot it down when it occurs to me, it may be lost forever.

I read that you are by nature a “pantser.” Is your writing process different depending on whether you’re writing short fiction or a novel?

I would say that I kind of outline a short story, in that I know where I want to go with it, whereas in a novel, I generally have no idea until about three-quarters through, at which point I start to contemplate endings that will work and where I’ll have to go back and add some clues. My two books on publishing, on the other hand, were outlined (based on presentations I’d done on the topics). www.judypenzsheluk.com/presentations

What’s next for you writing-wise?

I’m planning a Glass Dolphin/Marketville “mashup.” I have the concept and the cold case. The writing part…not so much!

I’m also working on a standalone suspense and/or literary fiction. Not really sure what it’s going to grow up to be but I’ve gotten started on it and at about 10,000 words in, it’s early days but I’m feeling optimistic. I’ve been on and off that project for about three years and finally feel the time has come. Fingers crossed.

Do you have any advice for aspiring mystery writers?

I always quote Agatha Christie when I’m asked this, because it is brilliantly said:
“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.”  

Bio: Judy Penz Sheluk is a former journalist and magazine editor and the bestselling author of Finding Your Path to Publication and Self-publishing: The Ins & Outs of Going Indie, as well as two mystery series: the Glass Dolphin Mysteries and Marketville Mysteries. In addition to the Superior Shores Anthologies, which she also edited, her short crime fiction appears in several collections. Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she served on the Board of Directors for five years, the final two as Chair. Find Judy at www.judypenzsheluk.com.

About Larceny & Last Chances: Sometimes it’s about doing the right thing. Sometimes it’s about getting even. Sometimes it’s about taking what you think you deserve. And sometimes, it’s your last, best, chance. Edited by Judy Penz Sheluk and featuring stories by Christina Boufis, John Bukowski, Brenda Chapman, Susan Daly, Wil A. Emerson, Tracy Falenwolfe, Kate Fellowes, Molly Wills Fraser, Gina X. Grant, Karen Grose, Wendy Harrison, Julie Hastrup, Larry M. Keeton, Charlie Kondek, Edward Lodi, Bethany Maines, Gregory Meece, Cate Moyle, Judy Penz Sheluk, KM Rockwood, Kevin R. Tipple, and Robert Weibezahl.

Find the book: www.books2read.com/larceny




  1. Judy Penz Sheluk on June 25, 2024 at 10:40 am

    Thanks for hosting me today! I’m always happy to answer questions!

    • Beth Schmelzer on June 26, 2024 at 6:48 am

      Great interview with two writers I admire, Lynn and Judy!

      • Lynn Slaughter on June 26, 2024 at 9:44 am

        Thanks so much, Beth! It was really fun to interview Judy!

      • Judy Penz Sheluk on June 26, 2024 at 4:27 pm

        Thank you Beth. You are always such a cheerleader for other authors. It is much appreciated.

  2. Pamela Ruth Meyer on June 25, 2024 at 1:09 pm

    Movies spur so many of my inspirational thoughts too. Aren’t you glad you watched WHITE CHRISTMAS enough for it to get deep into your creative mind’s psyche? Wonderful.

    • Judy Penz Sheluk on June 26, 2024 at 4:28 pm

      Thanks Pamela. I have probably seen that movie 100 times (I know most of the dialogue and all the songs!). It’s amazing what things will kick off our imagination.

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