Creating a Fictional Town by Judy Penz Sheluk
Agatha Christie was the master of creating atmosphere and place, whether she was at the English seaside, or solving a murder in Mesopotamia. I’ve never been to Minnesota, but when I sit down to read the latest John Sandford novel, I feel as if I’m returning to familiar territory. And anyone who’s read Louise Penny has visited Three Pines, even though it’s a fictional town in Quebec. So when I started writing The Hanged Man’s Noose, I wanted the book to be set in Canada, more specifically, a small town north of Toronto, Ontario. The town would be fictional, but there would a basis for the setting, places that were familiar to me.
At the time, I was living in Holland Landing, a small community in the town of East Gwillimbury, about 35 miles north of Toronto. There isn’t a lot of industry in the Landing, unless you count a couple of local diners, pizzerias, convenience stores and the like, but the neighboring town of Newmarket has a lovely revitalized Main Street filled with indie shops and restaurants, and there’s a nice park at the end of it, complete with a large pond called Fairy Lake. What both East Gwillimbury and Newmarket have in common is growth. In recent years, farmlands and forests have been razed for housing developments and big box stores, with much more planned.
Such growth does not come without contention. We tend to forget that our own homes often sit on plots of land that were once forests and farms. But reading about the latest plans, listening to the groups hotly opposed, gave me the first germ of an idea. What if a greedy developer from Toronto came to a small town with plans to build a mega-box store on the town’s historic Main Street?
That’s the premise behind The Hanged Man’s Noose, the first in the Glass Dolphin mystery series, although the plot does thicken considerably. One reviewer (Jack Batten, WHODUNIT, The Toronto Star) wrote, “In her first book, Toronto writer Judy Penz Sheluk probably scores a record for the most characters with skeletons in the closet … even the sleuth figure, an investigative reporter, guards a personal mystery in a book whose author hits large in the business of concocting secrets.”
I decided to merge Newmarket and East Gwillimbury, borrowing a bit from each, and embellishing a lot. I wanted this to be the sort of idyllic town I’d like to live in. Naming my fictional town was easy: outside the Holland Landing Library and Community Centre, there is a plaque dedicated to Samuel Lount, a 19th century politician who had lived in the Landing, but had the misfortune of being hanged for treason.
What could be more perfect for a mystery than a town named after a traitor? Lount’s Landing was born, and along with it, a historic Main Street that includes the Sunrise Café (suspiciously similar to the now-closed Sunshine’s Café in the Landing), and the Glass Dolphin antiques shop, from which the series gets its name. The title of the book comes from name of the local pub, The Hanged Man’s Noose (the owner is a bit of a history buff).
Once I had my town, it was time to populate it with characters. But that’s a story for another day. I invite you to read the first three chapters free at http://barkingrainpress.org/hanged-mans-noose/http://barkingrainpress.org/hanged-mans-noose/. If I’ve done my job, you’ll want to read more. If so, you can find it in trade paperback and eBook at all the usual suspects, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery, The Hanged Man’s Noose: A Glass Dolphin Mystery, was published July 2015 by Barking Rain Press. Her short crime fiction is included in The Whole She-Bang 2, World Enough and Crime, Flash and Bang, and Live Free or Tri: a collection of three short mystery stories. Judy has also contributed to two multi-author cookbooks, Bake, Love, Write, and We’d Rather Be Writing.
Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
In her less mysterious pursuits, Judy is the Senior Editor for New England Antiques Journal and the Editor of Home BUILDER Magazine.