With Halloween upon us, I recently sat down to correspond with Jenny Jelen, co-author of Spooky Sudbury, published last month by Dundurn. It’s a little gem, and must reading for anyone who cares about Sudbury, Northern Ontario, and the paranormal. Here’s my interview with Jenny, whom I’ve dubbed “Sudbury’s ‘It’ Girl” because of her charisma, media savvy and athleticism (she’s also a highly competitive horsewoman.)
She’s also a good friend.
Mick Lowe: Along with your co-author Mark Leslie, you amassed one of Sudbury’s greatest collections of true-life scary stories for your newly-released book Spooky Sudbury. Is there any one story that stands out to you as being the freakiest?
Jenny Jelen: I don’t know if any one story in particular stands out to me as the scariest. I do know, however, that the ones with elements of familiarity were quite unsettling. Many of the stories in Spooky Sudbury take place in public spaces that every good Sudburian has been to. I imagine I’ll be listening for Katherine Bell singing next time I stop by the Bell Mansion, or even more curious about the invisible presence when I order gnocchi at Ristorante Verdicchio.
There was one story that took place a few kilometres from where I grew up, involving people I know. Retelling that story may have resulted in the most sleepless nights, because of the nature of the story and the fact that I could visualize where it all happened from having been in the house.
ML: What’s the most memorable Halloween costume you ever wore?
JJ: I was a Christmas tree once! I may have written a book about scary things, but Christmas is definitely my favourite holiday. Said costume included a green onesie, presents tied to my ankles, a star on my head, and lots of tinsel.
ML: Where did you go trick-or-treating when you were growing up?
JJ: “When you were growing up” suggests that I may have stopped going trick-or-treating. Just kidding! My grandparents live in a small community outside Sudbury, where my elementary school friends and I would go. When I was really young, there was one house a few blocks away that made cotton candy. It was right by my elementary school, Larchwood Public, and a short drive down Highway 144 from Chelmsford Valley District Composite School, where I continued my education. I’m also lucky enough to be the oldest sibling, so even when I was a student at Laurentian University, I was still able to take my little sister, who is 10 years younger than me, trick-or-treating. And it only made sense that I dressed up too …
When I finally got around to studying journalism at Cambrian, my mom and I decided to do something called Trick or Treat for Hope. Instead of collecting candy, we dressed up and went door-to-door asking for non-perishables for the food bank. It was still fun to dress up and scurry around the streets, and do it all for a good cause, too.
ML: Did you ever pull any tricks?
JJ: I’m totally not a trickster.
ML: Did writing Spooky Sudbury alter your attitude toward the paranormal and, if so, how?
JJ: Well, I’ve never actually met a ghost, which makes it hard for me to defend or deny their existence. Just because I’ve never seen one doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I mean, I can’t see my brain, but I know it’s there, right? I think I’ve always had a general curiosity and interest in the paranormal, and writing Spooky Sudbury certainly deepened it. I don’t think we’re the only things here, but I’m not entirely sure about what else is out there. Because I didn’t have a particularly strong opinion on the subject, I feel people were able to comfortably open up and tell me their stories. And that’s what my job was in writing Spooky Sudbury.
ML: Jenny, you were, until this past summer, a fixture of the downtown Sudbury scene, the Lifestyle beat reporter for Northern Life, and a staunch supporter of the city’s burgeoning film-making industry. Yet you recently decided to give all that up and to move away. Where did you move to, and why?
JJ: Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: I love Sudbury. It will always be home, and I know I’m going to come back (like everyone does). I have to chase some other dreams first, though.
Long before I realized I liked writing, and long before I realized paranormal things were interesting, I loved horses. It’s that love that has brought me to Orangeville, ON. Since arriving last July, I’ve become quite good at mucking stalls, cleaning water buckets, and stacking hay. I’ve also learned a lot about being a rider, and have helped turn my horse, Chili, into a competitive athlete. More and more each day, I realize how fortunate I am to have a horse as talented, smart, kind, and capable as she is. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever be blessed with an opportunity like her again, so I’m going to ride it out, and see where it takes us. All the stories I wrote during my time at Northern Life about people following their dreams were so inspiring I had to try it for myself!
ML: Where would you like to be ten years from now?
JJ: Ten years? My gosh, I don’t even know my current address! Looking that far ahead is a bit of a challenge, but I do know a few things about what it will bring: I will most certainly be doing something I love, surrounded by people I love, and I’ll be happy. I see nothing but good times ahead!