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Q&A with Shannon Baker, author of Stripped Bare

What inspired you to become a writer?

I wasn’t one of those people who always knew I wanted to be a writer. I’ve been a reader my whole life, though. My fondest childhood memories are afternoon naps with my mother after my older brother and sister were in school. She’d read a chapter of Winne-the-Pooh and we’d go to sleep. I should have paid attention to the good grades I earned in anything that required writing or that I always told myself stories. 

It wasn’t until I lived on an isolated ranch, raising kids, and pretty much having someone else plan my time, that I found release in writing. Then I was hooked. It took a long time and much learning and effort from those first words to writing a viable book. But what else was I going to do? I hate needlepoint. 

Tell us about your Nora Abbott Series. Give us a little insight about Nora.

The Nora Abbott series started when I moved to Flagstaff and learned about a huge controversy over manmade snow at a ski resort outside of town that sits on a mountain sacred to 12 local tribes. I figured I could kill someone over that! My research introduced me to the Hopi tribe and they fascinated me. 

Nora sprang from my experience working at the Grand Canyon Trust, an environmental non-profit. She’s all kinds of conflicted. Smart and able to maneuver the outside world, kind of a wreck internally.  Like most of us, though, she’s working it out. 

What is the hardest/easiest part of writing a mystery novel?

For me, the hardest part of writing a good mystery is keeping the reader guessing the whole way through. There are a ton of seasoned, savvy mystery readers and fooling them is tricky. Sometimes, you just can’t. They’re smart enough to catch the red herrings and McGuffins and see through all the ploys. So you have to write great enough characters, action, and setting to keep them entertained, even if you can’t mislead them.

I like writing, what my husband calls, kitchen scenes. These are where the characters interact and have “relationships.” Often, they’re hanging out in a kitchen or bar and not much is happening except conversation and conflict. Thankfully, my helpful husband alerts me to those “boring” spots… mostly by the sound of his snoring.  

What do readers have to look forward to your upcoming novel, Stripped Bare?

Stripped Bare is set in a part of the country most people aren’t familiar with—I know that because the population density is .95 per square mile. I lived in the Nebraska Sandhills for 20 years and have a real love/hate relationship with it, like you would an ex-spouse, which I also happen to have out there.  

Kate Fox is, what Kirkus calls, a “ballsy heroine.” (I love that!) She doesn’t go looking for trouble but if someone is threatened, she doesn’t back down. She’s smack in the middle of a bushelful of interfering brothers and sisters who all think they know how she ought to manage her life. 

Because I think life can be pretty funny, I tried to add humor, as well as conflict and, of course, crime and murder. 

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work?  What impact have they had on your writing?

About a million years ago I read a sweeping novel, And Ladies of the Club, by Helen Hooven Santmeyer. I loved that book and decided if I was ever going to get good enough to write a book like that (probably won’t) I’d better start practicing. I don’t know whether to thank or curse her for starting me on this road! 

Then there’s Marie Sandoz. She lived in the Nebraska Sandhills and overcame so many obstacles to pursue her writing dream. Despite so much pain and hardship, she survived and thrived as a writer. I didn’t have nearly as much to fight against, so I couldn’t whine. She inspired me to keep going in the face of rejection.

And of course, Craig Johnson and the Longmire series. One of my greatest pleasures is to sit down to his latest book and relish the language, the subtly and the characters he creates. 

If you were stuck on an island and was only allowed three books, which would they be? 

WHAT!?!? No way. NO WAY. I would have to develop the habit of rereading. My philosophy has always been, So Many Books, So Little Time. I so very rarely reread a book, even those I love. I reread Little Women, because, of course. Atlas Shrugged, because my father made me read it when I was in high school and I decided to read it again as an adult to see how my perceptions had changed. (My gosh, did she need to be edited). And Gone with the Wind. I love that book, and the movie. (sigh) I recently read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, back to back, because I wanted to study how he made such a great book.

I’ve been wanting to read The Poison Wood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver again, so that might be a pick for the island. 

Thinking of this gives me hives.

Do you have any advice for upcoming authors? 

I have so much advice! The first two biggies: write every day (or as often as you can), and read everything all the time. From there, I’d say to understand writing is a long game. I know very few people who hit it big right out of the gate. It takes time, effort, learning, and lots of words to succeed. So be gentle on yourself but be disciplined. It’s a tough and heartbreaking business filled with insecurity and doubt, so if you can handle that, welcome to the highly dysfunctional club!

About Shannon Baker

Shannon Baker writes the upcoming Kate Fox mystery series. Stripped Bare (Sept. 6, 2016; Forge Books) features a sheriff in rural Nebraska and has been called “Longmire meets The Good Wife.”

A fun, adventurous read, Baker’s novel has been compared to well know character series from aforementioned Craig Johnson’s Longmire to Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder and the Joe Pickett series by  C.J. Box. Kate is determined, smart and funny and one thing’s for certain - mystery readers who are fans of character-driven stories in a western setting will love the landscape brought to life in the Nebraska Sandhills.

Baker also writes the Nora Abbott Mysteries, a fast-paced mix of murder,  environmental issues and Hopi Indians inspired by her time working at the Grand Canyon Trust. Her first book in the series, Tainted Mountain, earned Baker a spot as a finalist in the 2013 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards and in 2014, she was recognized as Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ (RMFW) 2014 Writer of the Year.

She serves on the board for RMFW, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and is also an active member of International Thriller Writers, and Western Writers of America. Baker has also been a featured keynote speaker for Friends of CU Libraries.

Having grown up with a father who worked in big retail, her family moved around frequently - living in California, Colorado, and Missouri. She married a rancher and moved to the Nebraska Sandhills for nearly 20 years, where cattle outnumber people by more than 50:1. After escaping Nebraska, Baker continued the nomadic life, moving seven times in ten years; and while it may seem schizophrenic, it helped to create  the incredible western settings in her novels.

Baker has since settled in Tucson, Arizona with her favorite person, and her Weimaraner, Jezebel. A devout fan of the beautiful Arizona sunsets, Baker still is, and always will be a Nebraska Husker. Go Big Red!

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