Today’s post is an interview with Shannon Baker, author of the recently released Ashes of the Red Heifer from L&L Dreamspell. Shannon is a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW). She will be appearing at Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins, Colorado, on Wednesday, February 17th, at 6:30 PM where she will sign along with Colorado authors Carol Berg (Spirit Lens) and Janet Fogg (Soliloquy).
Me: Hi Shannon, it’s great to have this opportunity to find out more about you. According to your bio, you’re an accountant by day. Whatever possessed you to write a thriller in your spare time?
Shannon: Hi Patricia, thanks for having me! I write thrillers because I tried to write a memoir and it even put me to sleep. Seriously, big stories with outside conflict are easier to write than stories that only explore the inner workings of someone’s mind. I love books by writers that can pull that off—Carol Shields or Anne Tyler. But I need lots of action to hang my characters’ arcs upon.
Me: Ashes of the Red Heifer is set in Israel. How did you go about researching the location and culture of this exotic location?
Shannon: This question always makes me cringe a bit. I lived in Nebraska when I wrote this so I know the landscapes, smells and feel of the sun are authentic. I’ve never been to Israel so I spent hours reading personal accounts, talking to people who had been there, having them read what I wrote, going on virtual 360 degree Internet tours. I am sure there will be certain details that I haven’t included in the book that would be obvious to me if I’d spent time there. I just hope I got it close enough it doesn’t mess with people’s enjoyment of the story.
Me: When I read your blog bio, I couldn’t help noticing your great sense of humor. Your novel synopsis, however, is quite serious. Does your fictional character, veterinarian Annie Grant, have a humorous bent, even though she faces a chilling dilemma?
Shannon: I think that’s one thing that keeps me from wanting to be Annie’s best friend. She’s so darned serious. She’s got a smart ass streak to her but she could stand to lighten up. I think as she goes forward from her adventures in this book, she’ll be able to have more fun in life. My current work in progress, though also a thriller, has more humor.
Me: How did you find your publisher, L&L Dreamspell?
Shannon: I did an exhaustive agent search for this book. It pains me to say that I had a lot of close calls but no one grabbed it. I decided it was time to move on but my supportive partner, Dave, nagged me in a very nice way. He said I could put the book in a drawer, dead and gone, or I could try for a small press. I searched on the Preditors and Editors site for small presses that 1) paid a royalty 2) published in both print and e-formats and 3) published thrillers. Happily, Dave was right, which happens with annoying frequency, and I love L&L Dreamspell.
Me: Your current project is called Sacred Balance. Would you tell us a little bit about that novel and where you are in the writing process?
Shannon: When I moved to Flagstaff three years ago, I was fascinated to learn that the local ski area owners planned to pump treated waste water onto their slopes for man made snow. The area is on a mountain sacred to several local tribes, featuring into their creation stories. What a great conflict! I love spiritual mystique and mixing that with outstanding landscapes and man’s ambitions. I’ve finished the first draft and RMFW’s own Margie Lawson is editing the first 75 pages as we chat.
Me: I know you lived in Colorado for a while, but you grew up in California and spent your college years and more in Nebraska, part of that time on a cattle ranch. Do you have any story ideas that might require a Nebraska setting? California or Colorado?
Shannon: Ashes of the Red Heifer has several Nebraska scenes. I wrote a story loosely based on my great-great Uncle AB Wood, who was the first newspaper publisher in western Nebraska in the 1880’s. Truly awful craft but I love the characters and story, so I might go back to that sometime. I would love to write a thriller set in the wilderness areas of the Rockies—I’m sure more backpacking and hiking would be needed for research (I would hate that).
Me: Tell us a little about your writing life. When do you write, where do you write? Do you have any special rituals or routines to put yourself in the writing zone?
Shannon: Last year I was really fortunate to participate in an intimate writing workshop with Terry Tempest Williams. She spoke of always setting a bowl of water in her writing area when she worked. I thought that was so cool. Other writer friends burn candles or have meaningful rituals that tap into their creative spirit. I wish I was that in-tune with the universe, but frankly, I’m pretty shallow. I usually write first thing in the morning before I go to work. Just up and at it without preamble because I have such little time. On a weekend, a good writing session for me might include taking the laptop to the backyard and sitting in the sun, getting my words down before the cold beer accumulates in my veins. I’m a true believer in not waiting for the muse, just pounding through and getting the word count on a daily basis.
Me: What one piece of advice would you give an author who has just finished the first draft of his first novel?
Shannon: Participate in a good critique group. There are writers, such as CJ Box or Joseph Finder, who have never done critique, but I think they are the exception. I had a finished manuscript the first time I attended the Colorado Gold (RMFW’s conference). I was devastated to find out just how poorly written and how amateurish it was. But that knowledge set me on the road to learning how to craft a publishable book.
Me: My last question for you is a fun, “what would you do if?” On your website, you say that of all the places in the world, you would love to visit Machu Picchu. If you had been one of the tourists stranded there recently when rains washed out the railway and the hiking trail, how do you think you would you have reacted?
Shannon: Obviously, I wouldn’t be the middle-aged woman screaming hysterically and throwing small children out of the way to be the first to board the evacuation helicopters. I would be the woman with the serene smile playing around the corners of her mouth, offering gentle humor and comfort to those alarmed at the rain and delays. I’d share my meager portion of food with others and work tirelessly to keep everyone calm and organized…. Either that or I’d be curled into a ball with my thumb in my mouth.
Me: I was pretty sure Shannon would give us a fun twist with that last question. She definitely did not disappoint. Shannon, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. I wish you the greatest success with Ashes of the Red Heifer.