Hi, Pat. Thanks for opening up your virtual home and inviting us in for a glass of wine. You did say there would be wine, right? The Lourey/Baker Double Booked Tour is chugging along and today, we’re going to sit back with our generous pours of Pat’s finest and talk writing, books, and life.
I’ll go first with a little introduction. I’m Shannon Baker and I’m all wriggly in my chair to tell you about my new Kate Fox mystery series. The first book, due out September 6th but available for preorder is Stripped Bare. Set in the Nebraska Sandhills, it’s been called Longmire meets The Good Wife. I’ve been a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers for a long time (that’s where I met Pat) and was chosen RMFW Writer of the Year in 2014. I know Jess from Midnight Ink, where I wrote the Nora Abbott mystery series, a fast-paced mix of Hopi Indians, environmental issues, and murder.
Jess here. Shannon, your book sounds fantastic, and I’m excited to be on this tour with you, though I thought we were getting whiskey? In any case, I’m thrilled to talk about Salem’s Cipher, my political suspense novel which is not coincidentally also releasing on September 6th and also available for preorder. Salem’s Cipher features Salem Wiley, an agoraphobic cryptanalyst who must crack codes Emily Dickinson hid 100 years earlier in order to save the first viable female presidential candidate from assassination. I met Pat when I crossed an ethical boundary in 2007 and sent copies Knee High by the Fourth of July to all the non-authors registered for that year’s Left Coast Crime in the hopes that they’d consider it for a Lefty. I was green and didn’t know how gauche that was. Pat sent me a kind email telling me she appreciated the copy and to not let anyone get me down. She’s had a warm spot in my heart ever since.
Pat: Welcome, Shannon and Jess. It’s so much fun having you visit my blog together during your special co-tour. What a great marketing idea! Don’t worry, Jess, I have wine, whiskey, as well as coffee or tea (for those who don’t imbibe–especially at breakfast). Shannon, I’ve enjoyed your Nora Abbott mysteries and am really looking forward to meeting Kate Fox. Jess, I remember Knee High by the Fourth of July very well and enjoyed it enough to read several more of your murder by the month series. I did not remember how we first connected, but I do remember a delicious candy treat from your part of the country (I forget what it’s called) that you brought to Left Coast Crime 2008 in Denver. That was yummy!
To bring you up to date, my last book release (November 2014) was a standalone thriller called Dead Wrong. And I just signed a contract for a historical mystery called Wishing Caswell Dead, which is tentatively scheduled for November 2017 release under Five Star/Cengage’s Frontier Fiction line. I’m currently working on two other standalone mysteries.
Question: Setting is important in each of our books. Tell us why you set your book(s) where you did?
Jess: Salem’s Cipher starts out in Minneapolis, where I live. It was a conscious choice to locate Salem Wiley there as it made the initial research easier. When Salem’s mom disappears, she’s forced to leave her safety to find her. Along the way, she uncovers a very old, very well-financed plot to kill powerful women, past and present. This is when the adventure begins, taking my protagonist to Salem, Massachusetts, where the implications of this plot trace back to the witch trials. From there, she’s forced to travel to San Francisco, to Virginia, and finally, to Alcatraz, where the story comes to a head. I flew to Salem in 2014 to research that city, and I’ve been to San Francisco and Alcatraz multiple times to research, but I needed to call on Facebook friends for details on Virginia—the sounds, the smells, the people. I think my plan might be to set all books in beautiful places so I can go there as a tax write-off.
Pat: I’m all over the place with my novel settings, which is a reflection of my life, I guess. My first book was set in Florida and Illinois, the second in Florida and Nevada/Arizona, and the third in Florida and Colorado. For Wishing Caswell Dead, I’m back in central Illinois during the early 1800s. I guess it’s no surprise then that I grew up in central Illinois, lived quite a few years in South Florida, visit that Nevada/Arizona area often because one of my sons lives there, and now I live in Colorado. I didn’t have to do much setting research for any of them because I already know the sounds, smells, terrain, and flora/fauna of each.
Shannon: Setting is always a big part of my books because it’s a big part of my life. I’m an anomaly in my family. My parents and siblings hated the great outdoors while I could barely be called inside for dinner. The Nora Abbott books take place in Flagstaff, AZ, Boulder, CO, and Moab, UT, all places I love. But the Nebraska Sandhills, where I lived for 20 years, was like a difficult child for me. It didn’t give itself freely to easy affection. When I moved there, it seemed so stark and harsh and it was through conscious effort that I came to love it. When I left it thirteen years ago, in some ways, it was a huge relief. I didn’t think I’d ever go back there, but Kate Fox called to me, so here I am. I’m getting a kick out of ranging the ‘hills again and I get to write about the people and places that mean so much to me.
Question: Who are your writing heroes?
Pat: Well, there are Shannon Baker and Jess Lourey, of course. But if I go back into my heavy reading years (before writing) I’d have to point to my most favorite of all time mystery series writers, John D. McDonald. I love the Florida setting and I love Travis McGee. If only I could create a character that memorable!
Shannon: In a galaxy far, far away… I lived on a ranch five miles as the crow flies to the nearest neighbor. I fell in love with a big, fat novel, And Ladies of the Club, by Helen Hooven Santmyer. I read that she’d written that book in her eighties. I thought that I’d like to write a book like that someday and figured if I was ever going to get good enough, I’d better start practicing so I wouldn’t have to wait to be an octogenarian before I got published. She was my first inspiration. After that, of course, there is Mari Sandoz, who grew up in the Nebraska Sandhills and overcame enormous obstacles to become a writer. She gave me courage to keep going in the face of rejection. (And rejection. And rejection.)
Jess: This question makes me feel warm all over because it brings to mind all the books that have kept me company and shaped me. I first fell in love with fantasy—Tanith Lee, Piers Anthony—in high school, graduated to Stephen King, whose writing still captivates me, and in college, despite my best efforts, I became enamored of the Bronte sisters’ writing as well as Thomas Hardy’s. Outside of school, I dug into magical realism, mainly Isabel Allende, which is where I learned the beauty of sensory language—lemon-colored shoes, lipstick the color of a pink gin fizz, the lavender light of the setting sun. In the late 90s, I was lucky enough to stumble into crime fiction, and Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, and William Kent Krueger at their best are still my inspiration.
Question: How is your protagonist like/not like you?
Shannon: Kate Fox is a total insider in her small Sandhills community. She’s one of nine brothers and sisters and is connected to everyone in the county by one degree of separation, or less. I moved into the Sandhills when I was 21 and even though I lived there for 20 years, I was always “other.” (‘Course that might have more to do with me than with my community.) Kate has an inner fortitude. She does what needs to be done, takes care of business, and doesn’t whine about anything. I’d like to be more like her.
Jess: Salem Wiley is the most unlike me character I’ve written. Physically, she’s a cross between my niece, Esmae, and my close friend Angie. I need to have a visual of my protagonists, so in that area, I always look for specific inspiration. Personality-wise, Salem Wiley is a whipsmart cryptanalyst who is afraid to leave her house. I knew so little about code-breaking when I began the book that I had to look up the term “cryptanalyst,” and my neuroses is more of the “catastrophizing olympics” variety. However, Salem’s agoraphobia came about because her dad committed suicide, a theme I wanted to explore in this book as my own husband committed suicide, and I wanted to play out how that could affect the children of that relationship. Am I the only one who tries to figure out life through her characters?
Pat: My characters are like me in their bad eating habits. I guess that’s why my critique group is always telling me to stop describing everything my character eats and stop them from drinking so much coffee. Other than that, I tend to create protagonists who are braver than I am and who make riskier decisions that I would. I don’t walk on the wild side. I let my characters do it for me. Digging deep into personal life tragedies would be hard. I admire you, Jess, for tackling a tough topic like suicide.
Thanks to both of you for being my guests today and for including me in the Q&A. Good luck on this adventurous tour!
Shannon: Jess is giving away a Salem’s Cipher and I’m giving away a Stripped Bare. Tell us your hero, writing or otherwise, or leave a comment by midnight MT Saturday, August 6th for a chance to win.
And for more fun:
If you order Salem’s Cipher before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to email@example.com to receive a Salem short story and to be automatically entered in a drawing to win a 50-book gift basket mailed to the winner’s home!
If you order Stripped Bare before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a Kate Fox short story and be entered for a book gift basket mailed to your home.
Please join us tomorrow as the Lourey/Baker Double Booked Tour pops on over to Jungle Red Writers as guests of the inimitable Hank Phillippi Ryan where we’ll talk about what we wish we knew back then. On Monday, August 8, we’re visiting Inkspot, and Wednesday, we’re going to There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room. Book giveaways at every stop!
Jessica (Jess) Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.” She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft’s 2014 Excellence in Teaching fellowship, and leads interactive writing workshops all over the world. Salem’s Cipher, the first in her thrilling Witch Hunt Series, hits stores September 2016. You can find out more at www.jessicalourey.com, or find Jess on Facebook or Twitter.
Shannon Baker is the author of the Nora Abbott mystery series from Midnight Ink, a fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder set in western landscapes of Flagstaff, AZ, Boulder, CO, and Moab, UT. Seconds before quitting writing forever and taking up competitive drinking, Shannon was nominated for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s 2014 Writer of the Year. Buoyed with that confidence, she acquired an agent who secured a multi-book contract with Tor/Forge. The first in the Kate Fox Mystery Series, Stripped Bare will release in hardcover September 2016. Set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills, it’s been called Longmire meets The Good Wife. Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com.