Shannon Baker’s fifth mystery novel, Stripped Bare, opens with its narrator, Kate Fox, coming in from an evening of calving on her ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska. A phone call immediately pulls Kate and the reader into a fast-moving plot filled with unpredictable twists.
Stripped Bare is the focus of the Friends of the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries’ Just Desserts event at 5 p.m., August 3, in the Wittemyer Courtroom of the Wolf Law building.
The University Libraries is pleased to share this interview with Shannon Baker about her journey as a mystery writer.
What was the inspiration for Stripped Bare and the character of Kate Fox?
The Kate Fox series takes place in the Nebraska Sandhills. I moved there as a bride, right out of college. Even though I went to high school in western Nebraska, I was unprepared for the Sandhills. The population density is .9 people per square mile, extremely rural. I didn’t start out loving it, but with a lot of effort, I learned to love it. I lived there for twenty years and raised my kids there.
I always knew I would write about the Sandhills, but it wasn’t until I had been away from the area for a decade that I could write about it with the sense of humor that Kate Fox has. When I lived there, I was a total outsider, but Kate is the ultimate insider— fourth generation Sandhills, related to everyone, and unable to imagine life anywhere else.
What is your connection to Boulder?
I consider Boulder to be my heart home. When my marriage fell apart, I moved there, had a great job, and met the love of my life. When the company I worked for was sold, we moved to Flagstaff, and I focused on my writing. We are settled now in Tucson, but I always return to Boulder and can’t wait to visit this August for the Friends of the Libraries event.
What led you to a writing career?
Even though I always loved writing and won numerous awards as a young girl, I never considered it seriously. In college, I was studying business when my English professor pulled me aside and said, “You really should consider changing your major. You have a real facility for the language.”
I didn’t take him seriously, because I didn’t think I could make money doing it. And yet those words stayed with me. I stored them away.
Then, as a young mother isolated in the Sandhills, I needed something that was just mine. So I wrote. I joined Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW), and even though I never really believed I’d get anywhere, I kept writing and learning more, and raising the bar.
I set small goals, to win the RMFW amatuer award, which I did, and then to get published, which I did with a really small press in 2010. And then I wanted to get published on a larger scale, which I did with Midnight Ink that published my three Nora Abbott books. And then I started the Kate Fox series and sent out a query to Marlene Stringer, who is now my agent and who ended up selling my book at auction with three of the big five publishers bidding on it. Forge, part of Macmillan, published Stripped Bare last fall, and the second Kate Fox mystery, Dark Signal, will come out in October.
What challenges do you still face as a writer, even after publishing six books?
There is always resistance. It should be easier now, compared to when I was getting up at 4:30 in the morning to write before heading to work. Even now, though, when writing is my full-time job, it is forever about getting my butt in the chair and getting the words down.
And there is always the fear that you won’t get it right. Eventually you accept that you may not, and then you’ll fix it. In the publishing industry, so much is out of your control, so you have to focus on what is. Each book I’ve written has been better than the one before. That’s the fun part, growing and getting new ideas all the time.
Any advice for the aspiring novelists among the students at CU Boulder?
They say you need to write a million words before you get any good. My advice, if you want to write fiction, is to write books from start to finish. Finish a novel, and then write another one. Don’t get stuck fixing one book for ten years, just keep writing new books, as many as it takes.
It’s all been an unexpected journey that is way better than I ever thought it could be, writing-wise and life-wise.