Every story has a villain

I’m not having a good time grinding the old brain into gear this week (it’s a post-Bouchercon haze and I didn’t even go to Bouchercon), but I came across this on the Internet. Food for thought.



Every rose has a thorn.

Every story has a villain.

Every beginning has an end.





Villainy + Power

I’ve been pushing the concept of villainy around in my head for a couple of days, trying to decide how I wanted to put my mark on the amazing discussions from my fellow Mysteristas. You guys rock!

It occurred to me that without some kind of power, villainy is rather innocuous and impotent. It’s still evil, but it’s evil that’s ineffective.

Villainy + 23 weapons modified to fire like automatic rifles

Villainy + Harvey, Irma, Marie, Nate (Yep, nature can be villainous.)

Villainy + Professional connections, inflated egos, money and lifestyle that says you can’t be touched

Villainy + Assumed privilege.

In Real Life, when something abominable happens, I find myself stepping back from my manuscript for a period of time. One can only take so much. Gradually the story beckons and I realize that within the pages of my book I can vanquish the diabolical. While it doesn’t exactly balance the scales, it does feel good.


Peg The Conqueror


It’s all better with friends.



Changes in Villainy

In January, my husband and I welcomed our baby girl into the world. Since then, our lives have been turned upside-down, inside-out, and tugged in pretty much every other direction imaginable. One effect of this is that I’ve become much more sensitive.

I get teary during diaper commercials, forlorn watching the news, and sickened by violence toward children.

For example, I read Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes when it first came out three years ago. Without giving too much away, there is something that happens in the opening chapter. Something I completely forgot about. Watching the (utterly fantastic) tv adaptation, I was shocked by this event. How could I have spaced such an atrocity?!

It’s not that I was callous or didn’t care, it’s that my perception of villainy has been drastically altered with the birth of my daughter.

I have different worries (and wayyyyy more of them!) and different fears than I used to have.

This is true on a macro scale as well.

There’s a reason books like 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale have recently returned to the bestseller list. Because the villainy in those stories reflects what’s happening in the world today.

This is something I’m keeping in mind as I plod along in my current WIP, which showcases a new villain. A villain who’s craftier, harder to nab, and more cold-hearted than any I’ve written before.

But one thing is for certain: no pets or children will be injured in my manuscript. It’s a good thing I write cozies!

Readers, have your perceptions of villains changed over time? Writers, do you write different villains as you go through different life stages?

The Opposite of Frenemy

Today I finished reading a fun, light book. It’s the seventh (I think) in a series. We’ve known since the first book that there was a horrible, unsolved crime lurking in the background. A main character remains haunted, having witnessed the crime as a child but unable to identify the killer.

In this book, the killer is finally unmasked. And it turns out, the killer is the person no one suspected; the one who befriended the child witness, who welcomed the newcomers into the community, who offered a calm voice of reason in all situations.

She was almost too good to be true.

However, until this book, a reader wouldn’t give this character serious thought as a the villain. She read as good, but not in a sappy way. The character experienced good days and bad, sometimes made choices our main characters didn’t love, but ones that seemed rooted in reasoning and thought.

Book seven, however, offers a character who, while still offering a voice of reason and a supportive shoulder to lean on, is suddenly tired. This character has a light shined upon her that she hasn’t in previous books. While I think the author was, perhaps, a bit obvious in leading us to the conclusion, she nonetheless offered readers a shocking villain. How could this woman, who had stepped in to be surrogate mother/friend/confidante/mentor, have all that evil hidden inside? How did she balance her double-life?

As an author, I’m curious to know if the writer decided at book one who the villain would ultimately be, or if she worked her way to the choice over time. I love learning about each author’s unique writing process! And I know it could go either way, which is fun to think about.

In this story, the villain is the opposite of the frenemy; the frenemy is the friend who appears as enemy in public, and friend in private.  Here we have the enemy who appears as friend, and that’s just not right. Is this the worst kind of villain? The one who can commit a horrible crime and when satisfied, act as though she’s a victim, too? Perhaps.

Interview: Shannon Baker

Welcome Shannon Baker, author of the Kate Fox mysteries!

Dark Signal final5Thank you to the Mysteristas for letting me pull up a chair and have lunch at the cool kids table today.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

There are so many iterations of a perfect day for me. It could be hanging out with my daughters, watching Gilmore Girls reruns. Any day diving along a reef is as close to perfect as it gets. I love a road trip with my husband. Maybe a hike on a mountain with a great friend. Mostly, my every day is pretty fantastic. I get to enjoy the desert sunshine, work on books, and sip a beverage on the deck watching the sunset.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

I do not. Unless the phrase is “f*** me” which I uttered into the microphone in front of 350 people at a banquet. I had a cocktail at dinner and they surprised me. My mother would be so proud.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

A really long time ago I read And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer. It’s a sweeping saga and I loved it so much. I’d heard it was her only book and she didn’t write it until she was in her eighties. I decided if I ever wanted to get good enough to create something that good, I’d better get started. And I did.

Recently, I’ve been inspired by Craig Johnson’s Longmire series. This great series sort of gave me permission to set stories in the rural west.

Do you listen to music when you write? 

Very rarely. My feeble brain can’t deal with too much at the same time. I am amazed at all these writers creating playlists for their books. One friend said she listens to different music for every book and when she needs to edit her book, she puts that music on and it takes right back the book. That’s awesome. I’m not awesome.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

Dark chocolate with bits of toffee. Kate is sheriff and there’s a murder on a BNSF train, which is the dark part. But, as usual, there’s fair amount of humor with her interfering family meddling in her affairs.

What made you interested in writing this particular story? 

I lived in the Nebraska Sandhills for twenty years. It’s a unique place, and I really wanted to write about it. Dark Signal revolves around the railroad for a couple of reasons. 1) I couldn’t remember reading a book in a rural setting with the railroad. (This was before I read Barbara Nickless’s excellent book, Blood on the Tracks.) And 2) My husband worked on BNSF trains for 42 years before he retired two years ago.

When I asked him how he’d kill someone on the train, he didn’t hesitate. He offered details down to the type of wire to use to rig the murder weapon. It’s a little scary.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 

Ohhhh, therapy! I notice the mother/daughter theme coming up over and over. Since I was a daughter and I’m now a mother, I like exploring different aspects of that relationship.

I also tend to circle around women making a place for themselves in the world. Most of us aren’t kickass; we’re all trying to make it work. How we dig into ourselves and create our own lives is fascinating to me.

Tell us about your main character.

Kate Fox is nothing like me. She’s smart, confident, competent, is a Sandhills insider (fourth generation, smack in the middle of eight other siblings), and can work cattle, fix fence, break horses, and put up hay.

When Stripped Bare opens, she’s living her perfect life. But, as novels do, she loses it all and has to rebuild. That’s where we pick her up in Dark Signal. She’s got a new job, a new place to live, and is wondering where she’s going next.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

The Kate Fox series has been described as Longmire meets The Good Wife. Longmire, because of the setting and maybe the bit of humor injected in the books. The Good Wife because her husband has put her through hell but she ends up turning the tables on him.

Adding the third made me stop and think. But I’m going with Jan Brady. Because Kate is in the middle of so many brothers and sisters. Though, unlike Jan, Kate would be perfectly happy to be overlooked.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

Since I only came to the mystery genre after I’d accidently sold a mystery, I’m playing catch up. I read more mysteries now than I ever did, but I don’t have the base of the classics. So, my dinner party would be contemporary writers.

I think it’s downright dirty to ask this question. There are so many great mystery writers I’d love to share a meal with. And that’s why going to Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime and any of the other mystery conferences is such a grand time.  This question would be so much simpler if you asked me to name the mystery writers I wouldn’t want to dine with. I could only answer two, and I’m telling you who they are.

What’s next for you?

Stripped Bare comes out in trade paper on Sept. 26th and Dark Signal releases in hard cover on October 17th. In between, Forge is releasing a .99 Kate Fox short story (if 26 pages can be called short) on Sept. 19th. It’s a bridge between the two books and they’re calling it a gateway drug to Kate Fox.

I have a short story in the upcoming anthology by Hex Publishers, “Blood Business.” That will be out in November. Hex is a relatively new publisher in the Denver area and they’re making a big splash, so I’m excited about that.

Kate book 3 had been turned in, tentatively titled Bitter Rain. So keep your fingers crossed my editor likes it.

And I’ve just finished a first draft (and it’s particularly shitty) of a book that is very different than anything I’ve ever written. It’s very dark. No humor at all. Set in Tucson. We’ll see how that shapes up, but it’s definitely a challenge for me.


Shannon1884-4x6-webShannon Baker is the author of the Kate Fox mystery series, set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills. She was voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2017 Writer of the Year and Stripped Bare earned the author a starred review in Library Journal (as their Pick of the Month) and a nomination for the 2016 Reading The West Award from Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers. She also writes the Nora Abbott Mysteries (Midnight Ink), featuring Hopi Indian mysticism and environmental issues inspired by her time working at the Grand Canyon Trust. Shannon makes her home in Tucson where she enjoys cocktails by the pool, breathtaking sunsets, a crazy Weimaraner, and killing people (in the pages of her books).

Connect with Shannon (including her full tour schedule) at: http://shannon-baker.com/where-ill-be/

Official Website | Facebook | Twitter| Goodreads

Coping with Earrings

I don’t know about you guys, but when I’m really stressed, I buy earrings. And I have lots of earrings from my days as a full-time trial lawyer. I still remember the day I walked into Nordstrom’s and realized I had a pair of earrings from every rack. (In Anchorage, Nordstrom’s is conveniently located between the state courthouse and the federal courthouse, a mere ten minute walk from any law office.)

I have kitschy earrings I never wear but they make me happy when I look at them. From my Swarovski period, I have crystal studs and big flashy crystal clip-ons. ACrystal earringst least I think these are Swarovksi. I got these for my mother of the bride outfit and then didn’t wear them.

It’s all a blur now.  Being the MOB is one of the most stressful experiences I’ve ever had. It’s like childbirth only it lasts from the moment the engagement is announced through the inevitable tearful break-up after you’ve spent thousands in deposit, to the tearful reconciliation to the rebooking. By the time, they get married and ALL your ex-husbands show  up, you’re reading for a trip out of the country. But I digress.

The clip-ons are pictured here with the Dumbo I won on the  California Adventureland boardwalk. Dumbo has nothing to do with this piece but he’s cute and so I thought you might enjoy seeing him.

I have white pearl studs and black pearl drops.  I had little diamond chips but I lost one so I’m looking for a pirate to give the other one too. It’s good karma, you know.

But mostly I wear silver hoops these days because – ahem – they match my hair.

Anyway, I find myself suffering over what earrings to wear to the Crimebake banquet. I decided on a black velvet duster with matching camisole and pants. I can pretend I’m Miss Phryne Fisher. It’s November 11 in Boston.

I don’t want to wear rhinestone or crystal because it seems a little too early in the season for glam.So Mysteristas, I’m open to suggestions.

The Quiet Villain

Villains come in many packages.  They range from greedy megalomaniacs, mad scientists, princes of darkness, angry misanthropes, cat-torturing perverts, or…that quiet neighbor next door who’s never gotten a speeding ticket.

Some years ago at a writers conference, Ann Rule–the queen of true crime–explained why she liked to write about villains like the boy-next-door typeTed Bundy instead of [insert name of whatever sensational, crazed psychopath pops up in the daily news].

What I understood her to say was that villains are more interesting when they don’t look like villains.

She was talking about her own projects within true crime, but my brain got stuck on this for story potential, especially for mystery and suspense fiction.

I think it’s true, too, for fictional villains.  They are more complex characters when their  evil is hidden.  And it makes it more fun for the reader, either trying to guess whodunnit in a mystery or understanding the whydunnit side in a suspense novel.

Interesting villains are those who outwardly look like your average joe or jane.  Inside, they harbor the depths of darkness.  Outside, they blend in with a crowd.  They act normal in public, and they do their villainy under wraps.  What makes them tick?

Make no mistake:  villains certainly act villainous, but “the quiet villain” is way too crafty and clever to make his or her villainy obvious.  They aren’t easy to spot in a crowd.  They know how to behave in a socially acceptable manner in public so that they blend in and slip through the dragnet, making it all that much harder for our hero.

Villains are so wily that they test the metal of smart sleuth.  The villain is the only character capable of possibly winning a match against the protagonist sleuth.  Will this be the book where the villain wins this time?  It keeps us reading the next book in order to find out!