Interview: Shannon Baker

Please welcome Shannon Baker, author of the Nora Abbott Mystery Series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
I can think of lots of perfect day scenarios but if I had to pick just one, it would be hiking in the Grand Canyon with my best guy. We’d wake to the sunrise over the Colorado River and spend the day in the sunshine, exploring the trails. Right now, as I write this, I’m stuck in rural Nebraska and it’s not even going to hit above freezing today. So thank you for bringingbrokentrust home the point of just how far from my perfect day I actually have strayed!

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I am so generic! I have no signature anything. Apparently, I have an anti-signature color, though. A few weeks ago when I visited my daughter she nearly didn’t recognize me as I walked down the concourse. I was wearing a pink sweater. My ex (her father) hooked up with a woman whose signature color is pink. My daughter didn’t think I’d ever be caught in that color. Huh. No bimbo can tell me what I can or can’t wear!

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Helen Hooven Santmyer. She wrote And Ladies of the Club, which I read in the 80’s. I loved the book and thought that someday I’d like to write a sweeping story like that. Then I figured if I was ever going to get to the point that I could, I’d better start working on it. I probably won’t ever write something that ambitious, but it did make me start writing.

Mari Sandoz. She came from the same area where I lived for 20 years, the Nebraska Sandhills. She overcame such obstacles and failure to achieve such success with her writing.

An Economics professor at the University of Nebraska, Dr. Petr. I got married and moved to the Nebraska Sandhills before I graduated in business. As I was filing papers to complete my classes via independent study and correspondence (this was way before online classes) he stopped me in the hall. He gave me a mini-lecture about making sure I finished school and not giving up on finding something meaningful to do with my education that it made me feel guilty if I even thought about not getting my degree. I didn’t use my degree for nearly 20 years but it made the difference in me getting a job when I really needed one and that completely changed the direction of my life for the better.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Again, I’m super boring here. No music. I can write in coffee shops and cafes, I can write outside, I can write in libraries and airports. But I get distracted by music. I want to sing and dance.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Probably 60% cocoa, because it’s not terribly dark but not sweet, either. It’s medium boil, according to my publisher. I’d add a few chopped almonds, because Nora’s mother is nutty, and I’d throw in some toffee, because her love interest, Cole, is sweet but they clash a little. There would be a mystery ingredient that you couldn’t identify to include the whole mystical Hopi element.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
When I first moved to Flagstaff several years ago, the community was in an uproar over making snow on the sacred peaks outside of town. Good for business, bad for Native religion. Since I accidently got a job at The Grand Canyon Trust, an environmental non-profit, I added that strange experience. I mashed it all together and came up with Nora Abbott, who owns a ski resort in Flagstaff in book one, Tainted Mountain, and in book two, Broken Trust, moves to Boulder, CO and accidently hires on with a corrupt non-profit.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
It seems that no matter what my books are about, there is usually some kind of mother issue going on. And there’s usually some character arc dealing with strengthening independence and learning to know yourself. Why do you ask?

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Nora is an overachiever. She grew up in Boulder and while her mother married rich men and cruised through the whole affluent scene, Nora developed a more serious view of the world and became an environmentalist. She’s always taken care of her mother and everyone around her. In Broken Trust, Nora is trying to learn how to take care of herself. But she’s connected to the Hopi tribe in an unexpected way and they aren’t willing to leave her alone.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
There’s an Ally McBeal element to Nora, where she’s dramatic and prone to wild bursts of imagination. She’s got a little bit of Hillary Clinton, where she can compartmentalize trauma and get the job done. And she’s got just a touch of Rachel Carson, who wrote Silent Spring and started a whole environmental movement.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
I came to the mystery world pretty late. I thought I’d written a stand-alone thriller and when my editor offered me a contract for a mystery she asked, “Is this a series?” I only hesitated a second before saying, “Yes?” So I started reading mysteries. So my guest list is slanted to contemporary writers.  Jessica Lourey, Catriona McPherson, Craig Johnson. Not only are they terrific writers, they are so fun and funny they’d keep the table lively. William Kent Krueger, because he’s, hands-down, the nicest writer in the world. (And he’s a terrific author.) Harlan Coben, because he’s so unbelievably good and he’s also generous and kind. Hank Phillipi Ryan, because she’s so fabulous it would add a real shine to the gathering.

What’s next for you?
Broken Trust will hit the shelves in March 2014 and in March 2015, Tattered Legacy will follow. Tainted Mountain is set in Flagstaff, Broken Trust takes place in Boulder, CO, and Tattered Legacy takes Nora to Moab, UT. All books deal with Hopi mysticism, environmental issues, relationships and, of course, murder. I am working on a new series set in rural Nebraska with a reluctant woman sheriff.

Thanks, gang, for hosting me. Your questions were certainly not ordinary and made me think. Ouch.

***

Shannon Baker writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Tainted Mountain, the first in the series is set in Flagstaff, AZ and is a New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards finalist. Broken Trust, due March 2014, takes place in Boulder, CO. A lover of western landscapes, Baker can often be found backpacking, skiing, kayaking, cycling, or just playing lizard in the desert.  She is on the board of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and a member of SinC and MWA. Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com.

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8 thoughts on “Interview: Shannon Baker”

  1. I find the Hopi angle intriguing – I love stuff related to Indians of the Southwest. I hope to get out that way some day (something for the bucket list). And if Hank is going to be at your dinner party, I’ll volunteer to wait table because she brings hilarity everywhere she goes. 😉

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    1. Hi Mary,
      The Hopi are fascinating. They believe they are responsible for the balance of the whole world. I’m not going to say they aren’t. But they’re very secretive so writing about them is dicey. My Hopi friend asked me to take the name of their most powerful diety out of the book because they don’t like to see it in print. Oh, I could go on and on! Maybe even for a few books!

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  2. I, too, love the Hopi element. Did that play into your invitation to Kent Krueger for your party? He writes about Native American suspense, too. And yes, he is the nicest man on the planet. To this day he still comes to a little town here in northwestern WI and gives readings at the local library. Invariably, someone in the audience will (enthusiastically, because his readers are passionate) talk about some spoiler in his most recent book. Drives the other readers crazy, but he always handles the situation with grace.
    Looking forward to your release date!

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  3. What a great interview! Thanks so much for visiting us. Also glad that you told your editor it was a series. What presence of mind!

    Love this: “No bimbo can tell me what I can or can’t wear!”

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  4. Your books sound great, Shannon! My brother-in-law used to live in Prescott (near Flagstaff) and my family visits Boulder every year. Roll in your awesome-sounding characters and these are totally a must-read for me:)

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