An interview with Shannon Baker

The Nebraska Sandhills are such a unique setting for a mystery! Can you tell us the story of how Stripped Bare came to take place there?

I arrived in the Nebraska Sandhills, where cattle outnumber people by more than 50:1 as a 21 year­old bride straight from college. Even after living there for 20 years, I was always an outsider, but eventually, I came to appreciate the Sandhills’ subtle charms.

Finding myself on an isolated ranch with the nearest neighbor five miles away as the crow flies, and only a newborn and cows for company, I started to write because it seemed like a harmless outlet. At first, in private, then I began to sell essays and short stories. I wrote a humor column for a regional weekly paper and wrote feature articles and even covered sports for another regional paper. I started working on novels and luckily stumbled into Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

When I was the second to the last person to find out about my husband’s affair, I left the Sandhills for more welcoming places. I kept writing, publishing a few short stories and a novel in 2010. I sold the Nora Abbott Mysteries, and those books are set in great places. But I always wanted to write about the Sandhills and its unique flavor. One day, Kate Fox walked into my head, and I started to tell her story. I’m really glad I waited, so I could write about Nebraska with humor and affection.

You have so much experience in just living in the area ­ but was there anything surprising you found in conducting research for your story?

Get this… you don’t have to have ANY training or meet any requirements to be elected county sheriff in Nebraska. None. After you’re elected, you must pass an 8­week course within a year and until you’re certified, you can’t do anything, not even a traffic stop, so the adjoining counties and State Patrol take care of your duties until you pass.

How do you hope your novel will affect your readers?

I hope readers will be transported out of their real world and plop down in the prairie; feel the sunshine on their face, smell the manure, get a sense of what it’s like to be where there are no people crowding around. I want them to laugh at the quirky characters, feel sad, happy and scared for Kate. I want them to see the Sandhills and think of the folks there as real people ­ friends and maybe even not friends.

What do you think will surprise readers most about the first book in the Kate Fox mystery series?

When I moved to the Sandhills, I hadn’t been anywhere like it before and so much surprised me, I want to bring that discovery of the unique way of life to readers. Folks who live so close to the land and so far from people have a rhythm of life very different than urban or suburbanites. It’s idyllic in many ways and in other ways, it’s not so great. The whodunit will hopefully keep readers guessing.

What fascinates you about writing?

I started out (and continue to be) a reader. I love nothing more than to get lost in a story. Writing takes that to another level. For as far back as I remember, I’d tell myself stories as I went to sleep. I was always the hero and looked fabulous, was brave and smart and always got the love. After I moved to the Sandhills, I spent hours driving a tractor in the hay field and I made up adventurous romances in which I always starred. So writing fiction was something I’d done in my head for my whole life.

When I started actually writing the words down, I found out how hard it is and how much a person has to know to make a story others want to read. So, in the beginning, it was just telling myself a story and now, what fascinates me, is how it all works. How to take craft and make it (not into art, because that’s pretentious for what I create) a worthy story.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

My ideal work day would be pounding out my daily quota of 2000 words by 10 or 11. Reading a novel for a couple hours, taking a break and walking the dog or yoga, then marketing and emails in the afternoon. But…that’s not what happens most days. It’s more chaotic than that. I generally end up entrenched in long emails and Facebook, am pulled away from my desk for a number of things, including housework and for 5­mile desert runs with our psychotic dog, Jezebel. In the summer, I MUST jump in the pool at least five times a day, minimum. But if I’m working on a draft, my 2000 words is non­negotiable. It just might take all day.

You have also authored three Nora Abbott Mysteries. Can you tell me a little bit about that series?

It’s a fast­paced mix of Hopi Indian spirituality, environmental issues, and murder. Tainted Mountain takes place in Flagstaff, Arizona and deals with manmade snow on peaks sacred to 12 tribes. Broken Trust is set in Boulder, Colorado where Nora takes a job as director of a corrupt environmental trust and discovers a plot that could destroy the Ecuadorian rainforest.

Tattered Legacy (the best written of the bunch) takes place in Moab, Utah and involves a Mormon sect, expanding the borders of Canyonlands National Park, and even aliens.

What is your next project?

I just sold a short story to Hex Publishers for their Blood Business anthology releasing in 2017. Kate Fox #2 , Dark Signal, will release in 2017. This time, the murder takes place on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.