Today we welcome Shannon Baker, author of the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, which debuted this month with the release of TAINTED MOUNTAIN (Midnight Ink, March 2013).
Shannon Baker is lover of mountains, plains, oceans and rivers and can often be found traipsing around the great outdoors. Tainted Mountain, the first in her Nora Abbott Mystery Series, is set in Flagstaff, AZ, where she lived for several years and worked for The Grand Canyon Trust, a hotbed of environmentalists who, usually, don’t resort to murder. Shannon now makes her home in Boulder, CO.
Tainted Mountain (Midnight Ink), the first book in the Nora Abbott Mystery Series is a fast-paced mix of eco-terrorists, native spirituality, and murder. A young ski area owner in Flagstaff, AZ is determined to use man-made snow, an energy tycoon has his own reasons for promoting it, enviros and tribes may use any means to stop it. But the spirits of the mountain just might have the last say.
I first met Shannon at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Conference in 2010. She’s a delightful person, very approachable and great fun to know (so if you see her at a conference or a signing, be sure to say hi!), and I’m thrilled to be able to share this interview – and her book – with all my readers.
And so, on with the questions:
Where did you grow up? Will you share a favorite story from your childhood?
Assuming I have grown up… The course of my life was set early. I was the youngest of three children and eager to be included with the big kids. I’d do pretty much whatever my sibs asked me to do just to be part of the fun. I’m not saying I was abused but my mother got up from a nap one afternoon just in time to stop them from putting me in the oven. They’d convinced me to climb into a roaster pan. I do remember putting my finger on the hot stove of the “Thing Maker” because they assured me it wasn’t hot. (Do any of you remember those? Now kids have to wear knee pads and helmets to get on a tricycle, back then, they gave us hot plates to play with.) When I ran crying to my mother her response was, “It’s your own fault for being so stupid.” So yes, I am big on self-accountability.
What inspired you to start writing?
I married a rancher and moved to the most rural of isolated places in western Nebraska. It was just a little bit patriarchal out in the boonies. To help keep a little of myself for myself, I rebelled by writing. I kept it secret for a long time. Then I started publishing little pieces here and there. It was all okay, as long as writing didn’t interfere with the priorities my mother-in-law so kindly laid out for me. It wasn’t exactly like Children of the Corn. Exactly.
If you could go back in time and share one writing lesson with “new writer you” before starting your first manuscript … what would that be?
Listen you, you’re going to write a lot of crap. A lot. Get after it and do it because you have to write stuff you’ll throw away just to learn how to get better. There is no other way. Be kind to you and don’t expect to be great right away. There is no short cut. You have to write a lot of bad stuff. Don’t worry. Write it. You’ll get better as you go.
Your new novel, TAINTED MOUNTAIN, is the first in the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, set in Flagstaff, Arizona. What inspired you to write a mystery series set in the American southwest?
When I moved to Flagstaff in 2006, I learned about the controversy over Snowbowl. It is one of the oldest ski resorts in the United States, started in 1938. To augment their snow supply in the drought, they planned to make snow. But the peaks are sacred to 13 tribes who weren’t pleased about treated wastewater—potty water—being sprayed on their sacred ground. Who could resist that kind of conflict?
When I started researching I discovered the Hopi tribe. They are one of the smallest tribes and yet, they feel responsible for the balance of the whole world. There is so much in the Hopi culture that draws me in. Fascinating!
Do you have a favorite author or book? If so, who (or what) is it, and why?
I love so many writers but I always go back my earliest favorites. I love Margaret Mitchell because she gave us Scarlett. Margaret Atwood wowed me with Robber Bride and Barbara Kingsolver hooked me with Animal Dreams and Bean Trees and made me fall in love with The Poisonwood Bible. Nobody can torture a hero like Carol Berg. I just finished Stephen King’s 11/25/63… man. When I get asked this question I end up going back to the earliest favorite writers because I’m so shallow the last book I read is usually the best. In this case, Junkyard Dogs, by Craig Johnson.
TAINTED MOUNTAIN weaves Native American spiritual elements with environmental concerns, set against the backdrop of a ski resort (and, of course, a murder). What did you find most challenging about telling a story with so many different narrative elements?
The Hopi culture is extremely secretive. It is so far outside the boundaries of my middle class white experience. I can read about it and talk to Hopi people and observe, but I know that a basic perspective and understanding is missing. As much research as I can collect will not let my mind mold to differences I can’t even imagine exist.
Mari Sandoz, in her introduction to Cheyenne Autumn, talks about how Europeans perceive life in terms of time, where the Sioux experience existence in terms of where. I can acknowledge the difference and I can imagine how it might change how I think. But I can’t really understand, as much as I’d like to.
So that’s the challenge. I want to show that there is more to the world than any one culture can experience.
Do you have a favorite scene or section from TAINTED MOUNTAIN? If so, what makes that scene stand out for you?
It is one of the more quiet scenes in the book. Nora is at a Hopi corn field and she’s opening up to the more mystic flow of the book. That scene comes from a conversation I had with a Hopi farmer. This guy had a degree in Ag from NAU, but he spoke with such love for his corn. After all the time I spent in western Nebraska and knowing how scientific farming and ranching can be, I was blown away by the Hopi farmer’s relationship with the land and the elements. I never doubted him for a moment and I wanted Nora to feel that same belief.
What is the last book you read, and why did you read it?
By the time this posts I will have a few more under my belt, but I bought A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin. I was forced into it because my boss said it was the best book he ever read. I ended up having to get in on CD from the library. I hated it so much. The story might have been good but he could have used half the words! Sheesh. Talk about self-induglent. It’s like reading Les Miserables and having to slog through the history of a monastery and every detail of the sewer system on Paris. I’m way too shallow and impatient for that shit.
How did you research the Native American elements appearing in TAINTED MOUNTAIN? What is your favorite part of researching unique details for your novels?
I started in the library and finding a bunch of books on Hopi. The topic intrigued me so I stopped in an art gallery in Flagstaff that featured kachinas. I got into a conversation with an adversarial Hopi proponent who gave me a reading list about Hopi. He was a white guy who married a Hopi woman and he did not want me to put out false information or be disrespectful. From there, I headed out to the rez for a couple of visits. Then I struck up a friendship with a Hopi woman I worked with at the Grand Canyon Trust, an environmental non-profit. All of this pulled me in and I couldn’t wait to write about this tiny tribe, living on isolated mesas in northern Arizona, who believe they have responsibility to keep the whole world in balance.
Do you have any upcoming signings or readings?
I’ll be celebrating the book launch in Colorado on March 16th at the Broadway Book Mall.
We’re working up a joint signing with Betsy Dornbush, Lynda Hilburn, and Julie Kazimer at the Boulder Book Store in June.
But more importantly, I know you, Susan Spann, are celebrating your own book launch of Claws of the Cat! Congratulations!
*Shannon will also be featured at The Debutante Ball blog this coming Saturday, March 16, where she’ll be giving away a copy of her book to a lucky commenter – so be sure to check out the Ball on Saturday morning for your chance to win!
And now, the speed round:
Plotter or pantser?
Plotter. (Excel spreadsheet, so sad.)
Coffee, tea, or bourbon?
Socks or no socks?
Cats, dogs, or reptiles?
Love dogs. Am dogless currently and feeling the emptiness. (I also love cats but I love my Dave more and he has low cat-tolerance.) But I have total aquarium envy of Susan’s sea horses.
For dinner: Italian, Mexican, Burgers or Thai?
Mexican. Mexican. Mexican.
Thank you, Shannon, for joining us today (and also for the shout out to Claws of the Cat!) – I’m thrilled that you took time out from your launch to spend a few minutes with me!
You can find TAINTED MOUNTAIN at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, and at your local independent bookstore, as well as directly from Midnight Ink. I’ve already bought my eBook version, and I’m looking forward to getting a hard copy signed by Shannon at Colorado Gold this September!
If you’d like to know more about Shannon or the Nora Abbott Mysteries, you can find out at Shannon’s website!