Shannon Baker is the author of the Nora Abbott mystery series, a fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder. With “Stripped Bare,” Baker is debuting her new Kate Fox series, which has been described as Longmire meets the Good Wife.
A circuitous route led Baker to this series. The path involved a twenty-year stint as a resident of the Nebraska Sandhills. The long path to this story might be one reason Baker is receiving critical reviews like this one from Kirkus Reviews. “Baker serves up a ballsy heroine, a colorful backdrop, and a surprising ending.”
“I lived in the Sandhills for 20 years and raised my daughters there,” said Baker. “It’s a unique place, full of quirky characters. It’s a close community with relationships that span generations and they have a particular way of looking at the world and going about their lives. In some ways, it’s the land that time forgot, and in other ways, it’s as modern as any place. I always knew I wanted to write about the Sandhills, but it took a while for the story to come.”
Baker arrived in the Sandhills as a 21-year-old bride. She said she didn’t fall in love with it for some time. “I struggled to come to terms with the beauty and bleakness. Eventually, I really felt at home there.”
Plenty of environmentalists look at that empty grassland and think they ought to go out and save it from the ranchers.
But Baker left the Sandhills when she discovered her husband had been having an affair. “He was reluctant to go back to monogamy,” Baker said. “So it took me a while to get my sense of humor back about the place. But time worked its magic and I’ve had a great time visiting the Sandhills, mostly on paper.”
The Nebraska Sandhills is a vast and sparsely populated area. Cattle outnumber people by 50:1. It’s also an area with its share of controversy. Baker said, “Back before Al Gore invented the Internet, he made a big deal about clearing out all the people there and opening it up for a buffalo common. Plenty of environmentalists look at that empty grassland and think they ought to go out and save it from the ranchers.”
In fact, Baker said the ranchers have been stewards of the land for generations. “I guess I think the ranchers do a pretty good job of managing the land. So that might have come across, though it wasn’t a major theme of the book. Mostly the book is about Kate and how she deals with what comes hurtling at her.”
The last decade has been one of turmoil for Baker. She said, “At one point my real address, my driver’s license, and my car registration were all in different states. No, I wasn’t dodging debt collectors or in witness protection. None of it was planned, except the last move, when we retired and settled in Tucson a year ago.”
Now a resident of Tucson, AZ, Baker describes her books as a lagging indicator of her life. She’s written about Northern Arizona, Nebraska, and Colorado. “Now I’m back to writing about Nebraska,” Baker said. “Wouldn’t it be great to come up with something set in the Arizona desert?”
Double Trouble Contest Code: #Sandhills
Baker has found writing the Kate Fox series exhilarating. She said, “I had such fun writing about Kate. As she started moving through the story, she kept bumping into such great characters. Some of them came right from people I knew when I lived in the Sandhills and some are bits and pieces of several people. They make me laugh or draw me into their own lives in a way I haven’t experienced before. I have this feeling they’re all going on with the story whether I’m there to write it down or not.”
So what about Nora Abbott? Will Baker be returning to her former series? “I enjoyed Nora and her adventures and she’s got more left in her, especially as far as her mother is concerned. But, the series didn’t take off, which left me room to find Kate. It turned into a really great thing for me. There is that whole door closing and finding an open window thing that really came true.”
Learn more about Shannon Baker at shannon-baker.com.