Thursday, October 2, 2014

What Writers Inspired Me

Hi all!  Welcome Shannon Baker to Killer Hobbies today as part of the Sisters in Crime Blog Hop! Shannon is the author of the awesome Nora Abbot mystery series.  Check it out, or even better, buy it!

I credit Helen Hooven Santmyer for inspiring me to write novels. Way back in the early 80’s I read her sweeping novel, And Ladies of the Club.  I loved that book.

At the time, I just had my first baby and lived on a cattle ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills. I felt lonely and completely out of my element. Despite having business career aspirations and sporting a shiny new college degree, I’d married a rancher and moved to rural isolation. In my youthful optimism, I figured I’d find some sort of business in which I’d excel. I hadn’t accounted for the absolute ruralness and my natural tendency toward laziness.

Still, I felt stunted intellectually and creatively (motherhood can have that affect) and toyed with the idea of writing books. I certainly read a lot. When I fell in love with And Ladies of the Club, I thought, “I’d love to write a book like that someday.” Then I read Santmyer published the book at age 88 and that it took her 50 years to write it. If it was going to take 50 years for me to write a book, I decided I’d better start right away.

I began with baby steps. I wrote articles, essays, short stories. I even covered sports for a local newspaper. I started selling a few things and gaining more confidence. I eventually wrote a super-bad novel. Then another one. Those led me to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, a group dedicated to helping writers publish in commercial fiction. That group is the most amazing collection of writers in the universe. Through the yearly conference I learned the basics, then the business and after all the required hours and words written, I finally published a thriller in 2010 and then the Nora Abbott mystery series with Midnight Ink. (Tainted Mountain 2013, Broken Trust 2014, and Tattered Legacy 2015).

Along the way, I’ve gained inspiration from others, specifically Mari Sandoz. Sandoz grew up in the Nebraska Sandhills, in the early part of the 20th century, when survival was a full-time job. Her abusive father thought writers were less than worthless. Yet Sandoz prevailed. She suffered more rejections than would stymie almost anyone else. At one point, she piled all of her manuscripts in her backyard in Lincoln, Nebraska and burned them. But she went on to become a bestseller, an award winner, and an icon. And she started out in the same harsh bit of the country where I’d placed myself.

Other writers come to mind when I think of inspiration. In A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley wrote about rural America. Barbara Kingsolver is a goddess. Any time I feel lost or like throwing in the towel, I reread Stephen King’s On Writing, and I’m back at the keyboard.

I probably will never write an epic like And Ladies of the Club. And I’ve read so many amazing books since then that make me wish I could write them. But Santmeyer’s long journey made me realize I had to start and set me on the road to creating my own stories. I don’t know whether to thank or curse her!

What stories have inspired your life?
Shannon Baker
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, book two of the series, takes place in Boulder, CO and was released in March. She is 2014 RMFW Writer of the Year. She is a member of SinC and MWA. Visit Shannon at



Shannon Baker said...

Hi Tracy!
I've been on the road this morning. Hope it's sunshiny in Portland!

Linda O. Johnston said...

Welcome to Killer Hobbies, Shannon. I love the story of what inspired you to write!

Shannon Baker said...

Thanks, Linda. Sometimes I think I drifted into writing without a conscious choice. Seems like I started on a whim and kept getting sucked into learning and writing more.

Claire said...

Thanks for sharing that, Shannon. We all are on solo journeys, in a way, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't commune with other writers and absorb the synergy that brings. I'm so glad you discovered that truth.

DogsMom said...

This is an inspiring interview.
I have always been a voracious reader and a wanna be writer. I like your message of don't give up.