Marni Graff: Kim, thanks so much for sharing your story of turning to crime with Miss Demeanors.
Before we talk about your new book, I’d like you to explain to our readers, and to other aspiring writers, about your journey to crime fiction. Like many of us, you did other things before writing mysteries. You have extensive experience in print and broadcast journalism, as well as poetry and your travel columns, and have published both. Can you tell us what made you turn to crime writing?
Kim Herdman Shapiro: Like a lot of people, I found myself with some free time on my hands during the pandemic. I decided to use some of that free time to take a stab at writing fiction. My journalistic career and my previous book, “Gelato with the Pope” were non-fiction, so this was new territory for me. The only thing I knew for sure was that it would have to be a mystery. Since childhood, mysteries have always been my favorite genre to read. The only problem was that first, I had to figure out how to write one!
MG: Were any of the contacts from your previous jobs instrumental in getting Level Best Books to publish you?
KHS: No, I’m afraid not. I left the world of journalism more than twenty years ago to raise my two sons. Journalism – and everything else – has changed dramatically since then!
MG: I wrote in my notes after reading The Raven’s Cry that the book shows a poet’s prose with an eye for description. How easy or difficult was it for you to make the transition to a mystery? Did you find it useful to have written non-fiction before writing fiction?
KHS: I found it very useful to have a journalism career before tackling fiction, mainly because it taught me to be diligent about my writing. Sometimes you feel that you need that bolt of creativity to be able to sit down and write. But having to write to a deadline takes away the luxury of free time from your writing. You just have to put your butt in a chair and start working. I love Hemingway’s quote: “There is nothing to writing. You just sit at a typewriter and bleed.” Very true!
I also liked to focus on profile pieces in my writing, either of individuals or places, which I think led quite organically to crime writing. I’ve always been fascinated by people and their stories, and few stories are more fascinating than murder!
MG: The book is set in a small community on Wynter Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands. What made you choose that wild, natural setting?
KHS: I grew up in that area of Southwestern British Columbia: Vancouver, the Gulf Islands, and Victoria. My mind immediately went back there when I was choosing a setting for this novel. The rugged beauty of the British Columbia coastline, along with our First Nations Peoples’ strong connection to the land, was something I wanted to highlight in The Raven’s Cry. The Gulf Islands are also an area whose isolation has led them to remain very much as they were ten or twenty years ago. Minimal development, abundant nature, a small population of somewhat eccentric characters: a real community. Except that now there are Etsy entrepreneurs along with the aging hippies and retirees!
MG: Your protagonist, Kate Zoe Thomas, arrives on Wynter Island to become the TV station manager and quickly finds that despite the island’s small population, the job is more complex than she expected. I enjoyed how you used your broadcasting background and travel columns to influence that decision to some degree, a world you already know well. How did you decide on the storyline, and on making Kate a murder suspect?
KHS: I’m a great believer in using what you know. Readers can tell when an author truly knows what they are writing about. So the broadcast journalist piece and Kate’s character came easily to me. For the rest of the storyline, I knew I needed to create an intricate puzzle for readers to try and solve. One where they literally didn’t know until the final pages who the murderer was. Hopefully, I did that! But it did mean a lot of labyrinthine plotting and planning to get there.
MG: Writing crime fiction needs a gripping story, and yours was an Editor’s Pick from BookLife/PublishersWeekly. Did that early acknowledgment push you into the idea of a series, or was that always your intent?
KHS: Although the praise from BookLife/PublishersWeekly was wonderful, I had always planned on making this a series. Can we say a Type A personality? 🙂 So I was lucky to have a roadmap of where I wanted the series to go before I got the multi-book deal from Level Best.
MG: Tell us about your video project, What the Hell is a Toque?
KHS: What the Hell is a Toque is a video project I undertook with my two – then young – sons to teach them about Canada. Growing up in the United States, they were familiar with their Dad’s history and homeland but needed to learn more about where their mother came from. Their generation’s perception of the world seems to come mainly via a laptop monitor or a smartphone screen. I wanted them to be able to smell the seawater of the Atlantic and feel the freezing winds on the top of the Rockies, not just experience them virtually.
MG: I know you are a board member of Sisters in Crime, New England—how have you found the crime writing community versus the journalism world?
KHS: I think there are more similarities than differences. The skills needed to be a journalist are quite similar to those needed to write crime: a curiosity about the world around you and the people in it, an eye for detail, and a creative desire to put all of this down in print for others to read. As far as the crime writing community, I found it to be extremely supportive and informative. I highly recommend your readers seek out their local mystery writing organization and check them out.
MG: Kim, thank you sincerely for sharing your thoughts with us today. You can find The Raven’s Cry online at Amazon https://a.co/d/ceUMldV and Barnes and Noble https://www.
In addition to her syndicated travel column, she has written feature articles for various publications, edited a monthly children’s publication in British Columbia, and had her poetry published in Do Whales Jump at Night? A Canadian Anthology of Children’s Poetry. She won a Microsoft Network web design award for Footloose, one of the first digital e-zines on the internet.
The Raven’s Cry is the first book in her new mystery series, The Wynter Island Mysteries. It is based in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia and follows a journalist seeking a new beginning after undergoing trauma in Afghanistan. Book II, The Loon’s Song, is due to be released in Spring 2024 from Level Best Books.
For the past eight years, she has been working on her video project, What the Hell is a Toque? This chronicles her travels with her sons from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island and up to the Canadian Arctic.
Kim is also a board member of Sisters in Crime New England.
She lives in New Hampshire with her husband, two sons, and three dogs.