Please welcome Kim Herdman Shapiro to Miss Demeanors. Kim’s roots in journalism and poetry, in print, broadcast, and video, took a new road when she decided to write the first Kate Zoe Thomas mystery, The Raven’s Cry. She discusses becoming a debut fiction author.
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.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-ravens-cry-kim-herdman-shapiro/1143236405?ean=9781685123031 or ordered from your favorite independent book store: ISBN-13 978-1685123031
Interview from IndieReader
IR: What is the name of the book and when was it published?
SHAPIRO: The name of the book is The Raven’s Cry. It was released by Level Best Books on March 14, 2023
IR:What’s the book’s first line?
SHAPIRO: The water slapped against the side of the boat, playing a staccato counterpoint to my racing heartbeat: beat, beat, beat, slap.
IR:What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch”.
SHAPIRO: TV producer Kate Zoë Thomas, fleeing an abduction in Afghanistan and heartbreak in Boston, accepts the first job that gives her a fresh start: station manager at a tiny community channel on Wynter Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands.
But, try as she may, Kate cannot outrun her bad luck. On a moonlit walk to a local beach, Kate spots a body bobbing in the surf. In shock, she recognizes the lifeless face and realizes there is only one person on the island with a motive for his murder.
Will she manage to solve the mystery before the murderer stops her?
IR:What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event?
SHAPIRO: I have always wanted to write a mystery, mainly because this is the genre I read the most. When the pandemic arrived, I found myself with a window of time where I could try writing a mystery. I wanted to base it on my home, the places I knew and loved when I was growing up: Vancouver, the Gulf Islands, and Victoria, BC.
IR:What’s the main reason someone should really read this book?
SHAPIRO: I think there is a demand for what I call the modern cozy: mysteries that include the small town characterizations which add life to a story, while still exisiting in a modern world with modern problems. I hope readers come to love the citizens of Wynter Island, while also enjoying the puzzle of the mystery.
IR:What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character? Who-real or fictional-would you say the character reminds you of?
SHAPIRO: I think the actress to play the role of Kate would definitely be Emma Stone. She comes across as very honest and direct, but still with a good sense of humor. And still able to be a bit of a goofball. That’s very much like Kate.
IR:When did you first decide to become an author?
SHAPIRO: I have written stories for pretty much as long as I have been able to hold a pen and paper. I received a fair amount of attention for my writing as a child, so in many ways I never really expected to do anything else. The only question was what was going to pay the bills! 🙂
IR:Is this the first book you’ve written?
SHAPIRO: No, but it is the first book I’ve written since having children. I put my writing career on hold for twenty years to look after my sons as well as our growing herd of small, furry creatures.
IR:What do you do for work when you’re not writing?
SHAPIRO: I used to be a journalist, first in print and then broadcast journalism.
IR:How much time do you generally spend on your writing?
SHAPIRO: Probably about four hours a day, including weekends. I usually either write, outline or research in the mornings and have a late lunch.
IR:What’s the best and the hardest part of being an indie?
SHAPIRO: The best part is having a really close, co-operative relationship with my editor and publishing house. Small presses are doing this because they love the work – not for the money. The hardest is not having a large marketing department behind your book.
IR:What’s a great piece of advice that you can share with fellow indie authors?
SHAPIRO: Network, network, network! Join local and national writer’s organizations and attend their in-person or zoom meetings and seminars. Writing, like most businesses, is helped by forging relationships with people who will not only help you with your manuscript, but also offer sound advice and support when you need it.
IR:Would you go traditional if a publisher came calling? If so, why?
SHAPIRO: By traditional I’m thinking you mean one of the Big Five publishing houses. Well, never say never, but I am happy with Level Best Books and the excellent working environment and support they provide for their authors.
IR:Is there something in particular that motivates you (fame? fortune?)
SHAPIRO: It is a lovely feeling to have someone come up and tell you that they enjoyed your work and that, perhaps for a short time, it gave them a bit of joy and distraction in their life. That’s really why most of us do this.
IR:Which writer, living or dead, do you most admire?
SHAPIRO: As far as mysteries are concerned, I am a huge fan of Louise Penny and her Inspector Gamache novels. Also Julia Spencer-Fleming, Ann Cleeves …. The list could go on and on. There are so many excellent writers out there.
IR:Which book do you wish you could have written?
SHAPIRO: Two books that I found transformative when I was young were To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.
Interview from The Feathered Quill
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ephantus Gold is talking with Kim Herdman Shapiro, author of The Raven's Cry: A Wynter Island Mystery.
FQ: The Raven's Cry suggests a deeply thought title. Although I've read the book, I would still like to hear and understand more about the idea behind this thought-provoking title.
SHAPIRO: When I was plotting this book, I wanted to make sure to include some examples of the Indigenous culture of British Columbia, in particular their rich connection with the land. There is a beautiful sculpture by Canadian artist, Bill Reid, entitled The Raven and the First Men, that I thought of. I then needed to figure out a way to include this imagery/mythology in the book. Voila! The Raven’s Cry!
FQ: Is Wynter Island a real place (I searched online and couldn't find it - but there are a lot of islands included in the Canadian Gulf Islands)? If it's real, what drew you to it, and if it's not, might it be based on an island you visited?
SHAPIRO: No, Wynter Island is not a real place. It is an amalgam of several of the Gulf Islands, with a particular emphasis on Pender Island, British Columbia. I have family and friends who live there. Luckily, I have been able to spend a fair amount of time there, as well as had the opportunity to eavesdrop on the small island gossip!
FQ: Jupiter is an animal character that brings out the best in Kate and is bound to make the book even more enjoyable to many readers, especially animal lovers. Do you have any plans of continuing with him in the next series? Two, why did you choose the name Jupiter for him?
SHAPIRO: Jupiter has been by far the most loved character in the series, and I have no intention of messing with that. So Jupiter is not going anywhere! I am a big animal lover, and have three dogs of my own. The name Jupiter just came to me several years ago, before I even started writing the book.
FQ: There were a lot of twists and turns in The Raven's Cry. Were these all planned out before you began writing, or did they "write themselves" as the story came together?
SHAPIRO: Outline, outline, outline! I am not a pantser! In fact, I spent several months plotting all the details of this story. Certainly, there may be a natural growth and change in the story while I’m writing, but the intricacy of the plot is already worked out. I want readers to be able to enjoy a complicated puzzle with lots of surprises. That’s part of what I love about mysteries!
FQ: Your first book Gelato with the Pope: and Other Adventures of a Travel Writer in Europe has a great title and sounds like a fun read. Would you tell our readers a little about it?
SHAPIRO: Gelato with the Pope is based on my time as a syndicated travel columnist in the Nineties. It is a fun romp through the many adventures I had - and the many mistakes I made along the way. Like thinking I could avoid the security at the Queen’s Trooping of the Colour parade only to have it end badly. Very badly. Namely me, face down on the Mall, soldiers and police officers swarming everywhere. There is also a sweet love story, as I met someone on that journey.
FQ: Speaking of your first book, you've gone from writing a travel book to embarking on a new mystery series. That's quite a jump in genres. Was mystery writing always something you wanted to tackle?
SHAPIRO: I always planned on writing fiction, but got diverted into journalism and then non-fiction when I was scooped up to be a newspaper columnist while still at university. The pandemic gave me a window of time to have a crack at writing fiction and I went to the genre that I read the most: mysteries.
FQ: The fascination with murder mysteries continues to grow - it's a huge market (all the true crime shows on t.v. are a good indicator). Why do you think the general public is so fascinated?
SHAPIRO: I think it is a part of our nature to be curious, as well as to want to know how and why something has occurred. You throw into that mix interesting characters and human drama - sometimes all too real - and people are hooked.
FQ: You've been busy working on a video project, What the Hell is a Toque? Would you tell us a little about it?
SHAPIRO: What the Hell is a Toque? is a video project I started with my sons when they were eleven and fourteen. I wanted them to understand something about where their mother came from - Canada - as well as have an opportunity to see incredible things and meet a wide variety of people. It felt very much to me that the world was getting smaller then - small enough to fit on to the screen of a computer - and I wanted them to realize how vast the world and its peoples really were. So they have been from the tip of Newfoundland to the Pacific, with polar bears and beluga whales in between. And they have learned the bad as well as the good. They understand that no one, no country, is perfect, and that Canada has its own mistakes to mourn and remember.
FQ: Your watercolor paintings are beautiful! How long have you been painting? What inspires you? I'd love to learn a little about your background in painting!
SHAPIRO: Painting has always been a part of my life as my Great Aunt was involved in the Canadian art movement of the early twentieth century. I started actively painting watercolors about thirty years ago, but stopped when I had children and animals racing around my water jar and paint palettes! I’ve been able to return to it using the new digital painting options on my iPad.
FQ: What's next for Kate (and hopefully Jupiter)? Would you give our readers a sneak peek into book 2 in the Wynter Island Mystery series?
SHAPIRO: Well, Book 2 is completed and with my publishers. It is called The Loon’s Song, and my editor has agreed to allow me to give your readers an advance taste. It will be released in Spring of 2024.
Beautiful actress, Rosalie Morgann, returns home to Wynter Island
seventeen years after she fled because of her romantic liaisons
with numerous island husbands.
Not many islanders are pleased to see her return, and even fewer
are interested in hearing what she has to say for herself.
Rosalie manages to convince Kate Thomas - manager of the
local community television station - to allow her on their inaugural
broadcast from the newly redesigned studio. When Rosalie dies,
live on-air, there are almost too many suspects for the RCMP to consider!
With the station’s financial sponsorship now at risk,
Kate must help the police find the killer or risk losing
the station and her new home on Wynter Island.