My biggest author fantasy is seeing someone reading my book on an airplane. That hasn’t happened yet, but I have actually seen someone checking it out of the library. And that was pretty cool.
I’d always hoped to be a librarian. Instead, I became a journalist, while my sister works in a library—a fact she throws in my face constantly.
I grew up on a corn and cattle farm along a gravel road on the Minnesota–Iowa State Line. My fondest, best childhood memories were waiting for the Bookmobile to bring me a new Phyllis A. Whitney book.
Libraries kept me company through grade school, high school, college— even story hour with my own kids. And libraries were there for me when I decided to write my own novel. After all, when you’ve spent your life surrounded by books, the idea of writing one doesn’t seem that unusual.
Besides the obvious task of stocking books, libraries create authors by giving inspiration, a place for research, a platform to meet readers in person, and sometimes even a cozy corner to get out of the house and write.
An author friend of mine insists before you can write a publishable book, you probably have to write a million words. I’d also wager that you have to read ten million. So before I started writing, one of the first things I did was go to the library. I wanted to write what I read—thrillers with strong female protagonists in interesting jobs: Kathy Reichs, Tami Hoag, Linda Fairstein, Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwall.
My plan was to reread each of my favorite authors’ debut books and try to analyze what made them successful. So I spent about a year doing that. That was the best part of writing a book. That, and curling up at the library with the New York Times book review section and imagining.
Then came the actual sitting in front of the computer and typing part. My day job is as a journalist, so I’ve written a lot of words over the years. In fact, I often complained how much easier my work would be if I didn’t have to always stick to the facts. News would be so much easier to write if we could just make it up.
What a surprise to now hear me complain about how much easier my work would be if only I had some facts.
For those of us geared in reality, making things up can feel like cheating. So to get past that, I started checking out books about writing fiction. I’d check some out three or four or five times as I got to different stages of my project. Before long, I had built my own home library of books about writing books.
One of the books I checked out numerous times is called WRITING MYSTERIES, which includes chapters by famous authors. And when I saw that the chapter on pacing and suspense was written by Phyllis A. Whitney, I sensed I was on the right track. And it worked. I took her advice about curiosity, emotion, viewpoint, and giving every character a secret. Eventually, I had a big pile of pages.
Then I started checking out books about researching agents. And it worked. Soon I had an agent.
Then I started checking out books about the publishing industry. All the while, I was revising and improving my manuscript. My agent landed a deal with Doubleday and my editor decided to market my book, STALKING SUSAN under suspense. Just like Phyllis A. Whitney.
I love reading, but I tired of fictional TV reporters often being portrayed as obnoxious secondary characters who could be killed off whenever the plot started dragging. So I decided why should prosecutors, medical examiners, and forensics anthropologists get literary heroines and not us journalists? So I invented one.
My first book, STALKING SUSAN takes readers into the desperate world of TV ratings where an investigative reporter discovers that a serial killer is targeting women named Susan and killing one on the same day each year.
People ask me if I have some special enemy named Susan? No. This isn’t a work of revenge. Some stories stay with journalists long after the newscast wraps. A decade ago, I covered two cold case homicides that inspired me to write STALKING SUSAN. The cases involved two women, both named Susan, who were strangled exactly two years apart. Their cases remain unsolved 25 years later. But in the world of fiction, I was free to ask, what if? What if a serial killer was at large?
For part of my research on those cases, I also visited the library’s microfiche section to look up old newspaper clippings. Not everything is searchable online.
As I launched my book, I always made sure to mention the two women by name—Susan Ginger Peterson and Susan Jean Reineck—in media interviews and remind people that their cases remained open. Soon, the St. Paul Police Cold Case Unit took a fresh look at the homicides. Recently, they announced that new forensics on old evidence (a plot point I used in my novel) showed that DNA proves the women had separate killers. And while the murderers remain free, the police are another step closer to finding them.
Another big thrill in being an author was seeing my book on the library’s Rent A Book table.
Also, at book conventions like PLA, Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, and Mayhem in the Midlands, I’ve met numerous librarians who’ve given me an “atta girl” for my efforts so far.
While many authors are addicted to checking their Amazon numbers. I’ve been preoccupied with my World Cat numbers, which reflect how many libraries carry my book. Currently, the figure stands at 740. Now that STALKING SUSAN has been on an award-winning roll and is coming out in paperback, I’m hoping more libraries add it to their catalogs.
And here’s another library number that gives me glee. My sequel, MISSING MARK, isn’t out until July 14, 2009, but already hundreds of readers are on the county library waiting list, anxious to find out what happens next and what the wedding dress on the cover means. Hint: my TV reporter-heroine answers a want ad reading “Wedding Dress For Sale: Never Worn” and is drawn into a dangerous missing person case.
Libraries have also built my author platform by creating community buzz and helping me improve my public speaking skills. So far, I’ve spoken at seven libraries, one library county in-service meeting, and another regional meeting of librarians. I have even more library events scheduled in the coming months. My most popular speaking prop with the audiences so far has been a paper figure of a man I bulls-eyed at the shooting range for research. This time around, I’m thinking of waving my wedding dress at the crowd.
Julie Kramer’s next book, MISSING MARK, will be released July 14, 2009 by Doubleday.
Her debut, STALKING SUSAN, won both the Minnesota Book Award for genre fiction and Best First Mystery for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award, and was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. It was also recently nominated for an Anthony Award. The paperback is available June 23, 2009 from Anchor Books. For more information, please visit juliekramerbooks.com.