Award-winning freelance network television producer, Julie Kramer is a journalist who wrote two mystery/suspense novels based on cold cases in her home state of Minnesota. Her award-winning Stalking Susan was followed by Missing Mark. Julie's latest release is Silencing Sam, featuring a gossip columnist who maligns one too many people and winds up dead, among other grisly murders.
Julie, has your early background growing up on a cattle farm influenced your writing in any way?
I grew up along the Minnesota-Iowa state line on a farm that's been in my family for 130 years. It was a hard knock life. And it taught me to work hard. And whatever job I've ever had, bosses and coworkers have marveled at my work ethic.
I also grew up reading a lot of fiction, probably to escape the real world. Some of my best childhood memories involved waiting for the bookmobile to bring a new Phyllis A. Whitney book.
Why did you decide to feature a TV reporter as the protagonist in your series?
In television, a reporter works on camera; a producer works behind the scenes. But both are journalists, and both do their share of writing. As a career television news producer, I feel some guilt that I made my heroine, Riley Spartz, a reporter instead of a producer. but I decided that the role of a reporter gave my character more variety for plot and character development. And that now was not the time to give producers their due, no matter how deserved.
Stalking Susan was nominated for an Anthony Award. It also won a Minnesota Book Award, the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice for Best First Mystery, and was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Why do you think it garnered such attention?
When I sat down to write a book, I wanted to write a book I could write better than anyone else. That's why Stalking Susan is set in the desperate world of TV news. A reporter discovers a serial killer is targeting women named Susan, killing one on the same day each year. It's your basic serial killer story using the Bible and the calender. But many critics feel the strength of the story comes from the insider newsroom information I weave into the plot. That's something I felt I could do better than anyone else. If I had to build a fantasy world of wizards, I think I'd be stumped.
How much of your books are autobiographical?
There's certainly a little bit of me in the protagonist. But the characters in the book also include a little bit of everyone I ever worked with, for, or against in television news. The premise - killer targeting Susans - comes from a couple of cold cases I covered as a journalist a decade ago. Two women, both named Susan, were strangled on the same day two years apart in St. Paul, Minnesota, and disappeared from the poor neighborhood; their bodies were dumped in the same affluent neighborhood. As a journalist, I told their story.
As a novelist, I was free to ask what if? It's now been 25 years, the killings are still unsolved, but there's been a new development: because of publicity about Stalking Susan, the St. Paul Cold Case Unit took another look at the homicides and found DNA evidence that can now be tested. Conclusion: Two separate killers whose DNA is not on file. Getting DNA gets them closer to finding the killer.
What does your job entail as a freelance news producer for TV networks and how did you get the job?
Sometimes my assignments involve screening and booking guests for shows, or supervising live shots or feeds in the field, or conducting interviews for taped pieces...news producing includes a wide range of skills. Prior to working as a network freelancer, I was a national award-winning investigative producer at WCCO-TV in Minneapolis. I left the station when my kids were young because I didn't want to work full time. About six months later, NBC called with a freelance assignment. It was September 11th and the network had gotten a tip that something had happened at a flight school in Minnesota. All the airports were closed and they had no way to get a team on the ground. It ended up being a good long term arrangement for both of us. Part time work, but still good stories.
Right now freelance work is slow because the media is in a meltdown as readers and viewers change how they get their news. Money is short, but I tell myself, this gives me time to concentrate on the world of publishing. But just recently I worked for CBS News covering the cancer kid whose mother took him on the run to avoid chemotherapy.
What’s it like being interviewed on air as an author instead of working behind the cameras?
You give up control, and that's hard. I also have to remember to brush my hair and put on face powder. Okay, confession time: I bought an airbrush make up kit so my skin can look nice like Katie Couric's.
Which do you prefer, TV journalism or writing novels?
Love the one you're with. In both jobs, the highs are high and the lows are low. And the highs tend to be brief and the lows tend to be long.
What’s your work and writing schedule like? And do you aim for a certain amount of words at each writing session?
I try to write during the day when the kids are in school. I don't have a set formula. Outlining is hard for me. I do better writing on the fly. Sort of like covering breaking news.
Advice for novice writers and TV producers?
You can go farther than you think in your story-telling. Sometimes writers tell me they hold back because they don't think readers will find a scene or premise believable. I tell them to remember, truth is stranger than fiction. I say, would you believe it if I wrote a book about a woman who drove across the country to kill a rival for her lover? How about, in order for her to save time on the trip, she wore a diaper? And what if I made her an astronaut? See what I mean?
Julie's website: www.juliekramerbooks.com
Her interview is included in Mysterious Writers.
Watch her book trailer at: Silencing Sam.