Julie Kramer moved from fellow journalist to novelist. She writes a mystery series set in the desperate world of television news—a world she knows well from her career working as a freelance news producer for NBC and CBS, as well as running the WCCO-TV I-Team in Minneapolis, where she won numerous national investigative awards. Her thrillers take readers inside inside the newsrooms and demonstrate how decisions are made amid the chaos.
She's won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, Minnesota Book Award and the RT Book Review's Best First Mystery. She's also been a finalist for the Anthony, Barry, Shamus, Mary Higgins Clark, and RT Best Amateur Sleuth Awards.
Julie, tell us about Shunning Sarah.
Shunning Sarah pits two very different cultures against each other: TV news vs. the Amish. I grew up on a family farm in rural Minnesota near some Amish and later spent a career in television news. Writing this book allowed me to incorporate both experiences and live my research. It is a very topical story dealing with real life issues amid the closed society of the Amish - including hair cutting by a rogue Amish sect.
Here’s the story basics: A sketch of a homicide victim’s face is broadcast on the news, but when she is identified as Sarah Yoder, a local Amish woman, the police have difficulty investigating because her family believes in forgiveness rather than prosecution. Because of the biblical ban on graven imagines, they also object to her picture being used by the media. But when a TV reporter finds a clue the cops miss, she uncovers a dark web of fraud and deception - driven by motives as old as the Bible: sex and money.
How does this latest novel differ from the others in the series?
While each of my thrillers features the same protagonist - investigative TV reporter Riley Spartz - they are all self-contained, so new readers don’t have to start with my debut to make sense of the others. But each book delves into very different murders and news stories, so fans won’t feel they’ve read this before. Besides incorporating Amish elements, SHUNNING SARAH also looks at how television newsrooms are changing - and not always for the better.
Why did you decide to use two word titles with the same letters for all your novels?
While writing my debut, Stalking Susan was my working title. My editor loved it and didn’t want to hear any others. For my second book, my working title was Never Worn - after a wedding dress want ad. I thought it sounded mysterious and poignant. My editor thought it sounded dull and boring. In a smart-alecky moment, I asked, “So what do you want to call it? MISSING MARK?” She said, yeah...and didn’t want to hear any other titles. That’s how my books became branded. The verb is actually more important than the name. Once I’ve locked in on the verb I figure out a title character name. For instance, I wanted to use “shunning” and I needed an Amish name, so I picked “Sarah.”
How did your protagonist Riley Spartz come about? You gave your TV reporter an unusual name. How did it originate?
Her name didn’t seem unusual at the time. Spartz was my mother’s maiden name and I used it as a salute to her. I’ve always liked the name Riley, and had wanted to use it for one of my kids. But my husband didn’t. So they are named Alex and Andrew. But when the time came to name my heroine, I didn’t hesitate. Neither my agent nor my editor ever suggested changing her name.
Which character traits do you share with Riley Spartz?
I spent a career in television news, I like to think my protagonist and I are both smart, savvy and relish scooping the competition. But she is more ratings driven than I was....partly because it’s now become more of a necessity in TV news. I was always a news producer so my work was behind the scenes - in the field and in the newsroom. I decided for storytelling purposes, my heroine needed the added pressure of being on camera.
You’ve had some great reviews. Which do you cherish most?
I’ve gotten fabulous national reviews from People Magazine, USA Today, and the Associated Press, but I cherish any positive review and especially enjoy hearing from readers.
Advice for fledgling novelists?
Don’t worry on page one whether or not your concept is believable or not. It’s your job as a writer to make it believable. That’s a better question to ask a hundred pages into your manuscript, otherwise you might talk yourself out of a cool premise. Remember truth is stranger than fiction. Sometimes a reader will ask me, “That couldn’t really happen, right?” I reply that nothing in my books is as crazy as what they’ll see on the news tonight.
What’s the biggest difference between writing fiction and writing news?
In fiction, books always have resolution. In real life news events, that doesn’t always happen.