Interview: Author, Shannon Baker with Giveaway!

Filed in Giveaways , Interview , Shannon Baker , The Obsessed Lover Posted on February 25, 2010 @ 10:20 am 10 comments

Today, we are excited to have debut novelist, Shannon Baker here to discuss her mystery/thriller, Ashes of the Red Heifer. She is also generously offering one copy of the book as a giveaway to one of our readers!
As soon as I heard this book was coming out I contacted the author and said “I need to read this book and would love the opportunity to review it!” A few months later I had the book in my hand and although I am only about halfway through it I can honestly say that it was worth the wait. Within the first few pages the action and mystery start and so far haven’t stopped – the pacing is ideal for the content. Larissa (The Crazy Book Lover) and I will be doing a duel-review/discussion of Ashes of the Red Heifer next month. It is a discussion you won’t want to miss – there is a lot to discuss. We will let you know as soon as we have an exact date for the discussion.
And now, On With the Show…
Interview: Shannon Baker, author Ashes of the Red Heifer

The Obsessed Book Lover: What is your favorite color and what do you think it says about you or how does it represent you?
Shannon Baker: Blue has always been my favorite color. Wouldn’t it be great if it meant I was cool and bright. I suspect it has more to do with a story from childhood. I was one of about 10 girl cousins, ranked somewhere in the middle. At one time in the sixties, my grandmother knitted each of us a cape. Everyone else got identical white ones. Mine was blue because Grandma said she couldn’t imagine me in any other color. That one incident made me feel special and particularly loved and I will never forget it. I suspect Grandma did something like that for each of the cousins at one point.

TOBL: What is your favorite type of music?
SB: I’m a rocker. In fact, I had several opportunities to meet and go out with my partner before I did. I kept avioding being set up with him. The breaking point came when he ended up with tickets to a Stones concert and was looking for a date. I decided I could put up with anyone if I could see Mick and the Boys. The best thing is that I not only got my Stones fix, I discovered a terrific man.

TOBL: Many authors talk about the music they listen to while they write. Do you listen to music while you write?
SB: If I’m not really “in the zone” while writing, music tends to scatter my brain cells. If I’m into the story, I could be sitting in Circus Maximus during Ben Hur’s chariot race and I wouldn’t hear a hoof-beat.

TOBL: The subject-matter, content and setting for Ashes of the Red Heifer is fairly intense and in some respects controversial. What inspired you to write this book?

SB: I read an article in The New Yorker that talked about a man in Mississippi who thought God was leading him to create this Biblical animal to help Israel regain its former glory. The more I read about it, the crazier it seemed to me. Then I found out he’d enlisted a Nebraska rancher to create a herd and ship it to Israel. Is the guy a shyster or does he really believe?

While at a writers conference I was sharing a room with three other brilliant writers and late at night I told them about this article. One said, “When are you going to write the book?” Funny, that was the first time I’d thought about using it for a plot. That just goes to show that sleeping with smart women can be a very good thing.

TOBL: What type of research did you do in preparation for writing this book?

SB: Because I’m not from Israel and I’m not Jewish or Muslim, I had to do tons of research. And because of those reasons, I had to have a protagonist that was as ignorant of these issues as was I.  Other characters can tell Annie about their beliefs but until she filters it through her own experience, she can’t understand it. That’s how I see the point of view of this book. I didn’t try to write it as though I understand what it is to be Jewish or Muslim, but what it is like for Annie to be thrust up against these people she has little reference for.

TOBL: Were you surprised by any of the things you learned in the process?
SB: Surprised? Not so much as fascinated. When it comes to religion, so many people are willing to set logic, compassion, humanity aside. I’m sure each religion starts out on a basis of good. But it can become so distorted with control and fear it becomes unrecognizable. Some of the rituals and rules get surprising in their illogic and detail and it is surprising to me that people go along without questioning the authority.

TOBL: One of the important themes in the book is the rite of animal sacrifice, which is a modern taboo. Was it hard to write about about or disturbing to research?
SB: From what I understand, the only reason Jews don’t practice the sacrifices now is that they can’t perform them in the Temple (because they don’t have the means to become pure and enter the presense of God). I have never seen an animal sacrifice and would be appalled at the idea of killing an innocent animal for ritual purposes–as would most of us. But, aside from the red heifer sacrifice, the animals used in these rituals were all eaten and they weren’t tortured so it’s probably more respectful to the animal than knocking them in the head with all ball pein hammer in a slaughter house.
I didn’t think too hard or long about sprinkling blood here and there or smelling the burnt offering. I spent a lot of time on a ranch so I’ve seen castrations and brandings and am generally desensitized to some of this stuff. 

TOBL: Have you always wanted to be an author? Did you start writing at a young age or was it something you were inspired to do as an adult?
SB: My older sister was always the deep thinker and the writer. I was the shallow actress. But after I was married and living in a patriarchal society within a pretty controlling family, I needed something that was mine. So I started writing. And then I started selling articles and somewhere along the line, out of some distorted sense of reality, I convinced myself I could write a novel. I wrote a few and several times have tried to stop writing all together. But it’s some sort of sick addiction and I keep going back to it.

TOBL: How old were you when you started reading?

SB: I don’t remember not reading. Even when the letters didn’t make sense to me, I lugged my books around and “read” the stories. Bless my mother’s heart, she loved to read to us. My favorite was, and still is, Winnie-the-Pooh. You can’t imagine my disappointment when they made it a cartoon. I read Where the Wild Things Are so many times to my children. When it came out last year as a movie, I actually cried. Did anyone else feel betrayed by that?

TOBL: What authors or books have influenced your writing the most?
SB: Right now I’m really thankful to Carol Berg (just released Spirit Lens) who writes the best characters. I’m learning a bit about point of view and it was a big aha moment.
Jameson Cole (A Killing In Quail County) mentored many of us in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. His grasp of craft and fundamentals was essential for even beginning to put a story on paper.
Say what you will about Dan Brown, but the guy knows how to keep you turning pages and I’d love to learn how he does that.

And then there is Mari Sandoz, a writer from the Nebraska Sandhills. She piled up rejection after rejection, went through hell to keep writing and eventually ended up extremely successful.  I love that, “I think I can” spirit.

TOBL: Being an accountant by day and now a published novelist, what would you say to people who say everyone is either right brain (creative side) dominate or left brain (analytical side) dominant  – but never both?
SB: Balance. All of one thing or another hardly ever works. But there are certainly differences in one side being dominate over another. For instance, a Barbara Kingsolver or Anne Tyler or Margaret Atwood can take ordinary situations and draw readers so deeply into their stories we can hardly breathe without them giving us release. That’s art; creative. You read just to roll the words around on your tongue.
Then you have someone like Stieg Larsson (I just finished reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) who puts together a story with all the right elements. It’s interesting, it’s entertaining, but it isn’t magic. And that’s left brain craft.
Without enough left brain analysis to put a plot together all those wonderful words take you nowhere. But plot without some creative twists is a newspaper article.

TOBL: If there was one thought or feeling you would want readers to take away from reading Ashes of the Red Heifer, what would it be?

SB: Where can I get the next book by this amazing writer?
Seriously, I’m not trying to influence anyone or set out an agenda. I just want to tell a story that keeps people surprised and turning pages.

TOBL: Last but not least, what advice would you give to someone who is living their life doing something that is not fulfilling to them – but has a dream they aren’t chasing?

SB: This is a deep question, Heather. You do know that I’m a shallow person, right? But I have two daughters and they understandably don’t want my advice so this is my chance to let loose.
You can’t win if you don’t play.
Or as a friend used to tell me when I was struggling with some tough decisions, “Life is too damned long to be miserable.”

Thank you, Heather, for the great interview. I hope you’re enjoying Ashes of the Red Heifer.

About the Author:  
Shannon Baker has an MBA and is an accountant by trade, a mild-mannered career that some may even call boring. To compensate, she concocts thrillers. The constant right brain/left brain conflict explains a lot about her personality. A lover of mountains, plains, deserts, oceans and rivers, she can often be found traipsing around outside. 
For more information about Shannon Baker please visit her website

About the Book:
An ancient prophecy.
A terrible secret.
A deadly conspiracy.
Annie Grant, a strong-willed veterinarian is in Israel, just days from finding a cure for a deadly bovine disease threatening to cross into the human population. She can save millions of lives and her success might help heal the rupture with her family caused when she walked away from the Nebraska ranch she loves. When her research is disrupted by a bomb, she and her lover are kidnapped by a fanatical Jewish group intent on forcing God’s hand.
Is Annie the chosen of God, destined to fulfill ancient Hebrew prophecy?

Using her best friend as hostage, the group forces Annie to find the cure and engineer the birth of a perfect red heifer in Israel, making it possible for Jews to rebuild their temple. Battling time and trapped in the bloody crossfire between rabid Zionists fighting to recapture Israel’s glory, militant Muslims determined to stop them and fanatical Christians anticipating rapture, Annie must choose. Her own life. Or an apocalyptic war. The future of the world. Or the ashes of the red heifer.

 Giveaway Info:
To Enter:

Ask Shannon a question.
Recommend a book for Shannon to add to her TBR List.

Leave a comment with your thoughts about the interview.
Additional Info:

Open internationally.

If the winner is a U.S. resident you will receive a paperback copy of the book.
If the winner is from outside the U.S. you will receive an e-copy of the book.

Ends: Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ashes of the Red Heifer can be purchased at the following locations:

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Join the Discussion
  • Joslyn February 25, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    I sat down to the read the book and couldn't put it down. It really is a page-turner. I know she has put in a lot of time and hard work to realize this book and we have all been rewarded with such a good read. If your planning on traveling, this is a great book for that long plane ride, or lounging on the beach, or even for a rainy Sunday all by yourself in your apartment in Pontivy!
    I am so proud of you mom and it is way better than a balloon in my locker!

  • shannonbaker February 25, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Thanks, Joslyn. The check's in the mail.

  • Pauline B Jones February 25, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Hi, Shannon! I have a copy of the book on my kindle, so not entering to win, but wanted to stop by and read the interview. Most interesting. Wondered if you saw the UK article about son of a Hamas leader who spied for Israel for years? Just in case you need a new story? LOL! The guy now lives in California, but he lived in the danger zone for a long time. Saved a lot of lives. I can't remember how many suicide bombers he stopped, but I was impressed.

    Pauline Baird Jones

  • shannonbaker February 25, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    I did see that article. Wow–some people have cajones of steel! Mine (in the metaphorical sense, of course) are more like oatmeal. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Pauline B Jones February 25, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    LOL! Me, too! I'm brave enough to write about brave people and that's about it. LOLOL!

  • deniserobbins February 25, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Great interview. Love the blue color story. Little author anecdotes are so much fun.

  • shannonbaker February 25, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Thanks Denise. My grandmother was pretty special. I still miss her almost daily.

  • Esther February 28, 2010 at 9:04 am

    I'll be very interested to read a non-Jewish POV on all the ritual and superstition surrounding the Red Heifer.

  • shannonbaker February 28, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Esther–are you Jewish? I would love to hear what you have to say about it after you've read it. Since I can't possibly know the heart of someone inside the Jewish faith and culture, I had to make my point of view character outside of it as well. I hope I'm not as close-minded as Annie can be. I know I'm certainly more curious about spiritual mysteries than she is. Thanks for commenting. And if you feel inclined, I would really like to hear your thoughts on Ashes of the Red Heifer.

  • Amanda Leigh March 2, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    Thanks so much for the interview, it was great! The book sounds very intriguing! I love learning about other religions, and it's always been fascinating to me seeing other people's views on them as well. That along with the fascinating plot, sounds like a great read!

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