Modern Technology and Old Fashioned Murder with Gilian Baker

What happens when you cross an entrepreneur with a literature professor and a frustrated blogger? Murder, of course!

My guest on today’s podcast, Gilian Baker, has been a writing teacher for years. When she started working on a story during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) a few years ago, the muses took hold and they haven’t let go yet.

Gilian and I chat about the very modern subject of her first cozy mystery novel, and the classic elements it also contains (a small town location and hemlock, naturally!). Gilian has two more books coming out this year and I will be sure to post and Tweet about them when they are released.

In the introduction I mention that my guest from episode 21, Vered Ehsani, has an amazing deal on right now for the box set of her Society for Paranormals mysteries, which she describes as ‘Lara Croft meets Jane Austen in colonial Kenya’. Three novels for $0.99. Click here to learn more and grab this box set. This price won’t last long.

Also (it’s an embarrassment of mystery novel riches this week), my guest from episode 8, Robin Storey, has just released her latest book called A Time for Penance. It is also on special for $0.99 until May 22. Click here to check that one out too!

This podcast episode is sponsored by the free mystery novella, Charlie Horse.

1890. Frontier British Columbia. When one of her students is accused of a crime, will new schoolteacher Julia Thom be able to prove his innocence?

For a limited time you can click here, or on the cover image at right to get your free copy.

You can find out more about today’s guest, Gilian Baker, and all her books on her website GilianBaker.com. You can also find her on Twitter @gilianbaker.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode

Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher.

You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.

Transcription of Interview with Gilian Baker

Alexandra: Hi everyone, this is “It’s a Mystery” podcast. I’m here today with Gilian Baker. Hi Gilian, welcome to the show.

Gilian: Hi, thank you for inviting me Alexandra.

Alexandra: I’m so happy to have you here. So let me give everyone a little introduction to you.

Gilian Baker is a former writing and literature professor who finally threw in the towel and decided just show ’em how it’s done. She has gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger and ghostwriter to her CV.

She currently uses her geeky superpowers only for good to entertain cozy mystery readers the world over. When she’s not plotting murder, you can find her pottering in her vegetable garden, knitting in front of the fire, snuggled up with her husband watching British mysteries or discussing literary theory with her daughter, which sounds like fun to me.

First of all let’s say that we’re here to talk about your first cozy mystery called “Blogging is Murder”, which is a Jade Blackwell mystery.

Tell us a little bit about the book.

Gilian: Jade Blackwell ends up getting herself embroiled by trying to help a friend, who is being hacked, whose business got hacked into. Her friend Liz is a blogger and her social media accounts, her website, everything has been hacked into by this woman named Connie. And it’s unusual because Connie is actually adding information, rather than taking information. So she’s really ruining Liz’s reputation. Jade decides she’s going to help, and what she does is ends up making everything worse and Liz lands in jail.

Then she has to really help out. So she gets her friend Gabrielle, who is her lawyer. She talks her into helping out her friend Liz and eventually Jade ends up falling into the crime, figured out who it was, “whodunit”. She just kind of fell into it. So it wasn’t a graceful kind of attempt. But she felt good about giving her friend her help.

Alexandra: Oh, good. And I noticed on your blog you have a post about 10 things that are similar between you and Jade.

Gilian: Yeah.

Alexandra: So you’re both bloggers. You’re both ex-professors. Correct?

Gilian: Yes.

Alexandra: Tell us a little bit about then where you and Jade are different perhaps, where you part ways.

Gilian: Probably I’m not as interested in… I don’t wonder as much about, “Did I make the right decision to give up life in academia?” Where a couple of times in the book, she really wonders, even though it’s been several years, “Should I have given up the safety of an academic job?” She was a tenure professor. Or, “Did I do the right thing, because I was ready for a change?”

In book one, that’s a really big concern for her and she goes back and forth. I don’t have that. I really thought I would miss teaching and I don’t.

I have plenty of things to keep myself occupied. I have several different branches to my business and so I’m always writing. Pretty much every day I’m writing something for someone. So that’s probably the biggest thing. I also live in a bigger town. I’ve never lived in Wyoming, but it’s a lot smaller town than what I’m used to.

I think we have more in common than we do that deviates. And the main reason for that is because when I first started writing this and got the idea for it, it was during NaNoWriMo, two years ago. Three years ago, almost.

My daughter was trying to talk me into joining it with her. We had never done it before and I was running a blog, running another business that was like a content store and also was freelance writing. I’m like, “When am I gonna have time to do all this? I can barely keep my head above water.”

The idea of Jade came to me and I decided it was so strong, I kept thinking about it. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. New ideas for the story kept popping up and so I just decided, “You know what? I’m gonna do it.” I’m gonna do NaNoWriMo and just see what happens.

A lot of what I wrote in the beginning for the book was actually just a catharsis for me because I was extremely frustrated as a blogger. I was working my heart out and wasn’t getting any traction, couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. It was just a really frustrating time for me and I just loved getting up early in the morning. And when the sun was still coming up and writing and just writing. It was only for me, so I thought. So I think that’s why she and I are so much alike.

I can’t imagine dropping everything and helping a friend get out of a murder charge. But we are both very inquisitive and like to know what’s going on. But so, I would say that that’s why we have more things in common, and I do have to say that I cut about 40,000 words from that first draft that I started in NaNoWriMo when I actually decided to publish. So all that internal dialog that I was working out, my therapy got cut.

Alexandra: Right.

Gilian: It was good for me to know as the author, but it wasn’t something. It wasn’t a lot of stuff that the reader wanted to know or needed to know about Jade.

Alexandra: Right, exactly.

At what point did you think this could be series?

Gilian: Once I started, I put it away for a couple of years. Most authors end up saying that…because I just didn’t have the time, just didn’t feel like it was a legitimate use of my time. I went on to make some changes in the business and gave up blogging for a while.

I was a lot happier, but I needed to fill that creative niche within me and pulled it back out and started reading it and I’m like, “This is really good.” And I knew I could write. I knew I could write.

I’d been teaching people to write forever. As I wrote and decided, “Okay. I’m going to publish this.” And really developed the plot. I just started getting other ideas, “In another book I could do this and in another book I could do this.” And I’ve got, I don’t know. Probably five really good ideas for future Jade Books. I don’t know if they’ll make the cut or not.

I love to read cozy mysteries, and I know that one of the reasons I love them is because they are in a series.

I love to get to know the character like she’s a friend and after a long day, I can get together with that friend. Even if I’ve read the book five times already, it’s just very comforting to know that I can anticipate what she’ll do next. So I think probably once I got serious about publishing is when I started allowing myself to think, “Wow. I could do more than just do this as a hobby. It could really be something that other people would enjoy reading.”

Alexandra: We should mention that there is a title for the next Jade book. It’s called “A Time to Kill Him”. Is that right?

Gilian: Yes.

Alexandra: And that will be out early next year? Is that right?

Gilian: In July.

Alexandra: July? Oh, July this year, 2017.

Gilian: Yes.

Alexandra: Okay, perfect.

Gilian: Then the third book should be out in December.

Alexandra: Oh my goodness, wow. So you’ve got two more this year. That’s fantastic.

Gilian: Thanks.

Alexandra: Now that you’re doing it more regularly and you pulled that book out of the drawer, do you have a regular writing routine or how does that work?

Gilian: It’s really challenging. I know that I’ve read that a lot of authors will say, new writers should write every day at least a thousand words or whatever. And even though I do try and do that, I’m running two other businesses and so there are other deadlines that sometimes creep in. I’m dealing with that right now. Even though I want to be working on book two, “A Time to Kill Him”, I’ve got a couple of other deadlines that just have to be focused on.

If I do try and go and write my fun stuff on the book, in the back of my mind, I have the little Jiminy Cricket voice saying, “You have other work that people are expecting on time.” Because I ghost write still. So I have to listen to that Jiminy Cricket. I have to get that out of the way, so that I can totally focus, otherwise the creativity isn’t there. So even though I would really like to say…but I will say also that I go the other direction.

Just last week I spent three days straight, just writing the book. Yes, I had other things I was supposed to be working on, but it was just flowing and you know how that feels. When it’s flowing, you just have to go with it. So I have to be, I guess, flexible with that, but I don’t write every day. Even though I wish I could say that I do.

Alexandria: It sounds like that kind of flexibility works for you. It works for the type of business that you’re running, that kind of thing.

Gilian: Right.

Alexandra: As a literature professor and a writing teacher, was there anything about writing a book that took you by surprise?

Gilian: Yeah. Definitely. I had never, ever written fiction before. I went back to grad school, it’s been six years ago I guess. No, 10 years ago I guess when I started, and loved that and wrote a lot of academic papers and actually my mentor was training me to go on to get my PhD, which I decided not to do later. So I had been working in myself, not just teaching, but working in the writing process very recently in my life and felt very comfortable with that.

I think when I started writing the book for real, and knew that I was going to publish it, one day it just dawned on me. This is the same writing process that I used for everything else I have ever written, and I’d been telling students that all along. The topic changes, but the process doesn’t. But somehow, I think or I know I always did and I think probably many people think, there is something magical about writing fiction that is different than writing academically, or writing technical stuff.

But what I found and what really excited me was, I know how to do this. I needed to learn more about how to develop plots and all that sort of thing and I’m still learning and I will be learning for a long time, sure. I love learning new stuff, so that’s great.

But what really excited me was I saw myself doing exactly the same thing I would…. I just sit down and type a zero draft as far as I could get, and then I would stop and do some more research. And then I would get all fired up again and get excited and then I’d go forward.

That back and forth is exactly the way I do it when I’m writing fiction. So that really blew me away, but it gave me, I think, a lot of confidence, because I was like, “I know how to do this. The magical stuff is working within this framework.” So it was a very big “Aha” moment for me.

Alexandra: Yes. Wow. And that’s so well said, is that the magical stuff works within the framework.

Gilian: Yeah.

Alexandra: And I think that’s the thing that most writers have to figure out. It doesn’t just flow into you like a river, all over sudden and out of nowhere. If we build the framework, then the magic comes. So to speak.

Gilian: Right.

Alexandra: And you mentioned earlier that Jade lives in Wyoming and you’ve never lived there.

Was there a reason you chose small town Wyoming?

Gilian: Jade told me that’s where she lived.

Alexandra: Okay.

Gilian: I tried to move it to Colorado, because I am more familiar with that. We live in Arizona in Flagstaff, up in the mountains. So I am familiar with that lifestyle, small town.

When I tried to change it to a different location, one that I knew more about, she just would not go for that. I don’t know how to describe it other than that, that nothing worked. I just kept shutting down, when I tried to move it to a different location. So I finally said, “Okay. You win.”

But it’s a beautiful country and I really enjoy learning more about it and it’s not that far away. I can head over and look at the scenery when I need to.

Alexandra: Okay. So that was my next question. You have been here.

Gilian: Yeah.

Alexandra: Okay.

Gilian: I just haven’t lived in that…haven’t lived that exact life, but I was born and raised in a small town. So I understand the concept of that. Everybody knowing everybody else’s business and the town gossip, which we have one of those in the book and so, yeah.

Alexandra: Every town needs one.

Gilian: Yeah, they do.

Alexandra: How else would anybody find anything out?

Gilian: That’s right. Jade is going to take advantage of that, let me tell you. She knows where to go to and she’s gonna access that information.

Alexandra: Very good, yeah. Oh, that’s great.

One of the other things that I thought was really fun, that I found on your blog was a post about how to avoid being hacked.

Gilian: Yeah.

Alexandra: Because of the topic of the book, “Blogging is Murder”. So you’ve got I think it’s five or it might be more tips for anybody. And I have to say, on an author’s website, I have never seen anything like it. It was such a great post.

Gilian: Yeah. I thought, “Why not?” Because that’s something that happens to everyone or could, rather, could happen to anyone. Even though the way I look at it is somebody who has a blog in the book. Those of us who are online have a bigger risk, but we all should be more careful than what we really are. So I thought that would be helpful to just about anybody who might drop by.

Alexandra: Yes, absolutely.

Gilian: Yeah.

Alexandra: And the other thing that really struck me too was that the subjects of blogging and hacking and working online are such contemporary subjects.

Gilian: Yes.

Alexandra: I love that kind of spin that you’ve put on the cozy mystery.

Conium maculatum - Hemlock
Hemlock
the side of the road, anywhere in Wyoming. So I really, I wanted to find some ways to put those kinds of things in there as well. So I enjoyed that.

Alexandra: Oh good. What a great idea, yeah. To kind of combine the old world and the new world.

Gilian: Yeah.

Alexandra: You must be on a pretty tight writing schedule, if you’ve got two more books coming out this year.

Gilian: I am. I definitely am. But it’s funny, because I have people. My friends and my family are always saying, hey. I just came up with a way to kill somebody. Then they’ll tell this strange way to kill someone, that they’ve never seen or read about or whatever. So I’m getting a lot of help along the way.

Alexandra: Oh, that’s great.

Gilian: But yeah, I do. I’m in the office every single day, all day long. But I love the writing. I love writing the books. I love writing in general and the books are just so much fun. And I don’t mind the editing. I like all of it.

Probably the hardest part is that first draft when you get to the middle. That’s that middle section I’ve heard it called the soggy middle, where you just feel like you’re kind of going nowhere first. I don’t know. That’s the hardest part for me.

Alexandra: Yes.

Gilian: But then once the third part kind of kicks in and you’re past that end of active, then things really kick back up for me and I get excited I guess. If that’s the only little part that I don’t love, I think I’m okay.

Alexandra: That’s a pretty good deal. Yes, exactly.

Gilian: Exactly. Yeah.

Alexandra: You did a guest post for me at alexandraamor.com, when “Blogging Is Murder” was released. So maybe when one of the other two or both of them come out, I’ll get you to come back.

Gilian: I’d love to.

Alexandra: I’d love that. Yeah. To have you do something else for us.

Gilian: Great.

Alexandra: To celebrate the launch, yeah.

Gilian: Yeah. Thank you.

Alexandra: Why don’t you let everyone know now where they can find out more about your books?

Gilian: If you go to Gilian Baker it’s gilianbaker\bloggingmurderfirstchapter, you can get the first chapter of the book for free and that’s my blog. And I spell Gilian differently than a lot of people do. So you wanna make sure you spell that right. I’m on Facebook quite a bit, Gilian Baker Author is where they can reach me on there. I’m also on Twitter, @gilianbaker.

Alexandra: Okay, cool.

Gilian: Yeah.

Alexandra: And your books are on Amazon and COBOL, iTunes?

Gilian: Yes. Yeah. Yes, everywhere.

Alexandra: Everywhere.

Gilian: If they go to my website, I have links to each of the places right on there. So they can just access it from there if they would like. Yeah. And you can get them in paperback too.

Alexandra: Good.

Gilian: Got my paper bags.

Alexandra: Nice. There it is.

Gilian: Yeah. They can get it just about anywhere.

Alexandra: Good.

Gilian: Yeah.

Alexandra: Yeah. Okay. Thank you so much Gilian, it’s been so great chatting with you today.

Gilian: It’s so great to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Alexandra: You’re welcome, take care.

Gilian: Bye, bye.

Alexandra: Bye, bye.

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