Author Julie Kramer displayed a poster-sized copy of the cover of her newest murder mystery, “Shunning Sarah,” during a special appearance in Chatfield last fall. She will be appearing in Harmony on Saturday, April 6, at 10:30 a.m. with an author talk at 11.
Author Julie Kramer displayed a poster-sized copy of the cover of her newest murder mystery, “Shunning Sarah,” during a special appearance in Chatfield last fall. She will be appearing in Harmony on Saturday, April 6, at 10:30 a.m. with an author talk at 11.
WCCO-TV news reporter Riley Spartz has enjoyed pie at the Village Square, a delicious meal at QUARTER/quarter and has driven the back roads surrounding Harmony as she visited area Amish farms to get the scoop about the death of a young Amish girl. Unfortunately, Spartz was only able to experience these things through the pages of Julie Kramer's newest murder mystery, "Shunning Sarah," which partially takes place in the Harmony area.

Kramer, herself, did in fact experience all those things as she researched her book and gathered information about the Amish community to make the setting as real as possible for this fictional piece.

The Harmony Arts Board has been promoting a community-wide read of this book over the past few months and will be cooperating with the Harmony Public Library to host a special event on Saturday morning. Kramer will be appearing at 10:30 a.m. to sign copies of her books and will do a program at 11 a.m. and those who have read the book will have a chance to discuss her novel and writing processes during that time. She will be at the library until noon.

Kramer has written five novels featuring heroine Riley Spartz, an investigative reporter from Minneapolis. "Shunning Sarah" explores the inner workings of the local Amish community and the challenges that arise when investigating the murder of a young Amish woman.

Kramer visited Chatfield as part of the Minnesota Mystery Tour being sponsored by SELCO last fall and shared not only her past as a WCCO reporter, but also how she has used that experience in her current career as novelist.

Kramer continues to do some freelance reporting for CBS and NBC when, she joked, New York reporters don't want to travel out to the rural areas of the United States.

She published her first book in 2008, "Stalking Susan," and has been writing a book a year since then. "Every journalist thinks they have a novel in them," Kramer explained. "So it came time to either put up or shut up."

She wrote "Stalking Susan" as a stand-alone novel, but her publisher liked it so well, they wanted to purchase it as a series. Therefore, Riley has continued to be the heroine in "Missing Mark," "Silencing Sam," "Killing Kate" and now "Shunning Sarah."

As one can see, with the two-word titles, Kramer has become "branded" so readers can easily associate these books with her series.

For her first novel, Kramer earned the Minnesota Book Award and was given an impressive glass trophy, which she brings to show her audiences. "It's a hefty award," she joked. "You could probably kill someone with it - fictionally, of course!"

As audience members passed the trophy around the room, she mentioned the fact that she could possibly be planning a murder at that very moment. The potential murder weapon was collecting a variety of fingerprints as it moved from person to person, which would confuse the matter when trying to find the murderer.

Kramer spent part of her presentation speaking about her newest book and explaining why she set her story in Harmony.

"I grew up not so far from there and was familiar with the Amish community," she added. Because the story opens when Riley Spartz hears about a young boy being trapped in a sinkhole, combined with the fact that a young Amish girl is found murdered, Harmony was a logical setting because it accommodated both aspects of the story.

This story also allows Kramer to combine two different aspects of her life in one book. She uses her experiences in television news to support her heroine and now utilizes her knowledge of the Amish community to present an interesting twist to a murder mystery.

One of the biggest compliments she received on her new novel came from fellow mystery writer, James Patterson, when he said, "Remember Witness - that truly thrilling movie with Harrison Ford in his heyday? 'Shunning Sarah' is an even better suspense story filled with horse-driven buggies and folks in black hats."

Kramer said she "hung around Harmony" and visited with many Amish residents as part of her research for this novel. She also read several memoirs written by former Amish to gather insights about the conflicts that may exist within this subculture.

Writing fiction did not come as easily to Kramer as one may expect after finding out she had been a journalist. "After a career on the straight and narrow, writing fiction felt a bit like cheating," she said. Kramer could conjure up evidence as needed, manipulate the crime scene to fit her desired situations and make her witnesses say exactly what she needed them to say to help her story go in the right direction. None of those things was possible when covering a story for the evening news.

"There is nothing in my books, however, that hasn't happened or that couldn't have happened in real life, I promise," Kramer added. "If you do a good job creating the world in your novel, people will believe anything."

She brings a lot of her news experience into her writing career in more ways than just giving Riley Spartz knowledge and skills. Kramer said she has interviewed hundreds of people - on their worst and best days. All of those interviews remain a part of her, she noted, and certain segments from those interviews can be accessed for a scene in her novels at any time.

"I got to do a lot of my research on the job, but I have also done a lot of things you might not normally do," Kramer added. As an example, she told of how she went to a gun range to learn how to shoot a gun. She put on her protective eye gear, the ear mufflers, loaded the gun and aimed, quickly shooting all bullets at her target. "I looked down at my hand and my thumb was bleeding from the gun recoiling and I had gunpowder residue on my hand, but I had no idea if I'd hit anything."

At that point, Kramer unrolled a large piece of paper, which revealed an outline of a body with six bullet holes neatly scattered through its center. "The moral of this story - don't mess with me," she added with a smile.

Kramer admitted that she develops her stories "as she goes," writing without a set outline. "I have even written with one killer in mind, but then I have started to like that character so much that I don't want her to be the killer," she laughed.

Readers have often told her that they didn't see a certain twist coming in the novel and have been surprised by the ending, which is a great compliment to Kramer. However, she shared, she may not have seen those twists and turns coming either until she wrote it.

"I have to write it as it unfolds to me," she concluded.

This program is made possible through the Minnesota Library Legacy Funding Program through SELCO.