Author interview: Nikki Knight, aka Kathleen Marple Kalb

Nikki Knight (aka Kathleen Marple Kalb)

What inspired the idea for your book?

LIVE, LOCAL, AND DEAD, A Vermont Radio Mystery grows directly from my own early-career experiences as a one-person news department at a small-town radio station in Vermont. It was a wonderful, close-knit community, full of interesting and memorable people. The community, and its relationship with the radio station is the heart of the book – and something too many towns don’t have now, because of consolidation in the radio industry. Even while I was in Vermont, I thought it would be a great place to set a mystery, so when I started writing one, I went right there!

What is a significant way your book has changed since the first draft?

This is actually my second try at a Vermont Radio Mystery. Several years ago, I tried to sell an earlier version that was sort of Stephanie Plum with a moose, but it didn’t happen. After another project and a family health crisis, I returned to the Vermont book with everything I’d learned as a person and a writer. Now, the main character is Jaye Jordan, a grownup and a mother, taking over the radio station as a new start after – as she puts it – her husband survived cancer but their marriage didn’t. In this version, the stakes are higher, the character is grounded, and it all works.

What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing?

While the book is a VERY fun ride, with some truly hilarious scenes involving a flatulent moose, and a villain getting doused in maple syrup, it also takes on some pretty serious stuff. In one scene, the Jewish main character finds a backwards swastika scrawled on the radio station. It was tough to write because I didn’t want it to overshadow the story, but it was important to the plot and the way the town treats Jaye. So, it took a lot of effort to get just the right mix of the horror of the violation, the support Jaye’s friends and family give her, and a little wry humor to leaven everything.

What part of the book was the most fun to write?

The big confrontation scene is a trip, including that maple syrup moment, and there are some great scenes with what we might call “statement flatulence” from the moose, but my favorite scene to write was more serious. At one point, almost the whole town comes out to support Jaye, and the radio station, and she’s very grateful. It’s a warm and satisfying scene; for her, it’s a moment where she starts to think it’s all going to work out after all. I really loved putting that on the page.

Which of the characters do you relate to the most and why?

The book is first-person, so I’m very comfortable living in the main character, Jaye. She’s NOT me, but we have a lot in common: both country kids made good, both committed to family and faith, and both absolute professionals…with a snarky sense of humor that gets us through. But she’s a good bit more intrepid than I am, climbing up on that radio station roof to clear the snow out of the satellite dish and confronting musket-toting protestors. And I’ll tell you Jaye has a much better voice than I do – she’s a DJ, not a news person, so she needs it!

If your book were made into a movie, which actors would play your characters?

This is one of my favorite questions – and one I don’t get asked very often! I think Jill Hennessy would be the perfect Jaye Jordan; she’s got that wonderful voice, and as we know from “Crossing Jordan,” she does snarky well. As for Governor Will Ten Broeck, the love interest, I see him as “Boston Legal” era James Spader: smart, principled, irreverent – and pretty darn hot.

 How did you come up with the title for your book?

It’s a riff on a very common radio slogan. Many, many stations describe themselves as “Live and Local” in some way – and since cozy mysteries are known for their fun, punny titles, LIVE, LOCAL, AND DEAD was a natural. The fun part for me is that it’s been LL&D from the very beginning – and I got to keep the original title, which doesn’t always happen in conventional publishing. My other suggestions were probably a little too out there – but they were funny, too: “Sugarhouse Rules,” or “The Moose and the Dead.”

About that moose…

Well, yeah. Cozies are known for great animal characters – and there is indeed a wonderful, surly cat in LL&D: Neptune, the Big Gray Cat from the Bronx. But Charlemagne is the star. He’s almost, but not quite, a magical reality figure. He eats maple candy from the main character’s hand — obviously, I don’t recommend trying that with a real moose! And he has a little flatulence problem that sometimes seems to be a bit of a statement. Both the candy and the flatulence are scientifically possible: herbivores like sweet things because it means there are no poisons they can taste – and as anyone who’s ever been around a cow knows, grazing animals are…gassy. So it’s just realistic enough, and a whole lot of fun!

Have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym, and why or why not?

I use the name “Nikki Knight” for LL&D – and my growing list of Vermont short stories – to separate it from my historical mysteries. As Kathleen Marple Kalb (yes, my real name, I was born Miss Marple!) I write the Ella Shane historical mystery series for Kensington, most recently A FATAL OVERTURE. My husband came up with the pen name. I wanted a classic nighttime DJ name. I was kicking around something like “Crystal Starr” – when he just walked into the room and said, in his perfect imitation of my radio voice: “I’m Nikki Knight.”

If you’re planning a sequel, can you share a tiny bit about your plans for it?

The next Vermont radio book is written, featuring what happens when not one, but two bodies are found at a Green-Up Day cleanup. Right now, though, the future of the book series is still up in the air. But Jaye and the gang are very much around in short stories – there are several Jaye stories online and in anthologies, with more on the way.

Nikki Knight describes herself as an Author/Anchor/Mom…not in that order. An award-winning weekend anchor at 1010 WINS Radio in New York, she writes short stories and novels, including LIVE, LOCAL, AND DEAD, a Vermont Radio Mystery from Crooked Lane, and as Kathleen Marple Kalb, the Ella Shane Historical Mysteries for Kensington. Her stories are in several anthologies, and she was a 2022 Derringer Award finalist. She, her husband, and son live in a Connecticut house owned by their cat.

WHERE TO FIND Nikki:

Website:  https://kathleenmarplekalb.com/nikki-knight

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NikkiKnightAuthor

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/NikkiKnightVT

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kathleenmarplekalb/

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