Vickie here, and it’s a pleasure to welcome as our guest today on Chicks fab author Nikki Knight, whose new Vermont Radio Mystery series just released this month! I had the privilege and good luck to get an advance read of Live, Local and DEAD, and it’s a stellar first entry to this fun series. Today, the author will tell us a bit about the series, and about her own experiences which inspire it. Take it away, Nikki!
Welcome to Vermont
This girl thought she knew everything.
And she had no idea what hit her when she got to Vermont.
That’s me, three hair colors, sixty pounds, and four radio stations ago, in my first on-air job, as the news director – read entire news department – at WCFR in Springfield, Vermont. (And you can tell by the shoulder pads in that blazer that it was a while ago!)
At the time, I didn’t realize I was in the middle of a life-defining experience, never mind the inspiration for a mystery. All I knew was that someone had finally given me a chance to take the mic and do what I was so sure I was meant to do…and so sure I could do better than those Big Important Anchors I’d been writing and fetching coffee for at KDKA Radio in Pittsburgh.
That lasted until I forgot my name in my first newscast.
No kidding. I had my copy and my soundbites all ready to go, my format sheet taped to a copy board – no high tech here! — and I was sitting in front of the mic, all bright-eyed and eager to hear the little music sting that announced my debut.
Too bad my mind went blank the instant I heard it.
For the longest three seconds of my life, I couldn’t figure out what to do. Then, I did, and threw myself into the void with a clean, if overly fast, intro. But I never forgot that feeling.
A couple decades later, I’m still a little nervous every time the mic opens…only now, I know it means that I respect what I’m doing, and it doesn’t rule me.
First big lesson of Vermont.
Most of the other lessons were a lot less about broadcasting and a lot more about life: never take your colleagues for granted, always respect people’s honest beliefs even if they’re different from yours, and never hit the brake when the car starts to spin. I was luckier than I knew, and not just because I survived that spinout on Main Street. I had the good fortune to be surrounded by people and a community that welcomed me and really wanted to teach me how to do it right.
But, yeah. It was still Vermont, and there was still plenty of small-town sweetness if you knew where to look.
The wonderful old movie theatre on the Plaza that had a big new feature every weekend, and literally everyone went to see it. The tiny town library where I discovered Dorothy Sayers because I’d read everything on the new book shelf. The beautiful little tea room in the next town over where I took my mom for girls’ day whenever she drove up from Pennsylvania.
Sure, there were also empty storefronts and abandoned factories; it wasn’t the picturesque ski-resort part of the state. But I wouldn’t have been comfortable in tourist Disneyland, since I’m a scruffy kid from the Western PA backcountry. It was enough like home that I was open to it, and enough different that I learned a lot.
I made friends I’ll never forget, and got my heart broken a few times.
And, of course, I had adventures.
Some of them made it into LIVE, LOCAL, AND DEAD, and some of them will have to wait for a future story. I really did crawl across an ice-covered parking lot because it was too slick to stand and I had to get into the station somehow. And we really did have to sweep out the satellite dish in snowstorms – if I’d slipped, they would have found me in the spring.
Oh, and yes, the governor at the time really did drink maple syrup to prove it was safe. That little real-life incident provided the spark for the wild denouement in LIVE, LOCAL, AND DEAD, where someone ends up wearing the syrup…and I can’t say anything more without dropping spoilers!
Unlike my main character, though, I didn’t have a friendly moose to talk to when things got weird. I had cows and horses. Our station was next to a pasture, and the livestock sometimes came over to say hi. Cows are very good listeners, if you didn’t know.
Soon enough, I got a break and a job offer in Connecticut, and pulled within striking distance of New York. I work at 1010 WINS in Manhattan now, which is the Promised Land for anyone in radio news, even more so for a Westinghouse Girl from KDKA.
And I thought Vermont was just a nice memory until I started thinking about writing a mystery. By then, I’d read all of Joan Hess’s Maggody series, and a bunch of newer ones, and realized that a small Vermont radio station was a perfect setting. When I started writing, I had no idea that it would take three different versions and about five years to get it into print.
What I did know was that Vermont, at least the fictional Simpson, Vermont, is my happy place.
It was my happy place in the querying trenches, and sitting in hospital waiting rooms during the family health crisis that took up much of those years. A safe, warm (metaphorically, at least!) and friendly escape from a stressful and scary world.
And now, a good bit older and blonder, I’m more than happy to welcome you to Simpson.
Nikki Knight is the pen name of Kathleen Marple Kalb, a longtime New York radio news anchor who also writes the Ella Shane historical mystery series for Kensington Books. Her Vermont story, “Bad Apples” recently won an Honorable Mention in the Black Orchid Novella Award contest. Since her publishing career began with a lockdown debut after three failed projects, 200+ rejections, and a family health crisis, she’s just grateful to be here. She, her husband and son live in a Connecticut house owned by their cat.
Live, Local and Dead (A Vermont Radio Mystery) “I shot the snowman, but I did not kill the guy inside.” From that first line, New York City DJ Jaye Jordan discovers that her new start in Vermont is going to be a lot less moose and maple…and a lot more murder. On the down side, there’s an angry talk-show host, angrier fans, and winter weather. On the up side? A second-chance romance, good friends and family – and a friendly but flatulent moose.
Have you ever been to Vermont? Has a move to another town/state been a life-changing, life-defining moment for you? Share in the comments.