Saturday, August 22, 2009

Summer Shorts: The Way We Were

The late Katherine Shephard standing before a wall mural outside the Kingsburg, CA library, May 20, 2004.
Katherine and her little red car, Kingsburg.
Katherine and Bowie Aloysia Dog, Left Coast Crime-Monterey, Feb. 21, 2003.

By Pat Browning

Rolling down the highway on a moonless night, hugging a white line to nowhere. Nothing on either side except shades of Black and Empty. Ahead and behind, the lights of long-haul trucks, drivers trying to get the hell out of California before fuel prices took another jump …

The distance between Katherine Shephard’s library program in one little town to her motel in another little town was about 15 miles, 20 max, but it’s easy to get lost on country roads at night. Cotton fields on one side of a two-laner, vineyards on the other, irrigation ditches waiting to reach out and pull you in. We made one wrong turn after another, but finally found that old workhorse, Highway 99, and headed south to find a road going west, laughing all the way.

“Thelma and Louise, Part Deux,” Katherine said.

Meeting people is part of the fun of belonging to the mystery community. I first met that bright spirit Katherine Shephard when we did a signing together at the Foster City Library in San Francisco’s Bay Area on October 7, 2003.

The appearance was arranged by PJ Nunn’s Breakthrough Promotions. The librarian made a poster on butcher paper and taped it to a sandwich board. “Mystery Tuesdays,” the sign said. “Meet up and coming mystery writers …”

After our program Katherine took the poster down, gave it to me and said, "I keep things like this around my computer to remind me of happy times." I still have the poster. One of these days I'll find a frame big enough and hang it behind my computer.

We met again at Left Coast Crime 2004 in Monterey. Katherine was just getting started in her career as a mystery writer. She had written two novels in what was to be a series. In FRATERNITY OF SILENCE and BETRAYED BY SILENCE she blended romantic comedy and mystery, with politics as the backdrop.

Though she wrote about political corruption, her books are warm-hearted, even cozy. Newlyweds Beth and Bob Larken are a delightful couple, devoted to each other and a feisty little dog named Bowie Aloysia Dog, or B.A.D. for short. Katherine carried a toy version of B.A.D. to all her appearances.

She spent much of 2004 on the road promoting her books. I was delighted when she let me know she had scheduled a program at the library in Kingsburg, a small town near Fresno. I lived close by in Hanford, so she picked me up for dinner and then we tooled off to Kingsburg in her little red car.

Katherine really connected with an audience, and it came naturally. She was “on stage” for most of her life in the worlds of entertainment and politics. Her technique was to speak quietly. Plainly, but quietly. Chit-chat simmered down and before long you could have heard a pin drop, except for the sound of Katherine’s voice. The audience seemed to lean forward as one, so as not to miss anything she was saying.

As usual, she charmed everyone. And as usual, she got a variation of the question: "How did you make the leap from writing political speeches to writing fiction?" She took a beat and said, "What leap?"

It cracked us up and led her into the story of “the mole in the hole,” or how she got the idea for her mystery series from overheard conversations in the women's restroom at a political convention. She called her fiction “faction” -- fact-based fiction.

Katherine packed a lot into her too-short life. Here are bio highlights still posted at Murder Express:

“Author Katherine Shephard was born and raised in Northwest Detroit, Michigan. She is a graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in Criminal Justice. After graduation she moved to east Grand Rapids where she worked in criminal law. Her involvement in politics began during those years in Grand Rapids when she volunteered for several campaigns in 1976. She has been involved in politics and writing ever since, winning a Christian speech contest that led to her addressing the UN in New York on the role of youth in world affairs.

“Her writing career began in kindergarten when she would tell her mother to ‘grab a pencil and write down this story.’ Those stories would always involve a puppy and usually a princess. She also began entertaining at a young age. She sang and danced her way onto local Michigan television as well as the national arena during the Tournament of Roses in 1969.

“That same year she traveled to Europe with Youth Understanding, as well as playing violin with the Scandinavian Symphony across the United States. For relaxation and entertainment, Ms. Shephard still plays the piano and violin. Music has played a major role in her life and deep throughout her novel, ‘Fraternity of Silence.’”

Impressive as all that is, my favorite memory of Katherine will always be of the wild ride through the Central Valley boonies and down Highway 99, laughing all the way. She died two years later from a rare form of cancer, but she is remembered fondly and with pleasure.

Now September’s upon us and the year will wind down so fast it will be a blur. This is my last trip down Memory Lane with Summer Shorts. Time again to look ahead!


Jean Henry Mead said...

What a lovely tribute, Pat!

Thanks for taking me back to Kingsburg and the old 99. :)

Anonymous said...

Seems like yesterday, Jean. Good times,long gone, but life goes on. And I'll always miss California!

Hope your move is working out --


Chester Campbell said...

I think all of us who encountered Katherine Shephard have fond memories of that lovely, laughing lady. I attended several conferences with her, where she always carried B.A.D. But it was a trip to Orange County where she helped me set up a Barnes & Noble signing that I'll always remember. Katherine stopped by the store that night, although she had something else to do. The next day she met Sarah and I for breakfast and took us on a tour of the county in her little red car. She was a genuinely gracious and caring person. Thanks for the memories, Pat.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark W. Danielson said...

Pat, fiction writers truly have a common bond. It's a shame that cancer claimed Katherine, but your article was an upbeat celebration of her life. We should all be so lucky.

Anonymous said...


Katherine was a rarity -- a truly kind and generous person, nothing artificial about her. She had a husband, and I think a son. I wish I knew what happened to them. I couldn't even find out exactly when Katherine died. It's as if she just dropped off the face of the earth.


Jenny Hanahan said...

Katherine was a loyal member of Mystery Most Cozy, a yahoo forum I started eight years ago to promote all cozy writers (also now a group on Facebook), but primarily those new to it. It's a discussion forum.

Katherine was always there posting. She even volunteered to help me make a MMC real life convention happen...and at the time the subject came up, she was already sick. We never had it, but I have very little doubt if she'd lived, we would have. She'd made sure of that. :)

I never met her in person, but almost did. She loaned me a book on putting up an internet site (I'm a realtor) and any one who knew her will not be surprised by the fact that she offered to drive it by for me because she was going to be in it by would have meant a 2 hour trip out of her way. I told her not to worry about driving such distance, just put it in the mail. I now wish I'd let her as it would have been my last chance to meet her.

She was a special person. I wish her web site had been left up to honor her.

We miss her. I'm glad I saw this as I just put up a post in memory of her on Facebook. She was just a great caring soul. I'm sad we lost her, but I know much more is in store for her. I look forward to seeing her in the future where cancer can no longer harm her or anyone else.

Jenny Hanahan said...

Pat, she did have a husband and son. If I recall correctly, she had just gotten to see her son graduate from high school before she passed away...the info I have on her passing was 2 a.m. May 28, 2006.

Her husband's name was Bob and he was an attorney. I don't recall her son's name at the moment. I was surprised her website was taken down so quickly.

I hope this isn't too much to put in a post, but I did want to share since we all on here had great affection for her and she for us.

I was just going through some old posts of her on MMC and thought I'd share a couple here as they are CLASSIC Katherine Shephard :). I think she'd love to have a bit of her posted in this tribute you've given her...

In the first one, someone had posted a discussion question and here's her answers.

In a message dated 2/16/2004 10:23:17 PM Pacific Standard Time, writes:

Name: Katherine Shephard

I live in: Southern California and Texas
> My favorite genre of books is: mysteries with humor, sass and attitude!
> Also romantic suspense.
> They are my favorites because: I'm a sassy, mysterious woman with an
> attitude


> My least favorite genre of books is: paranormal
> They are my least favorite because: shrug
> My favorite bookstore is: can't/won't say - tooooo many to count. Plus, I
> don't wanna "play favorites" - yanno?
> I read about ____ books a month. okay, this is one of those "it depends"
> questions. If I'm writing - none, other than research material. If I'm
> editing, it's none. If I'm on tour - it's whatever I purchase from authors
> appearing with at cons. If I'm on tour and NOT at a con . . .

alright - you get the drift. I read as much and whenever I can.

> My favorite author is: any author who writes mysteries with sass and
> attitude :-)
> He/She is my favorite because: I "get it" - ;-)
> If I were to vote for best book of the year it would be: uh, mine? LOL
> Because: It's, uh, mine? LOL
> Other hobbies I enjoy are: interior design, singing, dancing, antiquing,
> shopping, cleaning . . . okay, yes, I think the smell of Chlorox is an
> aphrodisiac LOL

And another in regards to her car...

Sent: Sunday, January 11, 2004 4:59 PM
Subject: Mystery Most Cozy weather

It's 4:47 pm and 72 degrees here in SoCal. . . . I have been driving with my
car's top down . . . great music blarin. . . . just another day in Paradise.

OK - was that sufficient "rubbin' in" for y'all???



I don't post as much as I'd like to but I'm under this pesky deadline . . .

but it's sure tough staying inside writing when it's SO GORGEOUS outside ;-)

Have a great new week!
Fraternity of Silence - in stores now!
"Your book is bringing smiles and laughter at a most needed time."
Texas Governor Rick Perry
Betrayed by Silence, Coming Summer 2004
benefitting Animal Rescue programs

Anonymous said...


I am SO glad you found this post and shared some memories of K. She was truly one of a kind. How lucky we are that she passed our way.

BTW, I looked up Mystery Most Cozy on Face Book and put in a request to join

Thanks again. I'm saving your comments.

Pat Browning

Jenny Hanahan said...

Pat, I noticed you had and I'm pretty sure I already confirmed it. I'll double check to make sure. The original one on Yahoo will remain running as well. Welcome to the one on Facebook. :)