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!