Nicole Baart, who lives in Iowa and is the mother of five children from four different countries, is the author of several bestselling mysteries. Taking time out from her busy schedule — she’s already working on her next novel — Baart chatted with Times Correspondent Jane Ammeson about her latest, “Everything We Didn’t Say,” which was selected as the Book of the Month October Most Popular Pick.
What initially drew you to writing mysteries?
I started out writing contemporary fiction, but I have always loved reading mysteries. In the beginning of my career, I think penning a compelling whodunit simply felt too complicated. Plotting a good mystery is no easy feat — and I feared I wouldn’t be able to skillfully juggle all the important elements (red herrings, believable foreshadowing, a twist or two, authentic motive, etc.). Mystery readers have very high expectations! But I started almost unconsciously weaving puzzles into my books, and by the time “Little Broken Things” came out in 2017 I had gotten over my hesitation. I love writing novels that center around a good mystery, and I’m thrilled that “Everything We Didn’t Say” has resonated with so many readers.
Can you give us a brief summary of “Everything We Didn’t Say”?
It’s the story of Juniper Baker, a special archives librarian in Denver, Colorado, who returns to her small Iowa hometown ostensibly to help an old friend. Really, she’s there to solve a 15-year-old double homicide and win back the daughter she left behind.
Was the book inspired by an actual event or events? If not, how did you come up with idea for the book?
I’ve been working on this book for nearly three years and so many different things contributed to the final story! It’s truly a sort of book soup: a bit of this, a little of that. But at the center of it all is a cold case in Iowa that I stumbled across several years ago. My heart went out to the family and friends who are still looking for answers, and that quest for resolution and hope in the midst of such brokenness is littered across the pages of “Everything We Didn’t Say.”
Juniper has such a sense of longing and displacement as well as an ambiguousness about her hometown. Are these feelings you’ve experienced? Do you share characteristics with June?
Absolutely. I love my small town (and the people in it) so very much, but I’m afraid sometimes that we think the line between good and evil runs around the outskirts of town. “Us and them” narratives are so simple and satisfying, but the truth is much more complicated. Small towns can be places of intimate community and belonging, but they are also filled with secrets, prejudices and the same turmoil and tragedies that plague, well, everywhere. We aren’t perfect, we aren’t even always good, and I think we need to be honest about that. I want to have conversations about where we might be myopic and insular, and find ways to work through our own short-sightedness. I want to be candid about the ways that we fail, and try to be and do better instead of pretending we’ve got it all together.
Tell us about One Body One Hope and what led you to co-founding the organization.
It’s a long and complicated story, but the simple version is that my husband and I met a Liberian man who became a friend while we were in Ethiopia adopting our second son. That connection led to a deep relationship with a couple in Monrovia, and lasting ties to the children’s home that they opened after the Liberian civil war. We call it the accidental ministry because we never intended for it to happen! What started with one church and 35 orphaned and at-risk kids has grown into three children’s homes that serve over 150 kids (and often their extended families), 27 churches, six schools, a micro-finance program with a 92% repayment rate, numerous community redevelopment projects, and a 160-acre commercial farm. Our passion is empowering indigenous leaders and then getting out of their way. Everything good that has happened through One Body One Hope has been because of the Liberian people and their enduring love for their country!
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I love interacting with readers on my Instagram page @nicolebaart, where I have worked hard to cultivate an uplifting, authentic community. We talk about much more than just books, and I seek to find ways to connect on a personal level as we discuss everything from parenthood to being a good neighbor to things that bring us joy. I’d love to see you there!
Nicole Baart in Conversation with Kimberly Belle, author of “My Darling Husband.”
7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 3
Hosted by Murder by the Book
To connect, visit: www.murderbooks.com/Baart-Belle
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