Bestselling author returns to Austin

Published 11:58 am Monday, August 27, 2012

Author Julie Kramer takes a moment for a portrait before her presentation Saturday at the Austin ArtWorks Festival. Kramer recently released the book “Shunning Sarah.”

Austin-area native Julie Kramer won’t deny her books will always have a touch of southern Minnesota flair. She’ll even point to the wind turbines being bombed in one of her novels. And she also won’t deny she likes to return now and then to the place she grew up.

Kramer, a national bestselling author, spoke at the Austin ArtWorks Festival Saturday afternoon about her fifth book, “Shunning Sarah.” The novel centers around an Amish murder, and the two cultures, TV news and the Amish, who are pitted against one another.

Both aspects of the book draw from personal experience. Kramer spent her early years on a farm south of Adams that had been in her family for more than 130 years. She was part of the fourth generation to grow up there, and her father was friends with some of the Amish who lived nearby.

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After graduating from Southland High School, Kramer left to attend college in St. Paul.

She studied journalism at the University of St. Thomas. Later she worked at the Minneapolis Tribune, but was let go when it merged with the Minneapolis Star in 1982.

“I was the youngest person on staff, so there wasn’t any doubt I was going to be laid off,” she said.

That pointed Kramer towards WCCO in Minneapolis, where the other aspect of her book shines through. She ended up working in television news for about 20 years. It was there she began to cultivate her knowledge of the fast-paced TV news lifestyle that shows up in her writing.

“I think all journalists feel they have a novel inside of them,” she said. “My books take you inside the desperate world of television news.”

Kramer left her job at WCCO in 2001. By that time she was running the investigative unit with the station. She took to freelancing news production with NBC and CBS so she would have more time to raise her children.

Today, she still occasionally does a project, but it doesn’t often fit in her schedule.

“A few weeks ago, NBC had called with the Batman shooting,” she said. She wasn’t able to make the assignment because “Shunning Sarah” was about to come out. “Rarely does the timing work out. I’m a full-time novelist now.”

Her first book came out in 2008, followed by another each year up to the present. She said it was tough at first to work in the realm of fiction rather than sticking to the facts.

“It was hard to make stuff up,” said Kramer, adding it felt “like cheating.”

But soon the constraints came off, and she found her experience very helpful.

“My news stories had drama and suspense and humor and all the good things you want,” she said. “I was good at deadlines. I could type fast.”

She also found it easy to write dialog, since she had interviewed hundreds of people over the years and became accustomed to natural-sounding speech.

The experience paid off. Apart from being a national bestselling author, she also won the Minnesota Book Award and a star review from Library Journal.

Kramer visited Austin in early August for a high school reunion. She said the city evokes memories of the public library, the Mower County Fair and 4-H.

Kramer’s husband, Joe Kimball, also spoke at the festival about his own book, a true crime story called “Secrets of the Congdon Mansion,” focused on a murder he covered while working as a journalist. Kimball was a longtime reporter for the Star Tribune and now writes for MinnPost.