Attorney Kate Flora’s twelve books include seven Thea Kozak mysteries, two gritty police procedurals including The Angel of Knowlton Park, a suspense thriller, Steal Away, written as Katharine Clark, and a true crime, Finding Amy, which was a 2007 Edgar nominee and has been optioned for a movie.
Her current projects include Death Dealer, a true crime involving a Canadian serial killer, a screenplay, and a novel in linked stories. Flora’s short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies, including the Sara Paretsky edited collection, Sisters on the Case. She is a former editor and publisher at Level Best books, former international president of Sisters in Crime, and a founding member of the New England Crime Bake conference. Her story, “All that Glitters” appears in Dead Calm, and her story, “Bone China” in the crime story anthology Dead of Winter.
Her new release, the third Joe Burgess police procedural, Redemption, is available in hardcover from Five Star.
“When Detective Sergeant Joe Burgess of the Portland (Maine) Police Department finds his friend Reggie Libby drowned in the harbor, he is determined to bring the killer to justice. Reggie, a Vietnam vet who was mentally ill and had fallen on hard times, had apparently started a new job recently. Joe and his colleagues work to determine his place of employment and his movements before his death by interviewing Reggie’s fellow streetpeople and his relatives, including his vindictive former wife and indifferent son. On the home front, Joe’s live-in girlfriend wants to adopt two foster children, and Joe doesn’t feel ready to be a parent. As always, Joe immerses himself in his case, causing problems in his personal life. Framed by the challenges street people face in large cities, this compelling, fast-paced police procedural offers a complex plot, rich with details of conducting a murder investigation and insight into the rigors of the cop’s life. — Sue O’Brien”
The Amazing Adventure of Getting It Right . . . by Kate Flora
When I started writing, back in the mid-1980’s, I thought a writer sat at her desk, set her imagination free, and began to write. Silly me. Coming to writing from the law, I wanted to write about good and evil, about the many people I’d watched telling lies, and my curiosity about why they lied. That led me to mystery, and to a startling discovery: mystery readers are very sophisticated folks, and mystery writers have to do a lot of research so we can get it right.
Getting it right often means finding people who are experts, calling or e-mailing, often out of the blue, and asking if they’ll answer my questions. Decades later, I’m still nervous about making those contacts. And I’m still making them, because I know doing good research makes the books better. I want to know what the hot issues in the private school world are, so I call my neighbor and take her to lunch. I want to know about the effects of the toxins in wild hemlock (for An Educated Death), so I bend the ear of the ER physician sitting next to me at a dinner party. I want to know how a boarding school campus would handle a student death? I ask the Principal of Phillips Exeter.
Every book raises new questions. I need to know about cooking methamphetamine (for The Angel of Knowlton Park)? I make a call to cop I know, and he sets me up with a drug agent, who gives me all the time I need. When I’m done with my questions, he shares some powerful stories about life undercover, images and details that will inform all the cops I write. I need to know about how to most effectively write a hearing-impaired character? I make a phone call. Send some e-mails. I get a list of assignments—books to read and a film to watch—and find myself the guest author for the day at a school for deaf, an experience that lets me imagine my character’s experience far more vividly than I could have done without their help.
The generosity of these people is simply amazing. Most of them don’t know me, and they have very busy lives, but they take the time to explain things in detail and answer all my questions. A call to a diver who works with the Portland, Maine police on retrieving bodies from the water gives me a detailed summary of the process (for Redemption). As a cop from Delaware who provided a whole notebook to help me understand the details of forensic exhumation (Finding Amy: A True Story of Murder in Maine) pointed out: experts would really rather that we tried to get it right.
I never expected to be observing the Maine Warden Service training search and rescue dogs in a tick-infested field. I never thought I’d be driving an ATV deep into the Canadian woods. I never expected to be standing in the basement of a police station, two bullets in my ears in lieu of ear protectors, firing a handgun. I thought I would make it up. But these phone calls, e-mails, and field trips help make me a better writer. They give me the wealth of details from which to choose the telling few. And they teach me about gratitude, and generosity, even as they take me deeper into the lives of the real people who inspire my imagined characters.
Thanks, Kate, for your guest post today. Authors who don’t do their homework obviously miss out on a lot of interesting experiences, although that tick-infested field probably wasn’t one of your favorites.