Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Interview with mystery novelist Kate Flora

Today's interviewee is multi-genre (but mostly mystery) writer Kate Flora. She's mostly talking about the Redemption: A Joe Burgess mystery the 3rd novel in her Portland, Maine-based police procedural series which is releasing in March.

Kate is the guest of honor this Sunday night (March 4) at Writer's Chatroom from 7-9PM EST. Feel free to stop on in and join the conversation. No password or registration needed. Writer's Chatroom is a 5-time winner of Writer's Digest's 101 Best Websites for Writers.

Attorney Kate Flora’s twelve books include seven Thea Kozak mysteries, three 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, co-writing two memoirs, 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 Mystery Conference. Her story, “All that Glitters” appears in Dead Calm, and her story, “Bone China” in the crime story anthology Dead of Winter.

Welcome, Kate. Please tell us about your current release.
Here’s the review from Booklist, which does a pretty good job:

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 streetpeople 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

What inspired you to write this book?
The first Joe Burgess was inspired by all the time I ended up spending with police officers, doing research for my Thea Kozak mysteries. I wanted to explore the police officers’ reality in more detail. I also wanted to set my new series in Portland, which is a city I’m fond of, as a proud 'Maine-iac'. For this third mystery, I wanted to explore the tension between Burgess’s dedication to detective work and his desire to live a more normal life with his girlfriend, Chris. Ratcheting up that tension was getting Burgess involved in investigating the death of a Vet, and friend, who never recovered from his experiences in Vietnam. The inspiration for the plot came, in part, from wondering what the effect of our poorly planned, unwinnable conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq was on those who had seen, and suffered from, another such war. That led me to the character of Reggie the Can Man. And the title, Redemption, a double play on the ultimate effect of the investigation for Burgess and others, and the fact that the place where cans and bottles are turned in for money is called a redemption center. At the heart of all my books are issues of greed, and lies, and what it is that allows some people to deviate from the social contract we’ve all committed to.

What exciting story are you working on next?
Actually, Lisa, I’m going in about three different directions right now. I’ve just done the final tweaks on a second true crime that I’ve been working on for about five years. Now I will have to sell it—NOT an exciting story. Then, back in the fall, I started working with some incredible people on their memoirs--one individual, and one family—and the stories are so powerful and compelling. One is an international child abduction, the other a 25-year memoir of a retired Maine Game Warden. And as though that weren’t complicated enough…I’m trying to carve out time for a final edit on a suspense novel that needs work. And I just decided to write the eighth Thea Kozak mystery, Death Warmed Over, which I’ve been carrying in the back of my head for about four years.

Overwhelming. Exciting. Wow!

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Some time after I finished my third or fourth mystery (I have three still stuck in the drawer) I began to admit that I was hooked. I don’t think I ever put “writer” instead of “lawyer” on a form asking for employment, until I’d published my third book. I always figured that it would suddenly go away. It’s a hard thing to trust. However, in my heart, I knew I was a writer, which is what sustained me through my ten years in the unpublished writer’s corner.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I write full time, sorta. That is, I don’t have a day job. But, like many writers who don’t have a lot of income, I also teach, and do manuscript consults.

Since “discipline” is among my favorite words, coming, somewhat ironically, right after “imagination,” I try to be in my chair with the time-wasters: e-mail, facebook, blog checking, ebay, and Scrabble all done, by 7:30 or 8:00. Then I write until my back starts to hurt, and go do stretches, take a walk, do laundry, run to the P.O. and grocery store, and then back in the chair for another few hours. Another one of my favorite words is “obsession.”

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Golly…what an interesting question, Lisa. I’m not sure that I have one. Perhaps, recently, that I’ve figured out that when I’m stuck in a chapter or a scene, I can grab the sticky bit out of it, start a new file, and just play around, giving my characters their heads to see what they will do. It’s great for getting unstuck, making new discoveries, finding interesting dialogue etc.

Or maybe my quirk involves shoes. When I’m stuck and frustrated, sometimes I go buy shoes. The upside of this is that I only buy second hand, so I can indulge on a writer’s income. The downside is that I own too many shoes. Anyone who wears a size 7 and feels in need of a box of shoes might want to get in touch with me.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer. Of course.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Always a great, and difficult question. Recently, in the writing world, the question of “branding” floats around a lot. Building a publishing platform, and identifying and protecting and promoting a writer’s particular brand. So recently, I blogged about this, and I’ve been giving it some thought…and I still come down to this: It’s awfully hard to identify a particular brand when I write strong women amateur PI mysteries, police procedurals with male protagonists, short stories, and true crime. And now, it seems, memoir. But what I think I’ve figured out is that all my work, what draws me to the stories that I write, whether fiction, nonfiction, or a collaboration, is the ripple effect. What are the stories of those left behind—the family members, the public safety professionals, etc.

But I don’t really know if that’s a brand. I just know it’s where my interest lies.

Thank you so much for being here Kate. And I look forward to hosting you as a guest this Sunday at Writer's Chatroom where we can expand on this interview and take questions from the audience.

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