Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Amazing Adventure of Getting it Right...by Kate Flora

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.

Booklist review:

"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"
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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.

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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.

Read more about Kate and her books at her website and blog. She is also a contributor to the Maine Crime Writers blog.

9 comments:

Morgan Mandel said...

It's not easy getting it right, that's for sure. Readers can latch onto the tiniest little glitch, which can make an author feel devastated.

Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I bet mystery readers are tough to please. Talking to experts is fun though. I spoke with several fighter pilots before writing my first book, to add to the realism of space fighters. (Or as real as it can get!)

Patricia Stoltey said...

I'm posting this comment for Jacqueline since Blogger was giving her a hard time this morning:

Hi, Kate and Pat,

I agree. Good mystery writing requires thorough research.
Crime readers have sharp minds and aren't easy to fool.

Jacqueline Seewald
THE TRUTH SLEUTH

Jan Morrison said...

Thanks Kate - this is fabulous! I think you are right - for my mystery The Rock Walker (in revision)I've talked at great length with a district attorney and a couple of cops, artists, rock walkers (a job patrolling the rocks at Peggy's Cove). I'm lucky because I've had a zillion jobs and am able to recall details of those to help with my writing. My next mystery is set in an historic garden so lots to pick up there too. I'm not doing proceedurials which is good but details make all the difference.
Thanks Pat for such a fascinating guest.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Morgan, Alex, Jacqueline and Jan -- Kate provided excellent researching tips in this post, and I plan to follow her good advice with my WIP -- all I need is a nice person to give me a ride on a motorcycle and then teach me what all the parts are called. :)

Talli Roland said...

What a wonderful post! I agree - getting it right is hard but it can be so much fun, especially when it involves riding into a forest on an ATV!

Clarissa Draper said...

What a cool writer!

It's so true. You have to do research because us mystery readers are smart and will check facts. However, we still do love a good mystery. Thanks for the post.

Hold my hand: a social worker's blog said...

Seems like all that research is simply fascinating!!!

I'd definitely check out Kate's books.

Great post.

Doris

michellegonzales said...

This is fabulous and impressive!