Not Quite Twenty Questions for Kate Flora

hank-2013-bioHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: if there is a photo of when I met Kate Flora it certainly was taken with an actual camera, not a cell phone. Because that’s how long ago it was.

Not that long ago in real years, I guess—maybe seven or eight—but long ago in book time. There were no e-books, I think. I was so new, I’m sure I had no books published, and the wonderful Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge was still a Mecca for mystery authors.

The iconic Kate Mattes had organized the place—a crowded and chaotic two-room treasure chest crammed with every imaginable mystery book—some you could find, some you couldn’t. She’d enlisted Robert B Parker himself to help put up the shelving.

And every year she’d host a huge holiday party, all were invited, and we’d all make the pilgrimage to Kate’s Mystery books, because everyone would be there.

I was terrified to go. I was new.

My husband and I arrived, into the tumult and buzz, wall to wall everyone. And I looked around the room and I said to Jonathan in a hushed whisper:


I’d just been reading one of her books—which one would it have been, Kate? (One of the Thea Kozak)—and I was speechless with fandom.

So I introduced myself—I’m sure Jonathan pushed me over, and Kate—well, you know. She was engaging, gracious, charming, welcoming—and that lovely laugh floated across the room as I stammered out my praise.

And you know the rest—we’re now dear pals, my husband and her husband are buddies, too, and we all talk mystery and lawyer stuff and solve the world’s problems over lovely dinners.

Kate is one of those people who changes lives—with her SinC goddess-oisty and her teaching and her books, both fiction and nonfiction, with her generosity and her experience. She’s brave and funny, and knowledgeable and glamorous. There’s her whole bio below—do read it—she’s amazing.)

Kate FloraAnd she agreed to answer Not Quite Twenty Questions. (And we’ll give away a Kate Flora book to a lucky commenter—what mystery author left you tongue-tied?)

Title of your autobiography?
Chicken Farmer’s Daughter

Book you wish you had written?
Frivolous answer: Gone with the Wind

Serious answer (because I don’t want to be some other writer, I want to be the best Kate Flora I can be): the one I can never finish, which is called Faith’s Dilemma.

Movie you would see again and again?
Pretty Woman, although it’s hard to resist My Cousin Vinny and those magic grits.

Exotic drinks–yes? No?
Nope. Tanqueray martini with two olives and a twist.

When in history would you choose to visit?
Because I’m crazy about art nouveau and the pre-Raphaelites, I would guess 1890’s. Hang out watching Burne-Jones or William Morris, or perhaps I’ll just go back in time and knock off John Ruskin so I won’t have to read his tedium in college English. Hey, I think I’m formulating a plan here….

Then again, it would be kind of cool to meet Hawthorne. He had a most interesting mind. Or hear Cotton Mather preach?

What are you working on now?
Just finishing the edits on my two fall books, Death Dealer (a true crime) and And Grant You Peace, the fourth Joe Burgess, and then I’m going to finish the next Thea Kozak mystery, Death Warmed Over, unless I get sidetracked editing Detention, a suspense novel that’s cooling its heels on the corner of my desk. Unless I get sidetracked writing a short story for the next Level Best Collection. Unless I get sidetracked working on a memoir I’ve been co-writing. Unless I get sidetracked with platform building for my fall launch.

On second thought, maybe I should go to the gym and get sidetracked working on excellent abs? But I need new gym shoes first. So, shopping. Yes. Shopping. I’m working on imagining shopping.

Pizza or chocolate?
No contest. It’s chocolate. Currently an amazing box of Black Dinah chocolates made on Isle au Haut in Maine.

So EXOTIC chocolate. Of course. Kids?
What about them? Will they support me in my old age or will I still be supporting them? Do I have to set up college funds for my granddogs? Have I sufficiently guilted them so they’ll occasionally think of their old mom? If one is a movie editor and the other is getting a Ph.D. in photovoltaics, which one is in his right brain and which one his left? Am I over the moon about having recently acquired a lovely new daughter-in-law and a 5-year-old grandson who is the cutest kid in the world?? Is it exciting to have adult children who bring me into their worlds, and help me with apps on my phone? Oh yeah.

I’ve got a jade plant I’m rather fond of. Inherited it from my mother. It doesn’t need much care. But I can show you “baby pictures” of my granddogs…

Yup. A pretty good one, too. He does the dishes, takes out the trash, and makes me laugh. A good-looking fellow.

True! And xoxoo. Hobbies?
Seriously, do writers have hobbies? Of course, there are those who think writing IS a hobby, especially when they look at our balance sheets and we make about two cents an hour.

If I did have a hobby, it would be having the adventures that go into doing research for my books. Riding around late at night in cars with cops. Going on a stake-out. Learning to shoot a gun, however terrifying that is. Watching the training of cadaver dogs and search and rescue dogs, and getting to hide in the bug-infested woods and be found. Getting to that incredible moment when the us vs. them barriers fall for a bit and I’m allowed into the world my characters inhabit.

Kate Flora gardening(See, I told you she was cool.) Garden?
Passionately. Not so much a hobby (see above) but an obsession. I’m not very good at it, but as someone famous once said about marriage, my persistence definitely represents the triumph of hope over experience.

But gardening teaches patience, and hope, and resilience, and my endless battle with rabbits, woodchucks, deer, and other pests teaches me much I need to know about anger, violence, frustration, dead-ends, the desire for revenge—you name it. Gardening is both peaceful and the perfect place for a writer to gain insights.

(Like I said.) Fear or phobia?
Large spiders. Being discovered. Being found out. The complete and utter failure of my aging brain.

I’m with you, totally. Funny, huh, how we feel that? Anyway, onward. (Since the alternative is no fun.)  Thing you always say to yourself when writing?
Two things – in the writing phase…It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you’re doing, just stay in the chair and you will figure it out.

In the editing phase—how does this advance the plot? How does it deepen character? Would the book be any different without it?

Do you watch TV? What?
Justified. House of Cards. Grey’s Anatomy. Downtown Abbey.
Friday Night Lights. The Wire. Homicide.

Can you sing?
Like a crow, despite twelve years in the church choir. This doesn’t keep me from wanting to be Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Brothers, curling up on that piano in a slinky dress and crooning away.

Best concert you’ve ever been to?
Leonard Cohen. Boston, 2012
An amazing three-hour concert.

Secret talent?
I have NO secret talents. It honestly takes all my energy to do the one thing I like to think I do well, which is write.

My husband would tell you that my talent is being able to give a party, including cooking the food, for 50+ people without breaking a sweat. And still be smiling at the end of the evening. We once gave this party on a night when the power went off an hour before it was supposed to start. We just borrowed a camping lantern, broke out all our candles, and used sterno to heat the food. When the lights came on at 9 p.m., all the guests said, “Turn them off.”

Do you have a motto?
Well, now. When I turned fifty, the magic message came to me: What matters?…and it was a great touchstone for that decade. When I turned sixty, the new message was: What are you waiting for? I’m working on implementing that one, including sometimes leaving my chair and going out and having fun.

Thank you, dear Kate!


Kate’s bio (from her website):

Kate Flora grew up on a chicken farm in Maine where the Friday afternoon trip to the library was the high point of her week. She dreamed of being able to create the kind of compelling, enchanting worlds of the books she disappeared into every week, but growing up in the era when “help wanted” ads were still sex-segregated, she felt her calling was to go to law school and get the job they told her she couldn’t have.

After law school, Kate worked in the Maine attorney general’s office, protecting battered kids, chasing deadbeat dads, and representing the Human Rights Commission. Those years taught her all a crime writer needs to know about the human propensity to commit horrible acts. After some years in private practice, she decided to give writing a serious try when she quit the law to stay at home for a few years with her young sons. That ‘serious try’ led to ten tenacious and hellacious years in the unpublished writer’s corner, followed, finally, by the sale of her Thea Kozak series.

Redemption_Kate_FloraKate’s twelve books include seven Thea Kozak mysteries, three gritty Joe Burgess police procedurals, a suspense thriller (written under the name Katharine Clark), and a true crime novel, Finding Amy (co-written with Joseph Loughlin, a Portland, Maine Deputy Police Chief). Finding Amy was a 2007 Edgar nominee as well as a Maine Literary Award finalist, and has been optioned for a movie. Kate’s award-winning short stories have been widely anthologized and Redemption, her third Joe Burgess mystery, won the 2013 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction.

Kate is a founding member of the New England Crime Bake, the region’s annual mystery conference. With two other crime writers, she started founded Level Best Books, where she worked as an editor and publisher for seven years. She served a term as international president of Sisters in Crime, an organization founded to promote awareness of women writers’ contributions to the mystery field. Currently, she teaches writing and does manuscript critiques for Grub Street in Boston.

She has two sons (one into film and the other into photovoltaics) and four granddogs: Frances, Otis, Harvey, and Daisy. When not conducting research for her novels and nonfiction―research that includes things like riding an ATV through the Canadian woods or hiding in a tick-infested field waiting to be found by search and rescue dogs―Kate can often be found in her garden, waging war against the woodchucks and her husband’s lawnmower, or in the kitchen, devising clever and devious ways to get the men in her life to eat their vegetables.


Wrong GirlHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 30 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a “master at crafting suspenseful mysteries” and “a superb and gifted storyteller.” Her newest thriller, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the 2013 Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel! A four-week Boston Globe bestseller, it was dubbed “Another winner” in a Booklist starred review and “Stellar” by Library Journal.  She’s on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime. Watch for her next novel, TRUTH BE TOLD, on October 7, 2014.

Visit her online at, on Twitter @hank_phillippi and Facebook at HankPhillippiRyanAuthorPage.

About Lisa Haselton

Lisa Haselton has had several short mystery stories published and has a couple of novels in various stages of completion. She always enjoys learning new tidbits about other writers, and takes great pride as an editor when working with writers on polishing their manuscripts. She's living a life around her passions for writing, photography, volunteering, and anything related to New England, particularly New Hampshire.
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40 Responses to Not Quite Twenty Questions for Kate Flora

  1. Oh, yay! Clapping hands. Kate was one of my strongest early encouragers, telling me even in my Level Best rejection letter that I was a good writer and to keep doing it. I have read all her novels and always eagerly await the next. Lovely interview, as ever, Hank.

  2. Rhonda Lane says:

    Thank you for this nice interview with Kate! I think I had a similar “OMG-that’s-Kate-Flora!” moment at my first Crime Bake, just after I checked in and unloaded luggage. I was heading out to park my car for the duration of the conference when we ended up on an elevator together. I don’t remember who stepped aboard first. The giddiness kicked in, scrambled my brains and scattered my memory. I hope I didn’t squee too much, although I do remember babbling when I introduced myself in my first attempt at networking as an aspiring author. Thank you, Kate, for being so gracious and for your continued friendliness.

  3. Oho. I don’t believe these stories. You guys write fiction, right? BTW, I didn’t mention my secret tattoo, did I?

  4. Hank and Kate together…two of the first wonderful people to greet me at my first SinC CrimeBake years ago. And still two of the nicest people I look forward to seeing every year. Always cheerful, always encouraging and always upbeat. Great interview – and I bet you went out and had drinks together afterwards. Hope you got your t Hope you got your two olives, Kate!

  5. John Lovell says:

    Though we have yet to meet, I really like Kate Flora. She writes well. And she lives here in Maine, like the other good writers do.

  6. jaurelguay says:

    Reblogged this on The J. Aurel Guay Archive and commented:
    Fun interview with a very successful author friend of mine!

  7. Jen Blood says:

    Wonderful interview — what fun! In answer to the question, I’ll say I was a bit tongue tied the first time I met Kate, at a Books in Boothbay event last summer, but was instantly charmed by her inimitable graciousness, energy, and spark. The one I never really got over, however, was while working with Dennis Lehane for a couple of workshops in grad school. I don’t believe I ever came up with a cogent question, and it took my brother literally pushing me through the crowd before I got the courage to ask Dennis to sign a copy of SHUTTER ISLAND. My meetings with Kate have proven much less awkward!

    • hankpryan says:

      OH, I’m with you, Jen! Dennis is so incredibly cool. even though we know he’s so down to earth, ll that talent is intimidating!

      • Jen is very modest…but she’s one of those writers whose words just sing. One day we’ll be standing in a long line waiting for her to sign our books. Maybe even this summer?

  8. Alice Van Deusen says:

    Great interview! I agree with all the praise and the description of Kate’s many skills and charms. She certainly does throw legendary parties, always cheerful and gracious. I also think it is worth mentioning that she somehow continues to look like a high school cheerleader while the rest of us have aged and are offered half fare senior tickets on the T!

    I can’t wait to read the next Joe B.

  9. sandy gardner says:

    hi Hank and Kate– Wonderful interview! My favorite line: It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you’re doing. Just stay in your chair and you’ll figure it out. Absolutely true! Thanks, both of you! see you at Crime Bake!

  10. Jan K says:

    This is one of the most entertaining and enjoyable interviews I’ve seem! The back story of your meeting and subsequent friendship is also delightful. The most tongue-tied I’ve been as a fan was meeting Karin Slaughter for the *second* time. The first time I was taking part in a contest so I had a prescribed script (I had to say she was cuter than Kathy Reichs to win a $25 gift certificatd). The second time, however, at the National Book Fair. I just felt like a dork and said something totally stupid about how goofy her newsletters are, yet she writes such dark novels… It sounded idiotic.

    • hankpryan says:

      Jan, you know every author is delighted when fans talk to them…Looking at it from their point of view, you are a reader and a fan and looking forward to her next book…and what would possibly be more wonderful? (That said, I saw Karin at BEA..and could not figure out what to say…:-) )

      • Well, Jan, if it is any comfort, the first time I met Stephen King, he put carrots up his nose. The second time, he didn’t even say hello. The third time…no hello or carrots. But we writers do try to be nice. After all, everyone was a beginning, and we never know which of our dear friends are going to be superstars tomorrow.


    • Oops. I meant to say beginner, didn’t I?


  11. I had that same tongue tied moment when I first met Kate, at the second Crime Bake (and my first). I was/am such a fan of the Thea Kosak series, and it was a thrill to meet her. Since then she has been a teacher, a mentor, a cheerleader, and a friend. Love this interview.

  12. Tina says:

    I named dropped Kate and my boss (Library Director) said, “THE Kate Flora? She’s a big deal!” Yup, Kate has always been a big deal and everyone who meets her (after having read her) falls in love. (Hank’s a close second, but this is about Kate.)

  13. Dru says:

    I love Kate Flora! I also had that moment when I spotted Kate at Malice and whispered to myself “there’s Kate Flora.” It took a day or two before I approached her. Thanks for the great interview and insight into Kate.

    • hankpryan says:

      YOu and me, dear Dru! xo So funny, huh? ANd I’m so glad we all get to tell her..

      • Hard to believe, since Dru has a following about the size of the Pope’s…but how lucky we all are to be in a corner of the writing world where people are nice and supportive. It is not the case everywhere.


  14. Mary Sutton says:

    Another great interview. I love the things you say in the different phases, Kate. I may try adopting that more diligently.

  15. Mary…my advice to my students is that story goes in in the first two drafts and craft in the next three. I think they get a bit swoony at the idea of having to do five drafts…but that’s just how we roll.


    • hankpryan says:

      Oh, I love that, Kate! And just what I needed to hear. Perfect.
      And I noticed you are ignoring the question about the secret tattoo.

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