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:
THAT IS KATE FLORA.
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.)
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.
(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.
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.
Kate’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.
HANK 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.