Today, Jungle Red is delighted to welcome writing veteran, recovering attorney, and New England mystery scene regular, Kate Flora. Welcome Kate!
ROBERTA: Let's start with the newest book, The Angel of Knowlton Park, which garnered a starred review from Library Journal in September. Tell us about Joe Burgess in this latest adventure. How do you get the police procedure right? And what about writing in a male voice?
KATE: I'm going to start with the last part of that first—writing in a male voice. My initial interest in writing police procedurals arose from all the time I was spending with cops asking questions for my Thea Kozak series, trying to get things right. Thea's significant other, Andre, is a cop, and I wanted to make him credible. Along the way, I took a police self-defense course, a citizen's police academy, and did a lot of ride alongs. And decided I wanted to see if I could write a police procedural.
Writing a 30-something strong female character came naturally; writing a 50-something male cop with a dark soul was something else. But I believe in challenges; I believe that it is through writing what is hard or what seems impossible that we become better writers, so I created Joe Burgess. To create good male characters, I have to do a lot of listening. I also have to keep querying what I've written to decide if it is credibly male. And then my readers also get a chance to comment, and I've got a cop among my readers.
Then after I sweated blood and bullets (and shot a few bullets) to get it right, I couldn't sell the book. When Five Star took Playing God, the first Joe Burgess, I was elated that readers would finally get a chance to meet Joe B. And I was rewarded with starred PW and Library Journal reviews. This year, Library Journal said, of The Angel of Knowlton Park, "Flora excels at portraying the police as real people with strengths and weaknesses who unite to bring some measure of justice to the dead and living alike. Flora's thought-provoking second police procedural marks her as one of the best in the genre."
I keep thinking I should print that out and stick it on the wall over my desk. Now I'm in chapter 28 of the next Joe Burgess, Redemption, and boy do I feel the pressure to get it right.
A cop once wrote and told me he was reading The Angel and having a hard time remembering that it wasn't real. That's a compliment.
ROBERTA: You had quite an adventure getting Stalking Death published (the seventh in the Thea Kozak series.) Tell us about what you learned.
KATE: Well, I learned a lot of things, actually. After my New York editor sat on the book for a year before dropping the series, I was so discouraged that I briefly considered giving up this crazy writing business. It was a deeply painful time. Obviously, I learned that you can never rest on your laurels, and even when you think, in the words of Bull Durham, that you've gone to the show, you can be out on your ass tomorrow. I also learned that the determination and resilience I developed during my eight years in the unpublished writer's corner were going to be useful again. I strengthened my conviction that no one but me gets to decide I'm a writer. Indeed, as Thea Kozak likes to say, if suffering strengthens your character, than I'm a moral colossus.
The most important thing I learned is that if you've got nothing to lose you can take chances. That led me to writing Finding Amy, my Edgar-nominated true crime and to Level Best Books, the short story publishing project. And I'm ever so grateful to Jim Huang of The Mystery Company for believing in the book.
Stalking Death, by the way, was my 10th published book, and I celebrated with The Journey of a Thousand Books on my website at www.kateflora.com, collecting pictures of people all around the country reading my book. It's been great fun and pictures are still arriving. And the good news is that the book is practically sold out!
ROBERTA: And speaking of the short story book, tell us about Level Best, how it came to be and why.
KATE: Wish I could claim the credit, as it's a wonderful project. The impetus came from sister writer Susan Oleksiw, founder of The Larcom Review and the Larcom Press. Susan and I had always wanted to do a crime story collection as a "snapshot" of the New England writer's mind. When she decided to move ahead with the project, she invited me to be an editor. We put out a call for stories, chose the ones we wanted to publish, and then the press that was going to publish the collection folded. Susan and I and Skye Alexander were so committed to the project we went ahead and found a printer and became publishers as well as editors. It was supposed to be a one-time thing, but here we are celebrating the publication of our sixth anthology, Deadfall.
It's a tremendous amount of work and we don't make any money, but giving back to the mystery community and creating publication opportunities for short story writers is very rewarding. And last year, when one of our first time writers won the Robert L. Fish Award for best crime story by a new writer, and was nominated for an Edgar, it seemed very worthwhile indeed.
ROBERTA: As some of you know, Kate served as president of Sisters in Crime, both in New England and nationally, well before I took that role. How do you feel about the progress women have made--or not made--in the publishing business?
KATE: At the risk of sounding like a feminist—a term that sometimes seems to be becoming a dirty word—I think we've made a lot of progress but that we can never relax and assume things have changed. When the male voice is the dominant paradigm, and when the default mode will always be to favor men's work over women's, we can't assume the battle is won. When Sisters in Crime was started, women probably published 30% of the mysteries, and publishers didn't even bother to send out review copies of women's mysteries because they thought only women would read them and they'd buy them with their "pin money." Today, some of the biggest names in mystery are women. But Roberta, as you know, there are still disparities in that women's books are more likely to be published in paperback, and it is hardcover books that get reviews and are bought by libraries, and there are still many venues that don't review men's and women's books equally.
So yes, we've made progress. There is still some ground to be covered. On the other hand, being a part of Sisters in Crime has always been a wonderful thing to me. There is always someone available to answer a question. Our experienced writers show our new writers the ropes. In New England, we've got a fabulous speakers bureau with a whole slate of programs. And doing events together with other writers, I always leave inspired by their ideas and their process. And there are always others to celebrate triumphs with or to offer the consolation that's often necessary in this brutal business.
Thank you for coming by today Kate! Doesn't it look like she's having fun? Now the floor is open for comments and questions...And read more about Kate and her adventures at her website.