Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Interview with Kate Collins


Today, JRW welcomes Kate Collins, the author of the popular Flower Shop Mysteries. Her books have made the Barnes & Noble mass market mystery bestsellers lists, the Independent Booksellers lists, and are available in large print editions in the U.S. and the UK. Kate’s eighth book in the series, EVIL IN CARNATIONS, is a February, 2009, release. Kate and her husband divide their time between their Indiana home, Key West, and Chicago.

JRW: Welcome Kate! Have you always wanted to write?

KATE: Seriously? I never even liked writing checks. In school, I especially hated essays. If someone had told me I would one day write entire novels, I would have punched that person out (especially while laboring over horrible eighth grade writing assignments like, “Describe your life as an inanimate object.”) I knew by second grade that I wanted to be a teacher, and nothing would deter me from that goal.

JRW: What changed your mind?

KATE: It wasn’t until after I’d earned a master’s degree in education, taught elementary school for six years, had two children, and took lessons in tole painting, cross stitch, needlework, crochet, embroidery, rug hooking, macrame, gardening, and sewing, before I discovered I had a flair for telling stories. (It wasn’t like I didn’t already know. My mother had stood me in the corner many times for “telling stories.”) I truly enjoyed my years of teaching all those little open minds, but I hated the politics. So many rules! So many forms! Such a stifling environment for someone with a muse clamoring for attention. I eventually took a correspondence course, started selling short stories to children’s magazines, worked my way into historical romance, and finally found my calling in mysteries.

JRW: How did you come up with the character of sleuth Abby Knight?

KATE: Writing a mystery with a humorous undertone and a dash of romance called for a spunky sleuth. So I created a short but feisty female knight-in-shining armor (hence the last name Knight) who gets booted out of law school and scrapes up enough money for the down payment on a little flower shop named Bloomers.

As popular as Abby is with fans of the series, I think her romance with the sexy owner of the Down the Hatch bar, Marco Salvare, keeps them hooked. Another popular character is Abby’s mother, a kindergarten teacher who believes she’s an artist and foists a different, hilarious creation on Abby to sell at her shop in each book. And I haven’t even mentioned Abby’s sidekicks, Lottie and Grace, or fashionista cousin Jillian, the woman readers love to hate. I guess you’ll have to read about them.

JRW: Are any of Abby’s family or friends based on people from your own life?

KATE: Abby’s father. My father was also a cop, a man who wouldn’t take bribes or play politics, and was punished for it by being passed over for promotions for many years. Unlike Abby’s father, who is paralyzed and wheelchair bound because of a stroke he suffered while chasing down a drug dealer, my father’s stroke happened just after he retired from the force at the age of 54, and he died three years later. He was honored several times for his bravery and always downplayed it. Being familiar with the ways of cops, good and bad, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with them. I admire their courage, but hate when they use their authority for the wrong purposes.

JRW: Why did you switch from historical romance to mysteries?

KATE: It wasn’t much of a switch because my romances were actually mystery-suspense novels using romance as the springboard. When the American historical market started to dry up, (the call then was for more Regencies, which I didn’t enjoy) I decided to go with my true love, mysteries, then add a touch of romance to it. Plus, my muse, having been a longtime fan of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, said I had to. When Muse talks, Kate listens.

So, who in their right mind would ever want to become a writer and have to put up with muses?

I’ll admit it’s a problem. Muses are often noisy around 4 a.m. I’ve had some seriously good sleep interrupted by mine. However, as a left-handed writer, I’ve been told I’m always in my right mind, (but not by my husband) so I really have no choice. I must write.

JRW: What is your writing schedule? Do you only write when the mood strikes?

KATE: If I had to wait for a mood to strike I’d never finish a book. What strikes most often is fear. Fear of missing a deadline, fear of having to work around the clock to make the deadline, fear of phone calls from people wanting to chat during my deadline rush, and fear of my bladder bursting from too many cups of green tea. I’m at the computer by nine in the morning, break for lunch at noon, back to work at one o’clock, and out the door for a walk by four in the afternoon. I treat it as a job, but I love it as a passion.


JRW: So what did you write about for that eighth grade “describe your life as an inanimate object” assignment?

KATE: A spoon. It was a stirring piece.

JRW: OUCH! For that you get to answer our Jungle red quiz.

Sex or Chocolate? I have a choice? I thought they came as a unit, you know, like eggs and bacon. . . well, never mind. I’ll go with chocolate. Let’s not say anything to my husband, okay?

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan? Pierce, definitely. He’s a gentleman on the outside, but there’s a mischievous sparkle in his eyes that says there’s a bad boy beneath that tux just dying for a reason to come out.
Three true things about you and one lie; we'll guess which.
I speak and read passable French. I love to cook. I am hooked on the TV show LOST. I can’t stand any noise around me when I write. Have at it.

9 comments:

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Kate, welcome! I laughed all the way through your interview--what a perfect way to start the day.

(Confession: every Friday, our local florist drops off a bunch of random flowers in my front hall. I never know what they'll be. I get to arrange them, and its's one of the high points of my week.)

Anyway. Your writing psyche sounds like mine! Exactly. Comforting to hear.

There's a lot of discussion about keeping a series going--what makes them stay alive for authors. And readers! Can you weigh in on that?

Roberta Isleib said...

I agree Kate, Marco is definitely a draw! wish I could write hunks that way...

Did you know anything much about flowers or flower shops before you started this series?

and yes, what Hank says, how long do you see it going on?

Hallie Ephron said...

Hey, Kate - I'm always happy to "meet" another author who never thought she'd be be a professional writer. The only writing I ever used to do was make lists...and then check off the items when they were done. And because I love to cook, I'll assume you do... Which makes me ask, You can write with noise going on around you? My hat off if you can.

Jan Brogan said...

Hi Kate,
Welcome to Jungle Red. Sounds like I've just got to meet Marco Salavare -- not to mention Abby.

And I think everyone hates school essays!

I'm going to guess you CAN write with noise -- after all those years trying to concentrate in elementary school rooms.

Laura Benedict said...

What a terrific interview, Kate!

Like Hallie, I never imagined I'd be a writer, either. My mother is constantly turning up with horrible B- essays I wrote in sixth and seventh grade.

So, do you move houses with the seasons so you can always go for your 4:00 walk when it's warm? Sounds delightful!

Kate Collins said...

Sorry I'm so late replying. I'm 2 days away from meeting my deadline and haven't written that "big finish" yet. I totally lost track of time yesterday. Know what I mean?
To answer your questions, I hope the flower shop series continues for a few more books because my characters have more stories to tell and a few relationships to tie up.
My readers tell me they're hooked on the Marco/Abby thread that's been building in the books (although they can be read as stand-alones). Another draw is Abby's mother, who comes up with a new and horrendous art project for Abby to sell at Bloomers. I think people like to revisit a cast they identify with, kind of like watching your fav TV series each week.
Flowers have always been a hobby of mine, but I had to hang out with florists to really learn what goes on in the backroom of the flower shop. It's a wonderful environment. Sometimes -- like yesterday, actually! -- I think of applying for a job at a flower shop. Wouldn't you love delivering flowers to people?
As for the noise, I can write through anything, but I prefer silence. I'm a good cook, btw, but given my druthers, I'd rather leave the cooking to my husband.
Thanks for asking me to join you today.
Best, Kate

Kate Collins said...

Laura,
We walk in every temperature but do try to head south for those nasty Jan-Feb-Mar months. We've been known to walk in zero weather. We're known around the "hood" as "those crazy walkers." Go figure.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Kate! We're sending out Jungle Red vibes to inspire you to the big finish! And let us know when it happens. It's such a great moment!

Come back and visit..

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