Thursday, September 25, 2014

Kate Flora juggles facts and fictions...

HALLIE EPHRON: The fall harvest of wonderful books includes a bounty from Kate Flora: two new books, one crime fiction and one true crime.

Kate, who struck gold with her Edgar nominated true crime Finding Amy, follows it up this month with Death Dealer. Then next month she follows her third Joe Burgess mystery, Redemption, which won the 2013 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction, with a new entry in the series, And Grant You Peace. 

Crime fiction and true crime. I confess, I can more easily imagine juggling cats. Kate, how do you do it?

KATE FLORA: I can’t juggle. Tried to learn years ago, thinking it might help me draw a crowd at book signings, but every time I introduced the third ball, I hit myself in the head with it. Juggling being out, I went in search of other adventures, and while I was messing around trying to learn to write cops, true crime found me.

My first true crime, Finding Amy, I co-wrote to help out my friend Joe Loughlin, who was the lieutenant in charge of CID at the Portland, Maine police department when Amy disappeared. Research led me to meet Lt. Pat Dorian who headed search and rescue. At the launch party for Finding Amy, Pat said to me, “So, Kate, when you’re ready, I’ve got another one for you.” It turned out to be a murder in Miramachi, New Brunswick.

True crime takes twice as long to write as a novel, and I have to spend years with images of real crime victims in my head. On the flip side, the research gets me away from desk into a world that is fascinating.

The story seemed compelling to me. First, the suspect threatened to harm the investigators’ families when they pressed him about his lies. They hadn’t found the victim’s body, which turned out to have been hidden in the woods. And they had only a small window of opportunity to find it when it had thawed enough to give off scent that the dogs could work on, but before bear emerging from hibernation found the body and consumed it.

It took seven years to get justice for the victim in that case, and for me to have a final ending for Death Dealer.

HALLIE: Tell us about the process you went through to write Death Dealer.

KATE: I started out by getting introduced to investigators who gave me access to the case. I spent hours reading files and doing interviews and watching videos and sitting in courtrooms. I ate a lot of Miramichi salmon drove an ATV deep into the woods to see where the body was hidden. Learned all about training of search and rescue dogs and cadaver dogs. As always, I am amazed at the generosity and openness of the people I interviewed to write this book.

HALLIE: Is there a ‘hero’ of that true story, as there is with your Joe Burgess novels?

KATE: As Joe Burgess likes to say—he doesn’t do it, his team does. In Death Dealer, it was the team of investigators who worked the case; the wardens who organized and participated in that search; and MESARD volunteers.

And then there were the friends of the victim, Maria Tanasichuk, who were terrified of the suspect yet came forward to speak on behalf of their murdered friend. The code of friendship triumphing over any code of silence.

HALLIE: What are the special challenges of making it up versus hewing to the facts?

KATE: Well, I think the challenge of making it up, in a world where our readers are often well-informed by other writers, and real world news stories, is trying to get it right.

When I was working on And Grant You Peace, the new Joe Burgess book that’s out next month, Burgess and Terry Kyle watch a young man they recognized walking down the street toward a convenience store with a suspicious bulge in his pocket that tells them he’s got a gun. I knew they were going to be going into that store, and that it was a very dangerous situation, so I e-mailed two police officers I use as resources, and called a third, and had them walk me through the scene.

That’s the challenge. Writing cops who feel credible.

HALLIE: Does one kind of writing enrich the other?

KATE:  Absolutely. What I’ve learned from all of my time with cops informs my writing when I am writing fictional cops.

When you flip that question, all of the time I’ve spent learning to reveal character to a reader, in shaping story so that it has a dramatic arc, in finding the right voice and stance to tell the story—those things have been invaluable when I’m writing a true story.

HALLIE: My hat is off to you, Kate. Years of work and a commitment to justice. And meanwhile you’re spinning out novels.

Kate will be checking in today so feel free to pepper her with questions about how she manages this true juggling act.

ABOUT Death Dealer: How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a Killer to Justice by Kate Flora
When the hunters become the hunted, life for law enforcement officials and their families in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada, turns upside-down. It takes a months-long investigation by police, search and rescue dogs and their handlers to catch a suspected serial killer.

ABOUT And Grant You Peace by Kate Flora
This 4th book in the Joe Burgess mystery series finds Burgess pulled inadvertently into a case rife with religious tensions after finding a young mother and a baby locked in a closet inside a burning mosque. His search for answers leads him to an outlaw motorcycle gang, a fishing boat captain who may be supplementing his income with illegal activities, and an immigrant community suspicious of the police.


Joan Emerson said...

One of the things that I find most compelling about real crime books is how they reveal the tenacity of investigators dedicated to solving crimes, even when bringing the perpetrator to justice may mean years of work in order to solve the case.
In your interview, you said “Finding Amy” was written to help out the lieutenant . . . can you elaborate on that?
Since I enjoy both your fiction and your true crime books, I am looking forward to reading both of your new books . . . .

Edith Maxwell said...

Such great news, Kate. I have the ARC of the Burgess book right here ready to read this weekend and can't wait. I'm not sure I'd be up to writing true crime - you're a brave woman.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

So interesting Kate! I love your description of how one kind of writing feeds the other, and vice versa. I'm with Edith--don't think I'd have the patience or the nerves for true crime. But with cozies, the murders are always a little bit distant from the writer--and the reader. How do you manage your feelings about the true crime?

FChurch said...

I second Lucy's question, how do you distance yourself and stay sane? And how is that different when writing fiction such as a thriller?

There is an image stuck in my mind from decades ago, a detail from a crime scene that I can't shake. I can see the book cover, but I can't bring myself to write the story--I thought using it in a work of fiction might help me deal with it. But so far it remains a knot in my psyche, as Thich Nhat Hanh might put it.

Kate Flora said...

Joan Emerson - That's such an important question. When I started Finding Amy, I was just going to help my friend Joe Loughlin, who had supervised the investigation, write a book about it. It became so much more than that. I was haunted by Amy, by who she was and by her loss.

For me, at least, writing true crime takes far, far longer and is so much harder than fiction. But in a world where the cops are too often bad guys and victims easily forgotten, it does feel to go give something back to them.

Denise Ann said...

So excited to see Kate Flora today -- I heard her speak at Crime Bake a couple of years ago, and loved AMY -- so glad to hear about the new books. Congratulations.

Has your writing of true crime had any influence on the investigations?

Kate Flora said...

For Lucy and FChurch…how do I manage my feelings? That's a hard one, because I can find myself haunted by the victims, especially where, in both cases, I've been to the gravesites and talked at length with the investigators about what it felt like when they were dealing with the bodies.

One thing I think we writers try to do, whether it is fiction or nonfiction, is to take the feelings that come, either from imagining it or hearing about the reality, and channeling that back into the writing so the readers can feel it as well. Obviously, working in the world of the real informs how I write the fiction now.

Often, as in the exhumation scene in Finding Amy, I have the cops' own voices to bring you into the scene. I've never been able to shake off the images of those gloved hands sifting the dirt, the cops using real arrows as markers for the evidence, all under those powerful lights in an otherwise dark winter woodland. In some ways, I guess that I'm the translator, and I have to get over my own feelings to tell the story.

Kate Flora said...

Denise Ann … have I had any influence on investigations? Not that I know of. Once, on a stake out, I spotted the bad guy. And once, talking to a witness about one case, I got some very interesting information about another crime. And wouldn't you know it, I had just turned off my recorder because my interview had been with the wife, and she was taking a break. But I did go back and share it with the cops, who said it was something they hadn't heard before.

One odd thing is that sometimes I get people e-mailing me and asking me to solve their missing child's murder or look into something that the police won't investigate, and I have to explain that I'm not a detective or even an investigative reporter, just a civilian.

Ramona said...

I am in the camp of admiring writers who can handle true crime. I have written short pieces about Earl Bradley, a Delaware pediatrician convicted of molesting and raping his young patients. I've toyed with the idea of a book, but I don't know that I could deal with spending all that time in that much darkness. Police who do this must have nightmares, but it's important and someone needs to speak for the victims.

The scenario you describe (young man heading toward convenience store)--the adrenaline rush must be astounding. From your brief description, I can picture the scene clearly. Very nice.

Hallie Ephron said...

Getting messages from people who've lost a loved one - heartbreaking. And wondering (related to something I'm writing) if you know what the cops you've worked with think of the so-called psychics who say they claim to be able to help find the missing?

Mary Sutton said...

Both of these sound fascinating, Kate. I'm going to have to check them out (I love a well-written true crime).

So nice meeting you at WPA!

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Welcome, Kate! Thank you for answering what Lucy and FChurch asked -- the idea of being a "translator" is fascinating.

Old Fogey said...

Hallie, the question about psychics is an interesting one. Some of the cops I've met are skeptics; others may reach a point in the investigation where they're willing to consider anything that might help.

In Finding Amy, they did consult a psychic, but she wasn't helpful in finding the body. In Death Dealer, there is an amazing episode not involving psychics, exactly but involving something "otherworldly" that actually led to finding the murder weapon.

It isn't in the book, but I was told by one of the cadaver dog handlers that they did consult a psychic about looking for Maria, but this was a person who specialized in finding dogs, not people. Again, it wasn't a lead. Probably more interesting that police can be so open-minded about looking for resources to help them solve a case.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yes,I agree it's brave. Thinking about imaginary victims is one thing--and I try to remember they are real people whose lives matter.

But Kate, your characters ARE real people, and that;s so emotionally different. (Same as being a reporter-it's very different to try to be careful with a human being.)

And people who read our book--will know if it's correct and honest--and have a different gauge of its authenticity.

As we're all saying. Brave. And BRAVO!

Kate Flora said...

Ramona…I was so pleased when Lisa Haselton, in her review of And Grant You Peace, talked about the breathless pacing. I don't know how it is for other writers, but sometimes I find myself out of breath and exhausted after writing a particularly intense scene.

Also…I don't know if other writers do this…I expect they must, but I very often run what I want to do in a scene by some of my police advisors, and get their feedback. Sometimes they point out things I never would have thought of.

Hallie Ephron said...

I have the good fortune of having a next-door neighbor who's a Statie. His advice has been invaluable. Also just standing near him and feeling that sense of power and calm confidence that so many cops exude.

Kate Flora said...

Hallie…they call that thing that some cops can project "Command presence." And boy can it be compelling.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Reading true crime, for me, is very different from reading fiction because the people in the true crime book are real. I keep thinking about them and their families How do you manage all this? Your books have deep compassion in them, as well as respect for the officers doing the work.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Oh yes Kate, about running things by cops. I have been lucky to become friends with the real Steve Torrence, who is the Community Affairs Officer for the Key West police department. I desperately wanted to have a scene with the police dog rushing in to get the bad guy and save hostages. He assured me this was totally unrealistic so I had to give it up. Probably saved me a lot of embarrassment down the line...

Brenda Buchanan said...

I am so keen to read both of your new books, Kate. Like Hallie and so many of the other commenters, I stand in awe of your courage, compassion and ability to keep so many balls in the air.

You sure can juggle figuratively, even if you can't literally.


PK the Bookeemonster said...

Kate, I really loved your Thea Kozak series. So thanks for some good reading over the years.
I'm intrigued by your true crime. I apologize that it hadn't hit my reading radar before now. I'll be taking a look and perhaps purchasing it. It's kinda hitting my reading mood right now. :)

Lisa Alber said...

"Command presence" -- that is so interesting. I'd never thought about that before, but many cops do exude calm assurance and power, don't they?

Kate, I enjoyed your interview today. And not one book out, but two! Congratulations!

Kathy Reel said...

Kate, both your fiction and non-fiction books sound like great reads to me and will be going on my wish lists and TBR list. I found your statement that "I guess that I'm the translator, and I have to get over my own feelings to tell the story" a powerful one. From your other comments, I realize that the story is not only the story of the victim, but of the people who are trying indefatigably to find the answers. You are doing such important work in telling these stories, both in fiction and non-fiction. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on writing both.

Mary Sutton said...

Command presence is big in law enforcement and the military. Everything from how you stand, your tone of voice, your posture, the attitude you exude down to the cleanliness of your uniform and the shine on your shoes. As Lee Lofland once said, you are you going to trust, the officer with the clean, crisp uniform and authoritative voice, or the slob with crumbs on his shirt and who mumbles?

Kate Flora said...

Susan Oleksiw, I think I try to do in the real books the same thing I do in fiction: understand what drives the character and then try to show that to my readers.

It's a huge challenge in the world of true crime, where I know that the "characters" in my book are going to be reading the book.

In Death Dealer, I had the good fortune to meet with two of the victim's closest friends, as well as her sister, and they gave me a lot of insight into Maria. I kept coming back to that quote from Othello: She loved not wisely but too well. Because despite the awful end, it had been a love story. Her husband just fell more deeply in love with drugs.

I'm always thrilled when readers see what I'm trying to do here and like it, because so much true crime can be lurid and sensational.

Old Fogey said...

By the way, PK…and all Thea Kozak fans…if all goes well, there will be a new Thea, Death Warmed Over, in the spring.

Reine said...

You have your own "command presence," Kate. Absolutely brilliant work.

Kate Flora said...

Thank you Reine. Always great to get a compliment from a queen. I should guest at Jungle Red more often. It is great for the shaky writer's ego.