Saturday, November 3, 2018

Kate Flora writes... because we NEED heroes


HALLIE EPHRON: Kate Flora is one of those multi-talented writers who can write a police procedural one minute, switch to true crime, and then move on to one that's more traditional. She's probably the first mystery writer I met when I started to write, and she welcomed me into the amazing community of crime fiction writers. She's smart, generous, and multi-talented.

I caught up with Kate and asked her about her new books - she's got SEVERAL of them!
 
Kate Flora: Since the terrible events at the Squirrel Hill synagogue, I’ve been regularly checking the news, looking for a thoughtful and compassionate grownup to come forward and speak to us. Speak to the country. Say the words that we need to hear about who we are and why we are, and try to bring us together.

No such person has appeared. But looking for leadership, and courage, and decency and bravery has brought my thoughts around to crime writing. Why we do it, and why crime novels can play such an important part in the lives of our readers.

Some years ago, when Hallie was doing a book launch right after 9/11, she arrived shaken by an interviewer who had challenged her about whether it was right to write crime for entertainment when the world had just seen such criminal violence. Hallie’s response was perfect. She said we should all wish the world were more like the world of the crime novel, because in the world that we writers are creating, morality prevails and bad guys don’t. (My words, not hers. She likely said it better.)

In my books, I like to write heroes. Joe Burgess, in my police procedural series, is someone who gets justice for victims. Thea Kozak, in her series, describes herself as “Thea the Human Tow Truck.” She’s someone who has to stop and help the helpless, those who are broken down on the roadsides of life. I worry sometimes about whether my endings are too happy, but I like to end the books with a sense of crimes solved, order restored, and send my characters onward to fight another day.

The heroes and heroines in my new crime story collection, Careful What You Wish For: Stories of revenge, retribution, and the world made right, are a mixed bag. There are the victims’ teenaged children grappling with the mystery of their parents’ deaths. One is a teenaged soccer player forced to become the adult when her father’s death sends her mother to the bottle, who is determined to locate the car that struck her father down. There’s a confused son shocked to discover how much people disliked his lawyer dad. There’s the grieving wife, coached by her husband’s ghost, who searches for the sleazy gun dealer who sold the defective gun that killed him.

These heroines—and they are mostly women who star in these stories—are often dealing with difficult domestic situations. The man trying to poison his wife becomes his own victim. The sad new widow continues to set the traps her husband devised to keep her safe when he was on the road, and catches herself a pair of thieves. An abused wife who can’t take it any more finds a gun in an unlocked car.

Worms Crawl In, told from the viewpoint of a mother sitting in the trial of her daughter’s killer, was inspired by the real world courage shown by a murder victim’s mother I observed while writing the true crime, Finding Amy.

They may often be everyday people, dealing with the troubles in ordinary lives, but as is the case in my series mysteries, the characters in these stories become brave, become problem solvers, become inspired by the desire to do the right thing. I hope readers may find some comfort in the stories, may raise a fist and say, “Yes,” in these times when we are seeking courage and strength. All while being entertained.

HALLIE: Applauding Kate's sentiments... And wondering, despite the fact that crime fiction is about crime, are the books you read a source of comfort, courage, and strength... or is entertainment enough?

About Kate Flora:

Kate Flora’s fascination with people’s criminal tendencies began in the Maine attorney general’s office. Deadbeat dads, people who hurt their kids, and employers’ discrimination aroused her curiosity about human behavior. The author of twenty books and many short stories, Flora’s been a finalist for the Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, and Derringer awards. She won the Public Safety Writers Association award for nonfiction and twice won the Maine Literary Award for crime fiction. Death Warmed Over, her 8th Thea Kozak mystery, was a finalist for the Maine Literary Award. Her 9th Thea Kozak mystery, Schooled in Death, was published in November. Her new crime story collection is Careful What You Wish For: Stories of revenge, retribution, and the world made right.

Flora’s nonfiction focuses on aspects of the public safety officers’ experience. Her two true crimes, Finding Amy: A true story of murder in Maine (with Joseph K. Loughlin) and Death Dealer: How cops and cadaver dogs brought a killer to justice, follow homicide investigations as the police conducted them. Her co-written memoir of retired Maine warden Roger Guay, A Good Man with a Dog: A Game Warden’s 25 Years in the Maine Woods, explores policing in a world of guns, misadventure, and the great outdoors. Her latest nonfiction is Shots Fired: The Misconceptions, Misunderstandings, and Myths about police shootings with retired Portland Assistant Chief Joseph K. Loughlin. Flora divides her time between Massachusetts and Maine.

47 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your newest books, Kate . . . and thank you for your thoughtful post.

    Hallie, I think there’s a great deal of comfort in reading crime fiction and discovering the courage and strength of the characters in that particular narrative. And, in all honesty, it’s quite nice to be able to escape to the fictional world where I know right will prevail and, in the end, the good guys will win . . . .

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    1. And isn't it nice when you can see so clearly who the 'good guys' are!?

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    2. I know that sometimes the endings can be mixed, but there is justice. I also try, in my books, to create an understanding of the ripple effects of crime. The victims aren't only the person who is killed, but family and friends, sometimes society, and those who have to investigate the crime.

      Kate

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  2. Well put, both of you. We do find courage and strength in these characters - and are entertained, too. I think they mesh perfectly. As Joan said, it's a comfort to know right will prevail.

    Kate was one of my early encouragers, too, and her kind words meant so much to me. Thank you, Kate!

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    1. She's been a fairy godmother to a ton of writers... which is why she's being honored at this year's New England Crime Bake for lifetime achievement.

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    2. Wasn't I clever to recognize your talent, Edith

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    3. I sure am glad you encouraged me to keep writing!

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  3. This is what draws me to mysteries and crime stories. The justice of putting the bad guy away, finding the good in the situation, helping to put things back in some type of normality.

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    1. I agree, Deb - and for the protagonist there's usually a sense of 'getting it right THIS TIME."

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  4. I'm always glad when justice is served in the stories that I read. But I wouldn't necessarily say that I read books looking for comfort, courage or strength. I read for entertainment.

    That's probably why I hated reading when I was in high school. It was simply about reading for grades and such. There was no entertainment value in it and thus it was a ponderous chore. And the teachers didn't like the fact that I told them that just because a book is over 100 years old doesn't automatically make it a classic. If it wasn't entertaining, it was a waste of my time. (Yes, I was a happily obnoxious teenager. Big surprise I'm sure. HA!)


    But even now, when I'm reading some books for review purposes, I don't feel like it is a chore or a "job" because the books are entertaining me. Well, at least usually doing so.


    Does that make sense? I don't know. It's early, I slept lousy and I'm headed off to cover the Rhode Island Comic Con today. I may not be thinking as clearly as I hope.

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    1. Jay, this is reminding me how I felt when I'd finished college and graduate school and could read FOR FUN for the first time in what felt like decades.

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    2. I bet you were a handful in high school Jay, but good for you, making people think about why certain books were assigned!

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    3. I started reading mysteries "for fun" when I was in law school. A good antidote to the seriousness of everything. But when I contemplated what I wanted to write, it was the contest between good and evil, fueled by years in the practice and observing human behavior and people's belief that it was okay for them to deviate from the social contract not to do harm, that inspired me to choose to write mysteries.

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  5. Welcome Kate! And lord are you right about how badly we need thoughtful, compassionate grown-up leaders in these times. I am always astonished about how you switch from novels to short stories to true crime without breaking a sweat. Can you tell us about the differences in writing those genres in your mind?

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    1. Lucy...I never meant to write nonfiction. I was dragged into it kicking and screaming by the public safety officers I was relying on to get the fiction right. Writing true crime and other nonfiction has been tough, but it has also been very effective in illuminating the police officers lives and work so that the fiction has gotten deeper, darker, and more real. The converse is that when I started helping public safety officers tell their stories--in Finding Amy and Death Dealer--I could bring storytelling skills and what I knew about organizing a story--the arc, the drama, the need to attach readers to the characters--to bear on the real stories.

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  6. As a reading teacher I found that to get a reluctant reader to read we first had to give him or her something that was entertaining and something they could relate too. Appreciation of fine literature can come later once they have found that reading can be such a good thing.
    I read to be entertained and to find comfort and maybe some insights that can help me better figure out my life.

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    1. So right... and truly an aside... this is reminding me of the despair I felt when I taught my first elementary school class of non-English speaking 6th graders and the ONLY text that was at their vocabulary level were the execrable DICK AND JANE first grade primers. Forget about teaching then to love reading.

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    2. Judi, my brother John was a librarian for many years, and one of his focuses was finding books that YA readers, particularly boys, would relate to. He built a fabulous collection and a great community of readers. As a mom, I was sometimes horrified by what the boys chose, but again, if the books kept their noses glued to the page and sent them on to other books, the writer had done his or her job. And to Hallie's point, Judy Green, a wonderful Maine write, wrote something like 26 books for adult beginning readers--much better than Dick and Jane.

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  7. I have friends who are readers, friends who are non-readers, friends who limit themselves to one genre, all sorts. Then there are those who "look down" on crime fiction. I challenge them to find a book that doesn't address some sort of crime, contain some sort of mystery. Well, maybe GOODNIGHT MOON.

    I'm with Jay though. If I'm not entertained, I put the book down. This happened most recently with NORTHANGER ABBEY. Sorry all you Jane Austen fans. I just don't get it.

    For many years, as is alluded to by Hallie above, reading was for education and information. Even then I managed to keep one or two novels going. Now I read purely for pleasure, and if I happen to learn something along the way, and I always do, that's the lagniappe. The three or four hours a day I devote to my latest book are the hours I look forward to from the moment I open my eyes.

    It's not fattening and takes no effort at all, makes no mess, can be done anywhere anytime, and it doesn't make you sweaty. What more to want from a hobby?

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    1. Doesn't even weigh you down these days with e-books.

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  8. congratulations on your new release! I enjoy reading about wrongs being righted, satisfied when justice prevails. And I write stories (and finally, a book) in the same vein.

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  9. Kate expresses this so well here and in her wonderful work. The need for an orderly world, where when bad things happen, they right themselves in the end. Last winter I found myself lamenting the state of the world and needed an escape. I crawled into Louise Penny's Three Pines and hid for thirteen books. It had to be serendipitous that I hadn't read them before. I am a grateful reader.

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    1. "I crawled into Louise Penny's Three Pines and hid for thirteen books." What a tribute!

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    2. Isn't it a treat to read straight through a series in order? I did that with all the Louise books to date (maybe six or seven) a few years ago after some surgery.

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    3. I did that with Louise, Ann Cleeves, and our own Deb a few years ago. Now I’ve read them all twice. It’s like snuggling in with old friends

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    4. My go-to was early Dick Francis. Loved his brave, unselfaware heroes. I made his Thea's literary godfather when I started writing.

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  10. My most favourite books provide comfort, open my mind to new experiences via the characters' stories, and offer a satisfactory solution - happy or less so. Above all, I'm looking for writing that brings strong people onto the page, especially strong women who are agents of their own lives, despite the travails they face along the way.

    Excuse me now while I head off to find Kate's books at my local library! You're a new author to me, Kate, and I'm looking forward to discovering you.

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    1. You will be happy you did, Amanda!

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    2. Amanda, I hope you'll enjoy meeting Thea. I think most of us, with series women, are watching them grow and change, while still keeping the characters our readers love. Since I write two series, when I move from one to the other to write a new book, it's like getting together with old friends and catching up on what is happening is their lives.

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  11. Kate - I am amazed at the range of your writing. I second Lucy/Roberta's question. I would love to hear your thoughts about the differences in writing the different genres. ANd, do you do your own research?

    I have always been drawn to mysteries. Simply put, chaos does not go unaddressed! There is always someone who cares enough to try to put things right.

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    1. Lyda...see my answer to Lucy, above. Obviously, one challenge with writing nonfiction is being faithful to the facts. And yes, I do my own research, although with a co-written book like Shots Fired: The misunderstandings, misconceptions, and myths about police shootings, my cowriter did the interviews, while I edited them, sent him back for clarification and more diversity of interview subjects, and then did the research for the narrative--statistics, criminal law, constitutional law, etc. Some of the "hands on" research was fascination. For A Good Man with a Dog, it involved going on cadaver dog, and search and rescue dog trainings, for Death Dealer, the true crime that takes place in Canada, it was riding an ATV through the Canadian woods, and once going on a stakeout and spotting the bad guy. All these police contacts are so valuable when I need to know how my cops will respond in the fiction.

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  12. Congratulations on your fabulous honor at Crime BAC, Kate! I will shower you with rose petals and place a tiara on your head… Well, metaphorically. But you are fabulous! Thank you so much for all you have done for me, and for everyone… You are a true icon.

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    1. Hank...I definitely want that tiara. You are now charged with bringing one...do Goddesses wear tiaras? Stunned by the honor, and thrilled by it, of course. I tend to be a bit like Eeyore, as in "thanks for noticing me."

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  13. Congratulations on the new books, Kate.

    For me it's a bit of both. Yes, entertainment - but also a gratifying sense of "this is how the story SHOULD end." All too often we see the opposite in the real world - the "bad guys" get off (or get off lightly) and the victims are left to pick up the pieces by themselves.

    Mary/Liz

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  14. Reading mystery fiction is not only entertaining, it’s also educational. I love to read mysteries set in places I will never be able to visit or revisit, or set in another era, or about a profession I know nothing about, and most of all because in most mysteries justice prevails. I need to see that. With the way things are going in the world, too many people’s lives are being changed forever by some sort of violence. Reading about a fictional world in which someone takes charge and tries to right the wrongs or bring the guilty to justice is my respite from what I hear or read in the news. (We all need an Armand Gamache in our lives.)

    DebRo

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    1. We probably need a Joe Burgess, too. But of course I am prejudiced, since he's my character. But yes...we want/need to see good guys and good gals. We wouldn't want them perfect, but we do want them to be stand up guys and gals.

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  15. When I was a teenager, someone gave me a gift of The Continental Op by Dashiell Hammett. I probably had seen The Maltese Falcon and many other noir films by that time. I liked the fact that you couldn’t always tell who were the good guys or the bad guys. I also like the spoofing of the genre by Garrison Keillor when he plays Guy Noir “searching for answers to life’s persistent questions.” I will stop reading a book if it’s not “entertaining”. That is true for me either in fiction or non-fiction and it happens sometimes with perfectly well-written books. Sometimes I need to put a book down and return to it later. I like learning about the interior life of a character; whether this comes from a first-person narrative or if it comes by way of being shown by the actions of characters over the course of the novel. All that being said, I do like a good read where the hero is vindicated in the end and all is set right in the world.

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  16. Congrats on the new books, Kate! And I agree 100% with having a solid resolution at the end. Life is murky enough as it is!

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  17. Brilliant.
    A touch of the sordid reality of everyday life with the seasoning of right prevailing!
    Libby Dodd

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  18. I think reading and writing crime fiction can make you braver. You can read examples (or write them) of characters standing up for what is just and right, especially when standing up for those things isn't easy. When we can't find examples of leadership and courage in the real world, sometimes we can find in the fictional world and be inspired to act or think differently. Welcome, Kate! Thanks for your thought-provoking essay!

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  19. I read to be captivated--by a story, by character, by setting, and, yes, by a satisfactory ending that brings about justice or change for the better. Characters are, like their human counterparts, flawed, and some characters, again like people, aren't redeemable. But, if you give me a book where no one learns anything from their flaws or mistakes, then I am most disappointed by the book. For a story to be worthwhile to me, the main character needs to show that he or she has been through the darkness and gained something from it.

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  20. Thank you! I just realized that there is only one more Joe Burgess book after AND GRANT YOU PEACE, so I'm relieved that there's a new collection coming. No pressure, but . . . I need the BOOKS, the heroes, the escape.
    “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” ― G.K. Chesterton

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