Kate Flora is another of the amazing women writers I met when I became a member of the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime. Her accomplishments are legendary. And now she’s tried something entirely new for her — writing a romantic suspense.
Here’s a bit about Wedding Bell Ruse: Callista McKenzie is a self-made woman. She’s left her toxic family, gotten educated, and built an accounting business, deferring life and love until she’s debt free. Then Devin enters her life. The perfect employee, perfect boyfriend, perfect fiancé, until the morning she wakes from a drugged sleep to find Devin and her personal and business assets gone, a note clipped to her pillow: Thanks for everything.
Devastated, Callie tries to pull her life back together, but the police are convinced she’s secretly colluded with Devin and will soon sneak away to join him. When her biggest client fires her, saying her judgment can’t be trusted, and the detective makes it clear that things will go easier if she provides sexual favors, she throws some clothes in a suitcase and runs.
Many hours later, out of physical and emotional gas, she pulls over on a cold Vermont roadside to rest, awakened by a police officer knocking on her window. He sends her on to the nearest town, where the coffee shop is just opening. Nearly penniless, she scrounges enough change for a cup of coffee. Then a man sits down at her table and says, “Smile, and pretend you’re glad to see me.”
His words open the door to a world of temptation, complication, and danger. Callie needs a place to hide. Tommy Morgan needs a wife. And someone doesn’t want them to marry.
There’s a mysterious stalker outside her room. Her car windows are vandalized. Someone tries to poison her. And then the detective shows up, carrying her away from happily ever after.
The story how the book came to be is fascinating! Join me in welcoming Kate!
Yes, Kate, but romantic suspense? Really?
Writers are often asked where we get our ideas. My usual response is that ideas are everywhere. In the things we see when we’re driving down the street, that we overhear or someone tells us, or that we read in the paper. Once in a while, though, a character simply appears. Trailing an interesting story, she walks into a surprising scene, and even I, the author, have to know what comes next. That’s what happened with Wedding Bell Ruse.
I can’t say where I was, or what I was doing, probably figuring out the how and why of killing someone, which is how I usually spend my time, but suddenly, like a waking dream, I saw this woman, exhausted from driving many hours, clearly running from something. It was late at night on a desolate Vermont road. She’s scared. She has no money. She’s running from her fiancé’s terrible betrayal and threatening cop with no idea where to go or what to do. She goes into a coffee shop, just opening for the day, orders coffee, goes to the ladies room to freshen up, and when she comes out, a stranger is sitting at her table. He looks at her with desperately sad eyes and says, “Smile and pretend you’re glad to see me.”
And so the book began.
More than a quarter of a century ago, when I started writing mysteries, I was joining other writers in what I call a “Nancy Drew comes of age” exploration. We were going to write books where the protagonists were women who rescued themselves or others, no brawny guys leaping out of the closet to save them. I thought the journey was straightforward. I would spend nine months writing a Thea Kozak mystery, three months promoting, and back to my desk.
The journey hasn’t been like that at all.
When my series got dropped, I was catapulted into taking chances. Joining Susan Oleksiw and Sky Alexander in founding Level Best Books, editing, publishing, and writing short stories. Taking a chance on writing male cops in my Joe Burgess procedural series. Learning to write true crime to help my friend Joe Loughlin tell a story that was important to him. I’ve now written strong women, cops, true crime, memoir, short story and straight nonfiction.
Callista McKenzie’s story, though, inspired by those scenes when she appeared in her car, and when Tommy Morgan sat across from her in The Copper Penny and asked her to smile and pretend she was glad to see him, was far from what is arguably my platform: the world of cops. It got written on a whim because I was so curious about what their story was. What had happened to make her run? Why did Tommy need to get married? Who was the mysterious person threatening her? Would things work out or would Callie get hauled off to jail?
Wedding Bell Ruse, written between deadlines, ended up tucked away in a drawer. It joined a domestic thriller, a political thriller, and two books exploring new series characters. Last year I got impatient with those “books in the drawer,” pulled it out, and asked my Facebook friends where to send it. Following writer Mary Harris’s kind advice, I found a publisher and now I am holding my breath, wondering if my venture into yet another genre will work.
As for the title? Titles are definitely not my strong point. I had a working title: Runaway, that was blah and the editor didn’t like it. Once again, I turned to my friends on Facebook and asked for help. Fifty possible titles later, she chose this one.
Readers: Do you read more than one genre? Do you have a favorite?
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-one 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. Her most recent Thea Kozak mystery is Schooled in Death; her most recent Joe Burgess is A Child Shall Lead Them. Her new crime story collection is Careful What You Wish For: Stories of revenge, retribution, and the world made right. 2020 will see a romantic suspense, Wedding Bell Ruse, a story in The Faking of the President and one in Heartbreaks and Half-Truths.
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.