Welcome Back Guest Author Kate Flora and a #giveaway

The Wickeds all know Kate Flora, author, current president of Sisters in Crime New England, early organizer of the New England Crime Bake, and founder of the Maine Crime Writers blog. Today she’s writing about what happens when your sleuth has a baby. (Personally, I can’t imagine. When my protagonist, Julia, is off solving crimes, I’m always worried about who’s feeding the cat.)

Kate is here supporting her eleventh Thea Kozak Mystery, Death Sends a Message, which was released on October 18th. She’s offering one lucky commenter a chance to win a copy below.

Take it away, Kate!

When Your Character has a Baby

I always knew this day was coming and I was dreading it. What day, you might ask? The day I finally let my series character have a baby. Why is that such a big deal? Here’s why. When I first designed my Thea Kozak series, my protagonist was single, a grieving widow uninterested in ever taking a chance on love again. I was a bit naïve, despite being an avid mystery reader, and didn’t realize her situation might be a cliché. I wanted her single because it gave her greater mobility in solving crimes. I was also trying to avoid “Cabot Cove Syndrome,” or the problem of having someone in a character’s small orbit die whenever she came to visit. (Would you invite Jessica Fletcher to dinner?) I gave Thea the career of a private school consultant, so she could be called in to help wherever there was a campus crisis.

So far, so good. The first book, Chosen for Death, has Thea investigating her adopted sister’s murder. It gave me the opportunity to introduce her difficult family and backstory, as well as her work with schools. It also dumped her right into the arms of Andre Lemieux, a very attractive Maine state police detective. My plan: It’s a long distance relationship. It’s still Thea’s story. My editor felt otherwise. A lot of her comments on book two were about “pumping up the Andre quotient.”

That on-again, off-again relationship made its way through six books, when an unplanned pregnancy, and a wedding, became inevitable, then delayed when Andre is kidnapped by a patriotic militia group. Thea and Andre wrangled about her headstrong behavior and his over-protective attitude, but she continued with her career. Books seven, eight, and nine saw ups and downs in their lives—including a miscarriage—as she became the go-to person private schools called when serious campus events occurred. Thea took to calling herself “The girl in the white hat” or “Jane Wayne” as she rode into town to sort things out. Since mobility and freedom to pursue investigations were critical to Thea’s job, I didn’t want to put her in a situation where she might put a child at risk. The solution? Don’t let her have a baby.

As an attorney with a background in child protection, I was always attuned to child-related issues in mysteries where the protagonists had children, particular small children. Much as I love his books and his brilliant, lyrical writing, I often joke that if James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux were in my jurisdiction, his careless handling of Alafair’s welfare would have had the state involved. I didn’t want to have to call DHS on my own character. But, as most series writers know, our characters evolve, often in ways we don’t plan. If we write an ensemble cast, their lives also evolve. By book ten, Death Comes Knocking, Thea was again pregnant with the baby she and Andre so badly wanted.

Faced with book eleven, Death Sends a Message, I couldn’t keep that baby from happening any longer. In case you are a crime writer out there contemplating a pregnancy for your character, be warned. It was the hardest writing job of the series. Suddenly, I had a character who had no mobility. Who couldn’t go larking off to interview witnesses. Who was sleep-deprived, facing a daily mountain of laundry, and tied to a tiny person who was totally helpless. She might be willing to put herself in danger, but not her baby. How was I going to make a mystery out of that?

In this latest book, I hoped I’ve solved the problem by having people drop in and gossip. By having on-line searching become a valuable tool. And by having a sleuth who has solved enough crimes to have become wonderfully adept at observation, remembering what she’s seen and heard, and analyzing that. I also struggled to recall baby lore from decades ago, getting updated by the next generation. Among the more amusing pieces of research? Getting a description of using an airplane restroom while heavily pregnant. If your characters have children, how do they manage childcare?

Readers: Do you like reading about sleuths with young children, or do you think they put a drag on a story? One lucky commenter below will win a copy of Death Sends a Message. Answer the question or just say “hi” to be entered to win. We’d love to hear some examples.

About Death Sends a Message

Independent school consultant Thea Kozak is adjusting to motherhood and enjoying maternity leave, having just purchased a hat for her newborn son, when a hysterical woman gains her attention. The woman, also a new mother, claims her baby has just been kidnapped. Determined not to get involved, Thea flags down a police officer and hands off the problem. She returns home to her husband Andre, intending to enjoy their precious weeks of parental leave.

But Thea’s kindness soon brings trouble to her doorstep when a police officer asks questions about her relationship with Addison Shirley, the mother of the kidnapped child, who claimed Thea was a friend before she disappeared.

The couple’s hopes for a peaceful respite are quickly replaced with a break-in, a stalker, and a private school crisis involving star athletes and sexual assault that only Thea can handle. Thea and Andre wrestle with the lingering mystery and competing priorities while reexamining their future…if they live to face it.

About Kate Flora

Kate Flora’s fascination with people’s criminal tendencies began in the Maine attorney general’s office. Deadbeat dads, people hurting their kids, and employers’ discrimination aroused her curiosity about human behavior. The author of twenty-four 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

38 Thoughts

  1. I don’t mind sleuths having children as long as they are not put in dangerous situations. Thank you so much for this chance at your giveaway. pgenest57 at aol dot com

  2. I just finished a book where the main character’s sidekick had a baby, and it didn’t put any kind of drag on the story – of course, the baby’s grandmother was actively involved in caring for the child, too. I don’t think it would be a good idea to take young children to crime scenes. I’ve read many books where there are grown children, too.

  3. I enjoy books with protagonists who are living realistic lives, and that includes having children. As a mother and grandmother, I know that children change your life in many ways and I find it interesting to see how a fictional character will deal with the challenges that creates!

    1. I’ve always tried to have my characters lead realistic lives, partly in opposition to so many mysteries I’ve read where the characters don’t. So Thea has a difficult mother, dry cleaning piling up in her trunk, and the struggle to be taken seriously sometimes because she’s a smart, competent woman. Now I’ve given her the baby who doesn’t like to sleep. I had one of those. He’s now a movie editor in Hollywood and his sleep issues are his wife’s.

    2. I found remembering my own experience, and giving it to my character, very interesting. In particular, since Thea and Andre both have demanding jobs, it became a real issue for her when he was called in to work and had to go. (Andre is a Maine state police detective) Thea, as a nursing mother, couldn’t hand off her baby, and it became an issue the two of them had to face: how having a baby changes your life.

  4. Big time congratulations on the new release, Kate! I have to admit, I hadn’t given the topic any thought, but I think it adds an interesting new subplot to a story. Cheers!

  5. Congratulations, Kate! I’m fine with sleuths having children as long as the writer doesn’t make them window dressing or have the parents act stupidly for the sake of solving the crime.

  6. Liz, I hope I haven’t done that. It certainly creates conflict for characters who’ve always been free to lark off in pursuit of bad guys. Suddenly, there’s the diaper bag and spare clothes, and stroller, and car seat and a spare outfit for mom when she gets spit up on, and there no rushing the infant who needs feeding RIGHT NOW! It was an adventure, for sure.

  7. I enjoy having children in the story as it adds to the real life problems families face with managing childcare and jobs or interests. Especially when being a nosy successful sluth.

  8. Think children in a story can add an additional layer to a story. Maybe because it reminds us of the good in the world making it not all bad guys and murder all the time. I just don’t like them front and center as in taking the story around many curves that don’t relate to the story.

    “Death Sends a Message” sounds fabulous and I just know I’d love to read and review it. Thank you for the chance to win a copy.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  9. Fascinating, Kate! I appreciate reading about sleuths who have children (though I don’t have any in my books). It makes the character more nuanced. Kudos to you for pulling off a sleuth with a baby!

    1. Of course, I’m still not sure I’ve pulled it off, but it was so exhausting for both me and Thea that I’m still struggling to find a story for the next book! Probably should never admit that, right?

  10. I love the children . . and prefer that they be kept safe. I’ve read the ARC and it’s wonderful! (so I don’t need to win, let another have the joy of it). Thea does her work so well, but perhaps it would be good to start training an apprentice or two to take on some of the heavy lifting.

    1. Good idea, Mary, though I think Thea is a person who will have a hard time handing off the job she does so well. I did give them a new employee who will start working soon, and she is very attuned to more modern issues than I (and therefore, sometimes, Thea) It’s always a challenge to write a series over many years that span only a few in a character’s life. Thea debuted in 1994!

  11. I’m always interested in how authors handle the life changes of their characters. Marriage, divorces, children all change the landscape in fiction and fact. I’m sure Thea will be fine!

  12. I’m afraid I’m the turd in the punchbowl here. I don’t want to read about babies or how little children create problems. I read for the escapism. Reading about too much reality takes the fun out of it. No need to enter me in the drawing. However, I”m sure the book is a goodie for those who like babies!

  13. Good morning, Wow, your book sounds and looks very intriguing !! Yes, I am up for children in books as long as nothing bad happens to them, a character having a family makes it alot more realistic how things actually are. Thank you for the chance. Have a great day and a great weekend.

  14. I hate to admit it, but I do prefer a childless sleuth. That being said, I have NO PROBLEM with her falling in love with a father who has already had children from a previous relationship. I also enjoy a sleuth who has GROWN children. She can enjoy her grandchildren without taking on too much of their responsibility. But Kate, I really believe that you will figure out how to handle the baby issue, and you will be successful with your book!

    1. I preferred a childless sleuth as well, but this character seems to have a mind of her own. It’s been part of the series adventure, seeing how my plans for the book can get derailed by a character who is so willful.

  15. As a mom myself, I don’t mind children being in the story, but I do object to seeing them put into danger. I can sympathize with your challenge of solving a mystery while the sleuth is pregnant. That definitely would hamper her mobility and would require you to be even more creative on solving it.

  16. It’s a hard challenge for sure. I’m not sure how I’d solve it myself, but I tend to go with the flow, mostly, in what I read and see. I give a lot of dramatic license if the story is good.

  17. Kate, I’m so happy you are resuming your Thea Kozak series–it’s been too long! I don’t have a problem with sleuths who have young children, so long as there is a family member or sitter to take over when the sleuth must be elsewhere for the job. I’m looking forward seeing how you handle it.!

    1. thank you, Margie. Now if I could only come up with a plot for book twelve? I don’t want to abandon Thea and Andre. They’ve been with me so long. But that baby is a complication. I am waiting for a good nanny to turn up.

  18. I’ve never really thought about it. If they are part of the story, it could be a fun twist to the story.

  19. Congratulations on your book release. I was thrilled when you asked me to read an early copy. I like when characters have children. They add a normalcy to protagonist. Edith Maxwell does a great job with Cokie in her series.

  20. I like having children and pets in the series. However, they need to be safe and not causing too much trouble in the plot. I don’t really want to read about constant temper tantrums when I went to hear about the mystery. A nanny or other child minder would add to the story.

    Most cozy mysteries wouldn’t exist if the main characters didn’t have good help to run their stores or other businesses.

  21. I enjoy reading about sleuths with children. It puts an additional aspect into the story. Thank you for sharing. God bless you.

  22. A fascinating scenario of a private school consultant. I taught at private schools in two different Texas towns and can see the need at some very post schools — and I’m not talking academics. I look forward to reading the series.

  23. Hi Kate. I don’t mind that a character has a child as long as the child is not put in dangerous situations. That would be hard to read. As the child gets old enough to ask questions, it might be fun to have those be a clue in solving the crime. I would love to win a copy of this book for the Liberty Library. Happy Holidays everyone!

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