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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

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