A former assistant attorney general for the State of Maine, Kate is a founder of the New England Clam Bake Conference. Her books include seven “strong woman” Thea Kozak mysteries. The gritty police procedurals in her star-reviewed Joe Burgess series have twice won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. Her first true crime, Finding Amy, was nominated for an Edgar. Her most recent true crime, Death Dealer, was an Anthony and Agatha finalist and won the Public Safety Writers Association 2015 award for nonfiction. Flora has also published 16 crime stories in various anthologies.
Oh, the Places You’ll Go
I’m riding on a four-wheeler—my first time on such a vehicle—driving down the streets of Miramichi, New Brunswick and heading into the Canadian woods. This is what I get for asking to see the spot where murder victim Maria Tanasichuk’s body was found by Maine game wardens with trained cadaver dogs. The detective who set this up is granting my request to see the murder site; he is also testing me to see how brave I am. This is not an aspect of writing that I envisioned years ago, on a Bermuda beach, thinking up the plot for my first mystery.
But that’s the thing about crime writing: we write for an audience that is pretty sophisticated. We often go to great lengths to do our research and get the facts right.
I write a police procedural series set in Portland, Maine, and writing police procedurals has led me into the world of true crime. As part of writing “cop world” better, I’ve taken a self-defense class as my local police department, and a citizen’s police academy in a neighboring city. On the night that we, the citizens, got to play cops and the cops played bad guys, I got out of my cruiser to do a traffic stop, caught my nightstick on the door handle, and slammed my nose into the glass with the whole class watching. By the time I got to the bad guys, I was ready to crawl in a hole and die. And that was before the cop who was playing bad guy refused to comply with my order to shut off the car and produce his license, remarking, “Oh, look at the girl policeman. Isn’t she cute?” In those brief moments, I learned a great deal about being a rookie cop.
So far, I’ve resisted asking my husband to put me in the trunk of his car and drive me around, but I have asked my local police chief to arrest me. I’ve gone on a stakeout and spotted the bad guys. I’ve had my amateur female detective head for her basement with a flashlight and spent the better part of a day doing research on just what kind of a flashlight her police officer husband would buy for her. I’ve had the amazing good fortune to attend Lee Lofland’s brainchild, The Writers Police Academy—three great days of training for writers in the world of public safety. http://www.writerspoliceacademy.com
It’s paying off. I’ve had cops write and say I’m doing it well, noting that I’m including the small things that actually happen in their lives. It also makes the writing harder. When I started my fifth Joe Burgess, I wanted to have cops led into a trap and shot by a sniper. Before I was a full paragraph into the book, I was already sending out my first “Author needs help” e-mail, asking what kind of gun and ammunition the shooter would use.
There’s a line in an old song that goes, “Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then,” and sometimes that is true. The more I learn, the more I know what I don’t know. On the bright side, that means I’m off on another research adventure.