When I was growing up on a chicken farm in a small Maine town, money was often tight. Bill collectors really did knock on the door, sometimes the phone got turned off, and there was a large hole in the bathroom floor waiting for the money to get it fixed. We stapled plastic over the windows to keep out the drafts. We grew our own food and budgeted things down to the last cent. Our refuge was books. Books and the Sears and Roebuck catalogue.
When that enormous, thick book would arrive in the spring and the fall, I could let my child’s imagination run. What would my summer wardrobe be like? With my 4-H training, I knew about mixing and matching, and I would design the perfect combination of pants and shorts and tops. My wardrobe squared away, I could turn to furnishing my someday house. What thick, fluffy towels I would want. What color sheets. What my rugs and furniture would be like. Not having too much was likely a blessing. I didn’t get to waste my time shopping, except in my imagination. It is that imagination, tuned up as a mechanism for entertainment and escape, for imagining other worlds and other lives, that has led me, as an adult, to create the worlds of my fiction
I set practicing law aside and first tried my hand at writing mysteries when my younger son, Max, was born and I decided to be a stay-at-home mom. I bought a computer and began writing a law school mystery, A Matter of the Will. This week, Max got engaged. Next week, he turns thirty. I spent the first ten years of his life, and the first ten of my dedicated writing career, in the unpublished writer’s corner. I have three practice books, gathering dust, tucked away in a drawer. My early years of delayed gratification, spent imagining and enjoying the possibilities, and to keep forging ahead without reward, served me well during those years.
It’s nearly twenty years since my first Thea Kozak mystery, Chosen for Death, was published, and I am
still finding that those early years of learning to enjoy the possibilities serve me well. In 2007, Finding Amy, the true crime book I co-wrote with Portland’s Deputy Chief Joseph K. Loughlin, was nominated for an Edgar. I woke to find my e-mail queue jammed with congratulations. It was a wonderful moment, and I got to have the months between learning of the nomination and the night of the Edgars to bask in the honor and enjoy the recognition of my peers. I never cared whether I won or lost, just like I really never cared whether I would get those clothes or that furniture from Sears. I got to enjoy the moments and feel the pleasure.
A week ago, I got an e-mail from my friend Lea Wait, congratulating me on being a finalist for the Maine Literary Awards. A few minutes later, I got the official notice. Redemption, the third book in my Portland, Maine police procedural series, was one of three finalists. Once again, I am enjoying the moment and appreciating the fact that my book has been recognized. I’m in very good company with fellow nominees Paul Doiron and Katherine Hall Page. Both of them my friends. Both excellent writers. But right now, I’m kind of wishing I could just skip the awards ceremony in Portland on May 30th, because I am enjoying the here and now. I’m enjoying the possibilities. The “maybe” of a new line in my bio. Maybe a sticker to slap on the book jacket.
I’m also enjoying the certainty—that a shy, bookish chicken farmer’s daughter from a small Maine town, who devoured books from the Vose Library and dreamed of being a writer, has become one.
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’ acts of discrimination aroused her curiosity about human behavior. Her books include seven “strong woman” Thea Kozak mysteries and three gritty police procedurals in her star-reviewed Joe Burgess series. Her true crime, Finding Amy, has been optioned for a movie.
When she’s not writing, or teaching at Grub Street in Boston, she’s in her garden, waging a constant battle against critters, pests, and her husband’s lawnmower. She’s been married 35 years to a man who still makes her laugh. She has two wonderful sons, a movie editor and a scientist, a lovely daughter-in-law, and four rescue “granddogs,” Frances, Otis, Harvey, and Daisy.