It’s Different When the “Story” is Real

Kate Flora here, just back from a quick drive up to Miramichi, New Brunswick, to deliver copies of

Mt. Katahdin from Route 95

Mt. Katahdin from Route 95

Death Dealer to the investigators who are the real life characters in the book. Death Dealer, in case I’ve failed to describe it fully before, is the story of a murder in the small Canadian city of Miramichi, and like Finding Amy, involves a hidden body that is ultimately found in a search organized by the Maine Warden Service.

The drive up to Miramichi is gorgeous and the leaves were magnificent, but it is a long ways away. My eyes are still burning from what is about 18 hours on the road in three days. That drive was interrupted by a book talk at the Newport Cultural Center, where along with the library patrons, I got to visit briefly with two of the wardens, Lt. Pat Dorian, and Lt. Kevin

With Lt. Pat Dorian

With Lt. Pat Dorian

Adam, who organized the search for the missing victim. I reminded Pat Dorian that the five year odyssey the book represents is all his fault, since he put me on to the story in the first place.

Burning eyes or not, my heart is full from the welcome I got from my friends up there, and from relief

At the Newport Cultural Center with Lt. Kevin Adam

At the Newport Cultural Center with Lt. Kevin Adam



that after five long years, I was finally able to reward their faith in me, and their willingness to trust me with their stories, and give them their book.

It has been a lot of years since Finding Amy was published. I’d forgotten how amazing it is when I can actually deliver copies of a newly published book to all the people who helped me learn the story and shape it into a book. A work of fiction takes me from nine months to a year to finish. Nonfiction takes far longer, especially in case like this where there were multiple appeals and two full first degree murder trials. I have hours of recorded interviews, many of them transcribed. I have files full of research, news paper articles, maps, and photographs. I have letters and notes and a huge, fat notebook. Altogether, it fills a small filing cabinet. And unlike with fiction, this story is real–real people’s pain, real people’s fear, real people’s determination to get justice.

What isn’t on paper or in that filing cabinet is the slow building of trust through interviews or the feeling

At the Portage Restaurant with Chief Paul Fiander, Deputy Chief Brian Cummings, and Detective Dewey Gillespie

At the Portage Restaurant with Chief Paul Fiander, Deputy Chief Brian Cummings, and Detective Dewey Gillespie

in the room as some of the most intense moments of the investigation are described or the raw emotion I hear when I’m listening to the actual recording of the dramatic traffic stop where the bad guy is found hidden in a car trunk with a sawed off rifle and an abduction kit, less than half a mile from where one of the detective’s family lived. I can only hope that the words I’ve put on paper capture the intensity of an icy nighttime stakeout in subzero weather, hoping the killer will lead them to his victim, or the hope, endurance, and exhaustion of an all night interview where they hope the killer will tell them the location of Maria Tanasichuk’s body.

At home, sitting at my desk, when I’m working on a true story I am trying to transcribe all that has been shared with me. I’m trying to bring to the page what I’ve seen while I’m observing Maine Search and Rescue Dogs (MESARD) or warden search and rescue dog training. What the bond between handlers and their dogs is like and how they communicate, how they truly are a team. I sit with the detectives in a restaurant near where Maria’s body was found, handing out copies of the book, and I worry that reading the book will take them back to a painful time, despite their ultimate success in putting a probably serial killer away for life.

I deliver a book to the victim’s sister, and give her a hug, and again praise her courage, and that of

Sharon Carrol's art work featuring her sister Maria.

Sharon Carroll’s art work featuring her sister Maria.

Maria’s friends, in testifying against a man who scares them, and who they are certain has killed her. She shows me a picture she has made, in an art class, using a photo of herself, Maria, and their sister Betty. It is the only picture of the three of them together.

Here’s how the book begins, and this is REAL:

Sudden light from outside, triggered by motion sensors, stabbed through the blinds and roused the detective from fitful sleep. In an instant, he is fully awake and on his feet, sweeping up his gun from the head of the bed. Keeping a loaded gun by the bed is against all police training, as is keeping a loaded gun anywhere in a house with small children. But when a vicious killer may be stalking your family, all the rules change.

If you’re curious, here are some reviews of Death Dealer:


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4 Responses to It’s Different When the “Story” is Real

  1. Marian Stanley says:

    Fascinating background, Kate. You must have built such a bond with these investigators and searchers. The work of creating a faithful representation of a true crime – so challenging. I look forward to reading Death Dealer.

  2. Edith says:

    What an incredible journey, Kate. A work of love, really. And a gift to all those who told you their stories.

  3. Sandy says:

    Thank you, Kate. Each time your share what’s personal, challenging, difficult as well as rewarding, there are generous tips for those of us at the “keys.” Faithfulness to people and issues we write about (nonfiction and fiction) is the message I take away today…so thank you.

    • MCWriTers says:

      Thank you for that, Sandy.

      I like your message: faithfulness to people and issues we write about

      Yes, I think that’s what we try to do, and it challenges and scares us and makes us write more deeply because we’re feeling more deeply.

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