Kate Flora: Lest you get the impression that I am on vacation in Florida this month, I thought I’d share some of my poolside reading. There’s In Defense of Self and Others: Issues, Facts & Fallacies – The Realities of Law Enforcement’s Use of Deadly Force. There’s Into the Kill Zone: A Cop’s Eye View of Deadly Force. I’ve read the report of the president’s task force on 21st century policing, and the report of the International Association of Chiefs of Police on police-community relations. I have a stack of folders several inches high with interviews with police officers, and I have dozens of articles on the use of deadly force and on police officer training. For recreation, I’ve been sneaking away from all that to read the grand jury transcripts in the Darren Wilson/Michael Brown case.
You may well ask: Why?
And as a storyteller, I’ll launch into the tale. It all began many years ago when my New York publisher decided to drop my Thea Kozak series. As I flailed and floundered about, trying to figure out what to do next, I realized that learning to write about crime had necessarily meant I had to learn about the police. So in an impulsive moment, I decided to start a new series—a police procedural series—and set it in Portland, Maine. At the time, the decision seemed reasonable. I liked writing series characters and I was interested in the police. Little did I know how convoluted the path would get.
Some e-mails and phone calls got me a contact in the Portland police department. Cool, I thought, I’ve got an informant who can answer my police-related questions. Little did I imagine that I would end up answering his writing-related questions. Even less did I imagine that while he was informing me about how the police worked, he would be involved in investigating a tragic homicide and want to write a book about it. Pretty soon my little bit of help became quite a lot of help, which morphed into a collaboration with Acting Chief Joe Loughlin and the powerful true crime book that became Finding Amy.
Then the road took another twist. Even as I was vowing never to touch nonfiction again, Maine Warden Service Lt. Pat Dorian, who organized the search that found Amy’s body, (and who, by the way, walks on water), told me about another case I might find interesting. Breaking my vow to never touch true crime again, I asked him some questions, found the answers fascinating, and soon was on the road to Miramichi, New Brunswick. Five years, two trials, and several appeals later, David Tanasichuk’s conviction for the murder of his wife Maria was finally final—and I had another true crime book under my belt, Death Dealer: How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a Killer to Justice. (I also got to go the range when they requalified, go on a stake out where I spotted the bad guy, and drive a four-wheeler into the Canadian woods to see the gravesite.) I also developed a deep, and lasting, affection for the officers involved in the investigation.
But I had had enough of the real world. Fiction was calling. I was on deadline to write another Thea Kozak mystery. I wanted to spend more time with my fictional detective, Joe Burgess, and his team. And then, of course, the phone rang. Roger Guay, a recently retired Maine game warden said he liked the way I’d written Finding Amy. He’d always heard that he told good stories and should write them down, but he didn’t know how. Could I help?
Another three years have passed. I’ve had the adventure of doing my interviews in a pickup truck while traveling the back roads around Greenville, Maine. I’ve gotten to follow Maine wardens through tick-filled woods and fields while I watched them train their K9s. I’ve been lost—and found. I’ve struggled to figure out how to translate what I know about writing fiction and true crime into helping Roger write his memoir. I’ve watched the story go from cute animal tales and wily ways of catching fish and game poachers to the tragedy of those who have died in the woods. I’ve watched a man’s resilience and optimism get battered by tragedy and the chaos and FEMA screw-ups in New Orleans after Katrina. I’ve learned about the incredible bond between a handler and his K9. I’ve learned something about how to write memoir.
You can listen to us here: “Missing Persons/Homicide Investigations and Body Recovery/Cadaver Dogs”
What I obviously haven’t yet learned is how to say no. So now, as Roger’s wonderful stories and deeply personal narrative are about to appear in A Good Man with a Dog, I’m back at my desk, trying to help Joe Loughlin again. This time, the project is bringing the public inside the realities of officer-involved shootings, the work-in-progress tentatively titled: Shoot, Shoot, Shoot! The Myths, Misconceptions, and Misunderstandings about Officer-involved Shootings.
Of course I’m already saying: Never again. Don’t call me up and say you’ve got a story to tell and ask if I can help.
And of course, there’s already another cop out there with a story to tell who may need my help. And I just know, that now that Roger Guay is a P.I., that there has to be a sequel to Good Man called Backwoods Private Eye.
I know that not saying “no” brings me amazing friends and powerful insights. It lets me use what I know to help people tell important stories. I also know that probably, the next time the call comes, I’ll be saying yes again.