Kate Flora: January is always a time for reflection. My friend Lea Wait used to make five year plans, and January was a good time to review and revise them. I admired her greatly for that, but I’ve never been that kind of planner. Sometimes I hit January 2 in mid-book. Sometimes with no plan beyond sitting down at the computer and waiting to see if a Thea or Burgess wins the “me first!” contest. This year, I’ve promised my publisher a new Burgess by June, so that’s the direction I’ll go in.
My writing life, though, often seems to have plans of its own. When I finished my first Joe Burgess police procedural, Playing God, after four and a half very intense months, I had planned to write something else, but being away from my characters made me feel so lonely I started book two, The Angel of Knowlton Park,though I took it at a far more leisurely pace.
Other times, my plans are interrupted by an invitation to submit a short story to an anthology. A few years ago, that resulted in a story called Michelle in Hot Water, about Michelle Obama and women from other government agencies who have a secret vigilante group who persuade drug company moguls who’ve raised the price of critical drugs for children to change their minds. The story ended up in a collection called The Obama Inheritance: Fifteen Stories of Conspiracy Noirand gave me that magic moment writer’s dream of: Maureen Corrigan read from my story on NPR.
Twenty-nineteen began with me in the midst of my tenth Thea Kozak mystery, Death Comes Knocking, but a chance meeting with an agent who suggested a new series sent me in a different direction, resurrecting seven chapters that had come to me a few years ago when a dark and damaged character sat down on a barstool beside me and started to talk.
Yes, Virginia, our characters really do this. Not reliably, but often.
I ended up putting Thea on the back burner and spending a lot of last year turning those seven chapters into the rough draft of Gutted. Now Detective Rick O’Leary and a vicious serial killer are resting and awaiting rewrite.
Just as I came into the end zone with that book, I got another invite to submit a story—this time to an anthology: The Faking of the President: Nineteen Stories of White House Noir.Before I could pick up Thea and the mysterious pregnant stranger on her doorstep, I had to do a deep dive into the life of Huey Long to compose a story of what might happen if his assassin had failed, Long Live Long. The anthology debuts in April, 2020.
Also along the way, a kind friend on Facebook nudged me to submit one of the books I’ve kept in the drawer (most of us have them) to her publisher. Thanks to Mary Harris, and my FB friends who helped me find a title for the book, my first (and likely last) romantic suspense, Wedding Bell Ruse,will be published by Soulmate Publishing in May.
If I did have a plan for 2020, it would definitely involve finally finding a home for another book that languishes in the drawer, Teach Her a Lesson, a domestic thriller.
Meanwhile, I will write the book that’s on deadline, keep my eyes out for another true crime story that needs telling, and try to finish my novella about a wayward U.S. Marshals Service agent named Gracie who likes her Manhattans heavy on the vermouth with three cherries, and handsome fellows to help her decompress after an action. And of course, wait for the the universe to derail my plans and send me something that absolutely has to be written. I will also go to more libraries, hopefully to do our great program, “Making a Mystery,” to show readers how we develop characters, choose settings, and plot our novels.
As you can see, I am not a planner, but I love an invitation to adventure. How else would I have gotten to hide deep in the woods to be found by search and rescue dogs? Or found the bad guy when I was on a stake out? Or get to take the medical examiner to lunch?
I look forward to an exciting 2020 with my Maine Crime Writers compatriots, and all of you, our readers.
Great post. Kate, and a great way to start the year—by recognizing how much you accomplished in 2019. Sticking too close to a plan is vastly overrated.
So glad to hear there are other “pants” writers out there. I actually break out in a cold sweat when I think about outlining my book! It is against my nature! Of course I have several other books started with my primary being “Sugar Pie and Moonbeams.” My goal is to finish it by October 1st. We’ll see!