Kate Flora: I was sitting here, taking a break from the book that still won’t tell me what it’s about, and watching heavy snow flatten my gorgeous daffodils when suddenly I realized: Wait! I’m supposed to be blogging today. Oh dear. What to write about? Then I remembered that recently someone asked me if I’d blogged about the new book yet. I’ve mentioned it, sure, but have I really talked about it in depth?
On Monday, I did a Zoom author event with the Bristol, Maine library, and one of the things I talked about was what it’s like when you’re lived with your characters for many years and watched them grow and change. I started writing the Joe Burgess series back in the 1990’s, and had a draft of the first book, Playing God, written when I first got in touch with the Portland police department to get some background to make my character feel authentic.
Backing up a bit more, in 1998 or 1999, on January 2nd, I sat down at my computer with two story ideas in my head, one for the next Thea Kozak and one for the first Joe Burgess. I poised my fingers over the keyboard, wrote Chapter One, and waited to see which character would demand my attention. It was Joe. I embarked on an adventure that I’d never embarked on before. Spurred by comments people had made at author events, including “I’ve always wanted to write a book and sometime, when I have a free weekend, I’m going to write one,” I decided to see how fast I could write a book.
I wrote obsessively. I wrote ten to twelve hours a day. I used so many words each day I was too exhausted to converse by the time I left my seat. I spent all my energy and all my waking hours with Burgess and his team, and at the end of four and half months, I had a 485 page manuscript. The obsession ended but I quickly realized that I had spent so much time with my fictional characters that when I was done I was lonely. I was bereft. I felt like my closest friends had abandoned me. After a brief respite, I started the second book at a more normal pace.
But something we series writers don’t often talk about is how much a part of our lives our characters become. We spend a lot of time with them, imagining them, sometimes watching them take over the narrative for a while or go in an unplanned direction. They feel very real and very much a part of our lives. So when I started writing the current book, I was very aware that I had just put Burgess, and Kyle, and Perry, and their families, through hell in A Child Shall Lead Them. I had started the series envisioning Burgess as a damaged man, his world view darkened by the things he’s see. In this book, I had made it far, far worse. Burgess was worn out. Traumatized by what he’s seen. Thinking about retirement. So in the new book, I sent Burgess, and Chris, and the kids on vacation, to a cottage on a peaceful Maine lake.
That peace didn’t last very long. On day two, as Burgess is snoozing in a hammock, waiting for the pills his doctor hopes will restore his energy to kick in, he is awakened by a small girl who tells him she’s renting the cottage next door with her father, and her father won’t wake up. As much as Burgess might like to say no, he’s a cop, he’s a protector of the weak and vulnerable. He can’t say no to a child. But what he finds in the cottage where Arielle’s father lies in a coma is suspicious. He can’t help but poke around, even though it’s not his job, his problem, his jurisdiction. And so his badly needed vacation becomes a tug of war between his own, and his family’s need for a quiet break, and his need to be sure the circumstances of Dr. Gabbro’s condition are investigated.
Add in his new crime scene dog, Fideau, some rich kids who think the rules don’t apply to them, and Gabbro’s toxic family, and R&R becomes increasingly hard to find.