Thank you so much for taking the time, Ms. Collins, to grant me this online interview. I will be posting your Flower Shop Mystery Series in chronological order at the end of this interview, but I am sure that your current (and future!) fans would love to hear more about you.
— What did you do before you became an author?
Straight out of college I taught elementary school for six years, then stopped to raise a family. Needing something to occupy my creative mind, I tried various crafts – tole painting, rug hooking, needlepoint, macrame, sewing, you name it, I tried it – and happened to spot an ad for a correspondence course to write children’s stories. I took the course and started selling short funny stories to children’s magazines. Eventually, I moved into historical romance, and then into suspense and finally into my true love, mystery. Along the way, I worked for a law firm as a legal secretary, and in true storybook fashion, fell in love with my boss. We have been very happily married for many years.
— Why did you decide to write mysteries, rather than another type of book?
I’ve always loved the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, and of course, the Nancy Drew mysteries. I love to solve puzzles and, as I’ve learned, to construct them, as well. Planting clues and red herrings, building suspense, seeing justice done, and adding laughter to the mix – I LOVE doing that. I write what I like to read, which includes throwing in a bit of romance. You can’t create real characters without some romance.
— What mystery subgenre (i.e. cozy, hard-boiled, historical, etc.)
I write a traditional mystery a la Agatha Christie, also known as cozies. I don’t like to write violent or gory scenes, or read them, and in the traditional format, the gore and murders take place off the page. The cozy genre is all about solving the murder, finding the killer, ferreting out the clues, not watching the crime happen.
— Who are your favorite authors?
I read in a variety of genres, so off the top of my head, I’d have to say my favorite author is Barbara Kingsolver. I’m also a big fan of John Grisham, Jodi Picoult, Christina Dodd, Nancy Martin, Madelyn Alt, and Sue Monk Kidd.
— What is your educational background?
I have a masters degree in education from Purdue University.
— What do you enjoy doing – other than writing mysteries?
I love to garden (go figure.) I love to travel, especially to the Mediterranean/Greek Isles. I love to decorate (much to my husband’s chagrin) and I still enjoy tole painting, though I rarely have time.
i– Are there any “real life crimes” that have caught your attention?
My husband is the chief public defender of our county, and has defended some pretty bad people, which is a goldmine for my stories. Lately, however, the stories that have intrigued me are the bride/groom-gone missing on a cruise stories. I see all kinds of potential there.
— What is your typical day like?
After a breakfast of egg white omelet and a fruit protein smoothie with my husband, he heads off to his office and I head to mine – but I don’t have to leave home. I usually do my promotional work – myspace, facebook, twitter, email – until eleven a.m., then edit what I wrote the day before until noon, take a lunch break, then write until time to fix supper. When I’m close to my deadline, I do that seven days a week. I hate to miss deadlines.
— When you are writing your Flower Shop Mysteries, do you write your manuscripts long-hand or do you use the computer? AND Where do you write?
I use the computer. I can’t write fast or neat enough to keep up with my thoughts. The words seem to flow out of my fingertips onto the screen.
— When you start a new Abby Knight mystery, do you plot it out in
I write a loose synopsis that my editor approves before I start the book. I can’t outline in detail because there is no way for me to predict all the twists and turns that come up in the course of writing a story. But I always know these things in advance: who the victim is, who the killer is, who the suspects are, why each has a reason to kill the victim, how it will end. Then, after I figure out a good opening hook, I let the characters lead the way. They have been known to change the course of a story and once, one suspect even stepped up to confess a murder when I thought it was going to be someone else. By using that technique, even I get to be surprised. It keeps writing fun.
— Do you ever get writer’s block, and if so, what do you do to shake it?
I’ve found that when I’m blocked, it’s because I didn’t plot something out well. I have to step back, take a day off, then print out what I have written and read it fresh, as a reader. That will usually show me where I need to go. I’ve never had writer’s block for a lack of ideas. Mostly it’s just a case of the wrong perspective.
— Are your characters based on real people or are they solely products of your imagination? (Especially Abby!)
Abby is who I’d like to be – bold, sassy, fearless, and a florist — not that I’d want to flunk out of law school like she did, but still, she gets to work with flowers and have a very hot guy as a boyfriend. I’ve never used a real person as one of my characters. They are amalgams of people I’ve known or met or seen on TV. If I had to cast my characters for a TV series, I wouldn’t know who to cast because my vision of them is totally unique. I do incorporate bits of personalities from my family and friends. And of the cast – Abby, her mom who thinks she’s an artist, her tactless fashionista cousin Jillian, her assistants Lottie, from Kentucky, and Grace, from the UK – each has little bits of my personality in them. Marco, on the other hand, is my ideal of a man, flaws and all. Sometimes I feel like Sybil – having to deal with all these distinct personalities in my head. What other profession can claim to hear voices and not be thought insane? Gotta love writing!
— Do you get input from friends and/or family when you are writing your Flower Shop Mysteries?
I do. They love to suggest things Abby or one of the other characters might say or do (as they’ve become very real people to my family). My son has a writing degree and is terrific at coming up with plot ideas. He’s the one who thought of Abby having an identity theft/evil twin in “Shoots to Kill.” That was hugely fun to write, and also creepy.
— How long does it take you to write one of your mysteries?
Ideally, I like to have nine months. I’ve written one in five and suffered from it. The story doesn’t usually take off until I’ve written the first six chapters. Then it seems to roar into life. At that point, I sit back and let it happen. Before that point, I do a lot of banging my head against the wall, playing Free Cell or Spider Solitaire, or finding reasons to drive out to Pier 1 or Bed, Bath and Beyond and wander their aisles.
— Once you turn a manuscript in to your publisher, what types of revisions take place and how much time elapses before the novel is published?
My editor usually sends me her ding list, aka “the revision letter”, within two weeks of receiving the manuscript. Then I have about four weeks to revise. Mostly, it’s small changes. Only one time did I have to make a major change a third of the way into the story, which of course caused a ripple effect through to the end. That wasn’t fun. I don’t mind the revision period at all. It allows me to read the story fresh and add more humor or suspense.
— How are your books’ delightful covers chosen?
I wish I could take credit for them, but they are totally the creation of one of NAL’s artists. I get to suggest themes or if there is some background that is important, I’ll submit that. I love those covers. They are very stylistic and fit with the personality of the series.
— Do you have a favorite place or activity that inspires you to write?
Yes. Paying bills is a huge inspiration. I also get recharged at writing conferences. For many reasons, they stimulate all kinds of new ideas. Usually, I can’t wait to get back home and try them. My best creative time is when I first wake up in the morning, before all the other things crowd in – appointments, etc. I’ll lay in bed for up to half an hour thinking up the next scene in the book, or imagining that all important climactic scene at the end.
— I am sure you love writing mysteries, but if you weren’t doing that, what do you think you would enjoy doing?
Number one: become a florist. I’ve been lucky enough to meet and become friends with several florists and hang out in their shops. It’s truly the most serene, enjoyable setting I’ve ever encountered. Those fresh scents and colorful blooms, the exotic atmosphere, the happiness that comes from making a lovely arrangement for someone and then delivering it to them – it’s indescribable. Number two: teaching a writing class at college level or beyond. I’m a born teacher. That will never get out of my system. (My friends just call it “bossiness.”) Shhh!
— Do you have pets, and if so, what types and how many?
I’ve always had cats. My sweet little calico that I had for fourteen years died a few years back, and it tore my heart into little pieces. Now, we travel a lot and live in Key West for a few months during the year, so I chose not to get another pet. I won’t subject them to air travel, and I won’t board for that long. But boy, do I miss the companionship. I mean, husbands just don’t fit on laps all that well, or chase strings. Usually.
— Can you think of any questions I haven’t asked that you would like included in this interview?
Maybe about my titles? I’m immensely proud of them all (because they’re all mine!) I spend a lot of time thinking them up. The next book in the series, due out February 2010, makes everyone laugh: “Sleeping with Anemone.”
Also, I’ll be launching a new website on May 1, 2009. I’m not sure of the URL yet, but there’s going to be a spectacular contest with great prizes – a pair of “Abby Knight” signature earrings, a floor plan of Bloomers Flower Shop so readers can tour the shop, see where all the fun and mystery happens, and many other features. It’s still in design. I can’t wait. Anyone who wants to be notified of the URL to enter the contest can drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the newsletter list.
Thanks for inviting me to be your first interviewee, Danna. It’s been fun.
Again, thank you for indulging us and taking the time to answer these questions. I have truly enjoyed this new experience, and just hope that I haven’t made any major blunders!
Thank you, Danna
Here is the link to the Kate Collins page on the Cozy Mystery site.
(In April 2014, when I moved my author interviews to a new area on the Cozy Mystery site, I changed the graphics to go down the side of the interviews, rather than have them at the bottom. I think it makes the page more colorful. I hope I’m right!)