A few months ago, I kicked myself into gear and started working on getting my backlist ready for e-readers. What started out looking like a simple task turned out to be a whole lot of work, some of it quite unexpected. Perhaps the most unexpected part was rereading all my books and remembering how they came into being.
Like many of my Thalia cohorts, I’ve been at this crime writing business for quite a while. First there were the ten years I spent in the unpublished writer’s corner. Then I answered an ad in Writer’s Digest placed by an agent looking for clients. It seemed unlikely to pan out–after all, I had a whole box of letters from agents saying, “No thanks.” But I sent off my book and a few weeks later, I got a phone message that said, “Please don’t sign up with anyone else until we’ve had a chance to talk.” As it turned out, she’d gotten 2000 responses to the ad, and found two she wanted to represent. I was one of them. She became my agent, and a new kind of waiting game began.
Then, nine months later, on a rainy December night in the early 1990’s, I was talking on the phone with a neighbor when the operator interrupted. She had an urgent call for Kate Flora, she said, and would my neighbor “yield the line.” Christy yielded, and my agent came on. “I have an offer on your book,” she said, “but I want to see if I can make it better. Do I have your permission?”
Okay. From the vantage point of 2011, I can admit I had no idea what she meant, but I said yes, and by Monday, she called back with a three-book, hard/soft deal. I still had little idea what she was talking about, but from those calls, my Thea Kozak series was born. And later, when the marvelous Tom Doherty at TOR declared that when my book came out I would be foiled and embossed, I had no idea what that was, either.
With the exception of my first, Chosen for Death, and my last, Stalking Death, published by my beloved Jim Huang’s The Mystery Company, my books were out-of-print. And they’d been written four or five computers ago, with obsolete software and stored on unreadable disks. So to make them e-book ready, I had to send all the books away to be scanned, and then I had to carefully reread each book to be sure the scanned version was correct. Rereading books written fifteen or twenty years ago is an adventure. There are things that make them seem dated–especially in the area of technology. I discovered that I had gone through a “wordy” period, when I overwrote, and that needed some tweaking. I found that the book that had always been my favorite no longer was, and one I’d kind of overlooked was much better than I thought.
Then there was another surprise: the contents of the books were mine, but the cover copy and the cover design belonged to my old publisher. I need to write new cover copy, find quotes from reviews of the books, and work with my new-found angel, Nina Paules, of eBookprep.com, to design new covers. Getting to design new covers was an adventure, and reminded me that I was once a nominee for a “NEVERMORE” Award, for the cover of Death at the Wheel. As the nominations read:
The “Graphic Violence” Award for the Most Egregiously Destructive Cover Art:
Evan Hunter’s “Privileged to Visit Hale-Bopp” from PRIVILEGED CONVERSATION
William G. Tapply’s “Flushed with Victory” from CLOSE TO THE BONE
Peter Hernon’s “It Just SCREAMS Paperback” from THE KINDLING EFFECT
Kate Flora’s “B Movie Car Crash” from DEATH AT THE WHEEL
*Leslie Glass’ “Move Over Judith Krantz” from LOVING TIME
Leslie Glass won, but it gave me leverage to get better covers on my future books. And looking back through my files, I found the letter I’d written when I was nominated for this award, which reads, in part:
I was of course thrilled and humiliated (combined emotions like these making for more character complexity) to receive notice that I had been nominated for a Nevermore Award. As any writer would, I immediately began a mental scan of my work, trying to deduce in which category I might be being considered. The first one that came to mind was an award which might properly be named after my own character, the Thea Kozak award for most stitches in an amateur female sleuth. As a friend of mine remarked, after waiting eight years for me to get published, “Oh, Kate. It was so violent!” And, as Thea herself says, she’s had more stitches than a baby quilt, more stitches than a baseball. Just mumble the words, “emergency room” in her presence and she breaks into a cold sweat.
Then I considered an alternative possibility, the Wendy Hornsby Award for Most Creative Sex Scene Using Handcuffs, for the scene in Death at the Wheel. Readers are naturally curious about whether we mystery writers do a lot of research. For the record, I don’t own a pair of handcuffs, I just have a vivid imagination (or perhaps several friends who are cops?) but as a writer, I enjoy imagining couples all over this great country of ours getting out their handcuffs and practicing life imitating art. We must all do our part to encourage reading.
Still blushing a week later, I remain,
Very truly yours,
Kate Clark Flora”
(The cover at right is the new one)
Writing in the breathless New York style of jacket copy still comes hard. I write novels because brevity is not my strong suit. But I’ve been having fun with it. I’m now up to the penultimate book in the series, a book about disaffected militia groups, and politics, and small towns, which I’m looking forward to rereading, even though I wrote it. In this story, Thea’s wedding is disrupted when Andre fails to show up. Here is the copy and the sample cover for the book. Please share your reactions to the cover.
Thea Kozak is a woman who has prided herself on always being the strong one in a crisis. While she’s usually not the one who starts the process, she always seems to be the one to clean up the messes—and she’s had practice at it. She survived her husband’s death and her sister’s brutal murder and not only came through with her heart and mind intact, she has used that pain to help others.
Liberty or Death is the sixth Thea Kozak mystery. Thea is a strong as ever, and she will need every bit of that strength. This trouble is not of Thea’s own choosing…and it threatens everything she values.
Thea is minutes away from finally marrying her longtime love, Andre Lemieux, the state trooper who helped her discover the truth about her sister’s death, and the one person she can rely on to be strong for her. But Thea is left standing at the altar, brought horrible news of Andre’s kidnapping. His kidnappers may be a right-wing militia group.
Thea knows she shouldn’t get involved. This time, her role is to wait. And to pray. But she can’t sit on her hands when the man she loves is in danger. And so safety, and self-preservation take a back seat as she takes on adversaries that would give a battle-weary veteran second thoughts.