Kate Collins is the author of the Flower Shop mystery series featuring Abby Knight, owner of Bloomers flower shop and an amateur sleuth. Abby has been center stage in ten novels in this popular, cozy, fast-paced series that began in 2004. Collins’s mystery novels have made the Barnes & Noble mass market mystery best-sellers’ lists, the Independent Booksellers’ best-seller’s lists, as well as booksellers’ lists in Australia and England.
Kate, it’s good to have you with us at Scene of the Crime. Your Abby Knight books take place in the fictional New Chapel, Indiana, a sort of composite Hometown, USA. Could you describe your connection to Indiana?
New Chapel, Indiana, the setting for the Flower Shop mysteries, is a fictional Midwestern college town based on similar towns near where I was raised and one in which I now live. After growing up in a sprawling nondescript city suburb, a small town atmosphere with a “real” downtown — central courthouse square and lots of local events, restaurants, boutiques and non-chain type shops, was a breath of fresh air.
What things about this place make it unique and a good physical setting in your books?
New Chapel is unique only in its location – thirty minutes by car from the famed Indiana Dunes lakeshore on the southern tip of Lake Michigan, and an hour by electric train from Chicago, barring unforeseen weather conditions, such as, say, clouds. New Chapel is close enough for residents to take advantage of the big city highlights yet far enough to escape the madness.
The population is eclectic – ranging from blue collar workers employed by a nearby steel mill, to farmers in the outlying county, to businessmen who commute to the Loop, to the professors and students at New Chapel University. The neighborhoods vary from sprawling areas of tract housing on former swampland, to square, flat blocks of identical ranch homes or bungalows on what had been grazing pastures, to fancy gated communities set in hilly, wooded areas, to dilapidated farm houses that dot the miles of rural roads that connect New Chapel to neighboring towns. And if that doesn’t give you a mental picture of the town, nothing will.
Did you consciously set out to use your location as a “character” in your books, or did this grow naturally out of the initial story or stories?
How do you incorporate location in your fiction?
I’m always aware of using the town square and flower shop to enhance the story. For example, this is such a scene from Dirty Rotten Tendrils, (Oct 2010).
“My destination that morning was Bloomers, my cozy flower shop located across the street from New Chapel, Indiana’s stately limestone courthouse. I was taking a circuitous route to get there, however, because strangely enough the public lot where I usually parked was full. So I’d left my refurbished and much beloved 1960 yellow Corvette under a shady maple tree across from the YMCA and started off for a leisurely stroll around the square, soaking in the sunshine of the brilliant early spring day.
“I love my small town. In New Chapel, unlike big cities, you won’t experience heavy traffic snarls, clouds of toxic exhaust fumes, or frustrated drivers honking horns at every tiny irritation. What’s more, you can park in a public lot for about two dollars a day or, as in my case today, along any side street for free. Try to do that in downtown Chicago.
“I sniffed the air to catch a whiff of the crocuses blooming in the old cement planters that rimmed the courthouse lawn. They’d be followed by daffodils and tulips, and then by Knockout Roses, all of which would suffer benign neglect by the parks department employees until the winter snows blanketed them once again.”
Has there been any local reaction to your works?
As soon as people in my county realize the series is about where they live, they buy the books and send them to their friends all over the country, especially to anyone who once lived there. It’s great! They also have fun trying to find the businesses I mention, since I change the names of the shops and shift locations around the square. It’s become a local game.
Have you ever made any goofs in depicting your location or time period? Please share–the more humorous the better (we all have).
Fortunately, because New Chapel is a fictional place, I have the freedom to make mistakes and let readers think they’re intentional.
Who are your favorite writers, and do you feel that other writers influenced you in your use of the spirit of place in your novels?
Three of the most influential writers in my life have been: Jean Shepherd, who grew up two blocks from my parents’ home and wrote about that place in his humorous novels, including A Christmas Story; Rex Stout, who made his New York brownstone infamous; and Barbara Kingsolver, who writes some of the most beautiful sentences I’ve ever read. Her descriptions in High Tide In Tucson almost made me cry. And the ant scene in The Poisonwood Bible still gives me nightmares. She is truly gifted.
What’s next for your protagonist?
In Night of the Living Dandelion, (April, 2011) Abby Knight, my feisty florist, will have a new mystery to solve, of course, involving her fiancé’s best friend who, it appears, may be a vampire and responsible for a new murder in town. Abby is also struggling with the frightening reality of her fiancé being recalled into the Army Rangers.
My work-in-progress, To Catch a Leaf, (Nov, 2011) is more of an Agatha Christie style mystery, with the death of a wealthy dowager, and all of the suspects living on her huge estate. It also has a funny paranormal aspect to it, a first for me. I like to try new things with every book.
Kate, thanks much again for stopping by Scene of the Crime.
For more information on Kate Collins, see her homepage.