by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of Throw in the Trowel, the latest Flower Shop mystery by Kate Collins. We also have a fun interview with Kate & at the end of this post you will find details on how to win a copy of the book.
Throw in the Trowel: A Flower Shop Mystery By Kate Collins
Review by Cynthia Chow
Life should be coming up roses for Abby Knight. The law school dropout is now the proud owner of her own Bloomers Flower Shop, she recently adopted a doomed scraggly three-legged shelter dog, and most importantly, she just returned from her honeymoon with the stunningly handsome Marco Salvare. Married life brings its own unexpected complications, however, as a lumpy mattress, minimal cabinet space, and assigned Sunday family dinners with the in-laws all combine for the shock of less-than-blissful matrimony. More serious an issue, as narrated from Marco’s viewpoint, is his declaration to keep his beloved bride out of danger and far away from the murder investigations where she is the all-too-willing participant.
There’s little chance of that, however, when the bar that Marco owns and temporarily leaves in the hands of his little brother encounters a plumbing problem that uncovers not just busted pipes but a buried skeleton in the basement. Everybody but Marco expects the Salvares to delve into the mystery, especially now that Abby has become a partner in former Ranger and ex-cop Marco’s private investigative business. With Marco’s reluctant approval – so long as she doesn’t place herself in danger – Abby questions the previous owner of Down the Hatch Bar and Grill and follows a clue retrieved by her furry companion Seedy to the construction company that last worked in the basement in 1976.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this series has been watching Abby grow and realistically develop her relationship with Marco. While Abby may have matured though, her interactions with her family members have not. Abby still finds herself unable to reject her mother’s outrageous and somewhat monstrous works of art or resist the narcissistic demands by Jillian, Abby’s pregnant and borderline insane cousin. As practice for her expected newborn Jillian has taken to so babying her Boston Terrier puppy that its feet rarely touch the ground when not clothed in a stroller and two dog trainers have fled in fear for their sanity. What prevents the reader from becoming too frustrated with Abby’s lack of a backbone with her family is the realization that her doormat behavior stems not from any lack of inner strength but from love and an unwillingness to hurt feelings. A complication with her stubborn and rebellious teenaged niece further distracts Abby and disrupts her newlywed status, but surprisingly it is that particular aggravation that will not only help Abby to solve the mystery but save her life.
For such a long running series the fifteenth Flower Shop Mystery continues to remain fresh with familiar and likable characters and humor that can be sarcastic and outrageous but refrains from becoming too over-the-top. Abby’s family entanglements are mirrored in those of their suspects, and author Collins keeps the reader in suspense throughout the very well-constructed plot. The introduction of Marco’s narration brings an added element of compassion and new dimension to his relationship with the woman he loves more than anything in the world. This humorous mystery contains a vast amount of heart and sentiment that leaves the reader extraordinarily satisfied and looking forward to the continuation of Abby and her family’s adventures.
Interview with Kate Collins
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Kate: My first children’s story was published in a small magazine in 1985, so for nearly thirty years.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Kate: My first novel was a historical romance published by Berkley in 1995, called Village Square. It was for a line of “historical” all themed around small towns. One of these days I’ll get it up in digital format. It’s a good romance.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Kate: One of the reasons I switched to mystery after seven romance novels were published is that all my romances had strong mystery or suspense plots in them. In fact, my editor would say, “Hello! We need more romance here!” So when the western historical market died, I went with my first love, mystery with romance in it.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Can you tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book?
Kate: I wanted to do a strong female character who had just graduated from law school, and when I told my editor, she yawned. “Overdone,” she said. “Do something that will resonate with women.” So I searched for something that resonated with me (you know, being a woman and all!) My passion is gardening, both flowers and vegetables, but I needed a unique setting, other than the middle of my garden, and I thought, what better place is there than in a flower shop? The colors, the aromas, the cozy feel – perfecto!
Once I had my setting, Abby Knight, my 26 year old sleuth, sprang to mind, fully formed – a 5’2”, busty, feisty redhead with an eye for floral arrangements, a hatred of bullies, and a passion for justice. She meets her hero in the first book, MUM’S THE WORD and the sparks really fly. I once got a fan letter stating that if I ever killed Marco off, she would never read another book I wrote.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Kate: I write to entertain and to inspire. I hope readers will smile, laugh, rejoice and applaud Abby Knight as she deals with real life situations.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Kate: I keep a schedule just like any working person would. I “arrive” at my desk at 9 a.m. to do my Internet/promotional work, take care of business matters, break for lunch, and write until dinner. When I’m near my deadline, I work seven days a week.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Kate: I write a synopsis that gives me a general outline and then as I write, I keep a calendar. In my series, events happen on a daily basis – with some stories occurring in only a week’s time – so I keep a stenographers notebook beside me, with a page for each day. I also have learned to keep a separate file on each murder suspect’s interviews so I can easily keep track of what the suspects have revealed and when. Mysteries are quite complicated to write.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Kate: My ideal time would be first thing upon awakening, but I can’t do it. I feel obligated to check email first thing to see if there’s anything I must take care of that day – and very often there are several things. That leads to coffee and breakfast and then more internet work….. so afternoons it is.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Kate: I consider myself a blessed person because it wasn’t too difficult. I had already cut my teeth on short stories, so I was somewhat familiar with the submission process. But it was through a fortunate meeting with a Berkley editor at a romance writers’ conference that I was able to skip some of the first steps and send a complete manuscript directly to her. After revising it as she suggested, she ended up buying it. I knew I was on the right path when that happened.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Kate: During an agent hunt eleven years ago, I sent out eighteen letters and got seventeen rejections. Finally, one agent asked to read the entire manuscript, which was Mums The Word, the first Flower Shop mystery. She turned me down stating that she just didn’t fall in love with my characters. I think I’ve proven that a lot of other people did. I often wonder what she thinks now. Fortunately, my editor at the time recommended my current agent, Karen Solem, and it’s been a great fit.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Kate: I would love to take the Flower Shop Mysteries into the future, and I have heard my publisher would like that, as well. So I will take each book as it comes and let the future decide the rest. I know I’ll always be a writer. I can’t help it. My mind spins stories. That’s just what it does.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Kate: Barbara Kingsolver, J. K. Rowling, Peter Lovesey, Sue Monk Kidd, all the Cozy Chicks . . . so many to choose from.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Kate: I research the latest floral trends, fashion, weapons, and poisonous plants. I hate to think what Homeland Security makes of me.
KRL: The Flower Shop Mysteries are an extraordinarily long and very successful mystery series! Did you ever expect or plan to continue it for this long?
Kate: Never in my wildest dreams! I was praying the series would last five books. The characters kept evolving and the plots kept coming, and now, ten years later, I’m writing the 16th book in the series – and looking forward to writing more. Abby and Marco and the gang at Bloomers have become my second family.
KRL: Weddings and flowers seem to go hand in hand. Have you had a lot of personal experience being involved in these events, and if so, did you incorporate that experience in your novels?
Kate: I’ve had some experience. Most of the wedding details come from research and a lot of imagination.
KRL: I love the descriptions of the insane art projects created by Abby Knight’s mother. What inspires you to create them?
Kate: I live in Key West part of the year, and if you’ve ever been to an art fair there, you are bound to come away inspired. I’ve even found ideas from strange art pieces on people’s front porches, such as the dog art in Throw in the Trowel. Sometimes I just look at an ordinary item, such as a footstool, and try to make it as weirdly literal as possible – a stool that looks like a foot, hairy toes and all. Try to sell that at a flower shop!
KRL: I love Abby’s yellow corvette, which played a vital role in the first mystery. Was that ever your dream car as well?
Kate: Absolutely. I love the old Corvettes like Abby’s vintage 1960 model. They had such style. Interestingly, the idea of Abby buying the old Vette for a song after it had been buried under junk in a farmer’s barn came from a true story my husband told me.
KRL: I really enjoyed how once Abby and Marco finally walked down the aisle, everything was not coming up roses. How did you decide to put real marriage complications into the novel?
Kate: I’ve always treated Abby and Marco as real people. Over the course of the series, they’ve had to deal with the issues all couples must handle, so why not after the wedding vows, too? People can identify with that. Life isn’t that proverbial bed of roses, but it can still have a happy ending.
KRL: Abby’s relationships with her family seem to be such a start contrast to her mature, business life. Do you find that often occurs in life?
Kate: As a psychology minor, I had read studies of how people revert to their familial roles when in family situations, and I’ve seen it play out in real life, so I incorporate that into Abby’s family. I particularly love Abby’s struggle to cope with her cousin Jillian, whom Abby protected as a child but now must deal with the diva Jillian has become. It makes me laugh.
KRL: How did you decide to include Marco’s narration in the novel? Did you find it challenging to write from such a different viewpoint?
Kate: I try to do something different in each book, and the time seemed right to let the readers peek into Marco’s brain. It wasn’t hard to do as long as I kept reminding myself that Marco is a man of few words and a former Army Ranger. He shoots from the hip and would do anything to save his Sunshine.
KRL: You seem to be very active on Facebook and within social media. Do you find it necessary now to have a strong social media presence in order to success in publishing?
Kate: Most of my promotional work is now done via the Internet, which is so different than when I first started out as a novelist. Then promotion was done by mailing out postcards and bookmarks, along with having booksignings. It was so limited compared with the reach we can do on the Net today. But that also forces us to spend writing time doing more and more social media work. It’s a good news/bad news thing because the more we writers do, the more the publisher expects us to do.
KRL: What do you read?
Kate: Just about anything. For example, I recently finished a bio on Cleopatra, a non-fiction book on the law of attraction called E-Squared, and a fiction book called Life After Life: A Novel. Very eclectic tastes.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Kate: Tough one. First movie that comes to mind: Gone with the Wind, followed by Titanic, followed by Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Favorite TV shows: Modern Family, Downton Abby, Dancing with the Stars, Long Island Medium, reruns of Friends, HGTV, and just about anything on the Food Network.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Kate: Join a writing group, first and foremost. They will have current market knowledge and should be able to critique your work honestly, as opposed to friends and family who will always tell you your writing is wonderful.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Kate: I was kidnapped by a camel driver in Gaza, Egypt and held for $50 ransom on top of a camel. (My husband whittled it down to $5. I found out my true worth that day.)
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of Throw in the Trowel, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Throw,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 22, 2014. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.