An avid gardener, Linda Tsoutsouris created and maintained elaborate perennial gardens, vegetable gardens and rose gardens at her home in Valparaiso. A former elementary school teacher in Munster, Tsoutsouris also wrote romance novels set in Indiana and Illinois in the 1800s.
“My historical romances have very strong suspense plots as well as some mystery in them,” said Tsoutsouris.
When Tsoutsouris mentioned to her editor she wanted to segue from romance to writing a cozy-style mystery series, her editor suggested a setting women would enjoy since the majority of those readers are women.
Usually the crime solver in a cozy mystery is an intelligent woman, often with an interesting career such as caterer, baker or bed and breakfast owner who somehow gets involved in solving a murder. As examples, one can go back to "Miss Marple" in mysteries written by Agatha Christie starting back in the 1930s, or more recently Jessica Fletcher of the TV show "Murder She Wrote".
At first Tsoutsouris considered making her protagonist a novice attorney, but after her editor noted there were way too many mysteries featuring attorneys, Tsoutsouris's thoughts turned to her gardens.
“A flower shop seemed a natural fit, combining my love of all things flora with a business everyone enjoys visiting,” she says. “The colors and scents are always enticing at a flower shop.”
Besides using her knowledge of gardening, Tsoutsouris sought professional advice as well to gather background for the book.
“I spent a few days hanging out with local florists, learning the tools and tricks of their trade, and I have several floral design books that I rely on,” she says.
Her first book, "Mum’s the Word", written under the pen name Kate Collins, introduced us to spunky florist and sleuth Abby Knight, owner of Bloomers, a flower shop in charming "New Chapel, Ind.", which bears more than a passing resemblance to Valparaiso.
Abby had just been dumped by her fiancé Pryce Osborne II two months before their wedding. But murder and mayhem in New Chapel kept Abby from dealing with the pain of being jilted. Other Flower Shop mysteries such as "Night of the Living Dandelions", "Acts of Violets" and "Sleeping with the Anemones" soon followed.
Readers not only liked reading about the exploits of feisty Abby and her colorful friends as they solved crimes, but also the flower theme.
Tsoutsouris, a New York Times best selling author, gets emails from readers telling her they’re making the flower arrangements mentioned in the book.
“I'm always getting feedback and fresh tips from florists who are fans of the series, too,” adds Tsoutsouris.
She also made Bloomers, the flower shop, part of the mystery, and on her Website (katecollinsbooks.com), she includes an interactive floor plan of Bloomers Flower Shop, so readers can picture where things happen.
Now as Abby prepares for her upcoming nuptials in the latest mystery, "Nightshade on Elm Street" (Signet 2012, $7.99), she has to face her past. It’s the 13thh book in the series but in New Chapel time that’s about 18 months in Abby’s life. It’s a time for reckoning.
“The pain and humiliation from that break up have been with Abby for a year and a half now, and she’s never dealt with it, other than to crack a few jokes,” says Tsoutsouris.
“In this story, circumstances beyond Abby’s control bring all that pain to the surface, until she has no choice but to face it down, which she does in typical Abby style. It was interesting for me to watch Abby wiggle and squirm, trying to shove that baggage back down into its hidey hole and pretend it didn’t exist. In this instance, I let my characters take the lead and allowed those scenes play out naturally. I hope they tug at your heartstrings as they did mine. You and Abby will learn a lot about what the heart is capable of, and what family can do in a time of crisis.”
Though each of her Flower Shop mysteries are stand-alone books, Tsoutsouris says that in "Nightshade on Elm Street", readers get to meet a few characters from past books.
In her next mystery, "Seed No Evil", out in August, she introduces a new character “that I know positively the readers will love.”
In the meantime, Tsoutsouris is thinking ahead to this spring’s gardening.
“I just moved into a brand new home and am trying to get used to writing in a whole new space,” she says noting that her favorite flowers include calla lilies, roses, hyacinths and hydrangeas.
“I have a great view of water now instead of woods, so I have to train my mind to focus on the screen and not on the water birds floating by," she said. "As for my new garden, this spring I'm looking forward to starting fresh with some of my old favorites, and a few new varieties as well.”
As for her floral experience, Tsoutsouris says readers sometimes ask her for gardening tips.
“They also ask if I have ever been a florist,” she says. “The real florists know, however. I'm not that good.”