Kate Dyer-Seeley literally endured physical pain to write the first draft of Natural Thorn Killer. That may seem a bit dramatic, but she wrote the entire first draft of the book with a broken arm. “True story,” Kate said. “I tripped on the sidewalk while out for an afternoon walk, fell, and broke my wrist. Super embarrassing. Plus I had no excuse. I wasn’t texting or even talking to anyone. I just tripped and ended up in a pink cast for eight weeks. Typing with a cast is challenging to say the very least. I had to MacGyver a set of pillows that I would prop on the couch to balance my cast on. My laptop has scratches to this day where the cast would hit it. I like to think of them as battle scars.”
Write what you know
Kate said she’s one of those people who has to follow the old adage of “write what you know,” and a big part of that for her is location. “I’m a Pacific Northwest native and grew up in the Portland area. Portland has seen tremendous changes and growth in the last five to ten years for better and for worse. When I was in the initial planning stages of the book I knew I wanted to explore that but didn’t really have a sense of how it would evolve. I wrote another series set in the area that centered around a young, twenty-something journalist who was wrapped up in the hipster Portland culture—beers, bikes etc. With this book I wanted to show a different side of the city, so one of my starting points was where to set the book.
“One of my favorite childhood memories is of the Riverplace Hotel on the banks of the Willamette River. My parents arranged a fun mini “staycation” for a long weekend, and I remember getting to wear a fancy dress to dinner where the waiter brought special kid appetizers for my brother and me—carrot sticks with ranch dip and gummy worms—and walking along the riverfront watching the colorful dragon boats practicing for the Rose Festival races. It was a quaint part of the city with cobblestone streets and cute shops and storefronts. With that in mind, I decided to set the book in the same location. I spent tons of time (with my notebook and pen in hand) at coffee shops and outdoor cafes along the waterfront watching and observing. The Portland of my youth had changed. It wasn’t just the landscape. Yes, now there are high-rises and expensive boutiques in this part of the city. But the changes ran deeper.”
It was those changes that led her to the theme of Natural Thorn Killer. “As the city has grown its population has shifted. While Portland has always been known as a progressive city, it also has a history of strained race relations. Gentrification is a major issue, as is the threat of violence against minorities. I interviewed a woman who moved to Portland from Guam in the 1990s. When she first opened her flower shop she was welcomed into the community but surprisingly over the course of time that has changed. Her shop has been tagged with racial slurs and broken into on multiple occasions.
“Yes, the book is a cozy mystery, but I couldn’t escape weaving in some cultural undercurrents.”
Back to childhood friends
The idea for Natural Thorn Killer is related to one of Kate’s childhood friends. She said her best friend when growing up lived three blocks away. Her parents were from Sweden and Denmark, and they became much like second parents to her. “They taught me bits and pieces of Swedish, introduced me to traditional food like Swedish crepes with fresh lemon and lingonberry jam and marzipan cakes. Brit, my best friend’s mom, was a master gardener. She would cut fresh flowers and arrange them for no special occasion—just a Tuesday night dinner. Her esthetic was simple yet elegant. I remember going home and asking my mom for kitchen scissors, so I could snip roses and stalks of rosemary in our backyard to try and recreate Brit’s flower bouquets. She became the inspiration for Britta’s aunt in the book.”
Kate also said she wants readers to know that she’s grateful to them. “Not just for reading my books, but for reading in general. Reading connects us, especially during a time of such disconnection and I don’t think people talk about that enough.”
As a writer who likes to immerse herself in the world she’s writing about, Kate spent many hours in flower shops, at the wholesale flower market, and the floral institute. She described it as an amazing and totally sensory experience.
“The flower designers that I met were beyond helpful and wonderful teachers. I know enough about arranging a centerpiece or bridal bouquet to be dangerous. One of the best things about the experience was how into the idea of murder the floral designers became. I have a file folder dedicated to emails I received after my time spent in shops or at the market with follow-up suggestions on which plants can be deadly or how a killer might use floral wire or tape to strangler a victim. My advice? Be careful when ordering your next vase of fresh flowers!”
Learn more about Kate Dyer-Seeley at katedyerseeley.com.