BIO:Kay Kendall is an international award-winning public relations executive who lives in Texas with her husband Bruce, their five house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. She’s now working on the next Austin Starr mystery, Rainy Day Women.
1. What is your favorite marketing task that has resulted in a sale?
Recently I was a guest on the popular blog Jungle Red Writers, produced by eight women who write crime fiction. I discussed why I write about the sixties and the Vietnam War era, and the reader response was terrific. Twenty people responded, most were boomer-age women. Most of them said they were glad to hear about my new book, were now ready to return to the turmoil of the sixties after being burned by it, and thanked me for taking up the subject matter. Not only had I found my target audience, but their words were heartwarming for me.
2. What do you like about your publisher or why did you decide to Self Publish?
My publisher is Stairway Press of Seattle. The company has been operating for more than ten years, and the publisher Ken Coffman likes to think of their operation as a kind of writers’ cooperative. This is an approach that appeals to my collaborative spirit. I was able to come up with the cover image myself, which a graphic artist then developed. This is not possible at the huge heritage publishing houses. Moreover, Stairway had already printed books that had Canadian subject matter, and I had had negative responses to setting my mystery in Toronto, Canada. Finally, I appreciate the support and the expertise that Stairway provides. I don’t have to do everything myself, as self-published authors do. The editor I was assigned was perfection,for example, and she made my debut mystery has strong as it could possibly be.
3. What do you have under your bed?
Under my bed is a collection of shoes that does not fit into my other three closets. Of course, what happens is that I forget about those under the bed and think that I need to go out and buy more shoes. It is an endless cycle. There are also dust bunnies under my bed, but in the second bedroom my husband and I have the real thing—live house rabbits. They make marvelous pets. One of them, Dusty, is pictured with me in my author’s photo. He’s an angora, which is why his ears aren’t as long as most breeds. He was chosen because he was able to sit still and pose far longer than our other four bunnies could. Dusty is now prideful, and the others are miffed. They are already lobbying hard to be in the next photo shoot.
4. Are you a plotter or a pantser when you are writing?
I begin by knowing five key elements: the beginning, the end, the most important characters, and who committed the crime and why. That leaves only the vast middle part into which I must throw all the red herrings. That part is the hardest for me.
I’ve now worked on three novels. The first manuscript is in the drawer, the second is published, and the third is my work in progress. Each one was developed using the same method. It’s not one that I consciously sat down and figured it out. It just happened.
I also don’t have writers’ block—not yet, anyway, knock on wood. I’ve learned that when I don’t know what to write that I leave my writing room and go redecorate another part of the house. After painting walls and/or buying new pillows, the way through the plotline rises up in my mind, and I return to writing. The first few times this happened, I got scared. I feared I’d never get back to my work in progress. Now I realize that it’s just what I do and have learned to trust my instincts. This, as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing.
5. Do you write in a bubble or do you prefer critique groups, writing buddies or other companionship during the process?
I’ve always heard that most writers are introverts. I am not. I’m a true extrovert so I relish participating in critique groups and comparing notes with other authors. Last fall I got on an elevator at a mystery fan conference and announced to another participant that my roomie and I “kill people for a living.” Then I guffawed. I thought the man would realize I was harmless since we were attending a crime convention…but he sidestepped me for days. I think I scared him silly. Really, it’s amazing what we writers talk about, how to kill people and let our criminals almost get away with it—almost, but not quite.
Desolation Row– When AUSTIN STARR marries her college sweetheart in 1968, the Cold War is hot, the Vietnam War is raging, and the women’s movement is beating a far-distant drum. When DAVID STARR decides to protest the war by moving from Texas to Canada, Austin goes along, with the biblical dictate of “whither-thou-goest I will go” ringing in her ears. No activist herself, she is homesick, drowning in culture shock as she and David begin graduate school in Toronto.
When she arrives late at an anti-war meeting, she falls across the corpse of REG SIMPSON, another draft resister. Because David and Reg are known enemies, police suspect Austin’s husband is the killer. When U.S. SENATOR SIMPSON pressures Canadian authorities to arrest quickly whoever murdered his wayward son, even the Mounties are sure David is their man. Austin must find the real killer if she hopes to save her marriage and return one day to America.
Excerpt from DESOLATION ROW—AN AUSTIN STARR MYSTERY (Stairway Press, Seattle, March 2013)
The cowboy shirt on top of the laundry heap caught her eye. She’d given David that shirt on the anniversary of their first kiss. Each time he pulled it on, he winked at her and talked about one of their early dates.
What had happened to that sensitive, romantic guy? Political exile was changing him more than she’d expected it would. More than she’d planned for. It was probably changing her too, but she couldn’t see the changes in herself as clearly.
She picked up David’s shirt from the heap of laundry, held it to her cheek, and nuzzled it, remembering all their former plans for the future. Back in the spring of 1967 when they’d graduated from college, they’d believed their futures were cast in stone. Since then she’d learned an old Yiddish saying, one that perfectly suited that period in her life. When man makes plans, God laughs.
Now she put down David’s shirt and went into the kitchen where their calendar for 1968—festooned with Canadian maple leaves—hung on the wall. It was past midnight, so she ripped off the sheet for October and tried to focus on November.
Still, she couldn’t help returning to the past. Flashed back to August 1967, when LBJ ordered half a million new troops for Vietnam. Then David began calling daily from his home in Dallas. “What if I get drafted? I don’t know what doing my duty means in this war. It’s so confusing.”
“Don’t worry.” Her tone and her heart had been so blithe. She loved him and didn’t want to lose touch. Wanted to marry him, in fact.
She’d deployed the heavy feminine artillery traditionally used in campaigns to win husbands and by Christmas, she and David were engaged. When cities across America were in flames in April 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., they wed, and by the time Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June, they were living in Toronto.
Even so, Austin was astonished to find herself in Canada, although she’d been an active—if not entirely happy—participant in the decision. She had made good, in the end, on an unthinking promise.
Two months before their wedding, David had said, “My mind’s made up. This war is immoral, and I can’t fight. If I’m drafted, I’ll either go to prison or Canada.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Austin had snapped. “Nobody’s going to draft you and if you are drafted, you can’t go to prison. If that happens, well, I’ll go with you to Canada or something.”
And now, standing alone in their Canadian apartment, Austin turned away from the calendar full of maple leaves and returned to the old cowboy shirt. It smelled like David, a decent and honorable man who was going through a rough patch. Even though he pretended to enjoy being in Canada, she knew he was homesick too. The murder investigation shouldn’t actually involve her much. She should probably just hunker down and focus on making a good life here.
She undressed in the hall, added her clothes to the pile of laundry, slipped on David’s shirt instead of her nightgown, and tiptoed into the bedroom. As she crept into bed beside her husband and curled around his unyielding back, Austin felt as desolate as if her last friend had begun an expedition to the North Pole. Visions of Reg in his bloodied suede jacket were embedded in her mind and try as she might, she couldn’t drive them away.
She couldn’t help but worry what wretched events lay ahead. ******* (the story continues)