Getting Swallowed Up in Another Time and Place

Kay KendallKay Kendall writes atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the sixties. A reformed PR executive who won international awards for her projects, Kay lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she’s a Bob Dylan buff too.

RAINY DAY WOMEN (2015) won two awards at Killer Nashville 2016 — for best mystery and best book. It is the second in her Austin Starr Mystery series and is available in E-book, trade paperback, and audio-book.

DESOLATION ROW (2013), first in the series, was a finalist for best mystery at Killer Nashville in 2014.

As a reader, I love immersing myself in a long-go world and enjoy figuring out how aspects of the past have led us humans to where we are now. As a mystery writer, I prefer to describe human emotions and motives rather than technical gadgetry that can prove who committed a crime. That inclination pushes me back to writing about the days before CSI could have existed. That means I write historical crime novels.

I try to create an accurate portrayal of the time, to keep historical details in the background, and to make the stories themselves entertaining. I realize that not everyone is as much of a history freak as I am, to put it mildly. I confess to being so extreme that even if a film or television show isn’t as fabulous, say, as “Downton Abbey”, even if it merely shows beautiful historical costumes and old buildings, well, by gosh, I will watch it and enjoy it.

The mysteries in my Austin Starr series take place in the late 1960s. While some people don’t even consider the sixties as historical, I beg to differ. For example, my characters are forever running around trying to find payphones when they are in the midst of emergencies. If they are expecting a phone call, they have to sit by the phone and wait. If they miss a call, they don’t realize it. Very few people had answering machines back then as they had just come onto the market. Boy oh boy, is that time long ago and far away—history, in short.

My first mystery, Desolation Row, deals with the murder of an anti-war protestor, and the second, Rainy Day Women, finds murders in two women’s liberation groups. I expected some blowback for selecting such contentious backgrounds, but I am pleased to say it has been minimal. Even online comments made anonymously have been thoughtful and always courteous.

The closest I’ve come to negative remarks was when a few readers said that living through the sixties was difficult enough and so they preferred to keep their memories buried and not relive them by reading about that era. On the other hand, at my favorite bookstore event, forty readers delved spontaneously into the effects of the Vietnam War on themselves and their loved ones. When an hour had passed and the discussion showed no signs of flagging, we finally had to stop so I could sign books. Deep wounds caused by that controversial war had surfaced, and that audience wanted to talk and vent and share their remembered miseries. Conversely, I expected to find little or no resistance to my book with the women’s movement background. When I began writing Rainy Day Women, these issues had just begun to become timely again.

These two mysteries are set in Canada, and I write about it like a truly foreign country—and not the fifty-first state, as some Americans seem to think. Being married to a Canadian, I lived in Canada for many years before we relocated to Texas. I learned that although the cultural and historical differences between the United States and Canada may be small, they do exist nevertheless, as does some anti-American feeling.

RainyDayWomenCOVER.fh11My idea in writing the Austin Starr mystery series was not only to treat the sixties like long-gone history but also to treat Canada like a real foreign country, from an American perspective.  For a writer, showing different terms that Canadians and Americans use for the same item is fun. Pronunciations of the same English word can vary also. Such differences make my amateur sleuth, Austin Starr, feel like an outsider in the Great White North. Also, she longs for home. One of the over-riding questions in the series is whether or not Austin Starr will succeed in returning to her home country.

I came to my fiction-writing life relatively late in life, after a career in public relations that lasted twenty-five years. Having found a new and fulfilling pursuit, I often think about the words of the great Gloria Steinem, and how she said it best: “Writing is the only thing I do that, when I’m doing it, I don’t feel like I should be doing something else.”