Tag Archive for: Alan Furst



Earlier this month, Bethany Maines asked us Stiletto Gang members the
question so many authors struggle with: “what other authors are you

My answer to this question has evolved over the past twenty
years. At first I didn’t even know it was a question—one I was supposed to be
readily able to answer. Then a kindly bookstore employee explained that
publishers and booksellers find it helpful in publicizing authors if they can
be compared to other more famous writers. Okay, so I do get that. After all, I
didn’t spend my whole previous career in public relations not understanding the
point of publicity.

Jacquelin Winspear

Then the difficulties set in. How could I presume to compare
myself to a well-known author? How presumptuous. I took an online test that
suggested it could analyze my writing and figure out where my style matched
someone else’s. The answer was ludicrous—and instantly forgettable. (For
example, someone like Herman Melville. No, I think not.)

Next I realized that there were certain authors of historical mysteries
who had inspired me. Here I began to
strike pay dirt. Jacqueline Winspear is the most relevant for me. Her Maisie
Dobbs mystery series is a direct inspiration for my Austin Starr mysteries.
Winspear began her early stories in the 1920s in England when the entire
society was trying to recover from the horrors of the conflagration that was
erroneously labeled “the war to end all wars.” We now call it, sadly enough,
World War One. She successfully evokes that time period and makes us readers
believe we are back among those fraught times when my grandparents were young.

Before I discovered Winspear’s books, I had only read historical mystery
series written by men with their male protagonists. Many of these tales were
set in the 1930s, emphasizing events that led up to World War Two, and then
also during that war itself. British author Philip Kerr writes about Bernie
Gunther, a Berlin detective who gets co-opted by the Nazis. Kerr’s plots are
unusual and his historic research is impeccable. Alan Furst also describes the
interwar period in a set of loosely related (very loosely) mysteries that are
steeped in atmosphere. His evocations of Eastern Europe and France are so
successful that when I read his books, I feel as if I am walking down a Parisian
street and smelling the Gauloises cigarettes smoked by passersby.

Sara Paretsky

There are other mystery writers who inspire me by setting their
stories against a background of important social issues. Sara Paretsky is the
queen of this group. After all, she was a pioneer of the female private
investigator V.I. Warshawski as protagonist. When she saw the difficulty women writers were
having getting published in America in the 1980s, she did something about it.
She was a founding mother of Sisters in Crime. How’s that for being a
successful author and activist too. Write on, sister!

There are easily ten more authors I could mention whose work
inspires my writing, but those I’ve listed here are the ones who continually bubble
up in my mind first. I would never dare say that my writing is like theirs, but
I am happy to give them a tip of my metaphorical hat and say, “Thank you for
being you, thank you for writing what you do. And please, do write on and on
and on.”  


Kay Kendall’s Austin Starr mysteries <http://www.AustinStarr.com> capture the spirit and turbulence of the 1960s. DESOLATION ROW
(2013) and RAINY DAY WOMEN (2015) show Austin, a 22-year-old Texas bride, set
adrift in a foreign land and on the frontlines of societal change. Austin
learns to cope by turning amateur sleuth.

Saving Private Ryan—and Everyone Else Too

By Kay Kendall

Many anniversaries in the
last few weeks remind us of the wretched world wars that ripped apart the
twentieth century. Right off the top of my head, here are three important dates:
* June 6, 2014—70th
anniversary of D-Day.
* June 28, 2014—100th
anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, precipitating incident
of World War I.   

* June 30, 2014—80th
anniversary of “Night of the Long Knives” in Germany, when Hitler ordered murders of his Storm Troop leadership, thus cementing ties between the
Nazi regime and the German Army.

Those first two dates
received lots of publicity, but the third did not. June 30 was an important event that enabled Hitler to become
Führer of National Socialist Germany and to claim absolute power.
Sometime in my
twenties I realized that I think about war and its fallout far more than most
females do.
War is so common that many take it for granted, I think. But consider
this: Some psychologists estimate that it takes three generations—three!—for the
effect of having a family member serve in combat to work its way through the
offspring.  Now, multiply that times the
millions who served in both World Wars I and II, and then you begin to get a
sense of how enormous and long-lasting is the legacy of twentieth century

I also study history,
enjoying every detail, trying to understand why events turned out the way they
did…and also what could have been done to change tragic outcomes. There are
others like me, but far more people keep track of the Kardashians’ activities
than they do historical dates.

Because of this, and
because I think it is critical to know something about history and not to
forget lessons learned,
I have chosen in my own small way to write about a long
ago era. If you set a fictional story within an accurate backdrop, then readers
can pick up a sense of the time and place almost by osmosis. My chosen era is
the Vietnam War.

Mystery authors who
have inspired me include Alan Furst, Philip Kerr, and Jacqueline Winspear
. Each
of these writers has new books out this year. Furst and Kerr set their
thrillers within the lead up to and early years of World War II. Winspear has a
famous series about Maisie Dobbs, a nurse in World War I. Her current book,
however, is a standalone called The Care
and Management of Lies.
She is the third generation in her family since her
grandfather was gassed in the trenches of France. Her father fought in World
War II. She thinks and reads about war and its aftermath and writes about it
too. The Care and Management of Lies is
her homage to the Great War, and she describes eloquently why she wrote it, see
Many moviegoers were made aware of the
importance of D-Day by director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan
. Since then Hanks
has produced and participated in many films and television shows that memorialize
that great conflict, World War II. The enormity of that war seems to get into
your soul and will not let you go.
World War II is often cited as the “good
war,” the one that was necessary to fight. On the other hand, World War I,
originally called “the war to end all wars,” sadly did not live up to its name.
In fact, historians now see the two great wars as parts of the same whole.
Philosopher George Santayana famously
wrote, “Those who cannot remember
the past are condemned to repeat it.”

If we do not
want to produce millions more Private Ryans who must eventually be saved (or
brought home in body bags), we need to ponder how humanity bumbles into wars
so easily, and then decide what we as citizens can do to stop this idiocy.
Waging war is too significant to be left to politicians alone.

Kay Kendall’s debut novel, Desolation Row—An Austin Starr Mystery, takes place in 1968. Mysteries about World Wars I and II inspired her to use the Vietnam
War to illuminate reluctant courage and desperate love when a world teeters on

Kay’s work in progress is Rainy
Women, when her amateur sleuth Austin Starr must prove her best friend
didn’t murder women’s liberation activists in Seattle and Vancouver. She
 is an
award-winning international PR executive living in Texas with husband, three
house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. 
Terribly allergic to bunnies, she loves them
Her book titles show she’s a Bob Dylan buff too.
Discover more about  DESOLATION ROW, here at

Writers’ Lives in the Internet Age

By Kay Kendall
Once upon a time the
image of a writer was someone who sits in a quiet room all day long and
scribbles, or types away like a maniac. The key point is that writers were seen
as introverts. Even at the beginning of this new century, that seemed to be the
Then as the decade of the
00’s advanced and publishing began to change, the digital intrusion into the
world of writers hit. The difference from 2004 to today is extraordinary. For example,
when I contacted agents in 2004, most of them would not take submissions by
email. Now that trend is reversed. If an agent wanted to see a partial or full
manuscript, then you snail mailed it. Agents’ websites (for the third that had
them back then) warned against sending attachments. They feared viruses.
Now, only ten years later,
each agency has a website. That is, if the agency survived. Literary agencies
have been decimated by the digital revolution. 
Writers can skip them as gatekeepers and submit directly to small
publishers or choose to go the self-publishing route.

I chaired a panel at Bloody Words 2014.
Once you are a published
writer—or about to become one—that’s when you must hit the marketing trail…Facebook,
Twitter, your blog, your webpage, Pinterest perhaps, and many other parts of
the internet world. This is super time-consuming, and if you skip these steps,
your sales will languish and your publisher will not be happy with you.
For those writers who are
true introverts, living in this new world is torture. All they really want to
do is sit at home in a quiet room and compose their stories. So they are torn,
and I do feel for them. I meet authors like this at writers’ conferences, where
they moan and say how shy they are, how they want to retreat to their hotel
As for me, I love the
networking and marketing and meeting readers so much that it’s easy to forget
about the writing at the core of it all…which remains sitting alone in that
room and facing an empty screen and throwing type up on it. For me, that is
torture. Once I get past the first draft, then the rest is glorious.

Pictured left to right: Pamela Blance, me, Gloria Ferris, Lorie Lee Steiner, & Liz Lindsay

Last week I attended a
terrific writers’ conference in Toronto, Canada. It was called Bloody Words
2014, and participants came from all over North America. I met many authors who
were Facebook friends and now are real ones, not just virtual. There was a group
of four women—all writers from the province of Ontario—who made my visit
remarkably wonderful. One said she was an introvert, one was clearly an
extrovert, and two I’d judged to be in the middle. Whatever. We all had a
danged good time, and much of our chat was about the rigors of the publishing
world today. I almost called this blog piece “Misery Loves Company,” but nixed
the idea as too negative, especially when the whole conference was so marvelous
that it didn’t deserve any bad connotation.
Gloria Ferris & her book Corpse Flower

As promised here in my
previous post two weeks ago, I have included some photos from the event. Two
interesting twists to the usual mystery conference were the Books on Legs
runway walk. An author who had a book released in the previous half year would
strut her stuff while wearing an enlargement of that book’s cover. There were
no introverts visible on that runway!

The concluding banquet
was also novel. Attendees were encouraged to dress as fictional characters from
mysteries. Our group had these disguises—one biker chick, one hippie chick, one
pathologist named Kay Scarpetta, and two (count ‘em, two!) grieving widows. The
latter duo hinted that perhaps they had done in their spouses, but they would
never tell.
A great time was had by
all. Books were sold and autographed, contacts were established, and promises were
made to continue networking on the internet and at future conferences. 
But now
I’m back in my author’s lair, where the empty PC screen whispers that I’m 4,000 words behind on completing my manuscript by summer’s end. Or, as my grandmother used to
say, “There’s no rest for the weary.”  

Kay Kendall is
an international award-winning public relations executive who lives in Texas
with her husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. A fan of historical
mysteries, she wants to do for the 1960s what novelist Alan Furst does for
Europe in the 1930s and 1940s–write atmospheric mysteries that capture the
spirit of the age.

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

By Kay Kendall

Tomorrow I fly north to
attend the Canadian mystery conference named Bloody Words. Location: Toronto.
This is something akin to
poetic justice. Not only is this my first Canadian writers and fan conference
but also Toronto is the setting for my debut mystery. Yes, Toronto.

New writers are often advised
to “write what you know.” Yes, I do know Toronto. I lived there for three
years, albeit twenty years after my fictional murder takes place there. At
least I know the climate, the architecture, the street layout. For the right atmosphere
for the time period of DESOLATION ROW, 1968, I consulted friends who lived
there at that time.
Thanks to the joys of the
internet—Facebook, Twitter, and the like—I’ve made many virtual friends in
Ontario. I’m excited to know that I will be meeting some of them, live, for the
first time after many months of correspondence. With Canadian authors like
Cathy Ace, Vicki Delaney, Gloria Ferris, and Dorothy McIntosh I’ll soon be
discussing different ways to bump off our fictional victims. If past mystery
conferences are anything to go by, these chats will be replete with great cackling
and fueled by a fair bit of vino.
Bloody Words has a novel
way of winding up. It should be a hoot. People attending the closing banquet are
encouraged to dress as characters from mystery fiction—preferably historical. I’ll
be going as my amateur sleuth Austin Starr, in full hippie mode. Do expect
photos later!
The life of a writer is
not what I always thought it would be. Thanks to technology and to the
gregariousness and kindness of folks in the mystery-writing world—both authors
and readers alike—my several years as an author have been anything but
solitary. For an extrovert like me, this is a great joy.

Kay Kendall is
an international award-winning public relations executive who lives in Texas
with her husband, four house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. A fan of historical
mysteries, she wants to do for the 1960s what novelist Alan Furst does for
Europe in the 1930s and 1940s–write atmospheric mysteries that capture the
spirit of the age.

Cars, Rats & Anne Perry

By Kay Kendall
I don’t give a fig how a car works. Or electricity. Or a
computer. They all might as well be black boxes, as far as I’m concerned. Inside
mysterious things happen. Poof! The car turns on. Poof! Electricity powers the
air conditioner. Poof! The computer recalls everything you write.

What I do care about is how people work. Why they do the
things they do. I discovered this passion one teenaged summer when my boyfriend
dumped me and I drooped into churlishness. After a week my mother tired of my
moping around the house and suggested I work at one of her charities.

I ended up volunteering at the county’s psychiatric clinic,
helping with rudimentary clerical tasks. As I typed up forms and patients’
reports, I was shocked to see so much pain appear on the pages. But later I was
gratified to see the clinic’s psychiatric social worker help some of those patients
whose woes I’d typed up. Sometimes the patients left our office with springier steps.
I fancied I could see their anxieties and depression lift, if only a little.
That same summer my favorite cousin began exhibiting
behavioral problems. Merle was super bright but troubled. I never saw him act
out or be mean to someone, but I began to hear stories.  I wanted to help him but didn’t have the
skills. Ah-hah, I thought! I’d study psychology in college and become a
psychiatric social worker so I could fix him.
Please note that I never aspired to be a psychologist or
psychiatrist. Perhaps that was because I’d only seen a psychiatric social
worker in action and therefore could imagine being one. But also note the date
was 1962, the year before Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique.  And
eight years before I became an ardent feminist.
When I entered college in 1963, most courses I took fascinated
me, including for a short time even geology and astronomy, subjects taken only
to fulfill liberal arts distribution requirements. Psychology, however, was a letdown,
a huge bore.

All we studied were rats. I wanted to learn about people. While
two friends in my class did manage to cope with rodentia behavior, I
couldn’t.  These women went on to earn
their doctorates in psychology and help countless people. For me, however, the
gap between the actions of rats and people was too great a leap. I never took
another course after Psych 101.

I toyed with various majors, but English literature was my
mainstay. Fiction encompassed everything about humanity, and I’d always been a
ferocious reader. Writing was a joy. After getting a graduate degree in history—real
crimes that happened in the past, I now say—I fell back on writing and developed
a solid career as a corporate communicator.
I never felt I’d found my niche, however. My heart did not
When I began writing fiction a decade ago, I finally responded
to an inner compulsion. What I had to explore is why people do the things they
do. Character development and plot are almost synonymous to me. It’s like attending
another high school reunion and seeing old friends again after ten years. I’m
reading the newest chapters in their lives. People are walking, ongoing stories.
Curiosity drives me to learn everything I can and then fictionalize it—showing
their behavior and uncovering their motives.
Anne Perry, author

The mystery comes in when good people do bad things. Anne Perry was the first mystery author I noticed whose killers weren’t thoroughly
evil, but I didn’t know what to make of this. And then the film Heavenly Creatures came out in 1994, exposing her secret. As a teenager she
had helped murder a friend’s mother. Maybe Anne Perry has been trying to fathom
her motives ever since? No wonder the killers she devised—especially in the
first half of her career—are complicated, unfathomable people, jolted into acting
horribly in bad situations.
Each of us is a mysterious black box. Inside are so many factors
all jumbled up—memories, desires, hurts. How can other people ever hope to
understand us? How can we hope to understand ourselves?
Yet still we try. We must try. I was never able to decode
what caused my cousin Merle to derail. I did solve part of the puzzle but was
helpless to alter his sad trajectory. Alas, after living for twenty years in a
hospital for the criminally insane, he wandered off into a field while on
furlough and simply lay down and died. He was forty.
As a mystery author, though, I can put characters into
extreme peril and see if they’ll sort out their own complicated lives as well
as the sometimes vile things that others do. Solving the puzzles of people
living only on pages (or in E files) is a full-time job. After I figure out one
set of interconnecting lives, then I go on to develop another set, another, and
another. This is a job I relish. You can call me a contented Sisyphus.
Kay Kendall is an international award-winning public relations
executive who lives in Texas with her husband, four house rabbits, and spaniel
Wills. A fan of historical mysteries, she wants to do for the 1960s what
novelist Alan Furst does for Europe in the 1930s and 1940s–write atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit of the age.

Discover more about her at


Death by Stiletto

By Kay Kendall

Earlier this
week I was brainstorming with my manager (AKA my husband) about topics for my
next piece here on the Stiletto Blog.

“Eureka,” he said. “Today on the radio I heard about a woman who’s charged with
murdering her lover using her stiletto. At first I figured it meant a stiletto
knife. But no, it was a shoe.”  

Kay & bunny Dusty

“Perfect,” I
said. “I hope I can find the story online.”  And so I began to search, typing in only these
words—stiletto murder. Up popped
pages and pages of articles. Naturally many citations were from local media
outlets, but also from major media like CNN, Huffington Post, and People
For lots of detail about this murder, you can Google it yourself. But here is the story in a
Prosecutors say Ana Trujillo (age 45) was out of control and stabbed her boyfriend Alf Andersson (age 59) at least 25 times, holding him down
until he bled to death. The defense says Andersson was an alcoholic drug user
who was drunk and attacking Ms. Trujillo, and she “did the only think she could
At least
25 times!
As luck would
have it, the murder took place in Texas. Do you realize how many interesting
(read bizarre) murders occur in this
state? Remember the cheerleader mom contracting out a hit on her daughter’s
rival for a place on the cheerleading squad? Yep, that was Texas all right.

In fact, both
the stiletto wielder and the cheerleader mom inhabited my crazy, fast-growing
city—Houston. Oh, it doth make one so very proud. Yes indeed. (All jokes aside, but I
really do love living in Houston.)
I once read an
article that said if you want to publish a bestseller, then just throw the name
Texas into the title. That state name outsells any other. Again, I am so proud. Texas Chain Saw Massacre anyone? 
Seriously, it’s
a good thing that I enjoy unusual human behavior, since I live where I do.
There is so much material just lying all around, material for a mystery author
like myself to pick up and use.
Now, I’m not
going to claim that Texas has a lock on unusual behavior. Immediately other
states come to mind—like California and Florida. Or cities like Chicago and New
Orleans. Places where unusual behavior is more commonplace then where I was
born and raised—Kansas. When all people can say about your state of birth is
that a fictional character named Dorothy wore sparkly red shoes and had a
little dog named Toto, you know they think your state is boring.
No one ever
says Texas is boring. For good or ill, I cannot argue that fact.
Here’s why I’m
telling you all this. It’s because mystery authors have a warped sense of
interest in some things. I am totally curious about all human behavior, what makes
people tick, as we used to say all the time. I could care less how a car runs
or anything else technical. Just bores me to tears. But people, oh how
endlessly fascinating they all are—we
all are.
That’s the kind
of mystery I like to write—when the person “who done it” seems to be a perfectly normal
human being, but then snaps. I don’t care for the serial killers who everyone admits
are out and out crazy. Where’s the interest, the mystery, in that?
The British writer
Anne Perry has produced endless streams of who-done-its, now numbering more
than 60 books that have sold more than 26 million copies worldwide. At least
the first half of them featured killers who were actually nice people, driven
to do the ultimate evil deed, murder.
When I first
began reading her books in the early 1990s, I noted that quirk in her fiction
right away. Then in 1994 a film was released—Heavenly Creatures, an early feature directed by Peter
Jackson, who went on to direct the hugely successful Lord of the Rings trilogy—that let the cat out of the proverbial

As a teenager, Anne Perry had helped a friend kill her mother in 1954.
Both teens were imprisoned in their home country of New Zealand, and then
released five years later under the condition that they never see each other
again. Ms. Perry had gone on to adopt a pseudonym and make a new life for herself. I
myself sat beside her during a luncheon at which she was going to speak. (Of
course we were in Houston!)
Now if that
doesn’t tell you truth is stranger than fiction, I don’t know what would.

I wonder if any of you are as fascinated by this tale as I am? The teen killers did not use a stiletto. Do you know what weapon they did use to murder the mother in NZ?

For more on
Anne Perry (real name Juliet Hulme, played by Kate Winslet in the film), I
recommend reading these:
Kay Kendall is an international award-winning public relations
executive who lives in Texas with her husband, five house rabbits, and spaniel
Wills. A fan of historical mysteries, she wants to do for the 1960s what
novelist Alan Furst does for Europe in the 1930s during Hitler’s rise to
power–write atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit of the age.


Stories—Tell Me Yours

By Kay Kendall

I write historical murder
mysteries, and my chosen time period is the turbulent era of the 1960s. My work
in progress is set in 1969, entitled Rainy
Day Women
. This time my amateur sleuth, Austin Starr, gets drawn into a
murder investigation when her best friend, Larissa Klimenko, is suspected of
killing a leader in the women’s liberation movement. The action takes place in
those notoriously rain drenched cities of Seattle, Washington, and Vancouver,
British Columbia.

Like my debut book, Desolation Row, this second one takes
its name from the title of a famous Bob Dylan song. Dylan’s oeuvre is so vast
and so comprehensive that I can find almost anything I need to illustrate among
his song titles. Luckily for me, titles of creative works are not covered by copy
write law. When members of the boomer generation see the titles of my mysteries,
almost all of them will know that the books will either take place in the
sixties—or at minimum evoke them.

If you are reading this,
you may scoff when I say that what I write is historical fiction. It’s not that long ago, you may think.
Why, perhaps you yourself lived during that time. That cannot be history.

But, no, it is history.
That time is dead and gone. Five decades gone.

Last week I spoke to
classes at a community college in Alabama. Only about two in one hundred
students had heard the name of Bob Dylan. Moreover, none of them knew why the
United States was drawn into fighting a war in Vietnam. And none of them had
ever heard of the “domino theory.”

Yep, stick a fork in the
sixties. They are done.

One reason I choose to
write about that time period is to describe its importance to those who know
nothing about it. Reading fiction is an easy way to learn about history.

The other reason is to
commemorate and revivify a part of American history that has had far reaching effects.
Societal upheaval was so intense in the 1960s that the aftershocks still are
felt today. We have only to watch TV news to see the rage called forth by the
changing, broadening roles of women to realize that these ideas are not yet

While Desolation Row looks at the consequences of the Vietnam War, the
anti-war movement, and personal outcomes from military service…in Rainy Day Women, I explore the hopes for
female improvement held by early members of the women’s liberation movement.

Participating in that
movement was one of the most important intellectual endeavors I ever undertook.
The magnitude of changes that the movement made in me cannot be underestimated.
In my daily life, I speak occasionally about this, but I seldom hear others do

I know that there are other women whose lives
were changed as mine was. I would love to hear your stories.

In my first book I used one
real military tale from World War II. I felt it was almost a sacred experience
that I didn’t want to disrespect by making up events…although I certainly fictionalized
them enough so that no one can tell whose stories they were.

Similarly, in my new
book, Rainy Day Women I would like to
include a few real memories from real women who participated in women’s
liberation groups.

Whatever you’ve got to
share, I am eager to listen. Rest assured, I will not incorporate your words
into my writing without asking your permission. I hope you will let me hear
from you. 

Kay and her bunny Dusty
 is an international
award-winning public relations executive who lives in Texas with her husband,
five house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. A fan of historical mysteries, she wants
to do for the 1960s what novelist Alan Furst does for Europe in the 1930s
during Hitler’s rise to power–write atmospheric mysteries that capture the
spirit of the age.

Discover more about her at 

The CIA…and Gloria Steinem

By Kay Kendall

Gloria Steinem said it best: “Writing is the only thing I do
that I don’t feel like I should be doing something else.”
I began writing fiction fifteen years ago. My first
manuscript was a literary novel that I worked on forever and put aside when I
failed to get an agent. That was important eight years ago, much less so now
under different publishing conditions. But I found I still was compelled to
write so I immersed myself in crime fiction, let the patterns of the genre seep
into my head, and then began to write my mystery.
Within the mystery genre, historical fiction is what I like
to read best. Many authors locate their sleuths and their spymasters during the
great wars of the twentieth century. The two world wars and Cold War are amply
represented in mysteries and spy fiction. The Vietnam War is comparatively not
“taken.” Besides it is the era I grew up in. I decided it was an historic niche
that needed filling and that I was the one to do the filling.
I wanted to show what life was like for young women of that
era, the late sixties—not the type who made headlines, the Angela Davises and
Hanoi Janes, but the moderates who nonetheless got swept along by the tides of
history during that turbulent time. All that turmoil lends itself to drama,
intrigue…and murder.
I don’t consider myself a daring or courageous person. My
heroine Austin Starr feels fear, is often anxious but keeps on pushing
regardless. I picture her as myself with more moxie.
Recently I gave a book reading and said that to my audience.
Imagine how startled I was therefore, when a long-time family friend said,
“That’s nonsense, Kay. You are so adventuresome. You went to the Soviet Union
for a summer when you were only twenty to study, you moved to a different
country (Canada), and you’re always trying new things.”
I must confess that opinion made me feel good, although I
still regard it as unfounded.
Still, I will tell you a secret.
Imagine how surprised that old friend would be if she
knew that the CIA training of Austin Starr was based on my own
flirtation with that spy agency. I really did interview with the CIA. When
offered a position, instead I chose to attend grad school and continue
studying Russian history…. Just as my protagonist Austin Starr does. 
Maybe I have more moxie than I give myself credit for after
All that said, it’s no surprise that I’m excited for the
second season of the TV spy thriller The Americans to start up in a few days on
the FX Network.  Any movie or TV show,
put spies in it and some derring-do, and I will be there, front and center, for
the vicarious adventure.

Kay & house bunny Dusty

Kay Kendall is an international award-winning public relations executive who lives in Texas with her husband, five house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. A fan of historical mysteries, she wants to do for the 1960s what novelist Alan Furst does for Europe in the 1930s during Hitler’s rise to power–write atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit of the age.

Discover more about  DESOLATION ROW, here at

Fashions of the Times

By Kay Kendall

I adore fashion. I can’t help it. It’s genetic. Both my grandmothers and my mother enjoyed clothes, jewelry, and dressing up. At the age of ten I had a weekly hair appointment at a salon. Shopping trips to the big city of Wichita from my hometown of 12,000 were a monthly highlight. In early years Mother and I even donned gloves for the 25-mile trip. When my Texas grandmother took me to the original Neiman Marcus in downtown Dallas, I almost swooned.

Now, flash forward to the eighties. Shoulder pads made the scene. Love at first sight! They helped balance my proportions, counteracting my hips. My mother, however, was appalled. “My dresses had big shoulders in the forties, and I’m not excited about things I wore before.” I didn’t understand. How could she be so stuffy?

With this new millennium, boho chic arrived. But it’s all sixties fashion to me. Retro hippie would be an even better name. The first time I saw nouveau bell-bottom trousers in an issue of Vogue ca. 2003, I groaned. Oh, surely that will never catch on again, I mused to myself, throwing the magazine aside in disgust. Then came the beads, the peasant blouses, and all the other hippie accouterments. The only thing not seen in redux-land is a version of my old macrame purse.

 Soon celebrities in the under thirty-five age group staked out hippie chic as their own look. Try an online search of images for entertainers Nicole Richie or Sienna Miller, and fashion stylist and designer Rachel Zoe. Every image of them is heavily influenced by the sixties. Nicole even wears macrame occasionally.

At first, like my mother twenty-five years ago, I spurned the return of styles I’d worn before. But boho chic gained strength and crept into more and more clothes. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since Stairway Press of Seattle published my debut mystery set in the sixties. Desolation Row—An Austin Starr Mystery features a young bride from Texas who gets swept along by the tides of history during that turbulent time.

The choice of cover was tricky. The design had to evoke the Vietnam War era without turning off potential readers. Real photos from the period are too grungy, but countless current pictures are for sale of young female models dressed like hippies. We chose one of those photos, and the result has drawn raves. “Isn’t she, er, fetching?” a bestselling male author gulped as he stared at my book cover, almost drooling.

To set the mood at my book signings, I often wear blouses and boot-cut pants (not bell-bottoms) like those I wore back then and throw on some beads and ethnic-y earrings to complete the effect. Luckily for me, there’s no dearth of such clothes and jewelry to choose from.

How about you? Are there styles that have returned (from the dead, as it were) that delight you? That you are happy to wear again? Or are there other styles that have as yet to resurface and you wish they’d hurry and return?

Personally, I think how one dresses is a great form of self-expression. I love playing with style. Sure, it’s vain, I guess, but it is still fun!

Kay Kendall is an international award-winning public relations executive who lives in Texas with her husband, five house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. A fan of historical mysteries, she wants to do for the 1960s what novelist Alan Furst does for Europe in the 1930s during Hitler’s rise to power–write atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit of the age.