Tag Archive for: Anna Karenina

Writing by the Bechdel Rule—and Not Even Knowing it

by Kay Kendall

Even though the Bechdel Rule has been around for
three decades, I never heard about it until seven years ago when it first popped
up in film reviews in the New York Times.
Now, I love movies and try hard to keep abreast of trends, so I looked it up
pretty quick. I don’t like feeling behind the times.
Also known as the Bechdel Test, it judges
movies by three criteria:
(1) it has to have at least two
women in it, who (2) talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. Cartoon
illustrator Alison Bechdel popularized her pal Liz Wallace’s concept in the
comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For in
1985. There are now 8,151 movies listed at bechdeltest.com that pass the test.  
When I first read
the test’s definition, I was astonished. Movies I watch and books I read
routinely pass this test, even before I knew it existed. The first mystery I
was in the midst of writing, Desolation
, passed as do the two books that followed.
I believe I was
born a feminist so it’s no wonder this rule was one I lived by. There are
fictional female characters to whom I give credit for prodding me along my way.
They include the mighty Jane Eyre, the extremely curious Nancy Drew, and even
the tragic Anna Karenina. After all, the Russian woman came to a very bad end indeed
by living only for the love of a man and nothing else.  
recently returned to my treasured copy of Jane
to see if it held up to my current feelings about living one’s life as
a female. Again I was astonished because the proto feminism of the novel was
laid out on almost every page. For example, look at this passage, written in
complete contrast to the fate of poor Anna Karenina: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being
     with an independent will.”
While that is the second most quoted
passage from Jane Eyre, here is
another one, a real doozy, given the era it was written in, the 1850s in
Victorian England:
“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women
feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for
their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a
restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is
narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought
to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on
the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at
them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced
necessary for their sex.”

And yet Jane Eyre is also a magnificent love story because of the heroine’s
passion for Mr. Rochester. Proving that she could be not only independent but
in love too, she most famously stated, “Reader, I married him.”

Second wave feminism peaked in the
1970s and declined thereafter. Feminism was attacked as being anti-male. I
always thought that was utter bosh, complete nonsense. I am delighted that has
changed of late. We women can stand up for ourselves without trashing all men,
for certainly all men do not deserve that, only the ones who seek to hold women
down, to keep us, as the Rolling Stones gleefully sing, “Under My Thumb.”
In my second mystery, Rainy Day Women, I quote that awful
title from the Stones, and in my third mystery, After You’ve Gone, I have my heroine quote Jane Eyre, “I am no
bird; and no net ensnares me.”
So books that pass the Bechdel Test
with flying colors snared me as a young reader, and they do so today as well.
And, dear reader, now I write them too.


 Author Kay
Kendall is passionate about historical mysteries.     She lives in Texas with
her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills.
Her second book Rainy Day Women won the Silver Falchion for best mystery at Killer Nashville.

Visit Kay at
her website http://www.austinstarr.com/
or on Facebook at


Lasting Fiction–7 Books That Matter Most to Me

By Kay Kendall

I can’t recall when I wasn’t
surrounded by books, even when my age was in single-digit years. I had a strict
time for lights-out but always wanted to keep reading. One year someone gave me
a small pin-on Santa. It lit up when I pulled a string dangling from Santa’s
beard and provided enough light for reading under the covers. Fortunately,
Santa’s battery lasted for months and months. This made me so happy, although
it’s a miracle I didn’t ruin my eyesight.

These memories illustrate how
important books have been for me, like, forever. I once told my mother
that “books are my friends.” I felt silly saying it, but years later she recounted
my words back to me. Both of my parents were great readers. Unusual for their
generation—the Greatest—both graduated from college. My father continued his quest for learning throughout his life, while my mother devoted herself
to fiction.

A few years ago, I came across my
baby book, bound in pink leather. On one page, space was provided to answer this
was baby’s first statement about religion?

My mother filled in the answer: “At the age of
two years, my daughter asked if Jesus went to college.”

Oh yes indeed, books and book
learning were inculcated early in me.

Like many of us who are inveterate
readers, I’ve encountered many favorite books over the years. I could probably
rattle off one hundred right off the top of my head. Recently I attempted to
winnow the list down to those that have stuck with me—those that left
lasting memories—and boiled that list down to seven. Here are the first five, in
the order that I read them:

Black Beauty by English author Anna Sewell, published 1877
Little Women by American author Louisa May Alcott, published 1868
Jane Eyre by
Charlotte Bronte, published 1847
Anna Karenina by
Russian author Leo Tolstoy, published 1878
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by
British author John le Carré, published 1974

Each of these novels I’ve read at least three times, with the exception of Anna Karenina, read only twice. (After all, it is by far the longest on my list.) Since I adhere to the motto of “so many books so little time,” I rarely reread anything. These five stand out because I devoured each of them many times. And even today, when paging through them,
I stop at passages that astonish me. The words leap off the pages and seem to
shout, “See. See. THIS is why I grabbed you and will never release you from my
clutches. You STILL believe in these things.”

Horse crazy as a young girl, I read many
books about horses, but only Black Beauty
had staying power. Its message of kindness to all creatures great and small was
important in my grade school years. The American classic of Little Women gave me a heroine named Jo
March with whom I could relate. Not her three sisters—they were too sweet or
dazzling or bossy. Then around age eleven, the adventurous Gothic romance of Jane Eyre swept me away.  I never looked for my own Heathcliff—oh no,
not him—but searched instead for my own Mr. Rochester. And I found him, dear
reader, I found him.  
To prepare for my SAT exams and for
college, I read classic literary novels in high school. I tried Anna Karenina then but could not get
past the first twenty pages. In my twenties I tried again, and that time it
took. I also read the great War and Peace,
and it was almost a toss-up for which I loved more, but poor Anna with her sad
tale won out. For anyone who has never read Tolstoy, I recommend that you begin
with something short to see if his precision writing draws you in. Try
The Death of Ivan
, a novella considered a masterpiece of Tolstoy’s late
fiction. What the author sees, understands, and describes is sheer brilliance,
even in translation.
The only
contemporary novel of my first five is my favorite spy story of all time, by my
favorite living author,
le Carré
. On first reading I could scarcely understand
it. There were too many code words and triple dealing and nothing was as it
seemed. I couldn’t even understand the ending—I was that confused. When I
reread it a year later, then I began to “get it.” The depth of deception
on both political and personal levels was astounding, and the puzzles were
dazzling. I have read le
Carré’s  masterwork several
more times for sheer pleasure.
All five of
these works I watch again and again as new versions come out for the screen. I
am particularly picky when I watch Jane
. No actress ever lives up to my vision of the heroine, although there
are some darned good Rochester’s, mind you. Conversely, actresses who play the
role of Anna Karenina have never disappointed me. Well, let’s face it. My
favorite book, ever, is Jane Eyre,
and nothing can compete on the screen with what I see in my own imagination.
Finally, in a somewhat different category
are books six and seven. These are seminal works—ones that contain the seeds of
later development. My own later development, to be exact. One inspired me to
try writing for the first time, and much, much later the other encouraged me to write
historical mysteries. These two are
“A Visit from St. Nicholas” by American
academic Clement Moore, first published anonymously in the Troy, New York Sentinel on December 23, 1823, and

by British author Jacqueline Winspear, published in 2003.
Even when I could read, my grandfather read
the beloved Christmas poem to me every holiday season. When we weren’t together, he read it to me over the phone. To this day I love its language and
can recall most of its lines. When I was seven, I wrote and illustrated my own
version, paying special care to decorate the opening line, “Twas the night
before Christmas when all through the house….” Then for decades I proceeded to
write and write and write some more, but none of it was fiction. Instead I
wrote a graduate thesis and then media releases, annual reports, and the like
for corporations and educational institutions during my PR career. While I sometimes longed to write novels, I didn’t think I had anything worthwhile to say.
Finally in 1998, I began my first attempt, empowered by a seminar for women
leaders in Texas.
While that completed manuscript will stay
hidden in a drawer forever, my next effort was successfully published. My historical
mystery, Desolation Row, was directly
inspired by Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs. That
debut book in her mystery series contains the critical elements I now try to
incorporate in my own mysteries—a tough yet tender female sleuth, an exciting
period of history for the setting, and crimes committed out of deep personal
anguish. . . . So, now that I’ve told you about the books that have lasted for me, do you know which ones did that for you? Please do share your comments below. I would love to know.

Read the first 20 pages of Kay Kendall’s second mystery, RANY DAY WOMEN here! http://www.austinstarr.com/ 
That book won two awards at the Killer Nashville conference in August 2016—for best mystery/crime and also for best book.  Her first novel about Austin Starr‘s sleuthing, DESOLATION ROW, was a finalist for best mystery at Killer Nashville in 2014. Visit Kay on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/KayKendallAuthor

KK Exposed—Author Interview

By Kay Kendall
is a revealing interview I did some months back with Kings River Life, the
California-based online weekly magazine. See if you can spot the secret I divulge!
How long have you been writing?    

I began with my own
version of “The Night Before Christmas” at age seven. Later I wrote essays,lots of English major/then history grad student papers, then news releases and
annual reports during my long career as a public relations executive. In 1998 I
began writing fiction.
Steinem said it best: “Writing is the only thing I do that I don’t feel like I
should be doing something else.”

When did your first novel come out
and what was it about? 
My first novel is
DESOLATION ROW—AN AUSTIN STARR MYSTERY, published in March 2013 by Stairway
Press of Seattle.
After Austin marries her college boyfriend, they move from
their native Texas to a foreign country. She has trouble coping with so much
change—and then her husband is jailed for murder. Alone, far from home, Austin
must find the real killer. When she also becomes a captive, things go from bad
to worse. Danger stalks two young lives and a new marriage. This fraught love
story rages through social upheaval and anti-war protests. Canada in 1968—surprisingly

Have you always written
mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?  
first completed fiction manuscript was a literary novel. It did not sell. I put
it away and gave up writing fiction, but only temporarily. I still felt called
to write so I took up genre writing. I devoured nothing but mysteries for two
whole years and then began to write my own.

Do you write to entertain or is there
something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
an anomaly in this modern world. I love learning about the past. It helps me
understand how we got from back there to here. If I can tell an entertaining
story that has some accurate historical detail to it, then I figure it’s an
easy way to help people swallow some history that I think they should be aware

Do you have a schedule for your
writing or just write whenever you can? 
much I write whenever I can. That said, I do have a pattern, based on sharing a
house with a husband who is now retired and, although respectful of my writing
life, deserves attention. Generally I write from noon until six in the evening.  
Do you outline or just wing it? I
work from a basic outline. It’s like a road map. I know the basic route but add
colorful detail—and red herrings—as I travel down that road.
 If you had your ideal, what time of day would
you prefer to write? 
I work routinely from noon to about six p.m. However, in an ideal world I’d
continue into late night. When I’m revising for publication under an editor’s
hand—a stage I adore—then I can write for forty-eight hours straight—with brief
timeouts for an occasional nap.  
Did you find it difficult to get
published in the beginning?
heck yes! Almost everyone does!
Do you have a great
rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?  
well-respected publishing house for mysteries almost took my book, DESOLATION
ROW. Three editors liked it, the fourth—the
head honcho—did not. When she and I talked on the phone, she voiced two
quibbles. First, she didn’t like that it was set in Canada, since “Americans
don’t want to read about Canada.” (I bit my tongue to keep from saying—“You’ve
heard of Louise Penny, haven’t you?”) Then she said that my writing about draft
resisters during the Vietnam War did not tally with her memories. She concluded by saying that she usually didn’t
revisit a manuscript, but if I made some changes, she would review mine again.
I thanked her and hung up. She and I would not have been a marriage made in
publishing heaven. Two weeks later I had a contract from Ken Coffman, publisher
of Stairway Books in Seattle. He and his crew are ideal to work with.
What are your future writing goals?  I’ve
embarked on my Austin Starr mystery series. My next will be out in June 2015, RAINY
DAY WOMEN. I plan at a minimum four books and hope for even more. God willing
and the creeks don’t rise…as the saying goes in Texas.
What kind of research do you do?  Because
I write about an era that I lived through, I do little research. I write from
memory, and then when I throw in specific place details or real historical
figures, I do a bit of online research to ensure accuracy. For DESOLATION ROW,
I had a justice of the Ontario Supreme Court read it to ensure accurate representation
of the criminal justice system in Toronto in 1968.
What do you read?  Historical
fiction, the occasional literary novel, and masses of mysteries and spy
stories. Also well-written thrillers, but I’m picky about those. Most of them
are just slam-bang things so they don’t interest me much. However, my favorite
novels of all time are JANE EYRE and ANNA KARENINA. 
What is something people would be
surprised to know about you?  
I married
a Canadian and lived in Canada for two decades, an American in an unexpectedly different
land. I also was offered work with the CIA, but decided to study history in
graduate school instead. The spy world has always fascinated me, still does,
but now I’m glad I didn’t end up there. But I sure do love it in fiction.  

Kay Kendall set DESOLATION ROW–AN AUSTIN STARR MYSTERY in 1968. The sequel
is Rainy Day Women, will be out in 2015. Her amateur sleuth Austin
Starr must prove her best friend didn’t murder women’s
liberation activists in Seattle and Vancouver. A fan of historical
mysteries, Kay wants to do for the 1960s what novelist Jacqueline Winspear
accomplishes for England in the 930s–write atmospheric mysteries that capture
the spirit of the age. Kay’s an award-winning international PR executive living in Texas with husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Allergic to bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show
she’s a Bob Dylan buff too