Tag Archive for: Austin Starr mysteries


by Kay Kendall

I remember the very first inkling. At about age sixteen I walked into a room, spied a heavy candlestick, and exclaimed, while pointing,  “That would make a great murder weapon.” 

Lost in my fantasy of discovering a killer, I didn’t notice that my friends cast furtive glances at each other and backed away from me after they heard my words.


Together with my three cousins in my hometown, I continued to play the board game of Clue on Sunday afternoons after the family lunches that invariably followed church services. I kept reading murder mysteries, too. After I finished all the Nancy Drew books, I moved on to more grown up volumes. My parents read plenty of fiction, and my father liked who-done-it’s, so lots of books were available at our home.

In my last year of high school, I repeated my performance and again noted a hefty candlestick. “What a dandy murder weapon that would make,” I explained while eying a massive version placed on a railing in my church sanctuary.

“What’s wrong with you?” Nancy said. “Are you going to grow up to be a killer or something? You hardly seem the type.” 

One other friend snickered, but Glenda came to my defense. “Don’t be silly. She’s just indulging in make believe.”

Back then I didn’t make much of these incidents. They did, however, stick in my mind, and once I began writing mysteries, I looked back and wondered if these were portents of things to come. I just had not recognized them as such at the time.

After all, I never heard one other person utter anything similar to my remarks. That is, not until decades later when I began to attend conferences for mystery writers. Not only was such talk common among those authors, but whole panels were held that discussed how to commit murder, how to get away with it, and how to find the perpetrator. Moreover, a few pathologists were always available to advise on just the right poison to fit a writer’s plot circumstances. I picked up specific details too that would make a scene accurate. Did you know that if you hanged your victim, his or her head would always, always tilt to one side? If you see a corpse in a film whose head hangs straight down, that is a big mistake.

I had found my tribe. Oddly enough, the crime writing and fan community is a great bunch of people. They are kind and help one another. It is a truism that people who write about murders, day in and day out, are as a group one of the nicest you can ever meet.

How about it? Can you also look back on your life and pick out a moment that suggested what you would do “when you grew up?” I would love to hear about it.

Award-winning author Kay Kendall is passionate about historical mysteries.  She lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, two house rabbits, and spaniel Wills.

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

Thoughts to Send Around the World and Into the Cosmos

From Kay Kendall


Award-winning author Kay Kendall is
passionate about history so she’s aware of many pandemics Earth has suffered over the centuries. Too distracted and/or befuddled to put coherent thoughts together right now, she offers up this fine prayer by Anonymous that she found on the internet four days ago. If you don’t believe in a deity, then she suggests you substitute the word Love for God in the prayer above. Kay lives in Texas with her
Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Visit Kay at her website http://www.austinstarr.com/  or on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/KayKendallAuthor

Debra & Kay “Do” Houston

by Kay Kendall

Avid readers and writers
of crime fiction make up a warm and supportive community, both IRL (in real
life) and online. This fact often astonishes folks outside this community. Isn’t it odd, they ask, that people who spend lots of time steeped in criminal
activities of all kinds—even if it is fictional—are so nice?

Debra H. Goldstein & Kay Kendall, 2014, Killer Nashville

And now one of the nicest
and funniest authors I know is coming to Houston. Debra H. Goldstein and I will do
a talk and book signing together at Houston’s renowned store, Murder by the Book.

On Saturday, January 4 at 4:30 pm. (location: 2342 Bissonnet Street) you’ll
find us doling out cookies, tea, wine, and opinions aplenty about reading and
writing mysteries.

Debra writes funny cozy mysteries
and will talk about her newest book, Two
Bites Too Many
. I write historical mysteries and will discuss my latest, After You’ve Gone.

Watch this space for news of a live feed on Facebook!

Debra and I are both bloggers here on the Stiletto Gang, but our
pal-hood predates that by several years. We first met at the Killer Nashville
conference in the summer of 2014 and hit it off immediately. Both of us came to
our mystery writing later in life.

She had been both a
successful labor lawyer and one of the youngest individuals appointed as a U.S.
Administrative Law Judge. I had won international awards in my two decades of
corporate communications. Both of us then cut our careers short (hers as a
judge was a lifetime appointment!) to become fulltime mystery writers. Since meeting
five years ago, we’ve each published more books and participated in several
organizations promoting crime novels. This year our paths crossed again as
members of the national board of Mystery Writers of America, with Debra representing
the Southeast Chapter as president, and me as president of the Southwest

I always have fun when Debra is around, and also learn lots of interesting things. I know you will too. If you are lucky enough to be in Houston on January 4, swing by Murder by the Book and see us. And everyone can see our live feed (and/or later video) on Facebook. We guarantee a great time!


Author Kay
Kendall is passionate about historical mysteries. 

She lives in Texas with her Canadian
husband, two house rabbits, and spaniel Wills.

Her second book Rainy Day Women won the Silver Falchion for best mystery at
Killer Nashville.
Kay at her website http://www.austinstarr.com/
or on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/KayKendallAuthor


The Magic of Fiction

by Kay Kendall

Like many authors, I am an avid reader. I also adore movies, and in both categories of storytelling I prefer fiction to non-fiction. I have loved many books and films and liked countless others. Increasingly these days, as the world becomes more and more fraught with ugliness and danger, I treasure the ability to escape into the tale of my choice, be it on the small screen or large, or on the digital or actual page. Fiction, bring it on. (Needless to say, I am not a fan of dystopian fiction.)

Two weeks ago I happened to see an online recommendation by Kate Quinn, an author of historical mysteries that I’ve read and admired. She enthusiastically supports the historical novel named Madensky Square. The book is set in Vienna, Austria, a few years before the outbreak of the disastrous First World War. Eva Ibbotson (1925-2010) wrote the book in 1985, and Pan Books reprinted it two years ago. The author herself was born in Vienna and moved to London right before World War II.

Those are the bare facts. What remains for me to convey is the intense feelings of joy and peace that reading this book instilled in me. Kate Quinn says she often  urges people to read Madensky Square, and now I have joined her worthy crusade.

In the preface to the 2017 edition is this sentence: “Ibbotson was determined to prove that romantic novels can be funny, well-written and even a little erudite.” Indeed, with Madensky Square, she achieved all that, in spades.

For me, however, to call this treasure a romantic novel sells it short. Although it begins sweetly and lightly with descriptions of the lovely square in which Frau Susanna has her dressmaker’s shop, it proceeds to deepen as the pages turn. The lives of its characters–the dressmaker and her friends and lover–go through perils and triumphs, and yet by the ending most achieve a more perfect harmony. A few receive their just deserts that are not pleasant, but the plot flows effortlessly like a stream. Nothing feels the least contrived. Susanna hides a deep sorrowful secret that burdens her throughout the book. Believe me, this is no mere piece of fluff. And Ibbotson writes like an angel.

Enchanting is one adjective that came to my mind by the fiftieth page. Then, halfway through the book, I thought, “Ah-ha. The only time I’ve felt this enraptured by fiction was when I saw the 1991 film called, fittingly enough, Enchanted April.  Even though I saw it only once, 28 years ago, I vividly recall the euphoria it induced in me.  I’m delighted to learn that I can stream it tonight, and I shall.

A little research today showed me that the book that inspired it, The Enchanted April, was written in 1925 by a British author named Elizabeth von Arnim. The book was set in Italy and was so successful that it caused Portofino (where four fictional British women spend a month away from their boring and/or stressful lives–and husbands) to surge in popularity as a tourist distination. The author’s life is well worth Googling, and you can read her entire book online for free here: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/16389/pg16389-images.html

If this blog post succeeds in getting even one person to read this novel and another to watch this film, I will feel good knowing that I’ve done my bit today in bringing more happiness into this dark world. Fiction lovers, I salute you!

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

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

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


What’s Goes on in My Writer’s Lair

 by Kay Kendall
While I would happily write in a
garret—as nineteenth-century authors often did—instead I only use our third
bedroom that was originally intended for guests. Since these days I don’t even
open the lair’s door and let our cleaner inside, you can guess just how many
guests have stayed in it recently. That’s right. None.

I began to call the room in which I
work the writer’s lair before I looked up the precise definition of the word. I
thought it conveyed the sense that I wrote in a dark, secretive place. For
purposes of this little essay, I decided to consult dictionary.com:
1.    a den or resting place of
a wild animal: The cougar retired to its lair.
 2.    a secluded or hidden
place, especially a secret retreat or base of operations; a hideout or
hideaway .
     3.    British. a place in which
to lie or rest; a bed.

      Meaning #2 is the closest to how I
use my room, although the other two meanings make me giggle. Sometimes I do
indeed feel like a raging wild animal, and other times I feel like I need a
kip, as the Brits would say, which is to say a nap!


When I enter my writer’s lair, I
shut the door against the world. Only my cavalier King Charles spaniel Wills is
allowed to enter, and he always sleeps on my feet. When he can’t have my lap,
then my feet are second best. His breed was purposely developed 500+ years ago
to sit on the laps of royalty. So I guess my feet are sort of royal.
I am not one of those authors who
can write while listening to music with sung words. The words fight with those
in my head that are trying to make their way out to paper. Moreover, if the
tune has a strong beat, my attention goes in that direction. So, bottom line,
for me a quiet space is best. Listening to Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, and their
like can sometimes be a good thing. The volume has to be subdued though so I
don’t get drawn too far down into those glorious melodies.

I edit as I go along. I cannot bear
to rush through a first draft, leaving ugly sentences in my wake. Of course,
after a sort-of first draft is done, I return and do umpteen swings at editing
all over again. All the while, I berate myself for not writing perfect
sentences the first time through. I need to post a sign on my cork board in
front of me that says ALL GREAT WRITING COMES FROM REWRITING. In short, I am
not a fast writer. Wish I were though. Sigh….. 

 My three bunnies Midnight, Bella, and Precious
Junior are jealous of Wills and his ability to join me in what could as aptly
be called The Happy Hovel. The bunnies would have a fine time tearing into the
books and papers that lie all around, turning my space/hovel/lair into a bigger
mess than it already is. When I worked with others, nine-to-five (or so) prior
to my writing fulltime, I coined a motto for myself, one which I live by
religiously. NEVER TRUST ANYONE WITH A CLEAN DESK. That means, in short, that
you really, really can trust ME.
So now how about you? What is your work space like? Do you manage to keep it tidy? If you do, all kidding aside, I do salute you!




 Author Kay Kendall is passionate about historical mysteries.  She lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills.
Visit Kay at her website http://www.austinstarr.com/  



Finding Calm in a Fraught Time

by Kay Kendall
Originally I planned another subject for today’s blog post. Then more and more things began hitting me. Not personally, you understand. The damaging stuff is happening out in my world, and yours too. But the last straw was the dreadful conflagration two days ago at the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral.
So when I saw this Pueblo Indian prayer on a friend’s Facebook page, I was relieved when it brought some peace to my soul. Here it is. I hope it will also soothe you, just in case you need it as I did.

Hold on to what is good,
Even if it’s a handful of earth.
Hold onto what you believe,
Even if it’s a tree standing by itself.  
Hold on to what you must do,

Even if it’s a long way from here.
Hold on to your life,
Even if it’s easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand,
Even if someday I’ll be gone
Away from you.                                   

In the frantic lives too many of us in North America lead these days, it’s hard not to feel pushed by modern priorities. But the wisdom of the ancients can still stand us in good stead. We should never forget what the beauty of nature, of a friendship, of a tiny perfect moment in time can bring us. And this prayer reminded me. I’m now breathing more deeply, and slower too. Of course I’ll need to be reminded often. Thus the prayer is now pinned to the cork board that faces my PC.
Here’s wishing you peace and a slower pace, y’all.

(To see more of this nature photography that helped cure a man’s clinical depression, go here: https://www.boredpanda.com/travel-nature-photography-depression-rescue-william-patino/
He writes, in line with the Pueblo prayer above, “Depression had stripped my life of its color but looking through a lens was slowly painting it back. Places and objects I once walked right past were now standing out to me….My life hasn’t been the same since.”)


Author Kay Kendall is passionate about historical mysteries.  She lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Visit Kay at her website  http://www.austinstarr.com/   or on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/KayKendallAuthor 

What’s Your Work Environment Like?

by Kay Kendall

One of the perennial questions asked of us mystery authors at events is whether we use outlines or are we “pantsers.” That is, do we write by the seat of our pants, and just let the outlines be damned?

As a published author of six years’ time, having heard this question asked many times, I now know what to expect from the answers. Some use outlines, more do not, and many of us say we are sort of in the middle. We have a rough idea of where our plots are going, but we don’t make detailed outlines. In other words, to each her own.

Recently I was asked another type of question:

what type of environment do I work in?

This question I enjoyed thinking about. Here is my answer, with a twist at the end.

I keep the standard type how-to and reference books heaped around me. Turns out that is mostly for their good karma. I suppose that’s what it is as I rarely refer to them when I’m writing. Once upon a time I had a hard bound thesaurus, using it often. I adored it. But when the online dictionaries and thesaurus type websites got really good, I began to just use those.

My writer’s lair is, I confess, a dreadful mess. When I need to hunt for or double check historical facts, I start to dig through piles of books to find the needed source. My so-called system works for me.

I’ve been relieved lately to read that intelligent people are usually messy. That has to mean I’m amazingly brilliant!

When I used to work a nine-to-five job in a building full of research scientists, I saw the complete range of office space, from pristine to unbelievably messy–way worse than mine. But that was only for one man. The laboratory spaces were always well ordered.

I never understood how anyone could work at a desk day in and day out and have a neatly ordered work space. Mostly tongue in cheek, I coined this maxim–Never trust a person with an entirely clean desk. Why? Because that person is not really getting any work done.

Okay, I’ve indulged in true confessions. So now it is your turn. Is your desk neat or messy–or somewhere in between?


Author Kay Kendall is passionate about historical mysteries.  She lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Visit Kay at her website  http://www.austinstarr.com/   or on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/KayKendallAuthor 

Introducing Wallie MacGregor in AFTER YOU’VE GONE

Kay Kendall

Last week my third mystery
launched. My book’s birthday plus my own made it a stellar week. I can’t
give you a piece of birthday cake, so here’s a song for you.
Fiona Apple sings “After You’ve
The song was
penned in 1918, remaining popular throughout the next several decades—especially
during the 1920s, which is what I was looking for. Even in the last 30 years
many singers have covered it. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Edie Gourmet, and
many more. In truth, the song is fantastic. Singing styles change, but the song holds up. For comparison, here’s a performance fro 1927 by a star of that era, Ruth Etting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjgBara7N88
All my mysteries take their titles
from popular songs. My first two are Desolation Row and Rainy Day
But because this new book takes place in 1923, I can hardly use another Bob
Dylan song, can I?
Copyright laws don’t cover song titles,
but lyrics are. While Dylan’s are still protected, “After You’ve Gone” is
no longer under copyright. These words from the chorus fit the storyline of my new mystery.
After you’ve gone and left me crying
After you’ve gone there’s no denying,
You’ll feel blue, you’ll feel sad,
You’ll miss the bestest pal you’ve ever
There’ll come a time, now don’t forget
There’ll come a time, when you’ll
regret it.
Oh! Babe, think what you’re doing.
You know my love for you will drive me
to ruin,
After you’ve gone,
After you’ve gone away, away. 

After You’ve Gone (1918)
Music by Turner Layton and lyrics by Henry

When you read my new mystery, you’ll
see how many characters must carry on after someone has gone—someone
very near and dear to them. The biggest loss of all kicks off the mystery, of course.
But there are others—oh so many others. Just count them all up. You’ll see.

Author Kay
Kendall is passionate about historical mysteries.  She lives in Texas with
her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills.
 Visit Kay at her website
or on
Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/KayKendallAuthor 


Skipping Woodstock, But Finding Women’s Lib—and Murder

Kay Kendall

my Austin Starr mystery series I try not just to entertain but also to portray
what an historical era is like. My first two books are set in the tumultuous 1960s:
and Rainy Day Women. Due
out next February is a prequel, After You’ve Gone. It features
Austin Starr’s grandmother as a young woman in small town Texas during
Prohibition. Although the historical setting is different (bootleg gin,
flappers, gangsters), many of the issues the two women face are similar. What
place should women have in society? What do women owe to their family, their
husbands—and to themselves? What the grandmother grapples with in 1923 is
related—almost distressingly so—to choices her granddaughter will face in 1969.
To prepare you to read the prequel, here is a rundown on my previous mystery.

Day Women
takes place in August 1969. Headlines across
the continent shriek about the sensational murders in Los Angeles of a pregnant
starlet and her friends—though Charles Manson and gang haven’t been caught yet.
Apollo 12 astronauts Armstrong (he walked on the moon), Aldrin, and Collins have
just arrived back on Earth. Rock music fans look forward to a big outdoor
concert—posters call it the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.

my amateur sleuth Austin Starr scarcely knows any of this. With a
three-month-old baby, she is sleep-deprived and still adjusting to her new life’s
heavy demands. Then a phone call sends her (and baby Wyatt) flying across North
America to help find a killer. Why? Because her dear friend Larissa is
suspected of murdering women’s liberation activists in Seattle and Vancouver. Then Austin’s former CIA trainer warns
that someone has contracted a hit on her. Her anxious husband demands that she
give up her quest and fly back to him. Austin must decide how much to risk when
she realizes that tracking the killer puts her and her baby’s lives in danger. 

I set my mystery
against the backdrop of women’s liberation almost fifty years ago because second-wave feminism (as it’s
now called) changed lives, and yet the rightful place of women in society still remains a
point of contention. My character Austin Starr discovers the movement when she questions
members of the dead women’s groups and is fascinated with the new ideas she

 Even though Austin’s young husband is an
anti-war activist, she herself is not a radical. I wanted her story to be
accessible to anyone today, of whatever political persuasion, and
so I explore what life was like for a typical
young woman—not a headline maker, not a Hanoi Jane or Angela Davis, but a
moderate who nonetheless gets swept up by history’s tides during the turbulent
sixties. All that turmoil lends itself to drama, intrigue, and murder.

don’t think this is a true spoiler when I divulge that the very day Austin
discovers the murderer is the same day it rained hardest at the Woodstock
festival. Later she decides she has no regrets at missing the famous event,
saying, “I never liked mud very much anyway.” In the coming prequel we see how much of her intrepid spirit she inherited from her grandmother—she who faced off against a thug sent to Texas by none other than Al Capone. Set among true-to-life details like that, I’ve composed another young woman’s tale about finding her balance in a world ruled by men.
Meet the author

Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of historical novels and now writes 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.  In 2015 Rainy Day Women won two Silver Falchion Awards at Killer Nashville. Visit Kay at her website  http://www.austinstarr.com/>   or on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/KayKendallAuthor