Tag Archive for: Desolation Row

The Vampire Lestat’s Mom and Rambo’s Dad

By Kay Kendall
week the organization International Thriller Writers (ITW) celebrated its tenth
anniversary. The star power of authors present at the celebratory conference,
ThrillerFest, ran the gamut from supernova to red dwarf. Last year when I went
to my first ThrillerFest as a debut author, I was stunned by the numerous super
stars in attendance, and also by how kind and generous they were. This year’s
meeting was even more jam-packed with sparkling talent.

Anne Rice is in center, with her son Christopher the tall man over her shoulder. Others left to right are R.L. Stine, David Morrell, and Scott Turow. 

Rice wrote her first novel about the vampire Lestat in 1985—she was present. David
Morrell wrote his first Rambo novel in 1972, followed by 28 more novels of
various kinds—he was there. Ditto Lee
Child, father of Jack Reacher, who first appeared in 1997, with his nineteenth tale
out next month. Scott Turow dropped by to pick up his award, Thriller Master
2014. His novel Presumed Innocent put
the legal thriller on the map in 2000, and eleven more novels followed. Other
luminaries who spoke at ThrillerFest (whose books you no doubt either read or at
least recognize) include David Baldacci, Steve Berry, Michael Connelly, Lisa
Gardner, Heather Graham, M.J. Rose, and John Sandford.
Here I am with T. Jefferson Parker.
you’re in such company, you can either feel insignificant—or you can choose to
be inspired. I picked the latter. The atmosphere was so supportive, of any
writer at any level, that it was easy not to be intimidated.
One of the main purposes of the ITW organization is to
provide a way for successful, bestselling authors to help debut and midlist
authors advance their careers. Judging
from the two conferences I’ve attended, the contacts I’ve made, and the
networking that is ongoing, I can only conclude that this goal is being met

Ian Rankin with Steve Berry in background

Helping to put the
international in the conference was one of my favorite authors, Ian Rankin. He
flew in from his home in Edinburgh, Scotland, to participate on several panels.
He has written nineteen installments in his bestselling crime series featuring
Inspector John Rebus. Another of my favorites is T. Jefferson Parker. His twenty
crime novels are set in southern California, and his next book is due this
October, called Full Measure.  

I have met Rankin and
Parker at previous book events and corresponded with both of them. They recognize
me as both a super fan of their work and an aspiring novelist. It is
heartwarming and encouraging to be treated nicely by one’s literary heroes. Now
I can’t wait to return to ThrillerFest next year. 
(By the way, I participated on a panel but forgot to ask one of my pals
to shoot the photographic evidence. Darn.) 

Cheers to ThrillerFest!

Kay Kendall set her debut novel, Desolation Row—An Austin Starr Mystery,
in 1968. The Vietnam War backdrop illuminates reluctant courage and desperate
love when a world teeters on chaos. Kay’s next mystery, Rainy Day Women (2015) finds amateur sleuth Austin Starr trying to
prove a friend didn’t murder women’s liberation activists in Seattle and
Vancouver. Kay is an award-winning international PR executive living in Texas
with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Very allergic to bunnies, she loves them anyway! 
Her book titles show she’s a Bob
Dylan buff too.

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.

What I’ve Learned So Far

By Kay Kendall

Are you writing
a book…or contemplating doing it? If so, here are things I’ve learned since
finishing my debut novel. Maybe these tips will help you, or at least you’ll
find them interesting.

1. Keep reading.
Just because you’re writing your own book, that doesn’t mean you can stop
reading other ones. In fact, I’ve read more, not less, since I began to write
fiction. I submerged myself in the mystery/suspense genre for almost two years
before I started Desolation Row—An Austin
Starr Mystery.
Picking up the tricks of the trade by osmosis suits me
better than gulping a dozen dry how-to tomes. Of course, I read those too!

2. Keep a writer’s
. Brilliant thoughts are fleeting. You need to pin them down before
they get away. Because I write about the sixties, I often find character traits
and plot points when reading obituaries in the New York Times, for example, and if I don’t capture those flashes
of insight, they will leave me. I annotate my clippings and put them in my
bulging notebook. Some ideas are for the second book I’m writing now, while
others will fit in the third or fourth of my Austin Starr series. I’ll be
delighted to find the clippings a few years from now when I start writing the
relevant stories. My mind is like my bulging notebook, and sometimes things
fall out because of crowding. It’s far easier to keep the physical clippings
together. Or online digitally.

3. Keep note-taking
material beside your bed.
Lesson learned the hard way. Early in my
transition to becoming an author, I’d be on a hot streak writing a first draft,
go to bed, wake up at two in the morning, have a fantastic revelation about
plot, turn over and go to sleep, confident I’d recall everything in the
morning. Wrong! Scintillating night thoughts went poof in the light of day. Twice was enough to teach me to keep
paper and pencil on the night stand. Whatever the technology you choose, be
sure to keep it handy. A tiny voice recorder works too, or making notes on your
cell phone or tablet.

4. Keep up with your
Writing can be a lonely pursuit, and trying to get published these
days is a killer. I needed all the support I could get, and my friends stepped up
and stayed there right beside me on my journey. They kept me going through the
darkest days and have been my staunchest supporters and shared my joy upon
publication. I’ve also made new friends as I’ve joined writers’ critique groups
and associations. Many writers are said to be introverts, but I’m not. Two new
pals who write mysteries are extreme introverts, and I keep in close touch with
them and actively encourage them to mingle with other writers. I’m a staunch
believer in the truth of what Barbra Streisand sang back in the sixties.
Remember this? “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

5. Keep walking
the dog.
Or running, spinning, or dancing.
Whatever exercise you used to do before you became an avid or full-time writer,
don’t stop. Health gurus are adamant that sitting all day is a terrible habit
that can lead to early death and/or dementia. Besides, when I’m on my exercise
bike, I zone out and then, given enough time, ideas for my writing zone in. The
mind-body connection is worth protecting with sufficient exercise. Even when
I’m on a deadline, I try to stick to this rule. However, it’s time for a true
confession. I have trouble with this one, actually walking the talk.

6. Keep the faith.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Go confidently in the
direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” When I first saw
that quote on a coffee mug for sale at Whole Foods a decade ago, I was too
scared to pick it up. How dare I think I could write a novel? But I forced
myself to buy that mug, and after using it for two years and writing my first
manuscript, I began timidly to call myself a writer. I began to have faith
that I would finish a book and eventually get it published. When the first one
didn’t sell, I wrote the second. My friends (see #4 above) helped keep me
going. I persevered until the second manuscript sold and became Desolation Row. Now my work in progress
is Rainy Day Women, and I’m outlining
the third, Tangled Up in Blue.  I
have faith I will complete those because I’ve pushed through the dark times,
“getting by with a little help from my friends.” Footnote to the Beatles for
that one, plus maybe you can tell by my book titles that my amateur sleuth
Austin Starr is a huge fan of Bob Dylan.

7. Keep on keeping on. Once I found what works to make my writing life roll along
as smoothly as possible, I’ve kept on doing it. Sometimes I find guidelines in
how-to articles suggesting that my
way is not the right way. The best writing coaches add the caveat, though, that
there is no perfect method of writing a novel.
now been at this venture long enough that I’ve come across some authors who do
have habits similar to mine. While most experts advise that a first draft
should be done as rapidly as possible, without editing as you go. I find I
cannot do that. Just can’t. Feeling a little guilty, I wrote my way through Desolation Row, editing obsessively,
until one day—lo and behold—I found an interview in which the bestselling
author explained that he always began his writing day by editing what he’d
written the day before. Well, what a relief! I was okay. Now I count this as a
lesson learned. As we used to say back in the day, just keep on truckin’.

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 Kay’s debut book, 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.

The Generosity of Mystery Authors

by Kay Kendall
The first conference for mystery fans that I attended
was Bouchercon 2011 in St. Louis. Previously I’d only attended writers’
conferences where would-be authors pitched manuscripts to agents and sat at the
feet of those hallowed gods/goddesses called published authors. Bouchercon,
billed as the
World Mystery and
Suspense Conference
,“ was an entirely different breed of cat. I couldn’t
get my mind around what was going on.  
And then I got it! The published mystery authors weren’t there to tell us
how to write, how to sell, or how to win an agent. No, they were there to talk
about their writing and their writing worlds. Once I figured that out, I soaked
up every tiny detail that came my way. And I loved it.

I’m holding Charlaine’s LIVING DEAD IN DALLAS,
 the second Sookie Stackhouse book,
and she holds my debut mystery, DESOLATION ROW. 

The session that stands out, still to this day, was an
afternoon panel of new authors. One man exclaimed his astonishment over the
generosity of mystery writers. He said they supported each other and even him—a
newbie. But he was shocked to discover that mystery writers do so little
backbiting. Then he leaned over and leveled a hard look at us in the rapt
audience. “Poets are not like that,” he said. “I’ve attended meetings of poets
with a relative, and they’re just awful.” The audience howled.
While I can’t comment on poets, I can say from experience
that mystery authors are indeed generous. At Bouchercon 2012 in Cleveland I met
two authors who later agreed to blurb my debut mystery, Desolation Row. First,
thriller writer extraordinaire Norb Vonnegut gave key advice that helped me through
final edits. Whenever I need advice from
a seasoned pro, I still turn to Norb. Janet Maslin, influential book review at the
New York Times, calls him “the author of three glittery thrillers about fiscal
malfeasance” in which “he is three for three in his own improbably sexy genre.” 
The second author was Hank Phillippi Ryan, to whom I
was introduced only in passing. Yet brief as that encounter was, this
multi-award winning mystery author agreed to blurb my debut effort when I asked
As well, Stiletto Gang member Linda Rodriguez reached
out to me as an online pal to offer help setting up a bookstore event in the
Kansas City area. (Her writing career began as a poet so she may disagree with
the opinion I quote above.)
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Mystery
authors are a benevolent group. At heart they love the genre we write in and
seem to understand that the success of one does not take away from the others. In
fact, a whole organization has been founded on that principle, the
International Thriller Writers. After attending Bouchercon 2004 in Toronto, ITW
founding members decided to reach down and pull up writers who needed help in
climbing the slippery slope to publication, “providing
opportunities for mentoring, education and
collegiality among thriller authors and industry professionals
A much older organization is the Mystery Writers of America founded in 1945. It underwrites MWA-University, one-day seminars led by
experienced authors who share their how-to advice for a minuscule fee. The session
I attended last weekend in Dallas was, as the under-30s would say, “awesome.” The
attached photo of me with Charlaine Harris was taken at that event. When this
creator of the Sookie Stackhouse series of paranormal mysteries (on which the
HBO series True Blood is based) wished me success like hers, I almost fell
over. In truth, I’d be pleased with one percent of her enormous fan base.

Traditionally the holiday season is when we are encouraged
to be more big-hearted and giving than usual. As I contemplated blogging about generosity, I remembered the mystery authors I’ve been privileged to meet. While I can’t
thank each one individually because they’re too numerous, I can offer this
posting as an ode to them collectively. Both their writing and the generosity
of their spirit serve to inspire me. 

Kay Kendall
To celebrate the conclusion of 2013, the year in which my debut mystery was published, I will give away one copy of Desolation Row to someone who leaves a comment here about the joys of reading mysteries . . . or how you feel about mystery authors . . . or, heck, anything that you think is related! 

Fall — And More New Beginnings!

Author Kay Kendall & her bunny Dusty
I wonder if you, dear readers,
are old enough to recall an expression from back in the day—sometime in the
80s—when we said this: “Well, color me _____.”
That saying no doubt linked to
having your colors done. When this was all the rage, I’d walk into a clothing store
and a saleswoman would often ask or state…”Are you a summer?” “You must be a
Myself, I skipped the color consultants, figuring out my best colors were
those I wore when friends said, “You look good in that.” (A magazine article
advised that was the easier way.)

I hark back to that time now,
and to that expression, since I wish to state two things:  
Color me thrilled + Color

My name is Kay Kendall, and as a debut mystery author, I’m thrilled to be joining the
Stiletto Gang and doubly delighted that two previous posters were
rhapsodizing about my favorite season, fall.

Last week Dru Ann Love asked what
readers’ favorite things were about the autumnal season. I will share mine now,
if a bit belatedly. It is the colors of fall that most beguile me.

Oh my, there is that word again. Colors. The trees are
vivid, in some falls more than others of course, but their leaves seem to come
alive in the crisp air and in the slanted light. Sunshine itself has a
different radiance in the fall. The sun’s light is not harsh, not coming
straight down from the sky but aslant. This light is softer and bathes things
in a kinder glow.

Even in south Texas where I live, where signs of autumn aren’t as profuse as in other parts of the US, fall is still my favorite
season. The light changes even here; the air cools some, gets a bit less
humid. The trees, however, rarely turn to orange and red. It’s estimated that once every seven years or so this corner of Texas will have some
fall color. That happened my first season here. I thought it would happen each time October came around thereafter. But nope, no such luck.

Fall of course is a prelude to winter, which I no longer
dread. Being married to a Canadian, I spent fifteen long winters in Ontario.
Not for the faint of heart. And mind you, those years were before global
warming altered things. Now in Texas I can look forward to the dark velvet
nights of winter when holiday lights shine, and they do not bounce off snow
banks down here. Hooray. As The Husband is fond of saying, “
You don’t have to
shovel heat and humidity.

My having lived in Canada explains why my debut mystery, Desolation Row, is set in Toronto. I
learned a lot about our peaceful neighbor to the north and in my book treat it
as a foreign country, not the fifty-first state that Americans often assume it
is. But I have plenty of time to get into all that in the months to come.

With my first post this fall, I start on my journey as a
member of the Stiletto Gang and look forward to many, many seasons to come of
sharing thoughts with you and the other gang members.

I’m just glad that it’s not a requirement that we wear
stilettos. At five foot ten, I’ve no need of extra height, putting it mildly.
My poor toes seem to shriek in horror whenever that Stiletto Gang logo pops up
on my computer screen. I assure my feet that never again will they be stuffed
into a tortuous shoe, a pointy-toed, high-heeled stiletto, all in the name of

Have you given up anything since you left your teens,
twenties, or so on, and thereby become more comfy—if a pinch less glam?
propose a new expression. Instead of saying “sadder but wiser,” let’s say “more
comfortable and wiser” as our years progress.
What do you think?