Name – Kay Kendall
Age – I’m a proud member of the baby boom generation, ‘nuff said!
Where are you from – I was raised in Texas and Kansas, married a Canadian and lived in Canada for two decades, and now we live in Houston, Texas. My husband likes to say that “you can’t shovel heat and humidity.” He grew up around the Arctic Circle and finally got tired of snow and ice. I have degrees in English literature and Russian history, and that education influences what I write about. I have one son who is a career officer in the US Army Corps of Engineers. He and his wife have two fantastic children, ages seven and five. I want the world to be a better place for them, but I confess I worry about that.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
RAINY DAY WOMEN is the second mystery in my Austin Starr Mystery series. It was published last summer by Stairway Press. Set in 1969, amateur sleuth Austin Starr is introduced to women’s liberation when she helps a friend suspected of murdering a campus feminist in Vancouver. This is a sequel to my first mystery, DESOLATION ROW, which explores murder and mayhem in the draft resister community in Toronto. Austin Starr has moved to Toronto with her draft-resisting husband. She is overcome with homesickness for her native Texas, and then her troubles increase when her husband is jailed for a murder only she is convinced he did not commit. This leads her to become an amateur sleuth as she sets out to find the real killer.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In my first long-time career I was a public relations executive, so writing has been constant in my life forever. During the last eight years of a twenty-five-year career in PR, I also struggled to write my first two novels. By the time I finished the first manuscript, I was calling myself a writer, and with publication of the second manuscript, I called myself that wonderful term—a published author. I also laughingly refer to myself as a reformed PR exec.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I am drawn to write about recent history for several reasons. As a reader, I love immersing myself in times past and enjoy figuring out how aspects of the past have led us humans to where we are now. As a writer, I prefer to describe human emotions and motives rather than technical gadgetry that can prove who committed a crime. That inclination pushes me back to writing about the days before CSI existed. Novels and films set during World Wars I and II are ever-popular, and I felt drawn to write about a war I remembered, the Vietnam War, but it still upsets many, many people. That makes it worth exploring, although it can be a tough sell. I write to explain the era and not take sides.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
My amateur sleuth Austin Starr is a big fan of Bob Dylan, and that inspired me to use titles of his songs for the names of my first two books. DESOLATION ROW in the first book refers to Austin’s husband landing in a jail cell, accused of murdering a war resister in Toronto. RAINY DAY WOMEN is relevant to that mystery’s plot because the book takes place in rainy Vancouver, Canada, and Seattle, Washington. The murder victims are all women’s liberation activists. This is my favorite title since it fits so perfectly.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I absolutely love history and am sad that the understanding of its importance seems to be declining. Fiction can be a great way to show a past era so that readers can grasp at least a little of what happened back then and how it has led to where we are today. The Vietnam War is still a controversial subject, and women’s equality is still not achieved, despite many advances. I’d like people to think about these things but also be entertained by the stories I set in the late 1960s.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
I like to write about places I have lived or visited. Toronto and Vancouver are places I lived, and Seattle I’ve visited many times. I go to great lengths to get the settings right and also my historical details. Some readers have said that my settings are so vivid that they are like characters in my books. That pleases me.
Fiona: What books have influenced your life most?
My favorite book of all time is JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte. I generally do not re-read books (too many others I want to move on to instead), but JANE EYRE I have read five times. I also see every movie or television version that comes out.
Books that have influenced my writing include all the marvelous spy thrillers by the great John le Carré and the historic mysteries of England’s Philip Kerr. Scotland’s fabulous crime author Ian Rankin is another favorite, and I love J.K. Rowlings’ three Cormoran Strike mysteries written under the pen name of Robert Galbraith. Jacqueline Winspear’s series featuring Maisie Dobbs is a huge favorite. Her books are direct inspirations to mine.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Yesterday I began reading Donna Leon’s brand new mystery in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series. Her twenty-fifth book is THE WATERS OF ETERNAL YOUTH, and like all her previous ones, this is set in wonderful Venice. At the end of March will come the next Maisie Dobbs book by Winspear, JOURNEY TO MUNICH. Donna Leon and Jacqueline Winspear are fabulous authors, and I am lucky to have met them both. Ian Rankin too.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I see writing as a calling. In America preachers often say they were called to become ministers. Well, I don’t mean to be sacrilegious, but I feel as if writing books is my true calling. I had a terrific career in public relations and really enjoyed it, traveling many exotic places—Italy, England, Russia, Hungary, Hong Kong, and all over the US and Canada—but I always thought something was missing that I was supposed to do. Once I began to write fiction, then that was it—I found it. The great feminist Gloria Steinem said this—“Writing is the only thing I do that when I’m doing it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” That nails how I feel exactly.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No, I would change nothing.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I am going further back in time, from 1968-69 to 1923. I am writing about Austin Starr’s grandmother when she was a young woman with two suitors in small town Texas during Prohibition. Her long-lost uncle comes to visit and gets killed. There are so many possible suspects: other bootleggers, legions of cuckolded husbands, and spurned mistresses. A beagle puppy plays a major role in this book, and I’m having great fun writing it. Even the first draft isn’t torture…but I’ll knock on wood anyway, just to be safe.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The only thing truly challenging, the thing I loathe, is doing the first draft. All the other drafts after that and all the revisions and picky editing—I love it all. But usually not the first draft. Happily for me, this current manuscript I’m writing is proving to be an exception—so far!
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Never give up. If you have a great desire to become a published writer, then never, ever give up. Keep at it until you learn your craft well enough that you will be published.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
I cried recently when I watched the finale of DOWNTON ABBEY. I was so very glad that Edith at last found happiness. I adored the British television show COUPLING. My husband and I always dissolved into laughter during each episode as its plot grew zanier and zanier.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
William Shakespeare. I am one who hopes he was who we think he was. It upsets me to think he could have been someone else. I’ve been to Stratford-upon-Avon and seen all the sites related to his life. I would love to spend even thirty minutes with him. What a mind. What a gargantuan talent. Who wouldn’t be in awe? Who wouldn’t want to meet him?
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
I love travel to the UK and Europe and am positively besotted by the history and culture of those places. My husband and I rescue rabbits and currently have three at home with us. We have had as many as seven, but that’s too much for my allergies. We also have a darling Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named King William, and we call him Wills for short. I also love classical music and listen to it often.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
In America many British television shows are shown on PBS and BBC America. I watch as many as I can. The first thing I ever watched of that nature was the original TV production of THE FORSYTE SAGA. Oh my, but I loved that show. The recent remake was great also—I’m quite a fan of Damian Lewis. And Benedict Cumberbatch too of course. He is outstanding in SHERLOCK. The recent version of POLDARK is excellent, such beautiful scenery. Basically, if a show is historic in nature with old costumes, or if it features spies, I will love it. Those tastes carry over to my movie watching as well. Three recent Oscar winners that I particularly liked were SPOTLIGHT (won for best picture), THE BIG SHORT (won for best adapted screenplay), and BRIDGE OF SPIES, which won the terrific English actor Mark Rylance is first Oscar for supporting actor. He was superb playing Thomas Cromwell in the television adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s novel, WOLF HALL.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors
I live in Texas so that influences my food choices. I adore cold Gulf shrimp with cocktail sauce, guacamole, and cheese enchiladas. I also love Russian borscht, fish and chips like you get in England, and crème brulee. So you see, my tastes are eclectic. Oh yes, and cake. There must be cake. And ice cream, especially coffee flavored.
My favorite color is blue—in all shades—but cobalt is perhaps the loveliest. My favorite color combo is blue and yellow. On the other hand, I cannot live around anything in the broad spectrum of red—no orange or red or purple or mauve or pink in my house. None. To each her own, right?
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Now that I have discovered what I was meant to do with my life, I honestly cannot imagine doing anything else. But if I had to choose something, then I would have gone to university forever. I love learning.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
My website is named after my mystery heroine, Austin Starr. So the web address is this: http://austinstarr.com/ You can go there and read the first four chapters of my new mystery, RAINY DAY WOMEN. My books are available online everywhere in three formats—paperback, E-book, and audio. NOTE: on Amazon UK my mysteries for Kindle cost less than four pounds.
I also blog twice a month on a women mystery writers’ website called The Stiletto Gang. That address is http://thestilettogang.blogspot.com/
My blog from last month talks more about RAINY DAY WOMEN and also directs you to my website that has the free first four chapters:
Thanks for this interview, Fiona. I hope your readers enjoy it because I certainly had terrific fun doing it. Cheers!
Amazon author page (UK) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Kay-Kendall/e/B00BVUMUD8/