Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Murder and Mystery in Brooklyn

Please welcome my guest, Triss Stein, a small-town girl from New York state's dairy country who has spent most of her adult life living and working in New York City. This gives her a useful double vision of a stranger and a resident for writing mysteries about Brooklyn, her ever-fascinating, ever-changing, ever-challenging adopted home. Brooklyn Graves was published by Poison Pen Press in March and is second in the series, after Brooklyn Bones. Triss is active in both Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America and is on the board of the MWA NY chapter. Welcome, Triss!

Judy has kindly invited me to write a guest blog as I am blog touring for my new book, Brooklyn Graves.

This is the second book in a new series about Brooklyn, after Brooklyn Bones. Though I have lived in Brooklyn for many decades I am not a native. Believe me, there is a difference, and the question I am asked most often is how I came to write a Brooklyn series. It is a multi-part answer.

I grew up in New York, the state ( really upstate - near Canada) but I had many relatives in New York, the city. It was not the big bad city to me; it was a goal. I planned to have a bachelor girl apartment there someday. Clearly, I was influenced by Doris Day movies, but I did live in New York, the city, as a young woman.

I worked for the public library system in Brooklyn, and they liked to move us around to different neighborhoods. Even then, it seemed to me those neighborhoods were a lot like small towns. People didn't say they were from New York or even Brooklyn; they said they were from Red Hook or East New York. They might even say they were from a mini-neighborhood or project - Ditmas Park or Linden Houses. They maybe went into the big bad city (that would be Manhattan) once a year.

When I started thinking about a new mystery series, it seemed to me that no one was really setting mysteries against the background of ordinary life in New York. Most of us don't walk the mean streets, trade in drugs, join youth gangs. We have jobs, families, local issues, though they all have a special New York flavor. Or at least we like to think so.

By then I owned a home in Brooklyn, had my own neighborhood, raised my daughters there, and sent them to public schools. I had a small garden! Could I write a series about that, set in different neighborhoods where their infinite variety of history, culture, quirks and - of course! It’s a mystery series - conflicts? And crimes old and new?

My heroine is an urban historian in training whose work gives her a reason to ask questions that - sometimes- people don't want to answer. In Brooklyn Bones, the setting is her own neighborhood (and mine, not by coincidence) gentrifying Park Slope, and her own house, where an ugly secret is uncovered during renovation. In Brooklyn Graves, the setting is a Brooklyn landmark, beautiful Green-Wood cemetery, where there is history, memories, and art worth serious money. And of course, there are living people with needs, desires and conflicts.

The next one will be about a tough neighborhood, then and now, that has produced generations of criminals and boxers. After that? Who knows? I'm never going to run out of Brooklyn stories.  If you would like to see some odd ones - wild parakeets and Winston Churchill's mother (yes, she was a Brooklyn girl) - my website has a tab for Brooklyn Fun Facts. Those are stories I haven't figured out how to put in a mystery. Yet.  
And here's the blurb for Brooklyn Graves--
 A brutally murdered friend who was a family man with not an enemy in the world. A box full of charming letters home, written a century ago by an unknown young woman working at the famed Tiffany studios. Historic Green-Wood cemetery, where a decrepit mausoleum with stunning stained glass windows is now off limits, even to a famed art historian.
Suddenly, all of this, from the tragic to the merely eccentric, becomes part of Erica Donato’s life. She is a close friend of the murdered man’s family and feels compelled to help them. She is arbitrarily assigned to catalogue the valuable letters for an arrogant expert visiting the history museum where she works. She is the person who took that same expert to see the mausoleum windows.
Her life is full enough. She is a youngish single mother of a teen, an oldish history grad student, lowest person on the museum’s totem pole. She doesn’t need more responsibility, but she gets it anyway as secrets start emerging in the most unexpected places: an admirable life was not what it seemed, confiding letters conceal their most important story, and too many people have hidden agendas.
In Brooklyn Graves a story of old families, old loves and hidden ties merges with new crimes and the true value of art, against the background of the splendid old cemetery and the life of modern Brooklyn.




Sandra Parshall said...

Triss, you're so right about the scarcity of books about ordinary life in NYC. The city has almost mythical status in the minds of most people, not only in the US but around the world. But only those who live there can appreciate, as you do, the many different "small towns" that exist within it. I'm sure a lot of readers will enjoy getting to know your Brooklyn neighborhood through your books.

Triss said...

HI, Sandy. Thanks for your encouragement. Triss