Friday, August 11, 2017

GIVING THE PAST A VOICE by Triss Stein

LUCY BURDETTE: Today the Jungle Reds welcome another old friend, Triss Stein (and by that I mean seasoned, not old) who has a brand new Brooklyn mystery to tell us about. She tackles the difficult question of what kind of amateur sleuth is believable and what brings excitement to the page. I love the way she describes her process of solving a tricky question– I think you will too. Welcome Triss!

TRISS STEIN: I am thrilled to be a guest again of the authors at Jungle Red and to join the conversation with such avid readers.

Four books ago, I knew what I wanted. I wanted to write about Brooklyn’s varied and rapidly changing neighborhoods. I wanted a protagonist with a good reason to wander around asking legitimate – and sometimes unexpectedly dangerous – questions. And I wanted to include some of each neighborhood’s fascinating history.  So I had an idea: Erica Donato, a historian heroine writing a dissertation about how Brooklyn neighborhoods change. Her research would be a great excuse to send her out and about in her fascinating and exasperating hometown. She would be an unusual amateur sleuth but a plausible one.  Or at least as plausible as any amateur sleuth in a series.



There is a little, tiny flaw here I didn't see at first. Erica might like to spend a day in the library looking at old newspapers – and so do I- but it doesn’t make for an interesting novel.  How could I bring my Brooklyn voices to life?  I think that is part of the appeal for anyone who writes fiction about the past, or reads it.

I was part way through the first, Brooklyn Bones, when I realized that this is what was missing.  For that one, about a time when young people were coming to New York to join the hippie life, notes left by runaways, and a cop who saved them, seemed the answer. For the second, Brooklyn Graves, which is partly about  Tiffany’s all-women glass design studio, a discovered cache of turn-of-the-last-century letters became Erica’s responsibility to catalogue. This is based on a real discovery and I had great fun writing letters home from that long-ago imagined career woman. For Brooklyn Secrets, which is about the then and now very tough Brownsville neighborhood, “then” wasn’t impossibly long ago. Erica meets a couple of elderly ladies with differing memories about the not-so-good old days.

Do you see the pitfall?  I will run out of fresh ways to bring in those voices. Brooklyn Wars, the new book, is about the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which began when John Adams was president and was closed forever in 1967. It built famed ships the Maine, the Arizona and the Missouri, and operated around the clock during World War II. I had intended all along to write about wartime Brooklyn but soon realized was too late to make that generation present in a contemporary mystery. I ended up telling the more recent sad story of the Yard’s contentious closing, but I still wanted to give a nod to the glory years. I especially wanted to send a salute to the Brooklyn girls who put on coveralls and went to work welding ships. It’s a great story that took place just a couple of miles from where I am writing this.

My solution was a diary found among old papers in Erica’s mother-in-law’s attic.  I worried that it was too corny, too girlish, too overdone.  But, I thought, but, this is a sub-plot about a young woman. She is young enough in the beginning to write about Tyrone Power and fresh boys and parental rules, and, in the end, old enough to purposefully put away her childish things.  Her name is Philomena and she became very real to me.  In fact I gave her a story all her own, in her very own voice,  “Girls With Tools,” that was published in the Poisoned Pen anthology, Bound by Mystery. I hope you will enjoy meeting her.

And PS.  The next book will have some history that is in living memory and ongoing. Thank goodness, those players can speak for themselves.


So what do you think, readers? Does having the past come back to life – without ghosts!- make the story more compelling? And writers, have you ever had to solve this problem? Did it work?

About Brooklyn Wars: The once great, later abandoned, Brooklyn Navy Yard was in the throes of rebirth. All Erica set out to do was attend a community meeting about some proposed changes and so witness history in the making. She wasn’t expecting to witness the murder of a widely disliked city official. She wasn’t expecting to learn she has a link to the murdered man’s ex-wife or to be contacted by the one person who might miss him. And in the meantime, her adviser her wants her to skip the chapter altogether, her mother-in-law wants her to research an aunt who repaired ships at the wartime Yard and her daughter only wanted to talk about her sweet sixteen party. 

And here are some ways you can order the book:


47 comments:

  1. Congratulations on the new book, Triss.

    I appreciate writers who tell stories that bring the past into the present, especially when they weave the two together in such a way as to create an unexpected bridge between yesterday and today for the reader.

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    1. Good morning Joan. And it is one, waking up to your thoughtful comment

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  2. Welcome, Triss! Reading this post reminded me that I need to catch up with the rest of your series. You've discovered great ways to weave the past into the present, not an easy task.

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    1. Thank you for the insightful comment, Edith

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  3. I think this sounds absolutely great… Textured, and realistic, and truly evocative. And what a terrific idea. Plus, what a great and fun way to learn history, both for you and for your happy readers.
    But will poor Erica ever be finished with her dissertation?
    Xxx

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    1. Funny you should ask. My editor raised that question partway through the writing of Brooklyn Wars. And wanted me to answer it. Keep reading: :-)

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  4. A diary is a great way to bring the past into a novel. And then there's always the possibility that the diarist is... lying (or shading the truth). As a big fan of Brooklyn, this book is right up my alley.

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    1. Thank you Hallie.I appreciate your devious thoughts1 (A compliment for sure.) And I am so happy to be here with Reds today.

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  5. (scribbling furiously, adding yet another new series to Mount Tooby...)

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. It took me a minute! And where's that smile emojicon when I need it? :-)

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  6. I really enjoy reading stories that flip in time and yet are connected in the present. I can't wait to read this series!

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  7. First of all, Triss, congratulations on your latest novel. I wish you much success. Now, I definitely think bringing in the pasts adds all kinds of layers and nuances to a story. A diary is wonderful way to make the story more palpable. Not only do readers get a feel for the character's thoughts and emotions, but inevitably they get a feel for the time period.

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    1. Much appreciated, Daniella

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    2. Triss,

      You're welcome. It's always nice to see a fellow MWA member doing so well.

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  8. Love the theme. I am intrigued by anything that's set in Brooklyn. Will look into this series!

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    1. Thank you.There are four books now, all about different neighborhoods. It started with in Brooklyn Bones with a body behind a wall during a renovation in Park Slope. Which was not always gentrified as it is now.(cue spooky music)

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  9. Congratulations on the newest book, Triss. You probably don't remember, but we sat together at Deb's table at the LCC banquet in Phoenix. I love your wry sense of humor and you made a great evening even better!

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    1. I do remember and I am thrilled that you do.

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  10. Your books sound delicious, Triss. I think the digging into the history of a place or a time is fun way to solve all kinds of mysteries, even if there isn't a body. One source that might help in a future book is one of the many oral history projects that have been undertaken over the years. The Great Depression saw a lot of them, and they've been sponsored by everyone from the federal government to local colleges and even high schools. There are written transcriptions, but also recordings in archives all around the country. You never know what you might find there.

    I agree with you that an amateur sleuth needs to have a reason to go digging around outside of a police investigation. I've read way too many cosy series that start out well because the lead character needs to defend herself or someone she loves, but then wander off into the absurd when her reason to take the next case, or the one after that, comes down to sheer nosiness and and addiction to risk taking. And why are cosy detectives always women? Maybe someday someone will write a series about a crusty old codger who is retired, bored, and determined to find out what's up with those skeevy young folks who have moved in next door, and won't get off of his lawn.

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    1. Insightful - and funny! - comments. And thanks for the reminder about oral history projects. I must look into what exists for Brooklyn

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  11. Congratulations, Triss! The book sounds fabulous and I look forward to reading it.

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    1. Good morning and thanks for commenting, Elissa

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  13. I love this kind of book, Triss! My next stand alone is two parallel stories in two time periods and was such fun to write. I find the research one of the most fun parts. Do you?

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    1. Thanks, Rhys. Sometimes I suspect the books are an excuse to do the research. Then I have to remind myself - sometimes with editor's assistance - that I am writing a story first. Sound at all familiar? And I can't wait for your WIP -certainly sounds like my kind of story!

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  14. I have not read your books, but did stop to literally, physically add them to my list before I finished your post. (That's a high compliment!)

    It's funny, but if you tell me a book is a historical novel, I'm not really drawn to it. (Though when I occasionally pick one up, I'm usually pleasantly surprised.) But when a novel ostensibly set in the present day spends half its time in the past, through the types of machinations you mention, I almost always love it. So I guess I owe you and writers like you a big debt of thanks for tricking me into reading and enjoying stories of the past.

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    1. Such a thoughtful and interesting comment. And I do appreciate the compliment, too

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  15. When done well, I think bringing the past to the present can really deepen a story. Haven't tried it yet, myself.

    Like Hank, though, when you mentioned Erica was writing a dissertation I wondered if it was finished yet. =)

    Mary/Liz

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  16. Hi Triss! I love books like yours--how have I not read them??? I'm going to start with the first in the series and work my way through. I've connected the past to the present in quite a few of my books, always such a challenge but such fun. As Rhys says, I love the research, and I love the sense that everything is connected. Congrats on the new book!

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    1. That sense of historical connection is one of the compelling parts of several of your books for sure. Of course that past is deeply all around in London, one reasons I love it. In New York, it sometimes has to be searched out. For so long, this was a place dedicated to tearing down the past to make way for the more exciting "modern." (!)

      And thanks for the encouraging words

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    2. Debs, Triss' books remind me greatly of the effect your books set in London have had on me. As you take different parts and histories of London and blend them in so beautifully into a story. I remember saying that your books made me fall in love with London and should be used as travel guides, too. Triss' books do that with Brooklyn.

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  18. I am such a big fan of the Erica Donato series and Triss! Triss visited my reading blog last week with a piece about the birth of the Brooklyn series (http://www.readingroom-readmore.com/2017/07/author-spotlight-triss-stein-and-erica.html), and I was thrilled to have her. My review of Brooklyn Wars followed the next day. Each of these four books have made me fall in love with Brooklyn and its rich history. Triss, you are such a master at blending the history with the present into a fascinating story. And, Erica Donato is definitely a believable, plausible character guiding the discovery of connections between past and present. With each book, the reader gets to know more about Erica and her family and friends, and Brooklyn Wars is so satisfying in the area of expanding our knowledge of Erica's personal life.

    I guarantee that those of you who have not read this amazing series will find it one of the best historical mystery series around. I am so happy to see you here today, Triss, and congratulations again on another outstanding book.

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    1. I don't know how to say thank you enough

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  19. Hi Triss,

    I've read the first two books and didn't realize there was a third and now a fourth. You can be sure I will read them!

    I love history and the idea of bringing the past into the present, and also love historical novels.Just for fun I will read everything I can find about a place, past and present.

    DebRo

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the first two and look forward to any reactions to the others. They are all very different. That keeps it interesting for me, and - I hope!- readers.

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  20. Loved "Brooklyn Wars. Here is my review on my blog "Looks at Books." https://3no7.wordpress.com/2017/08/01/brooklyn-wars/

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    1. Thank you for the review and now I had a chance to get to know your blog, too.

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  21. I love the idea of a diary as a vehicle to Brooklyn Bridge the present and the past. Sorry, I couldn't resist. And, Triss, I love ghosts or even the idea of ghosts very compelling. Really looking forward to reading Brooklyn Wars!

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    1. Thank you for the encouraging words. As I am struggling with getting the next one off the ground. :-)

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  22. Congrats on the new book, Triss! Do you have more Brooklyn ideas than you have time to write or do you have to do research to come up with your initial premise? The series sounds intriguing!

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  23. I start with a place that intrigues me for some reason but then they all need more research. So far I haven't used those up (in a previous life, I worked in a lot of Brooklyn locations) but that time will come. Then I either research randomly until something sticks, or maybe it will be time to do something new. Great question.

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  24. Hi just testing, been having trouble posting - Debs suggested I try a different browser, so I'm attempting to post

    wishing everyone a nice day

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