Thursday, December 5, 2019

In The Heights


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Have you been to Brooklyn?  Part of my darling family lives there, and my agent, and SO many friends, and relatives of friends—it seems like such a small world!
Our dear friend of the Reds Triss Stein—we are always so thrilled to see you, dear Triss!—knows Brooklyn inside out. It’s her muse and her inspiration—and her new book reveals that In The Heights—well, let’s let her tell it!

In The Heights

In many ways, big bad Brooklyn is really a collection of small towns. After four mysteries set in different neighborhoods, and capturing (I hope) their diversity, I realized I had never written one about Brooklyn Heights, where I used to live.

That first apartment was tucked under the roof of an elegant 19th century town house. My roommate and I put our mattresses on the floor in the center of the room, because at the edges, the bedroom ceiling sloped all the way down to the floor. Through the tiny kitchen window, if we twisted just right, we could glimpse the bridge. At night, we heard the boats on the East River.

We loved it.

Truman Capote had lived down the street to the right. To the left, there was a serious witchcraft shop. WH Auden, Carson McCullers and Gypsy Rose Lee had shared a house nearby. Across the street, there was a dorm for Jehovah’s  Witnesses employed at  their nearby headquarters. With their short haircuts and boring clothes, they were easy to pick out in that era of flowered bell bottoms.

There never was a question that this neighborhood could make a great background for a mystery. The question would be which Heights story to choose.

When I did some research, what I learned changed my book.

My plan was to write about the intense fight to create Brooklyn Heights as New York’s very first historic district. Everyone loves a David and Goliath story.  Then I read more about Brooklyn Heights right now. 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses, it turned out, owned a serious chunk of the neighborhood, and they were selling everything to move upstate. How would that affect everyone else in Brooklyn Heights? Who would miss the Witnesses, with their quiet ways and meticulous building maintenance? And who would say “Good riddance” to what they thought was a too powerful, too secretive cult? And yes, what about those mysterious tunnels connecting their buildings?

This was a current story demanding to be told. But that’s only a theme. A novel needs characters and events to come to life.  I had to maneuver Erica, my historian heroine, over to Brooklyn Heights and give her a reason to investigate a crime. And I needed characters who would be links back to some of Brooklyn Heights’ storied past, and also links forward into the future.

I got lucky. A perfect McGuffin dropped into my lap in the form of a long-lost bronze plaque, a portrait of Brooklyn’s own genius, Walt Whitman. It used to hang on a long-demolished Brooklyn Heights building, marking the site of Leaves of Grass first printing.

I could give Erica a work  assignment.  Off she goes for a scholarly consultation about that plaque. When an angry, elderly woman storms in, it turns out to be Louisa Gibbs, a famous neighborhood activist and an idol of Erica’s.  She is deep in a feud with her neighbors, the Witnesses. She is also still lives in the splendid house her great-grandfather built, a solid brownstone link back to the days when the harbor was full of sailing ships.

Louisa worked for my story, but I needed an antagonist. He turned out to be Daniel Towns, a mild-mannered, Witness manager, an unlikely fighter, an even more unlikely victim, and an absurd possible villain.

But something was still missing. The situation I created was more of a triangle, with the missing side being the anxious property buyer. Given the amount of land and money involved, that would be a big time property developer, not someone who would normally be any part of Erica’s world.

But – ah-ha!- I already had the answer in my fictional world. Her boyfriend is a contractor. He reminds her about a party invitation she had scornfully turned down, at a multi-million dollar apartment belonging to a big developer who wants to get bigger. She doesn’t like the people she meets there, but she now has a connection, and a bonus. I put the elderly founder of this real estate dynasty there and let him brag about how influential he was in the old days. He is a voice of the past.

My further research told me about Brooklyn Heights disastrous fires and about that witchcraft shop. Walks around the neighborhood told me those lovely antique streets are not immune to modern day problems of lost souls. Reading some of the Witnesses own writing on those topics opened up some surprising doors for the story.

There’s more to life, even in Brooklyn, than real estate. There is old love and new, undying feuds and undying losses, and hidden connections between unlikely characters.

 Some memories are hazy and drifting but I could finally use them to tell  a story of the clash of cultures that was Brooklyn Heights fifty years ago.

HANK: Tunnels? Tell us more!  Isn’t it fascinating how stories evolve? How about you, Reds? Any Brooklyn stories?  Let’s hear them!

And a copy of BROOKLYN LEGACIES  to one lucky commenter!
  
Murder strikes the neighborhoods of Brooklyn—the hip, the historic, and the hood
The search for a lost portrait of Brooklyn's own genius Walt Whitman sends urban historian Dr. Erica Donato into Brooklyn Heights, a neighborhood of quaint and charming streets, family names out of history, and spectacular views of the harbor and the world-famous bridge. New York’s first suburb has long weathered political battles about neighborhood preservation and destruction. Is a new one shaping up?
Erica meets an idol, fiery community activist Louisa Gibbs, now locked in a dispute with the Watch Tower Society. One of Brooklyn’s biggest landowners, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are selling off their holdings. Then at a glittering party, Erica meets the threatening Prinzig clan who are trying to buy the Witness’s property adjoining Louisa's historic home.
The discovery of the Society’s Daniel Towns’ body in the Witnesses’ underground tunnels reignites old conflicts. Erica learns Louisa has made bitter enemies in her time while she becomes steadily better acquainted with a collection of characters young and old, sane and not-so-sane, living and dead. They all carry bitter secrets and old enmities.
The beautiful setting only hides them. Can Erica use her research expertise to expose a killer?
About the Author:
TRISS STEIN is a small-town girl who has spent most of her adult life living and working in New York City. This gives her the useful double vision of a stranger and a resident, which she uses to write mysteries about Brooklyn, her ever-fascinating, ever-changing, ever-challenging adopted home.


60 comments:

  1. I often think that neighborhoods are much the same everywhere . . . different characters and situations, of course, but the same sort of issues created by a diverse group of people living together.

    Alas, I have no Brooklyn stories to share, but your book sounds fascinating, Triss, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Erica finds the killer [and finding out some more about those tunnels] . . . .

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  2. Oh, I can't wait to read this book. I lived in Brooklyn Heights from the mid-70's to the early 90's and loved it. After the Witnesses revived the old hotel across the street, we would have to pause to get out of our building in the morning because a phalanx of young, short haired men and demurely skirted women, would march down Hicks Street on their way to their headquarters.

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    1. We have overlapping memories! I didn't know, back then, how unusual it all was. All of NY in the early '70s seemed pretty unusual to me.

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  3. Definitely sounds intriguing. Congrats on the new book.

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  4. I love it when Jungle Reds blog and I feature an author and book at the same time. Of course, it's quite possible that I first met Triss Stein here on the blog. I just posted my review of Brooklyn Legacies on my blog (https://www.readingroom-readmore.com/2019/12/brooklyn-legacies-by-triss-stein.html), and I can tell you that I loved this book. I am such a big fan of all the books in this Erica Donato series. I've learned so many fascinating things about Brooklyn, coupled with amazing stories of Erica solving puzzles of history and mystery by her dogged research. Triss, thank you for another amazing read, and please keep them coming. My obsession with Brooklyn needs regular feeding.

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    1. Oh, how wonderful! I will look at that review right away… I don’t know how you do it, dear Kathy!

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    2. Kathy, thank you again. So great to hear from you

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  5. I always applaud a new book from Triss (waving hi!). We met over a meal at the Albany Bouchercon, and I love her series. Brooklyn Legacies is next up on my TBR pile!

    Tunnels give me a severe attack of claustrophobia, so I can only imagine what could happen. I've only been to Brooklyn once, to a niece's wedding celebration in a funky winery. I think I need to go back...

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    1. Bouchercon Albany! So many fun memories… Wasn’t that so weird? Because Albany was essentially deserted, remember? Over the weekend? And there was that building called The Egg?

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    2. It was my first Bouchercon, too. Yes, the government center had NOTHING else open on the weekend. And there were two conference hotels - which bar to go to?

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    3. I was delighted Bcon was in Albany, so close to friends and family, but even I, big booster for upstate NY that I am, have to admit there were... difficulties with Albany.

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    4. Albany was my first Bouchercon and the place where I met the Reds and attended your wonderful panel, with Ross and Youngest making it a party. I was such a newbie that I didn't realize I missed seeing people at the bar because of the hotel I was in (the one you had to take a bus to). But, my friend Susan and I met Ovidia Yu on the bus, and that led to a lovely friendship and lots of great reading. And, Hank, I do remember The Egg.

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  6. I want to hear more about the tunnels! With a secretive group like the Witnesses and tunnels, the possibilities must have been almost endless.

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    1. I know you are imagining the same things I did :-)

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  7. I was so honored to be one of Triss' ARC readers. It is a lovely, lovely read worth every one of it's 5 stars. My only sketchy memories of Brooklyn are driving across the Brooklyn Bridge giddy with excitement that I was finally heading towards Manhattan. After reading Brooklyn Legacies, I realize I should have stayed a bit longer in Brooklyn. Best wishes and continued success with Dr. Erica.

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    1. This helped make my day. Thank you so much

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  8. As many times as I've heard about Brooklyn, and knowing so many who either grew up there (our next-door neighbor), or who've lived there (at least three of our friend's adult kids), I've never been to that part of New York. I had no idea the Witnesses had their headquarters there, let alone that they had tunnels. How has that escaped use as a plot device before now?

    Triss, it only just occurred to me the other day that Triss from the JRW backblog is Triss Stein the writer. Geez. Sounds like I have a series to catch up on!

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    1. Hi, Karen; That's funny - worlds weren't aligning, right? Come visit Brooklyn in my books (smile) - I've lived here most of my adult life, and it's changed a lot. Whether that's good or bad or just confusing depends on where you are standing, of course.

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  9. Congratulations on your new release! I love learning about Brooklyn. It seems half my world has young adult kids living there.

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    1. Thank you Margaret. And yes - everyone I meet seems to have a child in Brooklyn now, a big change in itself.

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  10. Brooklyn is enormous - really its own city. My daughters are in Sunset Park -- on beyond Brooklyn Heights. LOVE the premise for your book and fascinated by your research, Triss - You had me at tunnels. (Paris has got them, too.) AND as winter sets in I'm thinking how nice it would be to have tunnels connecting buildings underground, the way they do in Toronto.

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    1. When I started working in Brooklyn - there were dinosaurs around back then!- Brooklyn's size, and diverse neighborhoods, obviously made a huge impression. It's never easy, but its never dull. I left Boston to come to grad school in NY, and I always planned to go back. But I got caught. Do your daughters feel that way?

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    2. They love New York. Their grandparents were New Yorkers (Bronx born) and they've always felt more at home in the City rather than suburban Massachusetts.

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  11. In Washington airport, ready to take off… More when I get back to Boston! Happy Thursday, everyone!

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  12. Wow, Triss, what a lot of fascinating info and people you’ve put into this book! I am intrigued by the Witnesses and the two views when considering them. And I’m with Hank—what’s up with the tunnels? Looking forward to reading. (An aside: I love your author bio.)

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    1. Ramona! Good morning. It's always great to hear from you. And thanks for the encouraging words.

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  13. I have only traversed the streets of Brooklyn via books. With a plot like that, who wouldn't want to read your book?

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  14. Hi Triss--I absolutely must catch up on your series! I have a cousin in Brooklyn, and the illustrator of the maps in my books, Laura Maestro, lives in Brooklyn, and we've talked about the area a bit. So interesting!

    I also love the way you've detailed your process. It seems very much like mine, and it's always fascinating to see how stories come together.

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    1. Deborah, I've liked your books from the first one I read, and that is one of the reasons ( aside from the super storytelling, of course) - we share some interests in place and history and try to bring it alive. ( Of course the UK has a few more years on Brooklyn in the history dept)

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  15. Having just moved back to Brooklyn for the fourth time, this is intriguing. And big developers are definitely ripe for villainy. I look forward to reading!

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    1. It sounds like Brooklyn has its hook into you. Or does your job ( or partner's?) keep moving you back? It is changing so fast, it must seem like a different place each time.I feel that way myself sometimes.

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    2. I'm a New Yorker. Left for a while, then came back. I couldn't live in Manhattan again, but I love BK.

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  16. What a cast of characters! I have no experiences of Brooklyn at all. I have experienced Jehovah’s Witnesses ringing my doorbell a long time ago and getting their semi-scary Watch Tower publication. And real estate developers are always scary. This book sounds like a winner, Triss!

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    1. The more I read, the more interesting and surprising the conflicts became. The story changed in the process.

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  17. Oh gosh... everything about this book is sparking up my interest. Must go find the first of the series and get busy.

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  18. I hope you enjoy it, Susan.If you write, after, I'll tell you where the plotin the first came from. :-) And -I am obligated to mention it - a review is always welcome.

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  19. Congratulations! The novel sounds fascinating and I enjoyed learning about Brooklyn.

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  20. This wonderful story sounds captivating and unique. Congratulations and best wishes. Brooklyn is a real haven for authors.

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  21. I remember thinking of Brooklyn as a sort of neighborhood next to Manhattan, and was boggled when I discovered that in any other state or location, it would be a large city on its own. I have friends who moved away from the "rough borough" just before it suddenly heated up. They like to torment themselves by looking at Zillow and seeing what their formerly run-down house is going for now.

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    1. Brooklyn would be the 4th largest city in the US, all by itself. And there official signs that say so - I couldn't get them to copy here. so the variety and the surprises are endless. Fun and sad and challenging, all at once. The real estate alone... We have been here long enough to go from people saying, "Brooklyn? Why in the world...?" to "Brooklyn? How lucky..."

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  22. I discovered your Brooklyn based mysteries several years ago. I enjoy books where history and location are characters too,
    I’m off to run and start your book that I had pre-ordered for my kindle.
    I have enjoyed your books immensely!

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    1. Susan, thank you so much for this lovely note. And for joining today.

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  23. Love your books, Triss! Can't wait to read this one. As far as I can recall I only have one Brooklyn memory from when I was very young. My family had gone there to visit my aunt and her family in their tiny apartment. But all I really remember, because my mother told the story so often, was that we three kids couldn't get over the fact that we were allowed to sleep in our underpants because it was so hot!

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    1. Judi, thanks for writing. That is a great memor, so kid like. Before air conditioning, I assume? Though I grew up way upstate, near Canada, I had many relatives in NY ...but all in the Bronx. We did live in Brooklyn when I was a toddler, though, immediately post-war. And I remember being able to see the towers of Coney Island from there!

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  24. Shalom Reds and fans. My earliest memories are of Brooklyn. When I was born, my parents lived in the Bronx but I was only 2 or 3 when they moved to the County of Kings. When I was seven we moved again to the peninsula, Rockaway in Queens. My Brooklyn story occurred when I was in my late thirties. My cousin Poppo was getting married. (His name was Lionel but nobody called him that, as that was also his Dad’s, my Uncle’s, name.) My brother Peter and his wife, Linda, who lived in Massachusetts, wanted to be at the wedding. However, the wedding was on a Saturday and as observant Jews they were not able to travel by any motorized transport. Two of my Aunts lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant, in the family brownstone. So, their solution was to arrive before sundown Friday and stay the night at my Aunts’ home and walk to the wedding. It was in walking distance, if you started early enough. My brother is smart but perhaps not so street smart. So I appointed myself as their bodyguard. I arrived at Putnam Avenue and we walked perhaps three or four miles to the church for the afternoon wedding and after we walked perhaps six more miles to get to the reception. I was a seasoned walker, never having gotten a driver’s license. This was before ubiquitous GPS but I was pretty handy with a map. We walked at least another 6 or so miles and passed through all sorts of neighborhoods. My job as I saw it was to keep a banter going to keep their minds off the time and other urban dangers. I don’t remember anything more about the wedding except that my Uncle Kenny always would bum cigarettes from me when his wife wasn’t looking.

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  25. Thanks for writing, David. That is a whole novel, right there. I'd love to read it someday!

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  26. What a crazy travel day! I’ll be back soon to read all these comments! Keep chatting....

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  27. Afraid all I know about Brooklyn Heights is the song from the Patty Duke Show. Your book sounds interesting.

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    1. It is surprising how many people I know who remember that song and show. But - trust me- real Brooklyn Heights is much more interesting.

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  28. I so like historical mysteries. There is always something to be learned, to be shocked at, and to marvel at. This sounds like a series I will enjoy.

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  29. Mysandy, we think alike. I love finding ways to weave past and present together with those odd little facts that make it all seem more real. Here's a bonus: did you know people actually, really "sold"the Brooklyn Bridge to naive newcomers? No? I didn't either until I began researching. It happened many times!

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  30. It's almost 11:00 PM on the east coast. Good night, Reds and Reds readers. Thank you for inviting me and joining the conversation. It has been a fun day. Triss

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  31. Congratulations to Mysandykat, winner of a copy of Brooklyn Legacies. You'll be contacted about mailing.

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