Thursday, November 12, 2015

Stretching by Triss Stein #mystery #giveaway

 LUCY BURDETTE: Today Triss Stein asks a wonderful question--should we stick with what we know or try something new? To celebrate her new book, Brooklyn Secrets, she'll tell us about her dilemma...

TRISS STEIN: Stretching is good for everyone. Right?  It’s especially good for writers who sit at a desk all day. We should get up and stretch once an hour (Does anyone, really?)  But no, I'm thinking more about the way writers find a need to stretch and grow in their work.

Do successful writers of somewhat fluffy historical mysteries or serious but warm traditional PI stories suddenly decide to start writing bleak suspense tales? Or does a story like that come to mind and they can’t resist the challenge? Or does an editor or agent say, “I think you’re getting stale and it’s time to change it up.”

In my forthcoming book, (Brooklyn Secrets, Dec. 1, 2015) I stretched myself by accident.  I thought I was continuing what I had been doing all along in my series but it didn’t turn out that way.

Each book in the series is set in a different, distinct Brooklyn neighborhood. Erica, the sleuth, is a historian who studies how  neighborhoods change and in the process she stumbles across both modern crime and historical mysteries. For the next book I wanted to write about Brownsville, Brooklyn, a desperately poor and neglected neighborhood back in the old days. That time and place produced a lethal gang of Jewish enforcers for hire, a notorious part of the notorious Mob, and I thought I could create an interesting historical mystery about that. Plus, coincidentally (or maybe not so coincidentally) I had worked at a public library in the neighborhood a lifetime ago and had some memories.

However – and it turned out to be a huge however – there was no way for Erica to explore Brownsville’s past without becoming involved with Brownsville in the here and now.

Getting it right would be a stretch for sure. Brownsville hasn’t changed much. It has the most low-income projects of any NY neighborhood, and every problem that goes with poverty, drugs, guns and gangs. Could I possibly write about this and make it accurate, believable, honest, fair? How could I even get the street slang right when it changes constantly? I am very sensitive to arrogant outsiders who think they know a world that can only be known from the inside. My own experience there was too long ago to be valuable or valid.

I had some bad moments when I was sure I couldn’t pull it off.  But there was this: Erica herself is an outsider in this world, as I am, interested, observant, and concerned, but not part of it. So, her viewpoint became the lens for me to tell the story. And I found a way to give her a plausible acquaintance from the past who was part of the neighborhood. A way in to the story.

And I soon realized that some moments and some people I remembered vividly could still fit right in. Brownsville hasn’t changed very much.

In the end it became a story of young people trying to create more choices for themselves than their world seemed to offer, and that is a Brownsville story, old and new, then and now.

That’s how I stretched myself by accident. It wasn’t part of my plan, it was scary and I’m glad I did it. I think.

What was your biggest stretch as a writer--or in life, and how did it work out? 

TrissStein is a small–town girl from New York farm country who has spent most of her adult life in New York the city. This gives her the useful double vision of a stranger and a resident for writing mysteries about Brooklyn neighborhoods in her ever-fascinating, ever-changing, ever-challenging adopted home. The third, Brooklyn Secrets, will be out from Poisoned Pen Press on December 1, 2015. In it, Erica find herself immersed in the old and new stories of tough Brownsville, and the choices its young people make.

Triss will be giving away one copy of Brooklyn Secrets--leave your email in your comment to be entered in the drawing!


  1. Triss, "Brooklyn Secrets" sounds quite intriguing. I'm looking forward to reading it.

    Biggest stretch in life? Moving clear across the country for a job. It was good while it lasted, but in the end? Well, if you look for the silver lining even in difficult times and places, the move provided some wonderful opportunities for our girls, but the job, not so much.

  2. Fascinating story, Triss. I love that you combined history and present day, and I'm sure you pulled off your stretch admirably.

    I've done a number of big stretches in my regular life, but so far the biggest one in my author life, after leaving the day job, was to write a historical mystery. Two so far, with at least one more to go. I thought the research would be too much work and instead found that I loved it!

  3. thanks for the comments Joan. That goes to show that a stretch doesn't always produce the results we'd dreamed of, but can be a good thing anyway.

    Edith, can't wait to read the new series!

    I'm stretching too, just not at all sure in what direction LOL.

  4. Triss, I so admire that you actually DID this. I started writing a novel with a graduate student/psychologist who performed at night as an 'exotic dancer' in Boston's then Red Light district... but having to do the research I needed to do to make it feel authentic stopped me cold. It was a "stretch" too far. So I gave her a different back story. But then, that detail wasn't critical to the story I was telling.

  5. Good morning. I am excited to be spending the day-and first guest blog for Brooklyn Secrets!- with the Reds. I look forward to all your comments. I am away from home now but will look in whenever I can. I expect to be at home and at desk in the afternoon.

  6. Fascinating stuff. This series has been on my list for a while now, and I really do need to make time to give it a try. I tell you, I could fill a year with reading non-stop easily.

    My biggest stretch writing when when I had an idea to combine an interview with a review. I called it an Inter(Re)view. I've done two of them on the blog. They are much more difficult to organize and really requires the right book and author for it to work. I hope to do some more in the future.

  7. Triss, thank you for the reminder of the hourly stretch.

    I admire writers who try something new. No matter the motivation--your own desire to stretch, a need to reinvent or restart your career, or an accident--it takes courage to take on any new artistic venture. Kudos to you for deciding to do it, and then to do it. How great that this turned out to be a happy accident for you.

    I find your comment about "arrogant outsiders" to be intriguing. I have a similar knee jerk reaction to non-Southerners who try to write about the South, though it has been done, and well...Best of luck with Brooklyn Secrets!

  8. So great Lee Child always says --actually, he's quoting his father--"Give them the same thing, only different." Which is an interesting thought. Your readers love you because you are you. But what's to stop a better you? A richer story? A new idea?.

    And I wonder if, like you Triss, one step at a time is the way to go. Just do a little, then a little, and then you realize you;re somewhere you never dreamed you could be!

    Hallie, I'd love to hear about that research. I agree--that'd be tough. Also intriguing to wonder which of your readers would know if you were on the money.

  9. I think you hit on a great way to avoid sounding like the "arrogant outsider" - let your narrator be an outsider, too. That way, you learn together. And I love the fact that the story is one that is Brownsville's past and present. Those are sometimes the best kind.

    I think I "stretched" accidentally, too. When I started writing, I was thinking cozy or traditional. Not procedural because I was too afraid of getting the details wrong. But then I accidentally wrote a story that was more procedural than I thought (I'd glossed over some details I needed, but essentially it was procedural). Turns out those were the stories I wanted to write. Fortunately, I've met some good resources along the way.

  10. Hello and welcome, Triss! What a great post.... I love your books and always learn so much about Brooklyn from them (as well as have an amazing read....) Mary Sutton, you said it best -- "let your narrator be an outsider too. That way you learn together." Yes!

  11. This book has me totally intrigued. I can't wait to read it!!

  12. Triss, Good Morning! Good to see you here!
    I am all for a writer stretching, good for you!
    I, personally, am totally behind someone who wants to push themselves a bit by trying something new. Chances are very good that if I've enjoyed someone's writing that I'm going to still enjoy their writing when they moved on from what they've done and gotten comfortable with to something different.

  13. Fascinating blog, Triss, and BROOKLYN SECRETS sounds like a great read. I think sometimes the best stretching is exactly what you did - starting with one toe in the water, then a step in, and eventually you're swimming in the deep end.

    For me, my biggest stretch was becoming a mystery writer. I started writing as a hobby with a science fiction group...then decided I'd try my hand at a novel...then started all over again with a mystery novel...then decided I had to get it published. So even though today I make my living as an author, I never, ever had it in mind the day I joined that SF discussion group.

    PS Your mention of it made me get up from my keyboard and stretch!


    My family has had a very long history in Brooklyn - from the mid-19th Century until today. My youngest daughter lives in Carroll Gardens and teaches at a public high school in Bay Ridge (serving students from Canarsie, Coney Island, Sunset Park -- all over Brooklyn). I am going to get these books for her! Thanks for the introduction.

    I am about to jump into a tough writing assignment -- helping a Chinese woman, whom we helped to sponsor into the US, with her memoir. Her story is quite complicated and tough -- she was born in 1969, in the midst of the cultural revolution -- her father was sent to the countryside for two years . . . and now she is a department head at the International Monetary Fund!


  15. Wow! You have grabbed my attention, Triss! I'm intrigued, fascinated, curious, excited about your series. The cover for Brooklyn Secrets is outstanding, and it's sure to go in my Goodreads category of "great covers" when I read it. Before I started typing a comment, I raced to Amazon to look up your Erica Donato series and add them to my wishlist. I have to say that I'm glad Brooklyn Secrets is just #3, as I have several mystery series on which to catch up this winter. I just love it when a new author comes along for me to look forward to. Maybe I should do a post on my blog sometime about all the amazing authors that I've found on the Jungle Reds.

    One of my best stretches in life was to go back to school in my late forties and earn my Masters in Library Science. It was something I'd wanted to do earlier, but it didn't come together. As it was all online, my main stretch, because school for me was not, was to become proficient at the computer. I'm certainly not a computer whiz by any means, but doing my masters online did force me to learn a whole new way of educational pursuit and gave me a confidence that I needed.

    Email is

  16. What a delightful sounding series. It's been wonderful to watch Brooklyn change and grow over the years, albeit vicariously. Thank you for offering me a new neighborhood to enjoy.

    I try to stretch myself as often as I can. Seems I'm most comfortable out of my comfort zone.

  17. I'm always intrigued and impressed by how writers are "directed" by their books and characters. They think they are heading in this direction and find that they are, in fact, heading in that direction.
    And the research?! Quite impressive.

  18. I would say my biggest stretch was going from writing short stories to a full size book. I loved writing the short, getting in and out of a world quick so my first full length book was a challenge.

    Interesting discussion.

    lcahoon7 at gmail dot net

  19. This is an excellent series and I look forward to reading "Brooklyn Secrets".

  20. Hi, Reds and readers: Apologies for not being more responsive yesterday. The plans was I would be at an out-of-town conference with my husband, with a quiet hotel morning while he went to classes. Instead I had a couple of medical days - I am not sick or injured just needed a medicine correction - that wrecked the whole thing. So here I am now, a day late, and will try to reply to some of your interesting thoughts.

    the overall message seems to be that stretching is good, even if it does not turn out a expected, and that seems to be true for me too. Certainly we learn from what doesn't work as much as what does. Maybe more.

    Hallie, I sure what have liked to see what you did on the red light district. :-) Talk about out of comfort zone. Hank,great quote from Lee Child, though I'm not sure,as a reader, if I agree. It sure is working for him, though! Denise, I am in awe of the project you are starting.That is a huge leap and I certainly would love to read it someday.Libby, thanks for the encouraging compliment on the research - so encouraging- but true confession: I love doing research and could easily, easily, spend so much time I never write the actual book. It is one of the reasons I have not tried a true historical- I might not live long enough to finish it! Oh, Katy, proficient on the computer? Still struggling. That could be a whole separate blog. Or more. But congrats on going back to school and finishing. You might like Erica's stories as she is a back to school adult too...and having trouble finishing.

    Writing as an outsider needs its own comment. Thanks to all of you for participating! Triss

  21. My biggest stretch so far was writing from a male point of view. I'm planning to stretch myself again by writing a historical mystery. I love mysteries that deal with historical events and their connection to the present. Looking forward to reading Brooklyn Secrets.

  22. Sounds like a series I would really enjoy. Thanks for a chance to win a copy.

  23. Mary Sutton and Ramona and some others sure got what I was saying about writing as an outsider. There is a long history of believing you know about"them" and reading a very different story from the people who lived it, isn't there?

    I wasn't thinking of the late Bruce Alexander when I wrote Brooklyn Secrets but I learned from his writing. Remember him? An excellent writer of historical fiction set in 18th century London. I love historical fiction but only theoretically. Too often the writers tell too much for my taste - I don't need to be taught the basics. And yet, the author must explain some things or the story cannot make any sense. So he introduces a bright but naive country boy into the London household of Sir John Fielding, (real person, fascinating) and he is the narrator, learning, figuring it out, being taught. Works brilliantly and adds charm, humor, warmth. Hmm, I believe I've just inspired myself to go find and reread some of those books this weekend. ;-) Happy reading to all of you too!

  24. Corection: I meant this: here is a long history of AUTHORS BELIEVING THEY know about "them" and reading a very different story from the people who lived it, isn't there?

    Not this: here is a long history of believing you know about"them" and reading a very different story from the people who lived it, isn't there?

  25. Triss, I loved your comments today, as I have always tried to stretch in my crime novels. I have two protagonists and alternate between the two - the woman I find has more of moi than I'd like, but the biggest stretch is in getting my male protag right! I'd love to read your new book...

  26. This is a wonderful post!! As a writer who's had a few short stories published, I've never really thought about stretching in this manner ... but now I will!!

    My two biggest stretches so far have been (1) writing from a woman's POV (I'm a man), and (2) expanding the traditional concept of "mystery" to include elements of other genres. It's hard to do, and even harder to do well!!

    And now that Triss (and the rest of you) have opened my eyes to this and made me more aware of authors trying new things, I see it in other places too. For example, I just read a short story collection by a woman who's been a mystery writer but who's now writing stories that are a bit creepy and edgy (but still very interesting) ... Her name is Chris Rogers, and her latest collection is called "Death Edge 4".

    Thanks Triss!!!

  27. This sounds like an incredibly intriguing mystery! I have not yet read any of your novels. A family member lived in Brooklyn for a number of years, and I always loved visiting her! I don't know what her neighborhood would have been considered...I think that seeing an author stretch a bit, especially in an existing series, is a good thing! The primary character(s) might gain a new depth, and the author will have new confidence as she sees it's success. I would love to read this series - see a part of Brooklyn that I have not seen prior. All the best to you in the success of this release! jeaniedannheim (at) ymail (dot) com

  28. I am interested in reading your series. It sounds similar to Linda Fairstein and Cara Black's approach to pick a different section of a city to explore.

    My biggest stretch was going away to college. It was the 70s and very turbulent in California, but I survived and made life long friends.

    All the best.