Wednesday, April 20, 2016


By Kay Kendall

For the last five years I’ve lived half of my life in the 1960s. Life inside my head, that is. During this time I wrote two mysteries—one set in 1968 and the second a year later. Because it was important for me to evoke the time period and get the feel just right, I recycled my own memories from that era, making them as vivid on the page as I possibly could.

Last fall I began writing my third mystery in the series, also taking place in 1969. I managed to get the opening done to my satisfaction--usually difficult for me, but this time, no problem! The opening was great. But then I stalled out. Even though I’d looked forward to writing this particular mystery in my Austin Starr series for a long time, I could not seem to move forward with it.

Then an odd thing happened. In the midst of discussing mystery writing with a friend, I had a brain wave. I got excited about Austin Starr’s grandmother. I could see her, knew what she was like and understood the issues she faced. The grandmother was in her early twenties, lived in small town Texas, and her mystery would be set in 1923. Prohibition was the backdrop and would play a large part in the plot development.

And so my third mystery transmogrified into something altogether different from what I had planned. Suffice it to say that these days my mind is all awhirl, caught up in the roaring twenties.

I can tell you all about the Volstead Act of 1919 that prohibited alcohol production and consumption in America, led to widespread flouting of laws in general, and gave rise to organized crime across the nation.

I can tell you when certain slang phrases erupted into the culture—like jeepers creepers, cut a rug, and tomato--used to describe a comely female rather than an edible.

I can tell you which cars were on the road in Texas in the 1920s and what they looked like.

I can tell you when Time magazine was founded –1923.

Although I miss living half my time in the 1960s, I enjoy the mental change of pace. While the twenties and the sixties were each eras of huge transformation, the twenties in America was a time of optimism (until the Great Crash of 1929), whereas the sixties saw increased gloom, beginning with the Kennedy assassination in 1963.  Of course I don’t know what it was really like to be young in the twenties, but I have steeped myself in its culture for quite some time. My grandparents had a set of World Book encyclopedias published in 1922 that I poured over when I was in grade school, absorbing the culture—the silent movies, the flappers, and all that jazz. Who knows? Perhaps I’ve been waiting ever since then to write about this fascinating time period.

I haven’t given up on the 1960s.  Austin Starr and her grandmother will eventually work together to solve a mystery in the book I have temporarily laid aside. That plot line was already planned. I just didn’t know that I would take a detour back to the roaring twenties before I could proceed with another book set in the turbulent sixties.

Rainy Day Women by Kay Kendall

 "5 Stars! Kendall delivers a spectacular mystery. The protagonist, Austin Starr, balances being a wife, a mother and an investigator with great skill. This is definitely a coming of age story, for women and for our country. A revolution occurred during the sixties, changing the roles for women, politics and war. She shows it all."  


  1. How fun to write in that era. I've been toying with it myself, though across the pond. I believe I have settled on a time a bit earlier though, 1895. The research alone is so fun.

    1. Hi, Kimber. Yes, I am having fun writing about this new era, new for me. I don't have any (or not much) autobiographical "skin in the game," as I did when writing about the sixties (and thinking about my own grandmothers' lives back then is not the same thing as having lived it all myself). I feel like a moral weight-- of getting things JUST RIGHT for what I wanted to achieve--has lifted off my shoulders. That is a great relief. So now I am hoping that when I return to writing about the late sixties that I will be used to writing with more freedom and less angst.

  2. Kay, you might contact my sister at the Depot Museum in Elgin. She has so much info on what was going on in Elgin when at different periods that she might help you with research. She's already done enough research to set a novel in a small Texas town. At different periods in the past. FLet me know if you want her contact information . Or you can just look up th FB site for Elgin Depot Museum. Ann is a born researcher.

    1. Thanks so much, Susan! I will look up the museum page...and get in touch with you about your sister also. Many thanks!!

  3. My grandmothers were born in the late 19th century, at a time when women in America did not have the vote. They were white. I wonder what it was like to suddenly have it. Did they vote for whomever their husbands voted for? What did they think of suddenly having a say in things? And what did they think about non-white citizens not having a vote?

    1. All great questions, Peggy. I'm going to have my 23-year-old sleuth (b. 1900) ask her aunt about these things. But Prohibition will play a bigger part in the plot. My guess is that lots of married women went along with their spouses' voting choices. I remember back decades when my parents' married friends would talk about how their votes cancelled each other out.