Wednesday, June 15, 2016

How Mad Men in the Not-so-good-ole Days Made Women Mad Too

By Kay Kendall

The advent of Mad Men on television marked the return of the 60s to the popular consciousness. Before that, the tumultuous decade of the 1960s had a bad rep. It was a divisive time, and people were sick of it. The go-go economy of the 1980s buried “radical chic” in piles of money, and even some famous 60s activists switched to making a buck, big time.

Mad Men on TV was soon followed by fashion trends. Today retro-hippie clothes and accessories are back with a vengeance. I’ve purchased three items with long suede fringe—stockpiling against the day when fringe falls out of style again.

Yet it’s not just 60s fashion that lures me in. I am a fan of that benighted decade. Even before Mad Men hit TV in 2007, I was writing my first mystery set in the 60s. I was following that old maxim, “Write what you know.” As a child of the 60s I had stories to tell.
I also believe that an author should write what she loves—and my favorite books are historical mysteries. I chose my time period guided by the many authors who locate their sleuths and spymasters during the wars of the 20th century. The two world wars and the Cold War are overrun with novels. The war in Vietnam, however, was such a debacle that few want to see it on the big or little screen or read about it in books. Still, it was a comparatively empty niche that I thought needed filling with mysteries. My books show the life of a young woman named Austin Starr—not the radical type who made headlines, the Hanoi Janes or Angela Davises—but a moderate swept along by history’s tides. All that turmoil lends itself to drama, intrigue, and murder.
Rainy Day Women is set in August 1969, in the days between the Charles Manson killings in Los Angeles and the big rock festival in Woodstock—one she had hoped to attend. Instead, Austin flies to the West Coast, where she pursues her knack for solving mysteries, built on her CIA training and inspired by countless Nancy Drew books she read as a child. Austin tries to absolve a dear friend accused of killing a feminist leader and is drawn into the movement. As she learns about it, she learns more about herself.
Second-wave feminism is the backdrop for the story, and Rainy Day Women is set against the historical details of the period. Though that time is long gone, I “bring it all back home” again.* Some details are technological—the endless searching for a much-needed payphone, the need to solve a crime without using CSI-style techniques—and establish how much change our everyday lives have witnessed. Other details are astonishing yet real—notably the casual but overbearing sexist attitudes of way too many men in the book. But that particular kind of madness led to rising anger among women. And then to a whole movement. 

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, ca. 1965
NOTE: Bringing It All Back Home is a Bob Dylan album from 1965, including such masterpieces as “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Some literary critics compare Dylan to Shakespeare. I don’t go quite so far but am a staunch fan. That’s why I name my mysteries after his song titles. His work is so vast in scope that his song titles cover every eventuality in fiction that I could ever dream up. His attitudes toward women as portrayed in his lyrics are sexist—true—but he was a man of his times. That’s the best excuse I can make for him, and he certainly fits my material.

Kay Kendall lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. In her former life as a PR executive, Kay’s projects won international awards. And she studied lots and lots of history in school, and loves it still!


  1. Good blog Kay. I'm not Bob Dylan fan except for his song writing skills but Joan Baez is my heroine. Did you see her 75th!! birthday concert? Fantastic.

  2. Hi there, Pam. Thank you for dropping by. I have not seen the Baez birthday concert but will search for it online. Thanks for the tip.
    For some unfathomable reason, I actually LIKE Dylan's voice. The first time I heard it, it was of course a shock, but by the second song I was hooked. Basically speaking, however, I think his voice is an acquired taste, shall we say. Kind of like bagpipes...but I have always loved those too...even before I realized how much Scots blood I have.
    (Readers, Pam is from Scotland, and I recently visited there--fabulous. Everyone must see it for themselves one day.)

  3. Good blog, and your book sounds terrific! I acquired a taste for Bob Dylan and fine Scotch in the same decade. Scotland is not to be missed, I agree, especially the Highlands. Another survivor of the tumultuous 60s-- kate

  4. Hi, Kate. Maybe acquiring your taste for fine Scotch helped you survive all life's ups and downs in the 60s and beyond?....If you meet up with my Austin Starr in one of my two mysteries (and I hope you will), then please let me know how you liked her. Rock on!