Edith here, happy to welcome Triss Stein back to the blog! She has a new mystery out – Brooklyn Wars – in a series I love. And she’s giving away a copy of either this book or Brooklyn Bones, the first book in the series, to one commenter here today.
From the earliest days of the Republic until the administration of LBJ, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was, proudly, both an arsenal of democracy, in FDR’s words, and the creator of 70,000 local jobs. In time it became best known as the scary place New Yorkers had to locate to rescue their impounded cars. And then it came back to life, but not without a war.
Erica Donato, under pressure to complete her dissertation about changes in Brooklyn neighborhoods, watches as a community meeting becomes a battleground over plans to redevelop the once-proud Yard. That night, on the Yard’s condemned Admirals’ Row, she witnesses the shocking murder of a power-broker.
Erica once again discovers “what’s past is prologue” to both murder and to her life.
INSPIRED BY FACTS
What do these random items have in common?
- A flock of bright green tropical parrots live on a chilly northeastern urban college campus. No one knows where they came from. Sometimes they take a little trip over to a nearby park-like cemetery
- A long-rumored, legendary underground tunnel at a major transportation hub was rediscovered found some years ago. Pirates? Bootleggers? John Wilkes Booth? All are suspected
- Valuable stained glass windows have been stolen from old cemeteries and churches.
- During World War II, damaged ships brought to a huge navy yard sometimes still held the bodies of sailors trapped below when the ship was hit
- Before the Civil War there was a flourishing hamlet of freed slaves. Then it vanished into the growing city.
Have you guessed? They are all about Brooklyn and they are one of the reasons I write mysteries that take place in different Brooklyn neighborhoods. How can I resist making these odd bits of history part of a story?
One of them made it into a book (in fact, inspired one), one made it into a story in my publisher’s anniversary anthology, Bound by Mystery, and three, well, I haven’t figured out how to use them. Yet.
Where did they come from? One was a story an old man remembered hearing as a boy, and two were in newspapers, and I am the person who remembered and looked for more. I worked for awhile in the neighborhood near a third. Those parrots? I’ve seen them in Green-Wood Cemetery, sitting all over the huge Gothic entrance and making quite a racket. But I found out there are conflicting stories about their origins by researching online.
Photograph by Anthony Russell, used with permission.
For the brand new book Brooklyn Wars, I did much research the old fashioned way. In the library. The book is set against the history of the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, a large piece of real estate, and, at different times, a source of Brooklyn pride, of politics and of contention. I went in to Brooklyn history room and said, “Give me everything you have on the Navy Yard. ” I spent a day taking notes, making copies and jotting down the names of books I might be able to buy on used books sites.
I looked for inspiring photos that captured a moment. Did I find them?? How about Senator Truman and his family, dedicating the USS Missouri? How about some of the first women workers there, striding proudly out the gate? I even found an old dissertation about the heated politics of the closing of the Yard. Dry academia? There were dozens of possible plots in those pages.
I love spending a day like that, looking for that one odd fact that focuses a whole story. I always find one and sometimes several. My protagonist, Erica Donato, is a history grad student still working on her dissertation. She loves spending a day that way too.
It’s not impossible that writing these mysteries is an excuse to indulge my inner history geek . At least it gives me a reason to explore odd facts and odd places.
The next book, just getting started, will be about Brooklyn Heights, one of the oldest parts of Brooklyn and the very first official Historic District in New York city. And this is, after all, Brooklyn, a place where people have opinions. It was quite a battle.
Here is a Brooklyn Heights urban legend I was told by a colleague many decades ago, when I lived at the corner of Orange Street. It turns out to be, probably, true: an elderly descendant of an old Brooklyn family objected to streets being named for other old families. She objected so much she would take the street signs down late at night. The city finally gave in and renamed them for fruits.
Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?
Do you know a surprising or fun fact about your town? And if you are a writer, have you ever felt compelled to write about it? Remember, Triss is giving away a copy of either the new book or the first book in the series to one commenter!
Triss Stein grew up in northernmost NY state but has spent most of her adult life in Brooklyn. This gives her a useful double perspective for writing mysteries about the neighborhoods of her constantly changing adopted home. In Brooklyn Wars, her heroine Erica Donato witnesses a murder at the famous Brooklyn Navy Yard and finds herself drawn deep into both old and current conflicts.