Inspirations from Long Ago
As soon as I graduated from college, I packed two bags and my dog and left Austin to
experience life in the Big Apple. I’d grown up in a small town, worked my butt off to get
through college, and after receiving my diploma, headed straight to New York City. No job
awaited me there; I had no place to live and very little money; and I knew hardly anyone.
But adventure called. Miraculously, everything worked out and I stayed for eighteen months. That was thirty-five years ago. At the time I had no aspirations of becoming a writer. I just wanted to experience life in one of the most thrilling cities on the planet. Little did I realize that my time in NYC would become valuable to my future writing.
I’m now working on a new mystery series; this one is set in 1945 in Manhattan. Mickey
Spillane, Rex Stout, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler were inspirational in my
decision to try my hand at hardboiled crime fiction. Once I began writing, memories of my time in New York came flooding back; the jazz club on Seventh Avenue where I bartended; the homeless woman who went by the name of Rooster; an elderly woman who lived in Hell’s Kitchen who believed the entire state of Texas was responsible for assassinating JKF (and since I was a Texan, I was part of that conspiracy); my apartment on 30th and Madison; the Dubrovnik Hotel down the street; a dark, eerie bar I happened to walk into one day; and the deli near my apartment where I learned to order cream cheese with my bagel by asking for a schmear. All these find their way into my new book.
I am glad I took time to visit some of Manhattan’s other institutions while living there, and not just the popular venues on every tourist’s list like the Empire State Building, United
Nations, Statue of Liberty, and Central Park; but places frequented by locals: Carnegie’s Deli in Midtown (famous for corned-beef and pastrami sandwiches); Sardi’s Restaurant in the theatre district (known for the caricatures of show-business celebrities displayed on the walls); and what became my favorite Italian restaurant in Little Italy, Luna’s on Mulberry Street. All these establishments have become my down-and-out detective protagonist’s regular hangouts. He also moves into the Dubrovnik Hotel after his apartment is ransacked and most of his positions destroyed. Rooster and the elderly woman are regulars on the street corners of Hell’s Kitchen where he lives in an apartment over Frank’s Place (based on that eerie bar).
But what really helped me develop a sense of place were the sounds and smells I vividly recall: I loved hearing the staccato chatter of short-order cooks behind the deli counter on the first floor in my apartment building; those early morning, marshy smells wafting in from the East River as I strolled down Water Street, damp with dew, in Lower Manhattan; the noise of food purveyor trucks rattling down the street on their way to make restaurant deliveries—all come alive in my story. I’m only halfway through the first draft, and am eager for more tidbits to pop up from the treasure trove of memories I’d stored up more than three decades ago.
Kathleen Kaska is a writer of mysteries, nonfiction, travel articles, and stage plays. When she is not writing, she spends much of her time with her husband traveling the back roads and byways around the country, looking for new venues for her mysteries and bird watching along the Texas coast and beyond. Her latest mystery is Murder at the Driskill (LL-Publications). It was her passion for birds that led to the publication The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story (University Press of Florida).
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