Guest: Triss Stein, Inspired by Facts

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.BrooklynWarsCover-ONLINE

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.



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.BrooklynSign

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.

TreeWhere 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.

used to
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.

poster3I 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?

high res MIR copy

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.


45 Thoughts

  1. Chestertown, MD was long the population center of the USA (but that was a long time ago). I’d need the FIRST book, please, as I hate reading series out of order.

  2. Here’s a cool fact…Rigby Trotting Park in South Portland, ME was known for the fastest horseracing in the U.S. from 1893-1898. Today it is the Rigby Railway Yard. I’d love to read your fist book.

  3. I like how you have taken these nuggets to use in your stories. I find the parrots interesting–wonder if they fly south too and return, or just stick it out? I love near Lake Minnetonka and at the turn of the last century, it was bustling with tourism, wooden hotels and streetcar boats. Many of the boats were sunk as trash basically, in the deep parts of the lake when they outlived their usefulness. There is one running today that was rescued and restored! Thanks for being here today!

    1. I know that name! It is mentioned in the Betsy-Tacy books, isn’t it? I loved them when I was a child and treated myself to a set when they were republished several years ago. Thanks for adding this interesting story.

  4. There are lots of interesting facts about Amesbury’s history – and I use plenty of them in my Quaker Midwife mysteries! I love this post and all the factoids you have unearthed. It is fun to indulge our inner history geeks.

  5. Wonderful stories! (We should all go digging for treasure in our local libraries from time to time.)

    Story I just learned recently, while talking to a local historian. In the 1890s various electric companies were bidding for the contract to add streetlights to my town, Middleboro MA. The Thomson-Houston Company, for which my great-great-grandfather was treasurer, was the front runner, and being eager to show what they could do, started putting up the light poles on the streets and wiring them. But since the contract wasn’t signed yet, a rival company followed closely behind and cut down the polls as quickly as they were put up. BTW, Thomson-Houston did win the job, and the company they founded is still here–I write them a check each month.

  6. In the early 1900s through at least the 1920s there was an eNORmous Irish and Scots diaspora in Boston, many of the Irish from Ireland directly (or their parents were) and many Scots from Maritimes Canada, like my Granddad. These were the Gaelic equivalent of Boston Brahmins, very wealthy, and very influential – yes, there were MANY more of them than just the Kennedys and the Fitzgeralds! But a lot of them lost a good deal of their fortunes in the early 1920s due to real estate scams, particularly the Florida one the worst of which was ~1922. Always wondered about it, these folks, like my Grandad, were very very smart operators, most of whom had built up fortunes and grand reputations through hard work, good sense, and good luck and timing, when Boston was booming during the 1900s and 19teens. Why, and how, did so many of them lose almost everything like that? By 1925 my Grandad had lost a good half of his fortune, and many of his compatriots did also; then the 1929 crash finished many of them. Who, or how, did they get roped in? Was it only Hubris? Who *did* make money out of it, there likely was someone or several someones!

    There have been many stories about that “rascally” -grin- Joe Kennedy but what about the others, what about the wealthy and influential folks in Boston who were not Brahmins at that time?

    I’d like to express my hopes for a copy of the first-in-series, please. And thanks for allowing me to rant a bit!

    1. Like the recent Madoff scandal. As you wrote, how the heck did these smart, tough businessmen get so conned? I bet someone has written that history.

  7. I grew up in Buffalo and now live in Pittsburgh. I’m sure considering the histories of both cities there are tons of historical tidbits. I just haven’t had the opportunity to use them – yet.

  8. Welcome back to the blog, Triss! Two years ago, on a gorgeous August night, I attended a wedding at an organic farm on the rooftop of one of the buildings in the Brooklyn Naval Yard. The wedding was lovely and the views were breathtaking.

  9. I lived in the country, surrounded by sugar cane plantations. There was a massacre in the late 1880s involving a strike by labor leaders who were trying to organize sugar workers and farm owners who wanted to stop that from happening. Approximately 300 black cane workers and their families were killed, in an area maybe 15 miles from my home, and I never heard a word about it until recently. My mother never heard of it until I told her. I need to get on the stick and write about it, don’t I?

    Good luck with the new book, Triss! I suspect you’ll never run out of Brooklyn stories to inspire you.

    1. Wow. What a horrid story. It should never have been forgotten but you can see why all involved wanted to bury it. It would be a valuable but very hard one to write.

  10. I just moved to a new house in southeastern Connecticut. Lots of history here. I recently discovered that during the Revolutionary War two towns – Groton and New London – were torched by forces commanded by Benedict Arnold. I remember learning that he was a traitor, but didn’t realize how much of a traitor he was. (Love Brooklyn (family lives there – If I’m lucky enough to win, first in series, please!)

    1. Have you ever seen the cable tv series Turn? All about American Revolution spies. Some scenes in CT! And Arnold is an onging character, too. Based on a true story

  11. Welcome back, Triss! I love using real bits of history in my series. I didn’t realize that there was an old Nike Missile site in Bedford until I was on a police ride along. And that there was an urban legend that there were missiles on the base adjacent to the town. Congratulations on your latest book!

  12. Your “inspirations” for stories are incredibly wonderful. I can just picture how my brain would run away with such great incidents. Gotta read the book!.

  13. Love your series, Triss, but you know that! I love your Brooklyn anecdotes. The Italian side of my family always lived in Queens, the Jewish side in Brooklyn. Eventually everyone moved to the Island or Jersey. But my brother now lives in Crown Heights – not far from where our ancestors first settled when they immigrated in the 1880s.

    1. Triss Stein on August 15, 2017 at 11:10 am said:

      Happens a lot in Brooklyn and other parts of NY. One generation works hard to get out of the city and the next moves right back to -sometimes literally – the same neighborhood. Funny, isn’t it?

  14. Happens a lot in Brooklyn and other parts of NY. One generation works hard to get out of the city and the next moves right back to -sometimes literally – the same neighborhood. Funny, isn’t it?

  15. Isn’t it wonderful how those little things can inspire books? I always find stories like that fascinating.

  16. I read a book based on a boy being kidnapped on Christmas Day riding his new bike down at the end of his driveway. Not sure if it’s a true story or not. Set in my home town for the next few days of Billerica, MA.

  17. I love this series so much! Triss recently visited my reading blog, and she always has interesting things to say. And, there is no one better at combining history and mystery together. I knew nothing about Brooklyn before I started reading the Erica Donato series, and now I have fallen in love with it because of you, Triss.

    From my hometown of Maysville, Ky, I know that it was first called Limestone (for obvious reasons) and that Daniel Boone, my great-great-great-great uncle, had a hand in its settlement. I have always wanted to do something with my connection to Daniel in the way of writing. I so admire those that can take history and blend it so beautifully into fiction.

  18. Thank you, Kathy. And it is so cool to think you were related to a real person in the history books, a genuine pioneer. When I was a kid there was a tv actor named Richard Boone who was known to be a descendent. And of course Pat B. Your cousins?

  19. I love mysteries with a historical basis. It makes history so much more interesting than having the history book read at you by the teacher, like I had. Living in the oldest in-land city in the US, I’ve really learned to appreciate history. I would love to start reading your series from book one.

  20. This sounds like a wonderful series! I can’t wait to get started on it. And congratulations on your new release. I love contemporary mysteries that rely on past history.

  21. I grew up in Grand Rapids MI and from the name of the town, you would think there would be rapids in town. Recently when I was back home my sister and I were watching a show in TV about the history of Grand Rapids and they were talking about the huge, thunderous rapids in town. They made so much noise that they were damned up. Now they are talking about restoring the rapids.

  22. Your story has a kind of humorous side, doesn’t it? Or at least irony.One generation calls it progress and the another asks for historical restoration.

  23. I grew up in Boston, specifically South Boston. The Castle Fort and Dorchester Heights both played important roles in protecting the harbor fro the British. U got so excited when I found out about your series. My husband grew up in Brooklyn Heights and still has friends and family living in various Brooklyn Neighborhoods. I can’t wait to start reading your books.

  24. Hi, Elaine: I lived in Cambridge for a couple of great years and always intended to come back to Boston after I finished grad school.Life got in the way , as it tends to do. AND my next book about Brooklyn is set in Brooklyn Heights!

  25. Hi Elaine. I love how you incorporated your town into your mysteries. I grew up at the Jersey shore and that’s where my cozy mysteries are set. Yours sounds like a wonderful series!

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