Edith here, not quite believing it’s suddenly December… But it’s my friend Triss Stein‘s book birthday, and I can’t wait to read this new installment in a series I love. Read to the end for a giveaway! Take it away, Triss.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!
Today is my book birthday and I am so happy to celebrate with the writers at the Wicked Authors and their readers. Brooklyn Legacies is the new baby, fifth in the series about the Brooklyn adventures of amateur sleuth and urban historian Erica Donato.
The search for a lost portrait of Brooklyn’s own genius Walt Whitman sends urban historian Dr. Erica Donato into Brooklyn Heights, a neighborhood of quaint and charming streets, family names out of history, and spectacular views of the harbor and the world-famous bridge. New York’s first suburb has long weathered political battles about neighborhood preservation and destruction. Is a new one shaping up?
As she studies the history of Brooklyn’s very diverse neighborhoods, Erica’s questions lead to people who are keeping secrets and do not want questions to be asked, let alone answered. Mysteries ensue.
Legacies begins with a McGuffin, a device I haven’t used before. What’s a McGuffin? If you’re a writer, or an avid mystery fan, you might be waving your hand and saying “I know! I know!” Or maybe not, so I’ll explain briefly. It’s a tool used to create a mystery plot and is usually associated with one of the masters, Alfred Hitchcock himself. It is, essentially, the “thing” that gets the story rolling, without necessarily being of any value itself. And it is not what the story is actually about.
Sounds slippery? Of course. It is Hitchcock, after all.
I never set out to write such a story – I’m not foolish enough to compete with Hitchcock – but in my new book I did it by accident. It seemed perfectly reasonable at the time.
I wanted to write about Brooklyn Heights, arguably Brooklyn’s loveliest and certainly most quaint neighborhood, with old streets, the dramatic harbor and Wall Street skyline, home to a famous abolitionist and many centuries of famous writers, a huge religious organization, a witchcraft shop and at least one famous stripper. And that most famous bridge.
It was New York’s first suburb and its first official historic district too. Just choosing which pieces of its long history to focus on would be a challenge, but first I had to get Erica over there to discover a small historical mystery. Then that one could lead to a bigger, more up-to-date mystery. In other words, I needed a McGuffin.
It dropped into my hands, a gift from someone I interviewed. He handed me a thin file of information about a long-lost bronze portrait of Brooklyn’s own genius, Walt Whitman. It had marked the building where Leaves of Grass was printed. Whitman did some of the printing himself. And when the building was torn down, the portrait disappeared.
Erica, having finally finished graduate school, is employed at the Brooklyn Museum… where there happens to be a collection of rescued architectural sculpture.
Why not give her an assignment to research the missing Whitman portrait? And have her meet an angry old woman who turns out to be one of her own professional idols? And she is involved in a feud with the Jehovah’s Witnesses? And the Witnesses’ many buildings are connected by underground tunnels? You can guess my first thought about those tunnels – what a great place to hide a body. So then there needs to be a body… And all of this happens in just the first few chapters.
There I was, writing a book much different than the one I planned, led astray by a McGuffin.
What happens to that sculpture? Ah, well, you would have to read the book to find out, because it disappears until the final chapter. The statue existed, by the way, but since, Brooklyn Legacies is fiction, I wrote it the way I thought it should end. I hope you will agree.
Readers: did you ever find yourself led astray by the writer’s deception, or do you usually know when you are being conned? (In the nicest way, of course.) And writers, have you ever been surprised by your own work? I’ll send one US commenter a copy of the book, too – giveaway is open until end of day on December 6.
Triss Stein is a small–town girl who has spent most of her adult life in Brooklyn. In the new book, Brooklyn Legacies, old and new crimes get in the way as heroine, Erica Donato tries to understand the seismic changes affecting historic Brooklyn Heights.