Triss Stein Book Birthday!

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.


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.

44 Thoughts

  1. What a great story, Triss!

    There have been a couple times when I started writing one thing and the story went in a different direction. Always a “huh, didn’t see that coming moment.” I can only hope it was that way for the reader!

  2. Sounds delicious, and I love Brooklyn! Yes, I have had a story start out one way and develop in a completely new direction. It’s been my fortunate experience to discover that the story is usually right.

    1. Hi, Kait: always happy to hear from another Brooklyn lover. And I agree, following the story is usually the way to go. It means it has come alive, right?

    1. Good morning, Sherry, and thank you. Yes, that surprise – “where did that come from !” – is what keeps us going through the parts that seem like slogs, right?

  3. I love this series and the historical background is the icing on the cake. As a former Brooklyn girl I love that I recognize the settings as places that are very familiar to me. I can’t wait to read this new book and figure out what this McGuffin is all about!

  4. Congratulations on the book birthday for “Brooklyn Legacies”! I can’t wait for the opportunity to read it. Definitely one on my TBR list and one I know I’m going to love.

    Most assuredly I’ve been lead down one path only to find it either dead ends or takes me the opposite direction that I needed to go. I think that’s the work of a great author when they are so convincing that you just know you have the answers only to have the rug pulled out from under you showing that you are 100% wrong. Then when the true solution is revealed it not only makes perfect sense but you wonder how you couldn’t have seen that as your solution all along. I love it when an author delivers that so smoothly that you shut the book and say “now that was a GREAT read”.

    Thank you for the fabulous chance to win a copy. I would love to dive right in reading!
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Kay, thank you for your enthusiasm – a great way to start the day – and how well you expressed what god writing gives us. I have become addicted to the tv show This Is Us because it almost never goes where I expect it to – great writing.

  5. What a fun way the story evolved.

    Sometimes I recognize a McGuffin when I see one. Other times I don’t. And I’d say half the time I am conned by a writer. Not that I really want to figure things out too early.

  6. I love being conned by a good writer. That’s half the fun. Like Mark, I don’t want to figure out the story too far in advance. When it comes to cozy mysteries, I’m really gullible because I just read for the fun of it, not as serious research. I have to force myself to be a more careful reader by my book club, but that’s a whole different aspect of reading for me.

    Your book sounds very intriguing and I will certainly add it to my TBR pile.

  7. Hi, Ginny and Mark- your thoughts are so similar, I hope you don’t mind one response. I think that “con” is part of the fun of reading mysteries, isn’t it? Certainly, if you read a lot of them, let alone try writing one, often the solution is apparent even if you are not trying. (I often don’t even try, but If it’s set up a certain way, then there are only a couple of possible places it can end up. Unless! Every once in awhile, the setup is so devious, you can be well into it before the light dawns. Like, Gone, Girl, where I didn’t see until about half way that everything the author had told us so far about the crime was itself a lie. Or my first Tana French book, where the person I thought was guilty actually was, but after only she made it look impossible. And then ( here is the brilliance) the how and why were a complete, yet believable, surprise. (Wow)

  8. Triss, I love this Brooklyn series so much. I’ve become a real Brooklyn fan from reading Erica Donato’s adventures. Brooklyn Legacies is another amazing story about this intriguing place. Please keep them coming!

  9. Dear Wicked readers – I must leave for a little while, but I will be back later in the afternoon to continue this lively conversation. Triss

  10. I didn’t used to believe writers who said, “I didn’t see that coming,” but once I became a writer, I can totally relate. So much has landed on the page without me planning it first. Your McGuffin sounds perfect, and the fact that there’s truth behind it and how it landed in your lap, that’s a writer’s dream come true. Good luck with this new book and I look forward to reading it.

  11. Happy Book Birthday, Triss! I really like a book that takes me down paths that I don’t expect and keeps me wondering until the end.

  12. I usually don’t guess the murderer and don’t want to be able to figure it out quickly. Sometimes there is a real twist. As a city person, I’m glad to see a series that isn’t set in a small town. Yours sounds very interesting with the historical aspect, which I enjoy.

    1. Hi, Sally: You have almost figured out how this whole series got started. So many mysteries are either: 1. small town or 2. big city stories about the damaged lone wolf walking the mean streets. I wondered if it would be possible to write a mystery series set in a big city that was more like the life I Iived and saw all around me – people with family, friends, jobs, homes, neighborhoods. Mortgages! That’s reality too. Not too cute and not too bleak. I hope you enjoy this one.

  13. I am surprised quite often by how a book turns out or who is actually the evil doer. I like a book that has twists and turns and keeps you guessing and on your toes. That makes a great read! Those are the books I can’t put down!

  14. Congratulations, Happy Book Birthday to you!! Your book sounds like a very good read.

  15. It’s 11 PM on the east coast. Time for bed but I will check in early tomorrow to respond to any late night posts. My thanks to Edith for inviting me. It’s been fun to spend the day with the Wickeds readers. Best to all, Triss

  16. It’s after 11 PM on the east coast and time for bed. I’ll check in early tomorrow to see if. there were any late night comments. My thanks to Edith for inviting me and to everyone who joined the conversation. It’s been a fun to psend the day with the wickeds readers. Best to all, Triss

  17. Hi Triss- I can’t wait to read your book, and ‘visit’ Brooklyn and Whitman. I loved learning about McGuffin. I am constantly deceived by McGuffins- like the key in Dial M for Murder – and I’m not even aware of it at the time. I’m a fellow PPP author, btw!

  18. Hi Triss- Congrats on your bookday! I can’t wait to read Brooklyn Legacies and ‘visit’ Brooklyn and Whitman. I loved learning about McGuffin- I am a sucker – like the key in M is for Murder – and I love it when it’s well done! I am a fellow PPP author, btw!

  19. Ah, it’s late for me as well, but I just wanted to chime in. I loved the first book in the Brooklyn series, which is the only one I’ve read so far. I especially loved the mother-daughter relationship. And of course, the history. I’m looking forward to continuing the series. And as for the McGuffin–wouldn’t that be a wonderful premise for a short story anthology? Something like “Me and McGuffin” or “The McGuffin Always Rings First.”


    1. That is a great idea for an anthology. As to the series I write – they all have some history and they all have some mother-daughter relationship changes, too. I hope you enjoy

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