May 23, 2013

Made It Moment: Kay Kendall

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 6:52 pm

Desolation Row

I love Kay Kendall’s Moment because it reminds us all to focus on the moments–plural–along the way, and that is a lesson that every writer must learn. Self, I’m talking to you.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during the first third of my own crazy debut year, it’s what the authors in this forum have been trying to teach me all along. There is no Made It Moment. You can always look up or down the ladder. Stephen King yearned to be regarded as a man of letters (till The New Yorker finally started giving him his due). Unagented writers want an agent, unpublished ones a contract; self-published authors want more sales, people who haven’t written that first daring word yet want a finished manuscript. The perpetual state of want keeps we writers hungry, an arguably necessary condition. But messages like the one Kay is about to offer now will keep us happy.

You see, Kay discovered that it’s all about the numbers. Thirteen of them. Read on.

Kay Kendall

Soon after I announced the coming publication of my debut mystery, Jenny invited me to participate in this “Made It Moment” series. Of course I accepted her generous offer, even though I was only at the first mile post of a journey that could stretch out for many miles, with various “made it” stations along the way.

Let’s back up a few years, to when I began that journey. I entered the starting blocks at the onset of the new millennium when I set two goals. First, I was going to write a book. (In the process, I learned it’s customary to call your work in progress either your manuscript or your pages. The term book is reserved for something published.) After several years, I completed that goal (slightly revised to say manuscript), stood still for a moment to savor that victory, and then proceeded on down the road to my next goal—getting a contract to have my novel issued by a real publishing house. Alas, that never happened. I laid my first manuscript aside and took a hiatus.

Nevertheless, something still compelled me to write. For my second manuscript I chose the broadly defined mystery genre, and my degrees in history inspired me to emulate the sub-set of thrillers set during and between World Wars I and II. The result is Desolation Row, published this spring by Stairway Press of Seattle.

Desolation Row takes place in 1968, in Toronto, Canada, during the Vietnam War when American expatriates become enveloped in murder and suspense involving one of their own. The homesick bride of an anti-war activist must prove her husband did not murder a fellow draft resister, the black-sheep son of a U.S. Senator.  The first in a series, Desolation Row introduces amateur sleuth Austin Starr, recruited by the CIA because of her knowledge of Russian history and language. She gives up the spy game when she flees to Canada with her new husband but never loses her passion to investigate.

When the publisher of Stairway Press said he would publish this book, I was overcome with joy—and not a little relief. After performing due diligence about the company, I agreed to sign the Stairway contract. When the paperwork arrived in the mail, already signed by the publisher, my “made it moment” was about to hit.

I read through the contract slowly until I reached the ISBN numbers—one each for the paperback and for the electronic version. I could only stare at these beautiful numbers that sealed the fact that this was all real, not a dream. My second goal was achieved. I was becoming a published author. Yes, seeing those little ISBN numbers constituted my own made it moment.

Since that breathtaking day I’ve had other smaller such moments, and I’m careful to stop to relish each one. Receiving my first check, getting two bestselling authors to write cover blurbs for me, seeing my book listed on Amazon, talking by Skype to book club members who’ve chosen to read Desolation Row, and so on.

None of these however—wonderful as each was—packed the stunning wallop of those two International Standard Book Numbers.

Kay Kendall grew up in the bucolic Flint Hills of Kansas but dreamed of returning to her father’s ancestral home of Texas and also of becoming a latter-day Nancy Drew or John le Carré. Instead, higher education and circumstance led her down a long and winding road (footnote, the Beatles) to graduate studies in history at Harvard, to Canada, international corporate communications, work in Russia, and finally, finally, her beloved Texas.

She is writing her second Austin Starr mystery, Rainy Day Women, at her Texas home shared with her husband Bruce, Wills their cavalier King Charles spaniel, plus five house rabbits. Her next aspiration is to become an author able to say she “lives part-time in the Cotswolds,” an anglophile’s version of her upbringing.


  1. Congrats, Kay! It’s an interesting road to travel. Best wishes on the next part of your journey.

    Comment by Pamela DuMond — May 23, 2013 @ 9:24 pm

  2. Thank you, Pamela. It may sound trite but it’s nevertheless true that I’m living my dream. I feel like I’ve finally found/fallen into…my niche.

    Comment by Kay Kendall — May 23, 2013 @ 10:11 pm

  3. This is fascinating. Thanks, Kay, for telling us about your made-it moment, and congrats on getting your first book published. Earlier this century when I got my first novel published, I didn’t know what an ISBN number was! I had to ask. But I agree, there are those wonderful moments along the way that reinforce how fun and important the journey itself is. There are lots of wonderful moments.

    Comment by Jan Christensen — May 23, 2013 @ 10:39 pm

  4. There’s so much to learn about the publishing world and even though I read everything I can, it’s hard to know it all. And then there are all the the changes taking place. Incredible. I must say that Jenny Milchman seems to know everything and is kind and generous about sharing her knowledge. I love it all….hmm, which is not to say that I wouldn’t change a thing or two, if I were given a magic wand!

    Comment by Kay Kendall — May 23, 2013 @ 10:50 pm

  5. Congratulations on getting your book published and for sharing the experience. So interesting. Good luck with your second book too. I had a double take when I saw your name. There was a famous English actress called Kay Kendall and for a moment I thought I was imagining things. Much success and may you biggest Made It Moment come soon for you.

    Comment by Jane Risdon — May 24, 2013 @ 3:27 am

  6. Bunnyyyyyyyyyyyy! Love “made it” stations

    Comment by Savvy — May 24, 2013 @ 10:37 am

  7. Yay, Kay! Good to see you here. Loved reading about your Made It Moment. Wishing you tons of success!

    Comment by Linda Rodriguez — May 24, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

  8. Love the era. Great set up!

    Comment by Yves Fey — May 24, 2013 @ 1:01 pm

  9. I am looking forward to reading Kay’s book because 1968 is such a pivotal year in our history. Also because it is also the year our series begins. Great Moment. I love it.

    Comment by Nash Black — May 24, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

  10. Yes, Jane, I loved that English actress Kay Kendall as a child since I was a sucker for film musicals like Les Girls. She was gorgeous, talented, and so funny. I read her biography when I was 35 and had already outlived the poor woman by three years. I introduced myself to her stepson Noel Harrison backstage once after his performance with his stepmother’s name. Truly, his mouth hung open. He was very nice. The actress was Rex Harrison’s second wife. At least once a month in the old days in Canada, people would comment on her/my name. These days I know, courtesy of the web, that there are numerous of us. In the US, and has time has passed, at least three times a year someone mentions that actress.

    Savvy, yes, that bunny is named Dusty and she, like all of our (total of) five rabbits is a rescue. They are wonderful animals to live with, so individual and fun and loving.
    When my three-year-old granddaughter saw the photo, she said, “Look at Gramma with that great big kitty” and that’s because Dusty is an angora. Their ears aren’t so long.

    Hi, Linda, nice to see YOU here! I am reading your first novel on my Kindle and enjoying it heaps!

    Comment by Kay Kendall — May 24, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

  11. Wishing you and Austin Starr much success, Kay! May you enjoy each step along the way. Thanks for letting us in on your journey.

    Comment by Marjorie Brody — May 24, 2013 @ 8:03 pm

  12. So happy for you! It’s funny you say that, since we are a lot alike in many ways, and this is no different–when I saw my ISBNs, I teared up. It made it real. Congratulations to my fellow Stairway Press Princess! (Do you like that? I made it up on the fly ;-) )

    Comment by colbymarshall — May 25, 2013 @ 12:39 am

  13. Dear Marjorie, thank you for your good wishes. I’m hoping our plans to take some steps along the publishing path together, joint signings, come to fruition.

    Hey there, fellow Stairway Press Princess Colby, I like your term. It’s fun…but not as cool as seeing those official ISBN numbers for the first time, eh? Write on!

    Comment by Kay Kendall — May 25, 2013 @ 1:11 am

  14. Kay, best of luck with the book. I look forward to reading it. What an intriguing concept–especially for those of us with memories of sixties.

    Comment by Anita Page — May 25, 2013 @ 7:58 am

  15. Anita, thank you. I hope you will enjoy reading Desolation Row. I tried to keep the political rhetoric minimal. My next mystery is Rainy Day Women, set in a women’s liberation group in 1970. The third will be Tangled Up in Blue. The titles are code to children of the sixties, who will recognize the Bob Dylan songs.

    Comment by Kay Kendall — May 25, 2013 @ 9:59 am

  16. For Yves and Nash, since you both mentioned that you love the era of the sixties, you may be interested to note that some readers told me they can’t read about that time. Their memories aren’t good. One said, “That time was too hard on me.” Another said, “Once was enough.” There aren’t many mystery series set in the sixties. I always wondered why. But I figured that it was a niche that needed filling and that I’m the one to do it. Besides, I couldn’t help myself. I had to do it!

    Comment by Kay Kendall — May 25, 2013 @ 10:12 am

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