Wednesday, July 20, 2016

From Cupcakes to Books, or How I Came to Love New York: Guest post by Rosemary Stevens

Rosemary Stevens is the author of eleven novels. For her Beau Brummell Mystery Series she won both the Agatha Award for Best First Mystery and the RT Reviewers Choice Award, also for Best First Mystery. Her Murder-A-Go-Go Mystery Series was listed in the Required Reading section of the New York Post. She lives in the Shenandoah Valley with her family including two Siamese cats. And Flash News: Rosemary Steven's Murder-A-Go-Go mystery series set in the 1960s has been optioned for television. Stay tuned! This article first appeared in the Mystery Readers Journal: New York City Mysteries II (Vol 32:2)

Rosemary Stevens:
From cupcakes to books, or how I came to love New York 

I was only three or four years old at the time, but I remember the very best cupcake I’ve ever had in my life. It was the end of the 1960s, and my parents and I had traveled from Virginia to New York City to visit both sets of grandparents for the Easter holidays. One afternoon, my father was driving and my mother made him stop outside a bakery. She ran inside and reappeared a few minutes later with a white box tied with a white string. We continued to a nearby park, the name of which, if I ever knew, I’ve long forgotten, and sat down at a picnic table. And that’s when my mom handed me the best cupcake (a humble vanilla) I’d ever had before or since.

The cupcake memory is one of dozens of New York memories I’ve accumulated through the years. There were more visits with my grandparents; the long wood table at Grandma Mary’s apartment covered with an ironed white tablecloth, chock-full with holiday foods, a tinsel-heavy Christmas tree; “going down” to buy candy at the corner store—no cars involved. Then a church filled with people dressed in black when my grandfather died, visiting the hospital when my grandmother had cancer.

Through good and bad, and more cupcakes, one thing was certain: I had fallen in love with New York and considered it another home.

Should I mention the time when I was seventeen and ran away from home? I will, because it’s easy to guess that an unhappy teenager would take the train from Richmond to Penn Station never intending to return south. I met up with my equally young cousin who drove us through the streets of the City with the windows down on a summer afternoon, both of us laughing and me feeling like anything was possible because I was back in Manhattan! Manhattan, with its medley of sounds and sights and smells, the place that made me feel like no other, where hope spiraled into the stratosphere, where my smile rarely faltered, where something exciting would happen any second. I just knew it.

Years later, a honeymoon at the Plaza Hotel, where the huge chocolate Easter bunny in the lobby brought back memories of that earlier Easter. The marriage didn’t last, but my love for New York never wavered. I had brunch at Tavern on the Green in the Crystal Room and dresses from Ohrbach’s and Macy’s—New York dresses--to add to my NYC memories. December of 1992 brought me to the City again, this time to be part of Paul McCartney’s rehearsal audience for a VH1 special at the Ed Sullivan Theater. This trip, I caught plays, went shopping, visited the Met, Central Park, ate the best food in the world and just walked around. Rockefeller Center was decorated for Christmas, wrapped in that special feeling. Uh, until that nor’easter hit.

So it felt quite natural when in 1995, the most exciting thing to happen to me professionally came from New York; a phone call from a wonderful editor who bought my first book.

Through the years and books that followed, I traveled to New York more often; after all, it was business, right? On every trip I experienced that same hope, that energy, that high I’d had throughout my life when visiting the City.

Then an unthinkable, terrible low on September 11, 2001, and tears that came in a flood and a heaviness that still comes to my heart.

In 2004 when it was time to begin another mystery series, I thought of setting a series in New York. There was so much good work, serious work, out there set in NYC. What could I bring to the table? Maybe something light, whimsical, a romp. I found myself turning to the 1960s.

Before TV brought us single, working girl Mary Richards in the 1970s, there was That Girl starring Marlo Thomas. On the surface, That Girl was a frothy show with fun clothes set in New York. But if you looked closer, you’d see a single woman taking charge of her life, a daring thing on TV in the 1960s. Prior to That Girl, women on TV were portrayed mainly as wives, mothers, or floozies. That Girl was a breakthrough series with lasting influence, because girls across the country watched the show and saw themselves, and saw possibilities.

I decided 1964 would be the best year to start the series. Because the first book revolves around the murder of the guitarist in a British Invasion band, I wanted to use the same year the Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time. 1964 also meant I could incorporate my love for mid-century furniture as well as mod fashion.

As for the main character, a sheltered young woman living in the South felt like an older sister or cousin, and the character of Elizabeth “Bebe” Bennett was born.

Bebe’s dream is to move to New York City. She finishes courses at a secretarial school and moves over five hundred miles from home, on her own, to New York. When she gets there, she doesn’t expect to fall into sleuthing, but she finds she’s good at it, even as she sometimes bumbles along. And, yes, she falls for her boss, but her emerging career, her new roommate and friends, and her refusal to move back to the South despite her family’s pleadings, show a determined, independent young woman on her own path. Even if there are a few dead bodies in the way.

I was in New York last summer. It had been a long time between visits as I’d recently spent six years in a very different kind of city, Los Angeles. But when I walked out of Penn Station, tears of happiness filled my eyes as New York worked its magic on me.

No comments: