CHESHIRE — Ella Shane was born on the streets of New York — Washington Square Park, to be precise.
There were no doctors or nurses present, no hospital personnel there to welcome a newborn into the world. In fact, when Ella Shane entered the world, she did so as a fully-formed woman, complete with a career and adventures awaiting her.
That’s because Ella was birthed in the imagination of Cheshire’s Kathleen Marple Kalb, perhaps best known for her role as weekend anchor on the New York-based 1010 WINS radio show, but who has been a writer at heart since her teenage years.
It was on those walks through the historic Washington Square area of NYC — its lush scenery and never-ceasing vibrancy that sits comfortably inside the stylish Greenwich Village neighborhood of lower Manhattan — that Kalb’s creation took her first breath.
“The area looks like it did during the Gilded Age … and I would walk to work through the park and think about who would live there (back in the 19th century),” recalls Kalb. “I thought, ‘Ella would live here,’ and it all kind of went from there.”
Those first tentacles of an idea about a determined young woman making her way in the world during a time of historic upheaval in America would soon blossom into Kalb’s first book, “A Fatal Finale (An Elle Shane Mystery),” published by Kensington Publishing Corp. last year. It was Kalb’s debut novel, but it didn’t take long before Ella Shane was back at it on another adventure when Kalb’s second novel, “A Fatal First Night,” was published in April.
Now, Kalb will be talking about her books tonight at 6:30 p.m. in a virtual presentation by the Cheshire Public Library. Register online at cheshirelibrary.org.
“I think what people will notice about (‘Fatal First Night’) is that it’s a bit sneakier than (‘Fatal Finale’),” Kalb explained, with a laugh. “I think I was better at hiding the evidence, and I really learned how to weave a second interlocking story (into the plot).”
The series follows the exploits of previously-mentioned Ella Shane, an opera singer who, along with her cousin, owns an opera house in New York in 1899. Ella is what was known as a “trouser diva” in the early theatre, playing male roles in productions. She’s also a career-driven woman of the late 19th century, trying to juggle the demands of what it meant to be a woman at that particular moment in history with her desire to chart her own life.
But of course, a good mystery wouldn’t be complete without an old-fashioned murder, and Ella always seems to find herself knee-deep in an unsolved crime. In “Fatal First Night,” Ella’s co-star is accused of murder, and the book takes the reader on a journey to figure out exactly who may have committed the terrible crime, all while digging deeper into the life of Ella Shane.
For Kalb, the maturation of her main character has been the biggest part of her evolution as a writer. While she dabbled in creative writing as a teenager, Kalb looks back on those first stories with a sense of nostalgia, but also an understanding of how far her writing had yet to go.
A few years ago, after her young son began school and she found herself with more time on her hands, Kalb took up writing once again and revisited the stories she had constructed as a teen, and from that the rough outlines of a book series entitled “The Vermont Radio Mysteries” sprung.
However, Kalb’s initial draft had as its focus a hero that, quite frankly, just didn’t rise to the level she wanted.
“It was a light and fluffy character,” said Kalb. “But the project, it just wasn’t happening for me. That’s when I realized I wanted a character with more depth.”
As Kalb has begun this second career as an author, the challenge has been time. That was one of the reasons why, in her younger days, she put off her writing hobby after college.
“I got a job that was 100 hours a week,” she said, having begun her radio career as a news director at a radio station in Vermont back in 1993. “So from that standpoint, you’re doing everything.”
Later, as Kalb slowly eased her way back into writing, she produced a lot of shorter pieces, always where she could “see the end.” Tackling a novel meant really engrossing herself in both the story and character development, while also being ready for the surprises along the way.
The Ella Shane novels have been described as “cozy mystery” but Kalb promises that there are plenty of twists and turns, as well as deep character arcs, for fans of all types to chew on.
And for those who can’t get enough of Ella and her friends, Kalb promises that work has already begun on the next adventure, where the opera singer will yet again be asked to tackle a crime and save the day.
“(Writing) is something I just love, and for anyone who does, the idea of seeing your name on a book cover is just… ” she said, trailing off. “When my first book was published, I received my author copies on a day they were having a (drive-by celebration). I went outside as the fire engines were driving by to wave, and I saw the books. I just started jumping up and down saying, ‘That’s my book, that’s my book.’ It is really just so special.”
Both of Kalb’s books are available now via Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also visit her website at www.kathleenmarplekalb.com for more information.