Kay Williams

Biography

As well as a successful author, Kay Williams is a professional actress. She earned her Actors Equity card in San Francisco where she played many roles, including the title role in Miss Jairus, Cybel in Great God Brown, Rosalind in As You Like It, and Amelia in The House of Bernarda Alba for the nationally famous Actor’s Workshop. She was with the Pittsburgh Playhouse for two years, and from there moved to New York City, living in a 6-floor walkup (a women’s residence that provided free breakfast!!) while she made the rounds. She was hired by the Jackson, MS Theater Center to replace Mercedes McCambridge as Regina in The Little Foxes and stayed on to do several other plays including originating the role of Queen Elizabeth I in a new play, Masquerade, that opened off-Broadway. She has also acted in TV shows and in movies, but finds stage acting more challenging and rewarding.

A lucky break landed her a job with a prize-winning independent filmmaker and that gave her flexible hours to audition and rehearse. She was cast in a number of new off-Broadway plays (it was an exciting time for theater in NYC).

When acting roles began to dry up, it seemed natural to gravitate to writing, and she’s surprised to find she doesn’t miss acting all that much (although she still has occasional nightmares of being onstage and not knowing which play she’s in). A big plus with fiction writing is: you can play all the characters!

The author’s move into the crime-ridden, sleazy Hell’s Kitchen of 1977 provided the catalyst for the award-winning thriller, Butcher of Dreams, co-authored with Eileen Wyman. Kay’s wide ranging acting credits and theater experience gave focus to this character/plot driven mystery that centers around the struggling 42nd Street repertory theater where much of the action takes place.

Kay’s years with the filmmaker gave her production credits for two films, respect for the courage of independent filmmakers, and took her to the Cannes Film Festival, where for a month she shared a villa overlooking the Mediterranean with cast and crew. She traveled with the filmmaker to Leningrad in 1991 where she received the idea for The Matryoshka Murders. Anything could happen here, she thought, in this city at this desperate time (just a few months before the USSR broke apart).

Eileen Wyman, Kay’s writing partner, helped organize photos and notes collected from the trip, and together they drafted a plot and wrote this thriller that begins in Russia and jumps across an ocean to New York City.

Eileen, known to friends as Jo, an amazing, talented woman, tragically passed away on Sept. 6, 2013, just after The Matryoshka Murders was completed, but before the book was published. She is deeply missed by family and friends.

Kay is also a co-author of the comic romance One Last Dance: It’s Never Too Late to Fall in Love, started by her journalist father Mardo Williams, and finished by her and her sister Jerri Lawrence. One Last Dance has won several awards, including an Ohioana Award (to Jerri and Kay) for writing and editing excellence.

Coming next (dedicated to Jo) will be a series: New York City, Collected Letters, 1956-57: Were We Ever That Young?, the hilarious, heart-breaking and hair-raising adventures of two starry-eyed girls from the Midwest (Kay and Jo) who arrive in New York City with big dreams of success. Part Two will be San Francisco, Collected Letters, the Sixties.

Smashwords Interview

Can you tell us about Eileen’s and your journeys to becoming published authors?
My co-author Eileen Wyman and I knew each other in high school but became real friends when we worked at a radio-tv station in Columbus, Ohio. We both wanted the same things--to escape the stultifying roles for women that existed at that time, and to develop our talents, she as a writer, me as an actress, in a nurturing environment. Our quest made us gypsies for the first 20 years. We went from our first adventure in New York City, a dismal, ego-shattering failure, to the San Francisco-Bay Area (where we developed our talents and gained self-confidence), then back East to Pittsburgh, finally returning to New York (with a stopover for Kay in Jackson, Mississippi for a year of regional repertory). We earned money from our art, but most years not enough to live on, so we worked day jobs too.

When we started writing, we still had our day jobs so we wrote at 4:00am weekdays before work and on the week-ends. (It took forever to finish a book, but we persevered.) Through the Mystery Writers of America, we found a writers’ group who provided invaluable feedback for our first thriller, Butcher of Dreams, and three more titles beyond, including The Matryoshka Murders.

(This group helped my journalist Dad revise his first book, a biography/memoir, about his mother Maude, and my sister Jerri and me to revise his second book, One Last Dance, a comic romance that we finished after his death at age 95.) The Writers’ Groups still meets. I don’t know what I’d do without it.
What impact have your acting and filmmaking skills had on your writing?
Kay: I have performed in so many plays (and a few films) and done so many audition scenes, I understand (by osmosis, I think) the arc of a satisfying scene --with a beginning, middle and end--and I recognize good dialogue (not too clunky or expository). Also I visualize scenes as if I were seeing a film: a wide shot here, a close up there, a pan, an establishing shot, a cutaway.

Finding a character’s through-line carried over to my writing. Also knowing how to search for a play’s spine steadied our focus as the number of chapters grew.

Eileen was a enthusiastic student of improvisational comedy; as an actor I improvised scenes not in the play to enrich my role and my relationship with the other characters. When Eileen or I had writer’s block, we improvised, doing speed writing, not playing safe, letting everything out. Sometimes it produced a small crack so could move forward. Other times it gave us huge breakthroughs, as when we had to re-think our path to the conclusion of the book.

Even with a leg up, writing is hard, hard work. All you authors out there, if you can find a good group of writers whose talent and judgment you respect, that’s a real plus. The writers’ group helped us shape our work, and we learned to critique theirs, giving us a critical skill we hadn’t had when we started writing.

As an actor, I read between the lines, searching for subtext in the dialogue. Often I would understand what was happening in a dialogue-heavy scene read by another writer, while my colleagues were confused, and said they needed a narrative guide in addition to the dialogue. To have that pointed out, that most people didn’t read the way I did, that I represented a small percentage of readers who might “get” that scene, was eye-opening (and helped my writing).
Read more of this interview.

Where to find Kay Williams online


Where to buy in print


Videos

The Matryoshka Murders-Book Trailer
Kate Hennesey, guerrilla filmmaker, is chased by the KGB through perestroika's Leningrad, only to find back home in NYC she's still THE HUNTED . . .

Hello From East, the Iron Curtain is Broken
I think these fearless activists were a forerunner of today’s Pussy Riot, a feminist rock protest group, three of whose members were jailed by Russian officials in 2012 for their “hooliganism” or heresy. Pussy Riot’s themes are much the same as the Laboratory of Experimental Modeling’s were over 20 years ago: feminism, LGBT rights, and opposition to the policies of political leaders. Warning: This show has partial nudity. For mature audiences.

Books

The Matryoshka Murders
Price: $9.99 USD. Words: 135,090. Language: English. Published: April 16, 2015 by Calliope Press. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Crime thriller
Gutsy Kate Hennessey is filming a documentary that targets the harsh choices faced by women in Russia. But killers soon target Kate, and each harrowing escape draws her deeper into the nested plots that threaten. Readers will cheer as she and her Russian friends struggle through the political chaos of Russia—and America—in 1991. "This is a beautifully written, soulful thriller." S. Elghanayan
Butcher of Dreams
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 171,530. Language: English. Published: August 11, 2010 by Calliope Press. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Women Sleuths, Fiction » Mystery & detective » General
(5.00)
After a ritual Aztec mask is stolen during a cast party, actress Lee Fairchild finds her world ripped apart by the attentions of something invasive and elemental. An actor is stabbed; an actress is poisoned. Events culminate in ritual murder. Over all hovers the Mexican mask and the shadowy figure who controls it. Lee must fight a madman to save her theater and herself.
One Last Dance: It's Never Too Late to Fall in Love
Price: $9.99 USD. Words: 140,130. Language: English. Published: June 18, 2010 by Calliope Press. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Adult, Fiction » Romance » Contemporary
After a disastrous first meeting, Morgan, 89, moves in with Dixie, age 79, strictly a business arrangement, both maintain. But Morgan has more frivolous pursuits in mind. When a troubled grandson collides with the daring course set by the lovers, not only does he save their lives, but he brings Dixie and Morgan the love and pride they’d lost decades before with the loss of their children.

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