Monday, December 12, 2011


And come one,
come all, to the Partners & Crime bookstore for a
launch party on Thursday,
December 15th, at 7pm.
How I Came to Write This Story: Lois Karlin, “The Understudy”*

When the call went out for submissions to the NY/Tri-State
chapter’s Sisters in Crime anthology, the guidelines inspired
a foray into New York neighborhoods off the tourist track.
I knew right away I wanted my story set in and around the
Bowery during the still-seedy late ’70’s. I could relate to
the era, and I wanted a noir tale that would capture the
neighborhood’s flavor before it was entirely snuffed out by

I was fortunate to have a neighbor who had worked in a firehouse in the Lower

East Side near Alphabet City. The firehouse was right across the street from a
favorite drug spot for junkies - true story - where smack sold at a premium because
resuscitation was available. I left Carl’s house with stories about the city on fire,
layouts of

tenements and lofts, and notes on heroin addicts and
Wall Street junkies, gangs,
skid row, and flophouses.

I’d already begun writing about a
nineteen year old living by
her wits, who’d wandered to the
neighborhood in order to
squat in an abandoned tenement building.

Then Carl mentioned a couple of suburban college

girls who had tried to make it among the druggies and street
people, living
rent-free next to the bricked up building where
junkies lined up for each new
batch of heroin.

The two girls, crushed by the reality of a life they’d

romanticized, inspired my protagonist’s look-alike friend
from a wealthy family
in Greenwich, CT. They survived. For awhile. I didn’t know
where the story
was going. When those girls got lost in the world of smack it
was a surprise to me.
When they switched places the story led to the Bowery,
and to doom. For a glimpse
of that slice of life I thank Carl and the internet.

Thank you, Patti, for the
chance to talk about The Understudy and the SinC anthology. You can read a snippet
of each story, and a word about the authors and book availability, at Murder
New York Style: Fresh Slices.


Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Thanks for hosting Lois.

Lois - Isn't it interesting how sometimes the seediest places can generate the most fascinating stories? This one sounds terrific and I wish you much success.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Patti, thanks so much for hosting Lois. "The Understudy" is a story that really needed to be tld and Lois has just the right voice and tempo to make it superb.

Lois Karlin said...

Thanks to Patti for providing a forum so that people can to get to know our stories. I hope you'll click over to to see pictures and a My Town Monday post on the world of the Lower East Side in the late 70s/early 80s as compared with today.

Charles Gramlich said...

A favorite drug spot because resuscitation was available. Wow! I never would have thought of that. What a great theme for a story.

Anita Page said...

I spent some time on the Lower East Side in the seventies, and Lois really captures the atmosphere of the place in "The Understudy." As raw and gritty as the neighborhood was in those days, I find the gentrification depressing. It's done nothing for the people who need help except displace them.

Clare2e said...

I really enjoyed The Understudy, capturing NYC from before I moved here. The sense of place and edgy desperation is palpable.

Word verification: cooti, as in "On the Lower East Side in the 70's, tenements were known for transmitting cooties."

Lois Karlin said...

Clare . . . as in bedbugs? :/