Kandy Williams is known to us as a founding member and current vice president and board member of Buckeye Crime Writers and a friend. As her alter ego, Mercedes King, she’s the author of several books, two of which were published last year, Every Little Secret and Grave Secrets, and the first of a four-book series, a fictional account based on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Jackie’s Paris, which was released this year. The second novel in that series, Jackie’s Camelot, will be released on November 22, 2021.
Kandy and her family are avid fans of the Chicago Cubs and traveling to research her favorite subjects. Kandy also had a short story in the popular anthology, Columbus Noir, and was a 2016 and 2017 finalist for the Killer Nashville/Claymore Award. Eileen Curley Hammond caught up with Kandy recently to discuss her mix of writing genres (thrillers/mysteries/historicals) and love of all things Jackie. Learn more about Kandy at www.mercedesking.com.
ECH: It seems that most of the stories you’ve written have some thread of reality to them. What draws you to this type of writing?
KW: I absolutely love to start with a true story, whittle it down to the bones, and rewrite it with a mix of truth and creative liberties. I think it speaks to so many things, but in particular, there are always secrets and insights and details about the most high-profile cases that aren’t released to the public…until they are, and BAM, it’s so unexpected. That’s my goal, to surprise readers even if they think they know the story.
ECH: In 2020, you released two thrillers. This year, your first “Jackie” book. Why the change in genre, and did you have difficulty making the leap?
KW: Switching up genres is a must for me because I prefer not to write in one category for long stretches. Writing historicals demands research — and it’s not always easy to find the answers you need quickly. Jumping over to more modern-day mysteries can feel like a vacation in comparison, until I run into questions about procedure or forensics. Writing in different genres keeps it fresh and challenging for me. I also hope it means my writing evolves and gets better.
ECH: What attracts you to people’s secrets?
KW: It’s hard to keep secrets these days, especially with devices like Alexa listening in. I’m drawn to the lengths people will go in order to hide the truth, especially if it’s something so big, eventually it will come out, like a monster outgrowing its cage. Everybody has secrets, and they aren’t all life-altering, but they have deep meaning to the bearer, and we’re oh-so-careful about the people we let near them.
ECH: Which do you like better? Writing short stories or novel length books?
KW: I have a lot to learn when it comes to writing short stories. It’s a classic art form and isn’t as easy as it may seem. When I wrote “An Agreeable Wife for a Suitable Husband,” I knew the tale I wanted to spin, and thought, “Easy.” Only, it wasn’t. Like all writing, it was work. The best short stories master the skills of being robust, sharp and concise. I hope to write more shorts, but for now, I’m in the novel-writing game.
ECH: How did you decided that there would be four books in your “Jackie” series?
KW: I wrote O! Jackie about ten years ago — along with five short stories to serve as prequels — and moved on in life. But oddly enough, I kept circling back and thinking there was so much more to her story. I began reading about the year she spent in Paris as a student and wondered if there was enough material that I could craft a book. Obviously, there was, and from there, I decided each book would focus on the seasons of her life. Cliché, perhaps, but it also made sense.
ECH: What attracted you to writing about Jackie?
KW: Her secrets! Not that she had any, come to find out. Jackie was adamant about protecting her privacy. She hated it if anyone from her staff talked about her to a news source — and she became known for shutting people out if she felt they betrayed a confidence. But she also read the tabloids about herself because she liked gossip. Crafting and controlling her image — Jack’s especially — were important to her, but as we all know, much of that unraveled when friends and associates began publishing books about their time with JFK, and eventually, information about his affairs became common knowledge. I hope these books give Jackie fans an inside peek into her life, loves, and struggles.
ECH: When can we expect the next installment? And are there any other stories you are working on?
KW: Jackie’s Camelot releases in November! For now, I’m only working on this series.
ECH: Would you be willing to share an excerpt from Jackie’s Paris?
Poised and postured like the debutante she was, Jacqueline Bouvier strolled into Schrafft’s for Sunday brunch on the arm of her father. The scent of freshly griddled waffles and bacon greeted them, along with curious stares from various female patrons. Such attention always befell her father, and it pleased Jackie. For there at his side, as his escort for the afternoon and with sunlight streaming in behind them, she was now the envy of every woman in the establishment.
They followed the hostess to their table. Jack Bouvier’s flirtatious glance waltzed through the restaurant, when he wasn’t focused on the hostess’s salacious saunter in her snug, crème-colored skirt. When Jack and his daughter took their seats, the hostess promised that a waitress would be with them shortly. She departed with a tilt of her head and a subtle wink meant only for Jack Bouvier.
Was it any wonder? Jackie mused. Crowned with jet-black hair and a thin moustache, he was often mistaken for Clark Gable. Dapper in every wool or tweed suit he wore, he never lacked for female companionship but showed no interest in settling down. His reputation as a womanizer, combined with his nutmeg skin tone, earned him the nickname Black Jack.
“Pity that Lee couldn’t join us.” He draped the linen napkin across his lap.
Jackie smirked at him, attuned to his sarcasm. Friction sparked between Lee and their father, more often than not, which Jackie blamed on their parents’ divorce. Lee’s outbursts and penchant for drama tested and drained Jack Bouvier’s patience. He never voiced his frustrations, but Jackie suspected he resented having to soothe and subdue Lee’s cantankerous moods.
“She sends her love and regards,” Jackie fibbed, having insisted on lunching alone with their father today — and receiving a slammed bedroom door in her face in response to her request.
“Does she now? How thoughtful.” Jack opened the menu, pretended to scan the selections he knew well by now. For a man who had a varied and insatiable appetite in women, he remained faithful to the corned beef sandwich on pumpernickel, topped off with a shot of sour scotch. “And how is the rest of that brood, dare I ask?”
Jackie’s smirk held. Brood was the best insult Black Jack could hurl about her blended family of nine. Quite comfortable in the lifestyle her stepfather’s fortune afforded, she could tolerate her father’s petty criticism and unveiled jealousy. For her stepfather was an heir to the Standard Oil fortune, practiced law, served in the government, and heralded a brokerage firm he’d established. In comparison, Jack Bouvier, a stockbroker himself, still hadn’t recovered from the crash of 1929. When he wasn’t gambling or bedding the mothers of Jackie’s classmates, his alcoholism got the best of him. Nevertheless, nothing could diminish Jackie’s adoration for her father.
“We manage.” Jackie gave a feeble grin, careful not to injure her father’s feelings.
With an itch to change the subject, Jackie reached into her handbag and removed a folded pamphlet. Smoothing her gloved hands over the paper’s crease, she did her best to flatten it before handing it to her father.
“What do we have here?”
“A fabulous opportunity!” She sipped her water while he read the announcement, but her patience failed. “Smith College is offering a year-long student exchange program at the University of Paris, which would include classes at the Sorbonne, one of the oldest colleges in the world.” Jackie pressed her lips together to stop her zeal from running away.
Jack skimmed the pamphlet, then shifted his gaze up toward Jackie.
“Paris?” he asked.
“Are you certain this is a good idea, my love? I know you’ve had a taste of Europe, and Paris can be intoxicating. But living there — for a year — well, I’m afraid it would be frightfully expensive.”
Jackie would be the first to admit that her seven-week holiday with family friends the previous summer had whetted her appetite for more of Europe. She dreamed of —ached for — living there and being more than a passerby. Only two things kept her from a life abroad — her parents and money.
“I realize that, Daddy, but I could board on campus instead of renting an apartment. That would save money, and I could find a job.” Her enthusiasm waned with the last suggestion, though she hoped her father didn’t notice.
Working held no appeal for her, not if it meant being shackled to a schedule and stuffed inside a dank building. She wanted to immerse herself in Paris, bask in its art and architecture, but mostly, she relished the thought of exercising total freedom over her life — and escaping the tangible strife between her parents. If a job was required to secure her fantasy, then so be it.
Jack glanced over the paper again and set it aside. “Shouldn’t you be enjoying everything Vassar has to offer a young woman of your age and standing?”
His real question wasn’t lost on Jackie. Shouldn’t you be finding a husband? Many women her age attended university as a glorified dating ritual; some abandoned their studies after accepting a proposal. Education and obtaining a degree were not secondary for Jackie. Though she was social, attending football games and weekend outings at Yale, her dating life had been fruitless. She often sensed her parents’ growing impatience, but Jackie couldn’t help that she found most men dull.
“I have, Daddy, and that’s the problem. Poughkeepsie is like a frumpy old spinster, who sips her gin and falls asleep in her housecoat.” Jackie paused while her father enjoyed a chuckle. “There’s nothing stimulating there, which is why I end up at your apartment.”
Jack grinned, no doubt appreciating that his oldest daughter preferred retreating to his Manhattan apartment on weekends rather than romping on her stepfather’s grand estate in Newport, Rhode Island.
“But now is your time, my dear,” he said. “Why, you were Debutant of the Year. I would think that troves of worthless beaux would be salivating at your feet.”
“All men are rats! Isn’t that what you’ve been telling me for ages now?”
“No argument there.” Jack withdrew his pack of Chesterfields from his pocket and lit into one.
“You see, this is the perfect time for me to go to Paris. I have no attachments, no one I’m particularly fond of, and just think, my French will become perfect while living there.”
Their waitress appeared, and Jackie sensed a sigh of relief from her father, indicating he wasn’t prepared to give his consent yet. He took advantage of the moment, exercised his charms with the young woman. In turn, she smiled and played coy.
As usual, Jackie mentally absorbed the exchange, the way her father exuded a power over women. She needed a dose of such magic since gentle persuasion was failing her.
Jackie knew it was because of the money. Her father wouldn’t relent easily, even if his funds were abundant. Controlling the purse strings, as it were, of Jackie and Lee’s life was the only power — or influence — he still held over them. Although it was only in his mind. Jackie and Lee were aware that no trust fund from their father would be forthcoming. He barely kept up with their monthly allowance of fifty dollars each — a sum that paid for their cosmetics and little else.
Jackie wouldn’t let that pinch of resentment derail her determination. She deserved this trip, having fed her father’s pride with her stellar academics and award-winning horsemanship. She gave her father no grief, and her love for him never waned when rumors of his gambling debts circled or when he required another drying out spell. Now, she reasoned, would be her father’s turn to show his love and loyalty.
“I know it’s a lot to ask, Daddy,” she said once they were alone again. Employing new tactics, Jackie rested her hands in her lap and tilted her head slightly, feigning resignation. “Perhaps I’ve acted too hastily. Maybe going away to study ideal, but I’m aiming to make changes regardless.”
Jack paused, then locked his gaze with his daughter’s. “Do tell.”
“Like you said, living in Paris would be expensive, but that’s true of life most anywhere. I was thinking of easing the burden on you and Mummy. I’m perfectly capable of reading and acquiring knowledge on my own, which is primarily what university life entails. I don’t need Vassar, or the Sorbonne, for that.”
“What are you getting at?” Jack squinted and tucked his cigarette into the corner of his mouth.
“Perhaps it’s time I started making my own money. I’ve been thinking about becoming a fashion model, here in New York. I could get my own apartment —”
“Now, now, I’ll not tolerate foolish conversation.” He waved a hand in the air, as if to shoo away the suggestion. “You’re a rare bird, my dear, and one of the things that makes you so extraordinary is your mind, that hunger you have for history, literature. You shouldn’t abandon university just so you can make money. I won’t hear of it.”
“Then you’ll let me go to Paris?” Hopefulness colored her cheeks. “It’s only for a year, Daddy.”
He reared back in his chair, wore a pensive expression.
“What does your mother say about this idea of yours?”
“I haven’t told her yet.” Jackie smiled. “I came to you first.”
Jack beamed. The way he always did whenever Jackie demonstrated her loyalty to him or gave him an advantage over Janet.
“Tell me, then, Jackie, when you do mention this to your mother, what do you think she’ll say?”
“I imagine she’ll want to talk me out of it.” Elation pulsed through her. Why hadn’t she thought of using her mother’s disapproval earlier?
Jack exhaled a puff of smoke slowly, and a Cheshire grin appeared from behind the cloud.
“In that case, my pet, we’d better make sure that all the arrangements are in place before you tell her.”