Today, with release just ONE MONTH away, I share one of my own “behind the scenes” experiences with “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES.
Once I had gotten a whiff of the life of James Kelly, the first subway leak detective who had an extraordinary nose, I had to know more. I found only three sources: a New York Times article, a New Yorker magazine article, and a chapter in The World Beneath the City by Robert Daley.
As soon as I read the opening of that chapter, I was all in on attempting a story on James “Smelly” Kelly—partly due to the engaging telling by Robert Daley, but also because of the character revealed in the first scene. I found humor, grossness, stinks, and a man with a potentially degrading nickname who triumphed with his quirky talent. What’s not to love for a young reader?! I’ve hung around kids long enough to know this was a primo combo.
I worked hard to find a special thread that would tie all the anecdotes into a meaningful story. I wove in that rat scene that had overwhelmed my author senses. But it kept getting cut back. Finally, it was little more than a mention. It went to the illustrator…turns out Jenn Harney loved that scene, too. Unfortunately, the old writing adage that sometimes you have to “kill your darlings” for the sake of the story came to fruition. That scene was a bit of a diversion.
But since it pulled me into this story like the aroma of chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven, I thought I’d share that scene to give you a sniff of the irresistible, no-nonsense everyday hero in “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses. Here it is, with few bits straight from Daley.
When a horrific stench, most certainly due to a leak in the subway, drove away all his customers, an enraged tavern owner threatened to sue the transit company. The transit official responded by sending over his best man, Smelly Kelly. Though the owner didn’t believe a person existed who could sniff out the problem, he was desperate. The only customers left were a few old-timers.
All turned from the bar as Kelly strode imperiously through the door.
“Kelly,” the newcomer announced.
“Smelly Kelly?” asked the owner dubiously.
Kelly removed his hat, his coat.
“Also known as Leaky or Sniffy,” Kelly said proudly. Without further ado, he hoisted his famous nose into the air and sniffed tentatively. It was like watching an athlete warming up, shaking the kinks out of the muscle.
Smelly Kelly got busy and quickly identified the stench—”Rats.” Then he circled the room, and zeroed in on the odor.
He stood on a chair to sniff the ceiling, then tapped it with his fist.
“Rats,” he said. “And they’re in there.”
His audience, under the spell of an artist at work, stared at him, mesmerized.
The owner and his friends broke open the ceiling, and, lo and behold, a pile of dead rats tumbled out.
It wasn’t the subway at all,” said the owner, gazing at Smelly in awe.
So there you have it. The scene that impelled me forward to pursue this story. A scene that showed the reality and humor of a character with an extraordinary nose. A scene that was cut for the sake of story. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of fun left!
I hope you’ll check out this story of an everyday hero, find fascination in the mysterious underground world of the New York City subway in the 1930s, explore what makes a hero a hero, and think about the possibility of what we each hold inside.
“Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses is available for pre-order from booksellers everywhere. ❤️ To pre-order signed copies with swag, visit Old Firehouse Books HERE, or Boulder Book Store HERE, and let them know any personalization you’d like in the comment box.
Also please join me for a virtual book launch with Second Star to the Right Bookstore in Denver. Oct. 17, 4pm MDT.
AND stay tuned for details on the New York Transit Museum family program on “Smelly” Kelly in the end of October. Check my author visit page for details.
[art ©Jenn Harney, excerpts from Daley, Robert. The World Beneath the City. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1959.]