Saturday 25 September 2010

Dancing With Myself: KELLI STANLEY interviews KELLI STANLEY

Over the last few days, a number of people have booked slots in the series. I'll maybe list some of those to look forward to soon.

Today, I'd like to introduce Kelli Stanley.

First off, I've read City Of Dragons and am going to recommend it to everyone here. It introduces a phenomenal new PI, Miranda Corbie (fast talking, quick thinking, rebellious, street-wise, alluring and with lots of hidden depths) and she's a lady I want to hear more about. Soon as I read that she'd been to Spain to fight in the civil war I was on her side. She is a refreshing variation on a wonderful theme.

If you're not sure about taking my opinion at face value, here's someone else's:

“Kelli Stanley’s CITY OF DRAGONS blew me to ribbons.

From the opening chapter, we’re rooting for Miranda, a marvelous, feisty, compassionate heroine who is my favourite P.I. to come down the mean streets in oh, so long.

Superb characterisations … and a story to make you weep. Fathers will never seem quite the same again. From the opening quote by Cornell Woolrich, we’re off and gasping, and not just from the lovely evocations of another era of Chesterfields.

Polish up the Shamus, I know where it’s headed this year.”

Ken Bruen

Second, she's asked herself some top questions and opened up in the answers.

Stick with it and you'll learn some Latin, too.

Please welcome to Sea Minor, Kelli Stanley

Dancing with Myself

1. First century Roman Britain and 1940 San Francisco? Two series? Are you insane?

Aren’t all writers? I’m a Gemini, which explains some of it. It also explains how I’m able to interview myself.

I’ve never been able to settle down to just one thing. Drama major? Check. Film major? Check.

My senior year in high school I was determined to become a Cosmo Chemist. I finally fell into a double major in Classics and Art History and earned an MA in Classics because the field was broad enough to hold my interest. I even got the chance to bring comic books into it.

2. Comic Books? Does this mean you want to write them? Where do they fit in?

Before earning my MA, my family and I owned and operated a comic book/pop culture store in San Francisco. I LOVE comic books (call them graphic novels if it sounds better). And yes, I’d love to write a noir-styled superhero comic for DC and bring back some of the old Quality and Fawcett characters from the ‘40s.

3. Speaking of noir … and I must speak of noir … both of your series stretch and redefine the boundaries of the genre. How do you handle the noir elements in each?

The Miranda Corbie series recasts the classic noir paradigm … with a femme fatale in the gumshoes. A kind of restyling of hardboiled fiction, but without the censorship of the classic era. I love the ‘30s and ‘40s, and I want to capture the period in its stunning beauty … as well as its visceral, almost unconscious brutality. City of Dragons and City of Spiders—which will be out next fall—are dark books, dealing with human suffering in an indifferent world. Miranda’s a fighter, though, which is the point. Noir isn’t necessarily about despair—despair’s easy. Noir can be about dealing with the despair, coping with it and trying to make the world a better place.

The Roman noir series is a lighter and more playful homage to the style of Raymond Chandler, with more humor, and not as psychologically dark. The Curse-Maker was inspired by two Hammett classics, actually, though the style is very Chandleresque … Red Harvest and The Thin Man.

So both series use and adapt noir elements in different ways, and both, I think, offer something new and distinctive.

4. They’re also both historicals. Why history? Don’t you want to write contemporary fiction?

Well, here’s the thing. History gives me a chance to make social commentary, because it can act as a metaphor for present events. It also allows me to give something extra to the reader … a way to think about the past, and hopefully understand that history is not a separate entity, cut off from the present, but a continuum and explanation for how we got here. I like challenging assumptions about history, since there’s a prevailing attitude that somehow people were different “back then.”

Societal mores may change, but humanity itself has changed very little in the last couple of thousand years.

But of course, given my answer to question #1, I want to write other things, too. A contemporary stand-alone noir thriller, set in Humboldt County, for one.

5. So coming back to history and people and attitudes … is Miranda Corbie, your tough-talking, hard-drinking and constantly smoking protagonist in City of Dragons really a woman of her era?

Great, ask me the hard questions, why don’t you … ;)

Miranda is a woman of her generation in many ways, but she’s also a remarkable individual. This was a period when women accomplishing the previously unimaginable—flying across the Atlantic or swimming the English Channel, or becoming the most active, passionate First Lady the country had ever (and has ever) witnessed.

Miranda is based on women I’ve met and women I’ve known and women I’ve read about. She’s got a lot in common with Martha Gellhorn, another beautiful, tough, and hard-drinking woman who happened to be one of the best journalists and writers of the era (and Hemingway’s third wife). Martha was passionate about the things Miranda is passionate about.

So yeah, Miranda’s a woman of her era … and any era.

6. What’s next for her?

Well, City of Spiders comes out late summer or early fall of 2011. That’s the working title. It begins on May 25th, 1940, opening day of World’s Fair on Treasure Island. It deals with a brutal murder at the Fair, anti-Semitism, and fascist groups in the Bay Area. A number of characters in City of Dragons are making appearances, but I’m not telling who …

7. How much can you tell us about Miranda’s future?

Hmm. Well, if I’m very, very lucky, I’ll be able to keep writing her into the war and beyond. I’d like to see her become involved with the Cold War, particularly the Alger Hiss case. And she won’t always stay in San Francisco for some of this, obviously, but it will always be her home. 

8. What about The Curse-Maker? Any further adventures for Arcturus?

I was really lucky to have my first series picked up by Thomas Dunne/Minotaur. My debut novel, Nox Dormienda, was published with a small press, and it’s rare these days for a major to pick up a series started elsewhere. So I’d love to continue the series if The Curse-Maker does well enough. It’s a bit on the creepy side of noir … deals with Roman beliefs in the supernatural, features a necromancer and some nasty murders.

9. Favorite Latin phrase?

I’m partial to a bit of fake Latin popularized in WWII: Illegitimi non carborundum. For real Latin, I like ad augusta per angusta [to honors through alleys], or literally to high places through narrow ones. Sounds right for a noir writer.

10. You wear a lot of hats … what’s your favorite?

That’s a little like asking which is my favorite series or what’s my favorite book. I have so many … vintage fedoras, gifts given to me by friends. Probably the one that’s my personal, secret favorite, though, is my writing fedora, which (of course) I never wear in public. I wear it when I write to let my family know not to talk to me. It’s a beat-up, brown vintage Champ fedora, with moth holes and a crooked brim. It’s seen me through four books, and I consider it a good luck charm. :)


  1. Great stuff. Cormac Brown is a big Kelly fan and he know a thing or two about a thing or two!

  2. Thanks for letting me hang around, Nigel, I had a blast! :)


  3. Paul, thanks for dropping by ... I'm a big Cormac fan, so we're even. :)

  4. Really interesting 'view. I've been meaning to read CITY OF DRAGONS ever since Jen Forbus gave it a rave review.

  5. "Noir isn’t necessarily about despair—despair’s easy. Noir can be about dealing with the despair, coping with it and trying to make the world a better place." Rang me like a bell. So very true. Dragons just jumped to the head of my que. Terrific interview. Bravo!