Friday, August 01, 2008

Author Snapshot: Kelli Stanley

Noir is in the eye of the beholder. While some people feel that fiction called “noir” must take place in a narrow band of geography or time, others understand that noir is a condition of light and spirit rather than time or place.

At first blush, it would seem that Kelli Stanley understands all of these things better than most, having set her debut novel, Nox Dormienda (Five Star), in 1st century Rome for a style that Stanley and those who have read her are calling Roman Noir.

On her Web site, Stanley explains that Roman Noir is based “on my classically-trained and educated interpretation of Roman culture.” It is “lightning-paced” and “rooted in the ‘30s hard-boiled style, especially Chandler.”

A classics scholar, Stanley lives in San Francisco but writes and lectures internationally and secretly still does “a killer Mae West” impression.

A Snapshot of… Kelli Stanley
Most recent book: Nox Dormienda (A Long Night for Sleeping)
Born: Tacoma, Washington
Resides: San Francisco, California
Birthday: June 11, 1964
Web site:

What’s your favorite city?
San Francisco, of course. Followed by Rome, London, Chicago, Paris and New York.

You only have six hours to spend there. What do you do?
First, I head over to Sam Woh’s in Chinatown for some yang chow fried rice. Then hop on a vintage F-car on Market Street to the Hyde Street Pier, and visit the historic ships. Walk back up to Buena Vista Café and order an Irish Coffee (they invented it there). Take a drive through the Presidio to Ft. Point, located under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge, and find the spot where Jimmy Stewart dove in the Bay to save Kim Novak in Vertigo.

By then, it’s time to head back home … but fortunately, I live here.

What food do you love?
Baked potatoes. Organic russets, with sour cream, garlic salt, chives, and plenty of pepper. And dark, dark chocolate for dessert.

What food have you vowed never to touch again?
Fast food. I haven’t eaten any in about five years … no McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, In and Out Burger, et. al.

What’s on your nightstand?
An antique lamp, two harmonicas, three meditation balls from Chinatown (the kind you roll in your hand), a notepad, a magic box of metal crickets (also from Chinatown), two pens, and a lot of books.

What inspires you?
People. What I call the unexpected delights in life -- a sudden smile, a small act of kindness. Misery is something I expect, I suppose, it seems to be around us all the time. So I look for signs of hope. Nature constantly inspires me as well -- a raven on a garbage can, a hawk on a street lamp, a eucalyptus tree. Or, when I’m not in the city, Redwood trees, space, animal sounds. When I’m in the city, that magical mix of gracefully aging architecture and diverse populations and energy and urban decay. And neon signs.

What are you working on now?
I’m finishing up a very dark novel set in 1940 San Francisco, featuring a female private investigator. I love writing about this era; it was a period of great beauty in every day life (the architecture, fashion, film, music) that coexisted with much ugliness.

Tell us about your process.
I write in the afternoons, generally, because that’s when I’m home from work. If I can write in the morning, I prefer it. I’ve written at all times of the day or into the evening, particularly if I’m finishing a segment or chapter. I take notes with pencil and paper, sketch my plots and chapter/scene events out the old-fashioned way -- more of an outline, since characters will often do something completely unexpected when I’m actually writing them.

Lift your head and look around. What do you see?
A mess! Lots of to-do lists, vitamins, green tea, and a large, black and white Springer Spaniel that needs a bath.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Writing is something I’ve always done. Because of that, I think, as a child I never had the goal of becoming a writer. Writing was always there, and I suppose I sort of took it for granted. I planned to become an actress when I graduated from high school, and I wanted to direct films. But by the time I was an adult, I realized that I actually needed to write (and in a more disciplined way than scratching out poetry or essays). So I started with screenplays initially, and turned to novels when I was back in college, finishing up my Master’s Degree. Nox Dormienda was my first attempt at writing one. And now, of course, I wouldn’t trade being a writer for anything.

If you couldn’t write books, what would you be doing?

Making films. My parents always urged me to go into law, and my friends tell me I’d make a great psychiatrist! What that says about me and my friends, I don’t know...

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?

January 17, 2007. The day I received news about my publication. I graduated just six months earlier, hadn’t joined any organizations, didn’t know anything about the publishing business. But the fact that a company -- even a small company -- was willing to give me money -- even a small amount of money -- for thoughts in my head that I’d shaped into a novel was, well, miraculous. I could invest in myself at that point, since others were willing to. And I’ve found that the writing community is full of wondrous and wonderful people, amazingly generous and supportive. So I’ve stayed happy ever since.

For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?
Wanting to write. I’m always composing, thinking, mulling, storing something away, some act or person or moment I’ve observed. I constantly write, even when I’m not near a keyboard.

What’s the most difficult?
Reviews. Setting your book free and relinquishing all control of what reviewers may do to it. But that’s part of the business reality of writing. Publishing is a privilege. It’s a tough business, as all creative enterprises are. So another challenge is figuring out the right decisions for yourself. I’m lucky. I have a very smart, supportive family, and recently signed with the best agent in the universe, Kimberley Cameron.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?
I’m usually asked to explain what Roman noir is, which I happily do. And I’m also asked what everyone is asked, namely “Where do you get your ideas?”

What’s the question you’d like to be asked? Probably what I’m trying to achieve with my book. Themes, literary motifs, messages, intentions.

What questio
n would you like never to be asked again?
There’s no question about writing or my books that I mind answering, no matter how many times I’ve been asked it. It’s when people stop asking that I worry!

Please tell us about Nox Dormienda.
It’s a historical mystery-thriller, written for people who don’t like historical fiction without (hopefully) displeasing those who do! It’s been described by Ken Bruen as “Ellis Peters rewritten by Elmore Leonard” and by other reviewers as a fantasy collaboration of Lindsey Davis and Raymond Chandler. The style and pace are classic hardboiled, 1930s-style vintage noir, while the setting and background are authentic first century AD Roman Londinium.

Tell us something about yourself that no one knows.

As a freshman in college, I won a part as a courtesan (in The Comedy of Errors) by auditioning with a Mae West impression. I can still do a killer Mae West!

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Blogger Jennie Bentley said...

Awesome job, Kel! Love the picture, too. And congratulations on party day. I'll be with you in spirit, I promise!

Friday, August 1, 2008 11:56:00 AM PDT  
Blogger by Karen Dionne said...

Fascinating interview - no surprise to those of us who've met Kelli in person. She's as smart, funny, and fabulous as her book. Here's to the creation of a brand new thriller sub-genre!

Saturday, August 2, 2008 9:27:00 AM PDT  

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