The delightful Kelli Stanley was kind enough to do a short interview with me.
M: It’s apparent that you love noir. How did that start?
KS: I think I was born with it. I’ve always loved the period from the 20s through the 40s, and somehow was drawn to the narrative rituals of noir and hardboiled crime fiction. When I was in third grade, I wrote a play about a gangster who is betrayed by a French girlfriend and is gunned down while trying to save her from Nazis. A little unusual for an eight year old, so I can only assume it’s genetic!
I still love the era—and I enjoy many of the noir style conventions, particularly in film—lush, black and white photography of rainy streets with neon is absolutely beautiful to me. But what I’ve tried to do with CITY OF DRAGONS and the Miranda Corbie series is to subvert the misogynistic machismo inherent in so much of the genre, as well as portray the period as it was—rather than how we wish it had been.
THE CURSE-MAKER and the ‘Roman noir’ series is more of an affectionate homage, with a hero who is strong but also sardonic—and very aware of his own weaknesses.
M: Arcturus is a physician from the Ancient Roman era. How did you decide on the historical setting?
KS: The only common wisdom I knew about the writing business was to “write what you know.” And after long years of study for my BA and MA, what I knew was Greek and Roman culture, history and language. I didn’t want to go on for a Ph.D., so I closed my eyes and took a big chance and wrote a book. That was NOX DORMIENDA.
At the same time, I was more interested about the affects of Rome as an influence, a conquering nation, rather than writing about the city itself. I’m fascinated by the intersection of cultures, and how they influence one another. And I’ve always loved England. So the idea of Roman Britain seemed natural, particularly since it’s one of the provinces we have at least some idea about, thanks to Tacitus. He wrote a monograph extolling the virtues of his father in law—Agricola—who was governor in the late first century. Agricola is Arcturus’ patron, so developing this actual historical figure into a character was a lot of fun.
M: Could you describe your research process?
KS: Well, it varies with the series. For the Miranda series, I surround myself with old newspapers, ephemera from the past, find bits of history that intrigue me to work into the books. CITY OF SECRETS takes place partly in Calistoga, and a post card of a particular “sanitarium”—that’s what they were called—was very inspirational in the direction of the book. I also pay visits to libraries, and absolutely devour photographs. My most valuable asset is a 1940 San Francisco Yellow Pages!
For the Roman noir books, I spend more time at home—unless I can afford a trip to England. I felt like I lived in Rome for several years, and have an intuitive understanding of the culture. I also have an extensive classics library and research books, though at times I need to buy specialized texts. For THE CURSE-MAKER, I expanded my books on magic and curses, and I always keep an eye out for the most recent research, especially since new archaeological discoveries tend to upend previous conjectures.
M: You are neither male, nor a physician, nor an ancient Roman, but you write from Arcturus’ point of view. How do you get inside his head?
KS: LOL! I’m interested in people—I like people—and psychology, and characters tend to develop themselves. Before I ultimately earned my degree in Classics, I was a Drama major, and I approach writing like an actress … I am both in my characters’ heads and outside of them, just as when you’re on the stage, you’re in character enough to cry or scream or whatever you need to do, but enough yourself to be mindful of your cues and your marks. I am a very empathetic person, which makes it easy for me to identify with most people.
M. You seem to spend a lot of time on the road. Do you enjoy that or is it just part of the job?
KS: One of the privileges of being published is to get to meet the people who’ve read and enjoyed your book! J It’s an absolute honor. If I could afford it, I’d travel more than I do now—ideally, I’d like a cross-country tour by car for about six weeks out of the year.
Plus, people inspire me, as does traveling itself. New experiences open up new brain synapses, new channels for creativity. I always come back from tours or a conference tired—because I also hold a day job—but excited and inspired!
M:Thank you so much for sharing with me and my readers, Kelli. What’s up next?
KS: Thank you, Marlyn, for the wonderful interview questions and for being one of the mystery community’s librarian heroes!
I’m currently working on the third Miranda Corbie book, CITY OF GHOSTS, as well as a contemporary stand-alone thriller set in Humboldt County. CITY OF SECRETS—set three months after CITY OF DRAGONS—releases on September 13th, and the CITY OF DRAGONS paperback hits stands on August 30th. So I’ve got another book release—and another tour—coming up later this year. I’m looking forward to traveling in the fall!