Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On ROMAN NOIR




"From first page to finis, NOX DORMIENDA by Kelli Stanley is chock full of chills, thrills, and breath-taking adventure. Fueled by fascinating characters and rich details from Londinium in 83 A.D., this unforgettable tale brings the past eerily alive while leaving you hungering for the next book in what surely will be an exciting series. Stanley is a terrific writer."

Gayle Lynds, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Spymaster


HANK: I first met Kelli--on line, I think. She's one of the stellar debut authors of International Thriller Writers, and I had the delight to see her and her fellow debuters last weekend at Thrillerfest!

She writes mystery-thrillers in a noir tradition,and her first novel, NOX DORMIENDA (A Long Night for Sleeping), is out this week. Can you guess who her personal author-hero is? The answer is below.

NOX is the first of a new series in a new genre Kelli calls Roman Noir. Set in first century AD Britain and featuring Arcturus, a hard-boiled protagonist in the best Marlowe tradition, NOX is "a suspense thriller that combines a classic noir style with the rich texture of the ancient past." And the cover rocks.

HANK: Your book is--noir but not noir? Historical fiction, but not historical fiction? The very very first of the British murder mysteries? How would you describe it--or do we even need such labels?

Well, first let me thank you, Hank, for hosting me on the fabulous Jungle Red Authors! It’s so wonderful—and an honor—to be here!
I think labels can get in the way sometimes … but we’re stuck with them. Since Nox Dormienda is such a hybrid – ancient Roman Britain meets 1930s Los Angeles – I came up with "Roman noir." It’s really a pun on the French literary term for "black novel" – what French critics labeled many mysteries and melodramas of the 20s, 30s and 40s.

Nox is directly inspired by Raymond Chandler, Hammett, Cornell Woolrich, and a whole lot of film noir. Now, some noir purists don’t include Chandler into the noir pantheon, some do, and I’m one of the latter, so I’m comfortable in calling it noir … though it’s definitely not as black as, say, Jim Thompson or David Goodis.
My specific goal was to make history as compelling and visceral as a contemporary headline. I’ve heard too many readers automatically label historical fiction as "boring," and I wanted to create a book to challenge that assumption. So it’s really a historical mystery-thriller written for people who don’t like history!

JRW: Tell us about the title.

"Nox dormienda" means a night you sleep through … forever. Catullus, the Roman poet, wrote exquisite love poems and vituperative verse-attacks (to the same woman!) … "una nox dormienda" is a line from one erotic, romantic poem in particular. The idea is to make love now, since death is around the corner, and the sun will rise, but maybe we won’t be so lucky.

Poets have been selling that bill of goods for thousands of years!
Anyway, Raymond Chandler (an English-educated classicist) lifted the "nox dormienda" concept into popular culture with his first book, The Big Sleep.
So my Nox Dormienda is a tribute both to Catullus … and to Chandler, my literary hero.

HANK: Your main character--how did you "meet" him? And what's he like?

I’ve been told that Arcturus is a hottie! And I’m very relieved, for his sake!
I first met him in a class, when I was pursuing my degree … but I didn’t really "know" him until one night at the Noir City film noir festival in San Francisco … after several days of classic noir films, everything sort of gelled, and I knew the direction I wanted to go.
Arcturus is, for me, the ultimate outsider. Half native, half Roman, he’s not fully trusted by either culture. And his talent—that of healing, whether through medicine or investigation—sets him apart. Also his capacity for violence. Also his guilt, when he can’t save a patient.
He’s impulsive, compassionate, stubborn, sometimes arrogant. Cynical. But he also knows how to laugh … and cry. He’s the kind of man that you could know, and like, but who will always be alone, in his heart of hearts. He pursues what he considers justice, and because he is an outsider, and is alone, he’s sometimes successful.

HANK: How do you get your brain to let you visit first century Roman Britain? Are you in a different place when you write? When you go to Starbucks and use a computer or Tivo a TV show, do you feel as if you're just visiting?

I’ve always been comfortable in the past, though I love technology! And I’ve spent so much time immersed in Roman culture that I’m able to sort of pop myself there … as long as I’m writing in a quiet place. Fortunately, my neighborhood in San Francisco is out by the beach … nature sounds, not too noisy, so I do most of my writing at home.

With the book I’m working on now, set in San Francisco in 1940, it’s just the opposite … I like to have ambient city atmosphere around me. Old-fashioned family restaurants, the clang of the cable cars. And because the year is so close, within my parents’ lives, it sometimes does feel as though I’m "just visiting" contemporary society … especially when I’m at a department store, and there aren’t any shoulder pads!
HANK: Shoulder pads are coming back. I know it.
JRW: We can't imagine the research. Did you write your story first, then make it authentic second? Or, because you're already such an expert in the field--you've lived in Italy and traveled through Europe, learned Latin and Greek, got a B.A. in Art History and Classics and a Master’s Degree in Classics--did you just go with what you already knew?

The degrees gave me the ability to imagine … to synthesize what I’ve learned, and, like jazz, sort of riff on it. Human nature doesn’t—and hasn’t—changed, really. But what sorts of crimes, what forms of resolution, what kinds of justice can be attained … you have to thoroughly understand the culture to imagine that.
The specifics—even with a Master’s—always need extra research, particularly when it comes to daily life (something most Classics degrees don’t emphasize) … you spend your time studying the high art and literature of the culture, and you have to piecemeal the popular, the every day. I had to change a few things in light of what I learned later.

Authenticity is critical … and I really enjoyed using as many historical figures in the book as possible.

And now--speaking of classics! The Jungle Red QUIZ:
Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?
Miss Marple … because I’ve always loved the incongruity of the little old spinster lady with murder on her mind!

Sex or violence?
No contest there! Sex every time!

Pizza or chocolate?
Mmm … that’s a toughie. I’d have to go with dark chocolate, preferably Richart (French) or Belgian …

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan? (We won't even include Sean Connery because we know the answer. Don't we?)
Ah, Sean … oh, sorry, we were talking Daniel or Pierce, right? Well, prior to that bathing suit scene in Casino Royale … oh, let’s just make it Daniel Craig. He’s like a rougher, tougher Russell Crowe, and SUCH a sexy Bond!

Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?
I adore both actresses! And Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of my favorites … Kate’s like a Rock of Gibraltar for me, though, so let’s go with her.

First person or Third Person?
First person.

Prologue or no prologue?
No prologue. Straight, no chaser, too!

Favorite non-mystery book?
Hardest question of all, and impossible to answer … so I’ll pick a random favorite: Emma, Jane Austen.

Making dinner or making reservations?
Reservations, reservations, reservations!

And finally: The Jungle Red Readers Choice:

Tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We'll guess.

Took Greer Garson home from a production of Sweeney Todd.
Sold escort service and massage ads for a phone company as a summer job.
Am reasonably sensitive to psychic phenomena, and participated in a ghost expedition.
Spent three years of my childhood on a commune in northern California.

Thanks Kelli! S0--any questions out there about the classics? Being a debut author?

I'm guessing--just from knowing her the tiniest bit--that she's reasonably sensitive to psychic phenomena--what do you all think?

(For more information about the world of NOX DORMIENDA (including excerpts) visit her website at http://www.kellistanley.com One DL reviewer says--If Raymond Chandler and Lindsey Davis collaborated on a book, this would be it. )

21 comments:

Dusty said...

Eager to read the book but haven't yet, so just let me say: killer portrait. At first glance I thought it was Simone Signoret! Great attitude, excellent hat, gorgeous eyes. Wonderful interview! Thanks, JRW.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Whoa, Dusty. Kelli is going to have a very nice moment reading that comment!

Thanks for visiting..

Julie Compton said...

First thing: Hank, you ask some great original questions, the kind that every author hopes for (and I love the quiz at the end!). Kelli, you've snagged me. I'm one of those who always assumes historical fiction will be boring, but having met you, and after hearing you talk about the book, I can't wait to read it. Congratulations!

Kelli Stanley said...

Well, I woke up this morning feeling sluggish, but there's nothing like being compared to Simone Signoret to change that! ;)

Thanks a million, Dusty! The photo, btw, was taken by Jim Ferreira, who is the West Coast von Sternberg ... he sometimes shoots the photos for Noir City, our SF film noir festival.

Thanks again for stopping by and making my day!

Kelli Stanley said...

Thank you, Julie! It was so much fun getting to hang out at Thrillerfest, and your panel on legal thrillers was fascinating! I'm really looking forward to reading "Tell No Lies"!

And thanks for the kind words! That's exactly why I blended mystery, thrillers, historical setting and noir ... to convince people that history is as exciting as contemporary life. :)

Take care!

JennieB said...

Kelli, babe! So nice to see you here! Awesome interview. And just a couple of days until take-off now, right? I can't wait!

Hank - gosh - one would think you ask questions for a living, you're so good at it!

I'm not gonna play the secret game, because I know the answer already. One of the many benefits of being buddies with Kelli!

Louise Ure said...

Kelli, you give good interview. Nice to see you here. And congratulations on this fine launch!

Jan Brogan said...

Kelli,
Your book sounds awesome, all the stuff I love, noir and historical.
I'm going to guess you didn't do the North California commune, but maybe I'm just visualizing you in 83 A.D....
Welcome to Jungle Red!

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, Jen! And "Fatal Fixer-Upper" ROCKS! I love the combo of DIY home improvement tips with a scintillating mystery! Can't wait for your release! :)

xoxo

Kelli Stanley said...

Hi, Louise, and thank you!

You know I love a party, so we're celebrating the "virtual" launch on Friday this week, followed by the in-person launch in a couple of weeks. :)

See you soon, and thanks for stopping by!

Kelli Stanley said...

Great to meet you, Jan! I'm so glad to hear you like the same stuff I do. :)

And it's such a thrill to be here ... I watch The Women at least once a year, just waiting for Norma Shearer to show her nails. ;)

Thanks so much to Hank and you and JRW for hosting me!

Michelle Gagnon said...

I cannot wait to read Nox, your chapbook completely hooked me! And I'm guessing the escort service job is the fake, although if it's true I want to hear all about it.

Kelli Stanley said...

LOL ... thanks, Michelle! Without revealing the answer, I promise to share my more exotic adventures if I get to hear about your Russian Supper Club days that Lee Child referred to as ... stripping?! ;)

Congratulations on your fabulous success with Boneyard, and I can't wait to see you and Simon at the launch party on Friday night!

xoxo

SusannahC said...

What a great premise for a book--well done!--and I want to know how you pitched it, because I think that pitch would be one wild ride, too. Noir has often been so limited in time and space and 'look'. I like that you made that jump.

I love history and historical fiction (well, good historical fiction), and I like a good mystery, too, so I'm glad to come across this introduction to your work here.

Kelli Stanley said...

Thank you, Susanna! Genres in general can be so limiting ... I really wanted to take two loves (noir and history) and sort of disrupt expectations with both. :)

My road to publication was a little bumpy ... the first agent I pitched signed me, and I thought everything would be smooth from there (she's a reputable agent). Unfortunately, she moved out of the country after only a handful of submissions to editors. I was still in grad school, and in limbo, and she suggested submitting to Five Star ... because (though small) it's a good place to break in.
I did, they liked the concept of Roman Noir, and that was it. :)

BTW, I'm now signed with a fabulous agent, am still friends with the first, and am deliriously happy. :)

Thanks for the great question and for stopping by!

Roberta Isleib said...

Glad you came by to visit with us Kelli! I have to admit, not a fan of historicals--but this sounds fascinating.

Hank I really hope you're wrong about the shoulder pads.

Kelli, if you spent 3 years on a commune, I hope you write about it. That book I would run to read...

Roberta

Kelli Stanley said...

lol, thanks, Roberta, and thanks for having me over at JRW! I guess I shouldn't divulge the answer until this evening, but let me just say I've had several friends who were raised on communes, and they seem to be fruitful environments for crime.

But I'm with Hank on the shoulder pads ... I love 'em. Ros Russell proportions, though, not Joan Collins. ;)

Kelli Stanley said...

Thank you, Hank and JRW, for a wonderful interview and visit!

It was a really special way to kick off my launch celebration ... thank you all so very much. :)

And Jan, you must be psychic yourself ... the false answer was, indeed, the commune. Though now that Roberta would like to read a book with that setting, I'm developing plot ideas. :)

Take care, and thanks again!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Ah--I go out to shoot one story--and everyone comes to visit! Kelli, thanks so much...and I hope you made some new friends.

More in a minute..

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

JennieB! Hey--and I can't wait for everyone to read your debut mystery Fatal Fixer Upper. (Jennie asked me to read her ms--and what a treat! It's absolutely charming and terrific. I think it comes out--in February?)

Julie Compton--so lovely to see you here. I've got Tell No Lies in my "next" pile (after I finish Alan Jacobson's truly wonderful thriller The 7th Victim.)
And I love courtroom mysteries, so I'm looking forward to it.

And Louise Ure. Ah. We're not worthy. Your line for Fault Tree? "He knows he left a witness behind. He doesn't know she's blind."
Now *that's* perfect.

And thinking of those tags lines is so tough, right? MAybe that's a blog for later. What's t he best one you've ever heard? (Maybe send them to me off-blog. And I'll compile them...)

Kelli Stanley said...

Hank, thank you so much for having me over on Jungle Red Writers!

I had a wonderful time, and absolutely feel like I made some new friends. :)

And shoulder pads will return! ;)