Kelli will be in the shop signing her new book on Thursday August 21st at Noon!
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Kelli Stanley (Click Here to Go To Her Website!)
1. You have won a Macavity a Bruce Alexander awards for your writing, and have been nominated for a Shamus and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Is it still thrilling to get a new book published like CITY OF GHOSTS and get some really great reviews for it?
Thank you! J And let me tell you—hearing that people like what you create never, ever, ever gets old. Most creative people are incredibly insecure—I’m no exception—and at the same time we’re public figures, even if it’s on a relatively minuscule level by comparison with actors or household-name writers like Stephen King or Anne Rice.
As public figures, most authors get attacked, abused and belittled just like the “big” celebrities—except that we don’t have the paychecks to make up for the pain. We have to swallow it, and try our best to ignore it. I’m not talking about actual criticism—I’m talking about internet abuse that gets slung in the name of “review” by people who don’t know the meaning of the word.
So when someone you greatly respect, like Tom Nolan in the Wall Street Journal, or Oline Cogdill for Associated Press, or Joe Hartlaub for Bookreporter, praises your work—as has happened with CITY OF GHOSTS—and when you meet fellow writers who read you and readers who tell you how much they enjoy your books or love your writing—well, like I said: it never gets old. In fact, I think recognition becomes more precious the more books you write. And it certainly helps you deal with the more unpleasant facets of publication.
2. In CITY OF GHOSTS there is a possibility Miranda Corbie will go to London in a later book. If she does, will Mirada visit places where Christie set her books? Or possibly meet a certain spinster or dapper Belgian while there?
I’m afraid not. I don’t write the same sort of books Christie wrote. She was a brilliant author of traditional mysteries; I write literary hardboiled/noir. Although Miss Marple has always struck me as a little noir, to be honest. ;)
Miranda could certainly encounter some of the iconic settings Christie used: the Orient Express, classic London hotels, Harrods, etc. I can see her at Brown’s Hotel … ;)
3. What do you find easier to work on, short stories, novellas or full length novels? Does it depend on the topic you are writing about? And why?
Short stories are difficult for me, because they tend to turn into novels. Macro is easier for me than micro. J
Novels are a long, long grind, but I get a chance to immerse myself in the setting and the character. Short stories require absolute, laser beam focus, and the plot and structure need to be commensurate with the length. In other words, not too complicated, more a “slice of life”. A novella is like a more complex short story, which is great, because it takes some of the pressure off, length-wise. Because I cherish character above all else (I was a drama major and an actress before I was a writer), novels are my preferred cup of tea.
4. Christie used a series of notebooks to sketch out characters, plots and ideas - what is your method of forming ideas for your books? Bonus Question - How did you form your character Miranda Corbie?
I use notebooks as well—big and little, one by my nightstand (so that if I get a sudden idea before sleep, which sometimes happens, I can jot it), some in my handbag. The notebooks themselves are usually Claire Fontaine or Rhodia, French brands with beautiful graphics and paper. Somehow, the quality of the notebook itself makes it easier for me to organize and think.
Thoughts bubble up in funny places … the bus, a shower, basically when I’m not actively trying to chase them down, so I like to be prepared.
I also use Scapple, a sort of mind-map program from Scrivener. Because I tend to draw diagrams and charts when I’m brainstorming, this little program is perfect for me, and I love working with it.
As for Miranda … well, her progenesis was a reaction to the misogyny of film and literary noir. I wanted to create a woman with all the tropes of a femme fatale—intelligence, beauty, courage, sexual power, ambition, etc.—but make her the hero and not the demonized female villain. A femme fatale in the shamus role. She was born from that thought, and took over from there. ;)
5. Agatha Christie was writing contemporary mysteries during the 1940’s, the period in which your Miranda Corbie mysteries are placed - my question is this, has Christie’s sense of this time period influenced you at all when writing your historical mysteries?
Not at all. I write in a completely different style about a completely different economic class in a completely different environment in a completely different country. Even in Christie’s war books (N or M springs to mind) the war seems rather far-off, even though the English went through absolute hell with the Blitz for more than a year and a half before Pearl Harbor brought America into the conflict. Her goals as a writer were very, very different from mine: she wanted to give people an escape from the war in the form, more or less, of a puzzle. I want to make people aware of the past—and the cultural and political truth of the historical record. I would not be successful at my job if Christie were influencing my history in any way.
6. You noted in your essay in BOOKS TO DIE FOR that Christie’s audacious solutions have been imitated over and over again through the years, so much so that I have heard people (even avid mystery readers) call her books “derivative” even though her books are where the solutions originate, and that’s why some people refuse to read her books. What would you say to those people to persuade them to read them?
I’d tell them that they are choosing ignorance over enlightenment, which is something no reader should ever do. Agatha Christie was the inspiration behind much later imitation, like Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett in my genre. That doesn’t make her less noteworthy or even less readable. If anything, it makes her far more important—crucial, in fact, to anyone who wishes to develop a sense of how the genre developed. She was an original; she wrote over 80 novels, not all of them masterpieces, but most of them damn fine books and all of them worth reading—the Poirots, the Marples, the Tommy and Tuppence stories, the Parker Pyne and Harley Quinn collections and non-series books. I’ve even read her Mary Westmacott romances and her autobiography. She was a great writer, period, not just a plot spinner.
And her novels that are masterpieces—AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, SLEEPING MURDER, ENDLESS NIGHT, etc.—are must-reads for anyone professing to be a mystery or crime fiction lover.
No, the idea of not wanting to read the original because you’ve read too many truly derivative books is inane. A book is much more than a plot twist. Why read at all, with that argument? Most plots distill down from The Epic of Gilgamesh or Homer or the Bhagavad gita or the Bible. Should we give up writing and reading?
7. Christie is called the queen of poisons since she used them so often in her books. Do you have a preferred method of murder in your books? And why?
Murders in the Miranda Corbie novels tend to be violent affairs, less planned out and more spontaneous, because that’s a bit closer to how it works in real life. Murder weapons in my previous books have involved guns, scarves, hands, knives and ice picks, and this time around in CITY OF GHOSTS, a garrote (a method that I personally find fascinating). I don’t really have a preferred method; I try to let the weapon fit the criminal and fit the crime.
I’ve always admired Christie’s knowledge of poisons—she certainly made me beware of any “bitter almond” smell when I was a kid! And her description of strychnine poisoning is vividly horrific.
8. Is there any book in the Christie canon or plot twist you wish you thought of first?
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. I think it’s her most brilliant work, psychologically deep. It’s also the most noirish of her novels, along with the splendid ENDLESS NIGHT (one I like to recommend to people who think Christie and cozy are synonymous.). I loved MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, as I wrote in BOOKS TO DIE FOR—and it was also the first Christie I ever read.
9. Is there a Christie mystery which you did not like, or didn’t feel lived up to her standards?
All of the Marples are terrific. Not so the Poirots. When Agatha was going through the dark period of her life—before she married Max—her books and stories suffered, as was natural under the circumstances. DEATH IN THE CLOUDS is one unfortunate example. At her best, she combined the puzzle with psychological insight. When stressed, she seemed to just rely on the puzzle, contrivance and all. Still, with over 80 books published, she had very few misfires.
10. Any final words?
I love Agatha. She influenced me at a young age (9 or 10), and instilled in me, as a writer, the importance of psychological plausibility. It’s really not about the locked room puzzle, the circumstances and the red herrings. It’s about who is capable of murder—the most severe and heinous of crimes—and why. That’s what Agatha taught me, and continues to teach me when I read her … and I am forever thankful.
My 52 Weeks With Christie: A.Miner©2014