North by Northwest

THE CURSE-MAKER has been out for a little over a week, (yay!) and now I start the out-of-state leg of my tour … back to my home state, Washington.

I admit it: I get a little choked up when I see Mt. Ranier standing over the Seattle-Tacoma-Puget Sound area, majestic and awesome and beautiful. I was born in its shadow, and I always feel like it protects me.

Seattle, of course, is home to one of the best mystery stores on the planet, Seattle Mystery Books. Fabulous people, fabulous store, and I love getting to hang out with friends like Fran and J.B.! It’s also the home to some of the best coffee anywhere. My own preference is the home-grown Tully’s, rather than their most famous (and ubiquitous) competitor.

On my first trip to SMP for NOX, I discovered a wonderful hat store in Seattle, too. Byrnie Utz–and it looks just like it must have seventy years ago! (It was founded in 1939, a year dear to my heart). Wooden shelving and cabinets, and even one of the vintage machines that can stamp gold lettering on the inside of your fedora rim. I’m not sure if I’ll get back to Byrnie’s on this trip, but I’ve got one more book launch coming up this year (CITY OF SECRETS), so if not now, then. 😉

One place I MUST go–on this and every trip–is the Tacoma factory outlet for Brown and Haley’s Almond Roca. I grew up with Almond Roca, and I love buying it for friends and colleagues. The outlet is actually a wonderful little round (and pink) building from the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962–the one that gave us the Space Needle, the monorail, and a fair-themed Elvis flick. 😉

So I’m looking forward to Seattle–and Portland, where I’ll get to spend time at two great bookstores, Murder by the Book and the fabled Powell’s–and see my dear friend and fellow writer Bill Cameron.

You know, there are many, many reasons to go on book tour, beyond the obvious ones of (hopefully) meeting new readers and selling copies.

Tully’s, Almond Roca and friends are just three more. 😉

Thanks for reading–and big thanks to those of you who’ve already picked up THE CURSE-MAKER!

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City of Dragons Tour – The Great Northwest!

So for the first leg of the tour, we flew to Seattle the morning after the M is for Mystery launch party, and relished being in my home state at Seattle’s finest bookstore, Seattle Mystery Bookshop, with the wonderful and awesome Fran and JB! I met some folks, signed books, hung out with the gang, blogged, listened to the soundtrack for City of Dragons and had lunch with a friend in Seattle’s oldest bar. Stayed at the Sleep Inn in SeaTac (and wished I actually could), but it was another early morning and a drive to Portland the next day.

Along the beautiful I-5, we stopped in Olympia to thank Linda Dewberry of Whodunit Books for nominating City of Dragons for the IndieNext list! We also enjoyed a great lunch next door at Olympia’s finest sandwich shop.

And I’ve gotta say … as a native Washingtonian, I’m very proud of my state’s hospitality. All along I-5, you come upon rest stops with highway signs advertising “free coffee.” Charities get donations of coffees, cookies (sometimes cupcakes and donuts) and offer them to travelers, who then donate cash. It’s a wonderful system. 🙂

In Portland, we stayed at an Arts and Crafts guest house in the Hawthorne District, close to Murder by the Book. I love this store! Informative, friendly, wonderful, they–like Seattle Mystery Bookshop–are a must on any northwest tour.

Before the signing, we caught dinner at a cool restaurant called Belly Timber that also had the advantage of being directly across the street (and it was raining–hard!). Tried some lovely fried chickpeas as an appetizer, and now I’m addicted. Seriously, if you’re ever there, try ’em–they’re even better than popcorn!

Dear, dear friend and brilliant writer Bill Cameron joined us at dinner and showed us how to cross a rainy and dark Portland street like a native. We had a good turnout for the Murder by the Book event, including the wonderful Theresa Bergen, ITW member and writer, who wrote a great recap for Reading Local. I got the chance to pass around ephemera and answer a lot of interesting questions and do a little reading. And of course–had a lot of fun!!

The next morning, we left for Seattle, eating lunch at a seafood cafe along the way (halibut tacos–yum!). We made good time–stopping for our prerequisite I-5 coffee–and squeezed in fifteen minutes of childhood thrills before heading to the rent car center and airport. 🙂

I was born in Tacoma and lived there until I was seven, and have very fond memories of Brown and Haley–makers of the famous Almond Roca. And my mom used to take me to the factory outlet store … which is still there!

The building is adorable, and we found out that it was originally built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, then transported to the factory when the fair ended. So my love of World’s Fairs really did start early … in person at Expo ’67 and home in Tacoma with Brown and Haley!

The next leg of the tour takes me down to Los Angeles and points south … to Mysteries to Die For, Book ‘Em Mysteries, The Mystery Bookstore, Mysterious Galaxy and Poisoned Pen! I’ll be blogging from the road. As always — thanks for reading!

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Lists, Picks and a Pre-Code Delight

I’m long overdue, but it’s nice to be home.

One of my autumn resolutions (always a good time for resolutions–forget January) is to blog each and every week. Probably on a Sunday or Monday … and I intend to keep said resolution, even if the road to Washington, D.C. is paved with them …

So what have I been doing? What does that title mean? How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?

Just a little over a week ago, I headed north to the great state of Washington (I can say that with sincerity–I was born there, in Tacoma, the “City of Destiny.” And yes, that is what Tacoma is known as, so there.) That’s Mt. Ranier in the photo, by the way.

Had the great good fortune and wonderful time of signing books at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, the premiere place for crime fiction in the state, and one of the top mystery stores in the U.S. J.B, Gretchen and Fran make three hours seem like three minutes — awesomely fun people!! We laughed, talked about theme songs, and listened to J.B.’s terrific “Spy Mix” of movie and television themes. Where else can you rock out to Thunderball or Mission Impossible while you’re signing books?

I saw an old friend from comic book store days (Adam Barnes, ultra-cool guy and publisher of Perilous Press) and met a new friend, Christina Arbini, a romance writer who is set to rock the world with her amazing books.

In other words, I had an incredible afternoon, and can’t wait to get back. And then, this Friday, The Seattle Times posted the best-selling mystery lists from SMBS, and … I was on it! Five Star is a small press, and not known for its ease in bookstore ordering (euphemistically speaking) … so to be on the list (#5) was a complete surprise and a total highpoint! Topping off the good news, today the monthly list for August was released, and NOX DORMIENDA was #7 for the month, tied with James Lee Burke’s (!) SWAN PEAK. Holy Moley! And my home state, too! Thanks, guys!! Seattle Mystery Bookshop is the best!!

So back to the tour … I took Amtrak from Seattle (“The Emerald City”) to Portland, to sign at the wonderful Murder by the Book. This is one of the nicest bookstores you’ll ever step inside … Jean, Carolyn, Barb, Nick and Ted are so helpful and so knowledgeable, I defy anyone to leave without buying something. I am so thankful to have done a signing, and like Seattle, can’t wait to go back! To make selections easy, the store is organized by type of detective … unique and creative! I had a delightful afternoon, talking to a high school classmate (Hi, Tiffany!), a friend of a friend, and hanging around with the reason why Portland should be your number one destination in the Northwest: Bill Cameron.

Bill’s my special buddy, and took us on a LOST DOG tour of the city. So I finally got to see the places that creeped me out in his kick-butt book. And snag a bite in the cool Hawthorne District, where the store is located. And take a train out of the oldest continuously operated station in the country, beautifully restored. Sigh. Portland was wonderful! (As you can see in the photo, LOST DOG and NOX DORMIENDA are blessed with supernatural energy).

I didn’t have too much time to miss the NW, though. Two days after returning, I had a library panel with fellow authors Dana Fredsti, David Fitzgerald, Peter Gessner and Rebecca Dixon. We had a grand old time — pure fun! — and so well-moderated by Dave that some sort of moderator award needs to be established in his honor. One of the best panels, ever.

And that brings me to my current schedule. I’m heading to LA and San Diego for signings this weekend, to Thousand Oaks and Mysteries to Die For, and The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles. Then the downtown San Diego Borders on Sunday to wrap things up. So what about the picks I referred to in my blog title?

Well, M is for Mystery — where I held my first reading on August 2nd — has selected me as their “Mystorical” pick for August. I’m in august (OK, I like puns) company … Denise Hamilton and Salman Rushdie are earlier choices. The Mystery Bookstore has also chosen NOX DORMIENDA as their “September Discovery Club Selection” — another honor! And Mysteries to Die For describes my book this way: “Kelli Stanley has created an exciting new genre of mystery here, Roman noir. Fast-paced plotting, first person narrative, staccato and hard-boiled prose are utilized to full effect. This series debut is one that will be talked about all year.”

I’ve been feeling much more cozy than noir lately, more like Gidget than Gloria. And I can’t wait to get to LA and San Diego and thank these amazing, supportive and wonderful bookstores in person!

OK, so now we come to the Pre-Code Delight: Man’s Castle, a 1933 Frank Borzage film with Spencer Tracy and a 20 year-old Loretta Young. I caught it on TCM the other night, and it was fantastic.

Spencer and Loretta live in a shanty town in Central Park, along with the other discarded people of the Great Depression. Spencer takes odd jobs and keeps them in stew; Loretta plays wife. Though, because this is pre-code, they’re not married. In fact, the first night they meet, they go skinny-dipping, and they sleep in the same bed.

Yeah, people actually had sex before 1934 and the Hays Code tried to make it illegal.

Anyway, Spence is a man who doesn’t want commitments. He doesn’t want to be tied down. Loretta is in love with him, and persuades him to buy a stove for their Love Shack on the installment plan ($2 down, $1 a month!). He dallies with gap-toothed Glenda Farrell (filmland’s Torchy Blaine). But he buys the stove.

And then … she tells him she’s pregnant. Yup, they had unmarried sex. Twenty years later they would die for it. But pre-code, no worries. They are “married” by an ex-preacher, also from Hooverville.

She even mentions something about getting rid of the baby if it would make him happy … and doesn’t use the word adopt. But Spence decides to run out on her, first throwing in with a real villain (a rapist type with designs on Loretta) to rob a toy shop safe, so she’ll be provided for.

I won’t tell you what happens, but I will tell you this: the characters have a happy ending (as happy as you could have, if you were impoverished in 1933).

You’ll have fun counting the “sins” in this film, all of which would be punishable by death or imprisonment, film-wise, the following year. The direction is romantic and lush, as is typical with Borzage; Tracy’s acting is breathtakingly natural, and Loretta Young is just breathtaking (and also turns in a great performance).

Films like this make you wonder … how did the Code change American culture? How did it affect generations of film-goers? Can we blame the code for reality tv?

More next week, after my LA tour … home sweet home will be the Culver Hotel, next to the old Ince/MGM/RKO studios. Ah, Hollywood! 🙂

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Unsuspected Noir

So here it is, Monday night. My book just came out (if I repeat it enough it may sink in) … I spent a wonderful Saturday afternoon at the Hayward Public Library on a Sisters in Crime panel with the lovely and talented Camille Minichino, Michelle Gagnon and Peggy Lucke … great company, great audience, great library, and terrific hospitality. I’m getting ready for a signing trip to the Seattle Mystery Bookshop and Portland’s Murder by the Book. And now, as I type this, I’m waiting for the repairman to tell me what is wrong with our nearly-new dryer.

Yup. It’s appliance noir.

Noir strikes you unexpectedly, from the failure of computerized mechanisms we rely on, as well as the rain-streaked and shadowed streets of Los Angeles. Yeah, we’ve got a graphite colored (you expected white?) top-of-the-line eco-dryer, but appliance noir hits you between the eyes, baby, and kiss your evening (and laundry) goodbye.

At least I’ve got my blog.

Though situations like this beg for depressing poetry and a bottle of Scotch, I’ll refrain. And instead, tell you about The Unsuspected (1947), a deliciously nasty little Warner noir TCM aired the other day.

Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) and starring the most sympathetic and urbane villain to grace the screen — Claude Rains — along with noir stalwarts Audrey Totter (how do you define noir? Audrey Totter) and Jack (The Killers) Lambert, it’s a highly charged and extremely suspenseful tale about a radio host of crime dramas who is implicated in some shenanigans of his own.

The opening scene–the first murder–is powerful and chilling film-making, even on a small screen. A bit later, Curtiz makes full use of the power of voice-over, shadows and light, in a tour-de-force sequence showing the effect of Rain’s broadcast on a number of characters we’ve yet to be introduced to. The director does shamelessly purloin Hitchcock’s famous teacup shot from Notorious toward the climax of the film, but since Claude Rains is in both movies, I guess he’s entitled.

Joan Caulfield is the good girl here (Audrey, of course, plays the slut) and Constance Bennett takes on an Eve Arden-type role, and does it with panache. Ted North’s stiffness as a mysterious young man who claims to have married heiress Caulfield is well-suited to the part … is he Dudley-Do Right or Bar Sinister? Hurd Hatfield (Dorian Gray) ably rounds out the cast as Audrey’s debauched and drunken husband.

The script, from a novel by Charlotte Amstrong, snaps and sparkles with lines like these:

Someone comments on the painting of Joan Caulfield above the mantle piece, asking whether it was a particular artist’s Blue Period (not Picasso).

Audrey replies: “My husband. His drunk period. Began right after our marriage.”

Or Ted North as Steven Howard: “I like matches. You never have to refill them. And when you’re through with them, you simply throw them away… like people.”

The Unsuspected is another gem thus far unavailable on DVD or video. Look for it on TCM, and don’t forget to set your Tivo.

And my own unexpected unsuspected appliance noir? The part won’t be in for ten days. Yup, you got it. *Bleeped* on page one.

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Countdown …

I’ve got fond memories of Casey Kasem. (And no, your eyes don’t deceive you–that’s not a picture of Casey.)

Gilda is my favorite film noir, so for book-launch good luck I’m adding photos of Rita as Gilda. Gotta sneak a little film noir in, and it did get your attention … 😉 And thank you, Rita. You can still make an audience hold its breath.

Those Casey memories were not only with the Top 40 Countdown, of course, but as the voice of Shaggy Rogers (yes, Shaggy had a last name … I’m not sure if “Doo” is Scooby’s last name or not) and Robin in various incarnations, most notably the Super Friends.

God, those toys were cool. That Super Friends’ Hall of Justice … the only thing I didn’t like about the SFs were those annoying twins. Worse than Snapper Carr in the Silver Age Justice League. Jimmy Olsen clones just never cut it for me … though I will now officially confess a fondness for the old red-headed photographer himself. Shhh … don’t spread it around, it ruins the noir cred.

Speaking of noir, I’ve got a long-delayed blog on a film noir coming up after August 1st, when things get back to the new normal. Right now, I’m all-consumed with the launch of my book, and just didn’t want to write about a man who frames himself for his own murder. Call me superstitious.

Anyway, I’m thinking of Casey because I’ve been running through my own series of countdowns. Last Friday, the 18th, my book was officially released into the world, alive and kicking. More stock is coming into Amazon by August 31st, and I’m grateful to them for posting a notice to that effect. Barnes and Noble had it in stock for a couple of days last week, and have run out already.

This bodes well for demand, but I very much wish the supply chain was easier … distribution can be a challenge for a small press. I am eternally grateful to those readers who have already ordered it from various sources, and those who are waiting patiently. In all sincerity, I can’t thank you enough. It’s a scary world out there when you’re a debut author … and my biggest goal is to simply be read (and hopefully liked, of course). 🙂

So back to the countdown … this week, I’m counting down to my official launch date, August 1st. This is the date of my launch party, hosted by the phenomenal San Francisco speakeasy Bourbon and Branch. Think a gorgeous ’20s bar, custom cocktails (the Nox Dormienda and the Roman Noir), Roman soldiers in costume, prizes and a lot of fun. The San Francisco Mystery Bookstore very kindly agreed to be my bookseller for the event. My goal is really to send Nox off to boarding school with the best karma possible, and I’m lucky to have so many friends in town for the RWA conference and attending the party. My other goal is to try to avoid incriminating photos.

And Saturday, August 2nd, the party continues at M is for Mystery in San Mateo, California … at my first reading/signing/Q&A.

Fortunately, many of my friends have been through this already, so I learned a few tips:

Check your teeth for spinach.
Make sure your fly is zipped.
Bring kleenix.
Musical instruments help (I’m bringing my harmonica).

Yeah, I’m nervous … what if no one shows up? I can talk to myself (hey, I’m a Gemini!) but I run out of questions pretty quickly. So if you’re around at 2 PM, stop in and say hello!

August is going to be busy … I’ve got a number of events and a signing tour jog up to my home state, Washington, at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop and in Portland at Murder by the Book. Plus, I’m finishing up a new novel.

But as soon as I can peel myself off the ceiling, where I’ve been floating, I’ll be back on the noir track.

And in the meantime, watch Gilda. It’s as good as you remember.

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