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! 🙂