Sunday, January 31, 2010

We Must All Hang Together by Kelli Stanley

Kelli Stanley’s second novel, City of Dragons, introduces Miranda Corbie—PI and ex-escort in 1940 San Francisco.

City of Dragons (released February 2, 2010) is the first of a series, has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal, is an RT Book
Reviews Top Pick, and an Indie Next Book for February. “Children’s Day”, a prequel to City of Dragons, will be published in First Thrills: High Octane Stories by the Hottest Thriller Writers, coming June 22nd from Tor/Forge.

Kelli’s debut novel, Nox Dormienda, won the Bruce Alexander Award and was nominated for a Macavity. She lives in San Francisco, and frequents old movie palaces, speakeasies and bookstores. You can find out more about her and her books at her website:

Kelli's cable car "workspace" where she does a lot of her creative thinking. Then, once she gets home, she sits in front of the computer and lets the words flow onto the page.

another "workspace"

We Must All Hang Together by Kelli Stanley

I want to start by thanking Kaye for letting me ensconce myself at her exquisitely comfortable abode, here at Meanderings and Musings. Kaye is such a beautiful, generous and hospitable person that her blog takes on the aspects of a five star—yet secret—bed and breakfast, tucked away in the mountains, still and lovely, but with all the amenities to make you comfortable.

Thank you, Kaye!!

I’m glad to be somewhere so safe, warm and relaxing just the day before by book comes out. City of Dragons launches from Thomas Dunne/Minotaur tomorrow—Groundhog Day!—though it’s far more concerned with other February holidays … Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year, which this year coincidentally fall on the same date.

So I’m nervous. Making the leap from small press to major publisher is a very, very lucky opportunity, and boy, do I know it!

I’ve been touring the web-o-sphere, talking about different aspects of the book … the time and the
setting (1940 San Francisco) and why both city and era resonate with me so much … my PI protagonist Miranda Corbie, who is simultaneously a response to misogynistic images of femme fatales and an ode to noir traditions. She was also a Spanish Civil War nurse and an escort before becoming a PI … a woman with a dark, complex past and an uncertain future.

But today, I thought I’d discuss one of the other major themes of City of Dragons: the soul-destroying effects of racism, between, among and shared within cultures.

The action of the novel centers on a murder that the authorities don’t want investigated. Eddie Takahashi is a nineteen year old Japanese-American numbers runner who is gunned down in Chinatown … during a fundraiser for China in the war against Japan. Assumption is that Eddie was killed because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tensions between Chinese-Americans and Japanese-Americans had been building since the start of the Sino-Japanese War, and were brought to the boiling point with the Rape of Nanking in 1937 … Eddie’s death, in the middle of the fundraising Rice Bowl Party, is considered payback—and bad for the businesses the Rice Bowl Party profits. But the boy dies in Miranda’s arms, and she’s not backing off from finding out who killed him and why.

The animosity and hatred and resentment that supposedly triggers Eddie’s death was all too real in 1940. There were boycotts of Japanese businesses—some of which were established in Chinatown—in protest of Japanese atrocities during the war, particularly at Nanking, and if you know anything about the events that happened there, you can understand the emotional outrage and anger that it still provokes.

In fact, today, seventy years later, on the very same block where Eddie is murdered—Sacramento Street at Grant Avenue—there is a small office dedicated to telling the world the truth about the Sino-Japanese War, in the face of official denial by the Japanese government. I didn’t know this when I opened the first chapter of City of Dragons here … and was saddened to find that such an effort is still necessary, a memorial to an event and a period of inconceivable human suffering.

Of course, the terrible irony—the exacerbation of the very real tensions in 1940 San Francisco—is that Asian-Americans were lumped together into a melting pot, equally discriminated against by whites, and marginalized as a totality. Racism operates on so many levels … and leaves indelible scars, often transferred from generation to generation.

As for why I chose to write about this subject? Well, I’m a half-Polish, half English/Scottish/American Indian product of a working class girl from Chicago and a young man from the poverty-stricken coal fields of Kentucky. My parents raised me to recognize the inherent dignity of human beings, to understand that the only truly dirty words are those which are filled with hate. And when I was very young, I witnessed what racism is … and the experience has stayed with me throughout my life.

We lived in northern Florida in 1972, and I remember visiting share croppers. I’ll never forget the smell of poverty, of people trying to scrape by with so little and even less hope.

I remember my father picking up an African-American man whose truck had broken down, remember how scared and nervous the man was over this white guy who stopped to help him. I remember their family staying with us for a night, while my father helped him get the truck running.
And I remember the death threats my dad got at work the next day.

My mom had her own story—she was in line to pay a hospital bill, in a sad, broken-down waiting room without couch or furniture. A white nurse saw her, told her she was in the wrong place, and led her to another waiting room, this one nicely appointed. Only then did my mom realize that she’d been the only white in the ramshackle room.

Two separate rooms, two separate services. Even in 1972.

And this isn’t about Florida. The South often gets a bad rap over racism, but I’ve actually seen more of it as an adult in other places. There are hateful –isms and –phobias of all human kinds, and they are an evil that know no boundaries and call everywhere home … even progressive, liberal San Francisco.

And this, partly, is why I wrote City of Dragons. I believe in the power of fiction, and while my primary goal is to entertain people, I also want to give people something to think about, something to learn, something to discuss. Something that I hope will be a testament to what all kinds of people in all kinds of ages have endured because of race or gender or religion or sexual orientation or whatever other artificial barriers we erect to identify—and divide—ourselves.

1940 San Francisco was a gorgeous and lovely town, full of Benny Goodman swing and Art Deco buildings and pretty hats. It was also a place and time rife with the challenges our species is still trying to overcome. Ben Franklin’s words are more true than ever … if we don’t hang together, we shall most assuredly hang separately.

I hope you enjoy City of Dragons … and the trip back in time. Thanks for listening … and thanks to Kaye again, for having me over!


Patricia Stoltey said...

Can't wait to read the book, Kelli. And congratulations on your graduation from F.S. You've done good, girl!

Your stories of Florida remind me of the experiences my mom tells about when she worked as a nurse in an Atlanta Army hospital while my dad was in the service in the 40s. She was a northern kid and didn't realize she was supposed to use the "correct" bathrooms and water fountains. Hard to comprehend...

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks so much, Pat! :) Five Star was a wonderful experience--I'm very proud to have been a Five Star author with great writers like you on board. :)

It is hard to understand, isn't it? And sometimes I think the hidden prejudices are the most pernicious of all ... Gentleman's Agreement is a classic film and a great study of bigots who don't realize they're bigoted.

Sobering stuff ... and a disease that is unfortunately still here.

Thanks again for stopping by!!


jenny milchman said...

Your story sounds fascinating, Kelli, and congrats on finding a new (great) home for it! The background you describe, which led up to it, reminds me a little of Kathryn Stockett's of The Help fame. Her protagonist came from an especially tolerant background, making the rampant racism around her unacceptable. I wish you the best with the launch and all that comes now!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Happy pub day, Dear Kelli--Imagine me singing it! (Okay, don't..)



Kelli Stanley said...

Jenny, thanks a million! :) Now I have to check out The Help--it sounds really wonderful.

Take care, and thanks again for all your very sweet and wonderful wishes! :)


Kelli Stanley said...

Hank, I can hear you, and it sounds beautiful!! ;)

Thank you, my dear!! And Happy Pub Date to you TOMORROW for DRIVE TIME!! I can't wait to read the next Charlie!! :)


Jen Wendel said...

The book sounds great, I'm looking forward to reading it. I grew up in the South in the fifties and so I'm very familiar with racism. We moved to California when I was about forty and I was surprised to find some racism here, too, even now.

Congratulations, Kelli.

Vicki Lane said...

Congratulations on the new release! And I gotta say, those are some fine work spaces!

Kelli Stanley said...

Thank you, Jen!! :)

That's the problem with racism ... it lurks in unexpected places, because it takes root early and doesn't require much encouragement to grow.

It's here, in San Francisco ... and everywhere there are people who are afraid of superficial difference.

Thanks again for stopping by--and take care!


Kelli Stanley said...

LOL ... thanks, Vicki! :) It's a beautiful city, and I'm always inspired when I'm out and about in it!! :)

Thanks for stopping by!!


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Kelli - Thank you, sweetie for those kind words. AND thank you for stopping by.

And thanks to everyone else for stopping by for a little chat with our Kelli.

Those of us who have stories of the dangers and ignorance of racism share the responsibility, I think, of sharing them in efforts to beat the monster back into its hole. There are many heroes in the battle. They've made it better,but we have a long way to go.

Thanks very much, Kelli, for sharing yours and I cannot WAIT to read "City of Dragons!"


Shane Gericke said...

And don't forget the most disgusting act of racism of that era--sending Americans of Japanese heritage to American concentration camps for the duration of WWII. That people still defend that decision today boggles the mind. May you do so very well with your book, Kel, cause you deserve the world!