Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Tree Grows in Humboldt

Which author, book, and/or movie influenced your work the most?

The short answer is Raymond Chandler, an anthology of poetry printed in the 1930s, and Casablanca. Here's the long answer ...

I'm an only child. In addition to the absence of siblings, I lived, for good portions of my childhood and all of my adolescence, in remote, rural areas (in junior high and high school this meant forty acres of undeveloped property in Humboldt County with no PG&E and no phone).

I spent a great deal of time by myself. I was often lonely, except for the company of our many animals (horses, chickens, cats, dogs, and at various times, goats, pigs, rabbits). The solitude gave me many gifts ... self-reliance. Decision. A love and understanding for nature. An appreciation of companionship.

It also gave me books.

Books, to me, were what playgrounds and television were to most of my contemporaries. They were entertainment that required no technology, no power. Nothing except a kerosene lamp or sometimes a flashlight. (And yeah, I'm givin' it to you straight about the kerosene lamp.)

My parents started me reading early ... Dr. Seuss, of course, and all sorts of early reader books that graduated into Nancy Drew by the time I was seven and Poe by the time I was eight. I remember reciting "Annabelle Lee" on the way to the bus stop in third grade, when we lived in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains.

A favorite was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which contained this line:

Books became her friends and there was one for every mood . . .

And so there was. I read whenever I could, whatever I could, wherever I could. I loved comic books (Batman had a huge influence on me), I read the classics from Austen to Tolstoy, I read potboilers (The Exorcist at eleven years of age can scar you!). I read horror, mystery, adventure, and lots and lots of poetry. Blame Dr. Seuss!

We did spend a few years in suburban San Jose, and television was no stranger to me for most of my childhood (I still laugh over Laverne and Shirley, OK?) But for some reason, I was always drawn to vintage movies of the '30s and '40s, even as a kid. My first noir was written when I was eight--a gangster melodrama with a French love interest and a tragic ending for the gangster when he tries to go straight. My favorite magazine when I was nine and ten was called Nostalgia Illustrated--lots of articles on old movie stars and radio shows and ... well, you get the idea. And I don't have a clue as to why I was drawn to noir and the '30s and '40s. Maybe I'm just a poster child for Shirley MacLaine ...

My relationship with books and plays and fiction as the ultimate entertainment form and escape (and I should include some non-fiction in there, too, because I did devour history books and became a big fan of Desmond Morris when I was a freshman in high school) is so deep and abiding and an essential part of who I am that it's kind of impossible to limit things down to one influence. Especially because there are conscious influences, like Chandler, and unconscious influences, and the latter are probably the strongest of them all.

Throw in this uncanny nostalgia for an era that is before my parents' childhood, a love of classic film and an attraction to noir and hardboiled that is apparently pre-natal, mix it all with four-color dark fantasies of super-heroic revenge, and an early life in out-of-the-way places.

All of this influenced me, continues to influence me, always will influence me.

So that's the long answer ... books were my friends. Some of the best friends of my life.
And my friends--like my grogmates on Criminal Minds--are the biggest inspirations of all.


Jen Forbus said...

Kelly, this is such a great response. I've often found myself realizing the myriad of elements that have ultimately influenced and shaped the person I am. People, books,'s so amazing.

I ♥ A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. I also adore CASABLANCA. And where would any of us be with reading/writing if not for Chandler!

Bobby Mangahas said...

One of the authors I've liked for a long time has been Dennis Lehane. His books have a literary quality to them, but not to the point of long, flowery descriptions for a leaf. (Although, flowery is really not the best way to describe crime novels). But I also like the comedic styling of Donald Westlake's Dortmunder series and Carl Hiassian. Really there are just too many for me to list.

And of course I think I've mentioned to you before the special meaning of Casablanca for me.

Sophie Littlefield said...

It's a familiar story among our ilk, but I too took a book everywhere with me through my own childhood. There was an abandoned tree house a mile or so from our house, through the woods. And *surrounded* by woods, meaning it was in the middle of freakin nowhere. I've always wondered who built it. "House" is too grandiose; it was boards nailed on with tenpenny nails to grab to help you climb...and a sheet of plywood braced by 2x4 scraps and a hell of a lot more nails, very inexpertly pounded.

It was there that I first read Little Women - among many others...

Kelli Stanley said...

Jen, thanks so much for stopping by! :) We are always the sum of many parts, which is one reason we have to temper our regret for trials and tribulations with the realization that they also make us who we are.

And A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is just a brilliant book, isn't it? :) As for Casablanca, I'll save my Bogie impression for the Bouchercon bar. ;)


Kelli Stanley said...

R.J., Dennis Lehane is absolutely brilliant, as is Donald Westlake. I haven't read Carl Hiassian, so I'll put him on the list. :)

Thanks for the recommendations, buddy! :)

And yes ... Casablanca *is* special. :)


Kelli Stanley said...

Oh, Soph, I loved tree houses! Only had one--when we lived in the Rockies. But by the time I got to Humboldt, I was, of course, surrounded by trees. :)

One old growth fir, in particular--as big and tall as an old growth redwood--we always called "my" tree. Still do! :)

And I really did read everywhere ... even when (sadly) I was doing the dishes. [spoiler alert] So did you cry over Beth? I always secretly liked Amy. ;)


Rebecca Cantrell said...

Ah, Kelli! When you were living in a pre-electric time, how could you not love historicals? I have read many a book by the light of a kerosene lamp ( or a Coleman lantern, much whiter light) and more than I can count in the outhouse. Certainly enough to appreciate a good historical ( and indoor plumbing!).

Thanks for a great post. I'll buy the gimlets if you do your Bogey...

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, Beck. I did love historicals ... I remember crying over Young Bess and Gone With the Wind when I was a kid.

But I think what I really liked was reading historical material when it wasn't intended to be historical ... you know, stuff like Dickens or Austen, or Daniel Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year (which, btw, is a great book for anyone who is fascinated by the Plague--which is pretty much all of CMdom!) ;)

And you're on about the gimlet--one of my favorite drinks, if they use the genuine lime mixer from England. ;)


Here's lookin' at you, kid!

Shane Gericke said...

So why were you guys living in the backwoods all thoe years? Were your folks nature lovers? And do they still have those 40 acres, which are probably worth a fortune by now? Your back story is fascinating!

Hiassen is a scream, especially his earlier books. When you read about the blue-tongued Vole, you'll know exactly what I mean. Right, RJ?

Me, I used to cram myself into my four-foot-by-two-foot clothes closet, shut the door, hang a flashlight from the rod by a string, and read all sorts of stuff. Imagined myself doing great things as befits a pre-teen boy back in the '50s and '60s. Eventually I learned that girls were even more fun and came out into the sunshine :-) But I've never lost the urge to go lose myself in a hidden place and crack a book.

Or write one ...

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Man, is it ever nice hanging out with book lovers as fervent as I am!

Kelli Stanley said...

Shane, my love, my parents are very unique individuals. :) We had a riding stable with the California State Parks while I was in high school, and surprisingly, Garberville (the closest town, at 15 miles away) was (and still is) a rather cosmopolitan place.

We still have the property, and it's beautiful--40 acres 2 1/2 miles up a remote dirt road.

So, about that closet ... I'm wondering if this is where you stashed copies of Playboy, too? ;)