Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ode to My Parents

By Kelli

First, understand that my family is small, but mighty. And I mean it--I'm an only child, and while I have a few cousins hither and yon, I didn't grow up with them and we're not close. Strangers, actually. So for most of my life, it was just me and my parents.

They're both very unique people ... and sometimes seem more like contemporaries than parents. My dad was on his own by the time he was 12--grew up poorer than dirt in Appalachian Kentucky. I'm actually a coal miner's granddaughter. He didn't have the luxury of an education or a childhood, and the harrowing things he did to survive -- what he lived through -- is amazing.
Dickens wouldn't believe it.

My mom is a good working class Polish girl from the Windy City, who somehow fell in love with my father, the footloose rebel, and rebelled against the expectations of her own upbringing. When they were young, they were involved in the civil rights struggle, and have been socially and politically engaged my entire life.

They're not group people, and I only lived in suburbia for three years of my childhood. Spent most of it in out-of-the-way places ... mountains in Colorado, tropical forest in Northern Florida. Through it all, my parents instilled in me a lesson that the only things to be ashamed of--the only bad words--the truly dirty ones--are the ones filled with hate ... because of race, or religion, or gender, or anything else.

My parents never tried to shelter me from the usual stuff. They tried to protect me--and tried to teach me to protect myself--but they taught me not to worry about George Carlin's seven forbidden words, nor did they stigmatize sex or nudity. Hurting other people was wrong. Loving other people wasn't ... kinda simple, when you think about it.

I remember when I was eight, my mom bought a book on what drugs will do to you. They believed in education about the perils facing kids and adolescents ... not demonization.

As a consequence, all the typical "forbidden" stuff had no glamor. I was a good girl (don't listen to anything Cantrell tells you). ;)

And so ... I've never worried about offending or embarrassing them with what I write. I mean, my parents still have the ability, occasionally, to scandalize me! Sex scenes--no worries. I was allowed to read Valley of the Dolls when I was 11. When I write about violence, I try to make it mean something--as it does in real life. That theme resonates with them both.

The only thing I worry about writing-wise is what I always worry about: disappointment. Because they always told me I could do anything and be anything. I was the first person in either family to go to college, to get an advanced degree. And it turns out that I have a kind of pathological fear of disappointing people who believe in me ... my agent, my editor, my publisher, friends, readers, etc. And, of course, my parents. It's a typical so-called over-achiever super-hero complex. Whaddya expect? I'm a late end Baby Boomer and grew up reading comic books.

So if I seem a little preoccupied ... some might even say "neurotic" ... between now and when CITY OF DRAGONS is released, you'll know why.

And I know one thing ... having heard my Dad's Navy version of "Twas the Night Before Xmas", nothing anybody writes will ever shock 'em! ;)


Jen Forbus said...

Sounds like some top-notch parents, Kel! No wonder they have a top-notch child!

Unknown said...

Honey, if you never lifted another finger to help someone else, you'd still have positive karma in the bank at age 90. We love ya!!!!!

Very excited about book launch!


Kelli Stanley said...

Aw, Jen--thank you, sweetie!! :) I do wish I had sisters and brothers sometimes--that is, GOOD sisters and brothers! ;)--but I do have wonderful friends, which makes up for the lack of siblings! :)



Kelli Stanley said...

Myst, you made me all verklempt. :) Thank you so much, my dear--I hope you know how much that means to me. :) I consider myself one of the luckiest people alive, to be in this community and have the friends and family I do. :)



Sophie Littlefield said...

I'm glad your parents did so right by you - particularly when it comes to levelheaded attitudes about what's truly right and wrong. That comes through in writing in a thousand different ways. And you are always there for me and your many other friends - maybe another thing they instilled in you...

- the *other* Polish, coal-miner's granddaughter CM

Joshua Corin said...

Kelli, I totally can commiserate with the pressure you felt/feel. Ever since I was an embryo, people have been telling my parents that I was gifted and that I had potential and OHMYGAWD what pressure that creates. When my first novel came out, I don't think I was able to enjoy the experience until I'd made sure that it had met my parents' approval.

Fear of disappointment can be quite a chip on the shoulder.

But it fuels our ambitions, right, Kelli? =)

Kelli Stanley said...

Gosh, Soph--you made me feel very warm and mushy inside, despite the cold ... :)

Thank you, darlin'--and we need to get together soon and talk about all these background things we share. Maybe we'll get drunk and karaoke to Loretta Lynn? ;)


Shane Gericke said...

Terrific, terrific post, Kel. You were blessed with wonderful parents, and they with you.

Kelli Stanley said...

Josh, me love, how right you are ... the pressure is intense, because you've had expectations riding on you your whole life. Not out of "succeed or else" or anything like that, just pride and hope and love. The really tough stuff! ;)

You must have made your parents beam--the sheer delight and thrill-ride and creative exuberance of NUCLEAR WINTER WONDERLAND was just awesome. :)

I think all of us are driven and intense and relentless, one way or another ... one thing that makes us all CMs. Hmm, maybe we should all karaoke to Whitney Huston singing "One Moment in Time?" ;)

Kelli Stanley said...

Right back atcha, babe. :) My childhood was way far from perfect and no stranger to trauma, but my parents tried their best--and in the end, that's what they've taught me.

That's really all we can do.

And when I think about what they've had to fight and overcome--and are still overcoming, with my mom's recent diagnosis--I usually just shut up and work harder. :)


Rebecca Cantrell said...

I am NOT signing up for any kind of karaoke, just to get that clear going in.

Kelli, you can relax. City of Dragons is a wonderful, wonderful book. It's being compared to Chandler and Hammet. No one could possibly be disappointed by you.
(But if they were, SCREW 'EM).

CMs driven? Maybe a tad!

And sometimes the answer is not to shut up and work harder, but just to lift a glass of champagne!

I lift one to you!

(and now, back to work with me)

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks a million Beck, and I toast you back! Though I do think you, too, more often work harder than drink champagne. We're also OC CMs! ;)

And perhaps if we supply you with enough absinthe, karaoke may be in your future.

That's a goal ... maybe when FIRST THRILLS comes out! :)


Bobby Mangahas said...

It sounds like you were blessed with really great parents, Kelli. You're very lucky.

And I feel lucky that I got to meet you at Bouchercon last year. It really is true what they say. The crime writing community can be very welcoming, and you certainly made me feel welcome :)

Now all I have to do is try and be as patient as possible until Feb.

Kelli Stanley said...

Thank you so much, RJ!! I'm blessed with great parents and great friends. :)

I loved meeting you in Baltimore, and really missed you and Mr. Poe in Indy!

I hope you make it out to SF next year!

I'm still planning to try for Boston, but am now thinking to wait and tack a signing on after Thrillerfest, since I'll have both CoD and the First Thrills anthology ... and the weather will be better! ;)

Take care, keep writing, keep acting and hopefully see you soon!


Joshua Corin said...

Thanks, Kelli, for your kind words about my novel! Those were the words I was looking to induce.

Induce? Hm. Maybe the wrong verb.

I very much am looking forward to buying your novel. I've heard such wonderful things, and San Francisco's Chinatown has been one of my favorite settings ever since I saw (guilty pleasure alert) John Carpenter's "Big Trouble in Little China."

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, Josh. :) That reminds me of when I was living in Italy as a young undergraduate, and the movie was playing in a theater in Florence ... the title was
"Il Grande Guaio a Piccolo China" or something like that. I think it's been modified to "Grande Guaio a Chinatown", as so many more English words have entered the language in the last twenty odd years. :)

And yes, I'd rather re-watch it than Polanski's Chinatown, despite the latter being a noir and an excellent film in many ways. IMO, there were too many believability problems with the script. Kurt Russell, on the other hand, provokes no sense of realism, so it's just plain fun. :)

Jeannie Holmes said...

Great post, Kelli! Sounds like you have awesome parents. :)

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, Jeannie. :) I think they're pretty special. :)

I've always been proud of my working class heritage, and how hard my parents had to work to get me the opportunities I've had. Parents usually just want their kids to have it better than they did ... hence, the drive to succeed to make sure they know how grateful we are. :)


Michael Wiley said...

Great post, Kelli. I'm increasingly convinced by your post, others' posts, and my own experience that we'll avoid embarrassment as long as we avoid writing directly about our family members. So my next book will not be called MURDER OF A MEMOIRIST.