Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Miracle

By Kelli

Anything "criminal" on the road to publication?

Like Becky, I'm not going to incriminate myself in public. If you want to know where the specific bones are buried, it's best to find me in the Bouchercon bar and ply me with a whiskey sour ... I'm susceptible to bourbon.

Meanwhile, let's talk about writing and the criminal life. Or is that crime and the writing life? It's all a muddle.

So. The road to publication. There's actually a one word synonym for that phrase. Life.

Ever wonder why you don't see a lot of really young crime writers? Most of us are, well, in that indeterminate and ill-defined zone that is labeled "middle age" but I prefer to think of as "primed and ready." Like Sophie getting struck by lightning after the kids reached puberty, there's just a moment when the splintered shards coalesce into a prism ... when the chapters of your life can come together and spew out a story.

Life helps you write. It gives you something to say, some knowledge about how to say it, and hopefully has mellowed the self-assurance you strutted around with when you were younger. "I know the answers" transforms into "Let's look at the questions."

My "road to publication" has been over all kinds of terrain, from Washington State in one corner to Tallahassee Florida in another. That was 1972, and living in northern Florida at the time brought one of my earliest encounters with the grotesque specter of racism and the legacy of Jim Crow. It's a memory I've never forgotten ... and it shaped who I am. Shaped the books I write.

It's come in many guises over the years, most significantly, as Becky discussed, The Holocaust. But unreasoning hatred of supposed difference is, for me, the most significant crime I've ever witnessed.

I've seen it again on and off, for most of my life, always tried to avoid it, always tried to find out "why" ... why do people refuse to recognize fellow human beings? What made the KKK? What made Hitler?

I visited Dachau in '83, looking for answers, needing, somehow, to face the reality, the enormity of the crime. Saw Anne Frank's wretched little bedroom, looked out the window, imagined the neatly dressed, close-shaved men in uniform patrolling the streets.
Rounding up Jews. Killing people. So mechanized, so ordered.

I spent my high school years on forty acres of land near a tiny rural town in the middle of the Redwoods named Garberville. Up in Humboldt County, most of the crime was related to growing and selling marijuana. At the time, the big syndicates hadn't moved in, because this was before the governor spent millions of dollars launching "CAMP", or Campaign Against Marijuana Production. Criminal? That's another conversation.

What I remember, in that tiny town of less than 2,000 people, is the young girl, a couple of years older than me, who was raped and murdered. We knew the family of the young man responsible. I remember the boy who started a fire--intentionally--I remember the lady who drank too much, and remember when the police found her body. Her husband beat her to death. I remember a lot of crime, and let me tell you, it hurts even more when you know the victims and the criminals themselves. Small-town American idylls are mythology, how we as a country would like to see ourselves, not how we actually are.

The truth is that where there are people there are crimes and criminals and unreasoning, rabid hatreds and passions out of control. There are predators and prey and homo sapiens who are born without the altruistic gene and without any compassion at all who will pick off who and what they want without compunction. There are leading citizens who will run meth labs in barns and there are church-goers who would light a cross on the lawn of our President.

And yet ... with all this pain and anger and injustice ... we still function. We are a strong and successful species and we will survive. The miracle is that the every day lives of most people are full of hidden kindnesses, not hatred, not anger.

Part of being a crime writer is writing about the full spectrum, those shards that make up the prism of your life, in all the colors, in all the patterns. I decided to take the plunge just over four years ago, and was lucky enough to see the first book I ever tried to write find a publisher. My next book addresses some of these issues--like racism--more directly.

Life is criminal. It's also a miracle. I try to write about it all.


Hard Boiled Mysti said...

Florida, home to the sunniest noir on earth :)

thanks for the great post Kelli!

I'm now officially addicted to this blog. My first true blog addiction.

Thanks guys!!!!

R.J. Mangahas said...

Hear, hear on your post Kelli. And I too refuse to incriminate myself in such a public forum.

As for the whiskey sour...soon. ;-]

Jen said...

Oh so insightful Kelli! I love this post. I often hurt my head wondering how people can continue to discriminate against each other. It seems to be an ugly cycle. But don't the good things always just light up your day. Whenever I hear the good things I walk on air for the rest of the day.

We can chat about the skeletons over dueling whiskey sours! :)

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, Mysti! :) And I'm proud that we suckered you into the blogosphere like a double shot macchiato! ;)

Hmm ... maybe we should launch a Criminal Minds Coffee? ;)


Kelli Stanley said...

R.J., you know the way to my heart. ;) Just make sure there's a cherry in it--helps the bourbon go down! ;)

See you in Indy!


Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, Jen! I was reminded of the miracle of everyday functionality when I was in NY for Thrillerfest.

When you get that many people that close together, it *shouldn't* work ... but it does. NYers are some of the nicest and most social people on earth. Manhattan is a supreme example of the everyday miracle. :)

And so glad you're a whiskey sour fan! They're yummy--just had one at the Tfest after banquet party. :) We'll compare notes at B'con!