Please welcome Stan Jones, author of the Nathan Active mysteries.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
When the coffee tastes right, when the words flow easy, and when the light is right for photography when I hit the street for a walk. Also, when Lucky, my hyperactive Jack Russell, gives me enough peace to get some work done.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?
Actually, I have two, as shown in the accompanying photograph.
The first is any one of a number of Alaska Native-made bracelets I’ve collected during my rambles around the state. Depending on the bracelet, there maybe be ivory from a walrus tusk or baleen from a bowhead whale (both caught by Native subsistence hunters) or jade from an Alaska mine, or all three. I always wear one of these bracelets.
The other, which I wear on those occasions when I am feeling both retro-Alaskan and ironic, is something called a milliken. It requires some ‘splainin’.
Quite a bit of ‘splainin’ actually.
The first thing that needs to be ‘splained is, my milliken is the slider for a bolo tie. A bolo is one of those string ties with a slider that holds it in place around your neck. Bolos used to be a big thing in Alaska men’s wear, but nobody these days wears them, except retro-ironically, as far as I know.
The second thing to be ‘splained is, the milliken is descended from the billiken, which has been a traditional Alaska knickknack since way before I was born. The billiken is a little buddha-like figure with an enigmatic expression that manages to be at once mischievous, lascivious, and sardonic. No naughty bits are displayed, bu the billiken is unmistakably a Billy.
Which takes us to the Milliken, which is new on the knickknack scene. The Milliken is unmistakably a Millie, with female chest adornments on abundant display.
I’m not sure where the Milliken originated, but I’m told it may be the work of a female artist from Haines, Alaska. If so, I commend both her sense of humor, and her feminist determination to strike a blow for equal representation of the XX chromosome cohort in the Alaska trinket market!
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
Whoa, as Keanu Reeves would mumble! There are so many!
Writers? Shakespeare, of course. Elmore Leonard. Theodore Dreiser. Jane Austen. Patricia Highsmith. Charles Darwin. Joseph Heller. Hunter S. Thompson. Philip K. Dick. Shelby Foote. Winston Churchill. John McPhee. Edmund Wilson. James Thurber. Mark Twain. Herman Melville. William Faulkner. Thomas Hardy…I give up. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll have a completely different list!
As to books not written by any of the above? The Shining Mountains. The Bible. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. The Secret Lives of Dogs. Again–ask me tomorrow!
Do you listen to music when you write?
Yes! And my tastes are psychotically eclectic. Meghan Trainor. Joan Jett. Darlene Love. George Thorogood. Hans Zimmer. Carl Orff. The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson as a solo act. Run DMC. Howlin’ Wolf. Bo Diddley. The immortal Jerry Lee (who in my opinion should be declared a National Monument). Brian Setzer. Roy Acuff. The Beatles. Ringo Starr as a solo act. The Kinks. The Who. The Rolling Stones. Bob Dylan. The Eagles (I intend to move into the Hotel California when I retire!) Tone Loc. Chuck Berry (who should also be a National Monument). The Gilbert Family, an Athabascan fiddle band from Alaska’s interior. But, yet again, ask me tomorrow!
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Hmm. Warm melted dark chocolate, I guess, being drizzled onto a lover’s bare skin. Why? Because this book–TUNDRA KILL–has more sex than its predecessors.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
It’s about a political celebrity who happens to be Alaska’s gorgeous female governor. Who wouldn’t be interested in that subject, right? But, in all seriousness–it’s deep and profound meditation on the personal cost of living constantly in the pitiless glare of fame’s harsh spotlight. Of course it is!
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
The books are about what I call friction at the interface–the tectonic impact zone where Western culture crashes into the traditional Eskimo (or Inupiat, in their language) culture of Alaska’s Arctic. It has all the stuff that human drama’s made of–triumph and tragedy, life and death, the struggle to adapt without abandoning one’s heritage, the challenge of extracting meaning from the churning chaos of a world in rapid constant transition.
Tell us about your main character.
He’s Nathan Active, the Inupiat cop in my stories. Talk about friction at the interface–Nathan was born in the Arctic village of Chukchi to an unwed teenage mother who gave him up to a white couple for adoption. They moved to Anchorage and raised him there, and he grew up hating both his birth mother and his hometown.
Then he became an Alaska State Trooper and the Troopers, with the mindless and legendary perversity of bureaucracies everywhere from time immemorial, posted him straight to Chukchi for his first assignment.
Nathan’s inner conflict about his own origins basically drives the arching over-story of the series. As he solves crimes in Chukchi, he gets to know the people and the country, and eventually he falls in love with all of it. He comes to accept the place he was born and even to reconcile with his birth mother. Each book stands on its own as a crime story, of course, but at the same time it shows us another glimpse of Nathan’s struggle with his identity crisis.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Well, let’s see. Nathan is serious and rational, so, Mr. Spock? He’s all about the doubt, so, Decartes? And he has a dry, wry, ironic, fatalistic sense of humor, so, Dilbert?
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
If they all had to be mystery writers: Edgar Allan Poe. Arthur Conan Doyle. Patricia Highsmith (even though she mostly wrote capers. for lack of a better term. rather than mysteries). Elmore Leonard. Walter Mosley. John D. McDonald. (But ask me tomorrow!)
If they didn’t have to be mystery writers: Shakespeare. Hunter Thompson. Jane Austen. Woody Allen. Patricia Highsmith. Mark Twain. (But ask me tomorrow!)
What’s next for you?
The next Nathan Active mystery is in the works, featuring a murder committed by sabotaging a Bush plane in the Arctic wilderness and making it look like an accident. Nathan faces the usual challenges: Prove it wasn’t an accident. Figure out who the killer was after. And how he did it, if it was a he. And why. And, finally, who?
Otherwise, I’m working on a sci-fi novel called Heaven on Earth, and skulling over an LA story called The Valhalla.
Stan Jones is a native of Alaska. He has been a Bush pilot and has worked as an award-winning journalist. He is the author of TUNDRA KILL and four other mysteries in the acclaimed Nathan Active series, and is co-author of an oral history of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.