Author pulls from family history, challenges gender norms, and explores inherited trauma in noir historical fiction


Sacramento, CA – In Copy Boy (June 23, 2020, She Writes Press), a story of escape, disguise, and coming of age, lecturer and author Shelley Blanton-Stroud follows Jane, a desperate girl seeking work in the Great Depression. Repeatedly turned away from employment, she disguises herself as a boy to get hired, raising questions on women’s struggles in the workplace and how gender norms influence social expectations, then and now, as well as the role of crisis in developing resilience.

Jane leaves her messy family life behind to find work as a newspaper copy boy in San Francisco. Creating a new identity as a man opens new opportunities for her, and Jane uses her disguise to escape crimes she may or may not have committed. Things are looking up…until her father’s picture appears in the paper and threatens her safety and new way of life.

Pulling from her own family’s Dust Bowl history, Blanton-Stroud exposes the need and the cost of ambition and competition through a proactive female protagonist fighting for what she wants. Throughout her career, she has amplified the writing of countless others through teaching college writing in Northern California, consulting with writers in the energy industry, serving on the advisory board of 916 Ink, and co-directing Stories on Stage Sacramento — all leading up to her own electric debut.

Copy Boy
Shelley Blanton-Stroud | June 23, 2020 | She Writes Press | Historical Fiction, Noir
Print ISBN: 978-1-63152-697-81 | Paperback Price: $16.95
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-63152-698-5 | Ebook Price: $9.95

More about Shelley Blanton-Stroud

SHELLEY BLANTON-STROUD grew up in California’s Central Valley, the daughter of Dust Bowl immigrants who made good on their ambition to get out of the field. She teaches college writing in Northern California and consults with writers in the energy industry. She co-directs Stories on Stage Sacramento, where actors perform the stories of established and emerging authors, and serves on the advisory board of 916 Ink, an arts-based creative writing nonprofit for children. She has also served on the Writers’ Advisory Board for the Belize Writers’ Conference. Copy Boy is her first novel, and she’s currently working on her second. She also writes and publishes flash fiction and non-fiction, which you can find at such journals as Brevity and Cleaver. She and her husband live in Sacramento with an aging beagle and many photos of their out-of-state sons. To get to know Shelley Blanton-Stroud and her writing better, visit her at

Early Praise

“This is Raymond Chandler for feminists.” — Sharma Shields, award-winning author of The Cassandra

Copy Boy is a rewarding historical novel with a ferocious, fascinating lead.” — 4-star Foreword Clarion Review

“An expressive and striking story that examines what one does for family and for oneself.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A stellar debut. Combining the best elements of noir, historical, and coming-of-age fiction, Blanton-Stroud has written a compelling, nuanced story that transports readers to San Francisco in the 1930s. Deftly plotted and expertly executed, Copy Boy is as mesmerizing as the moment when the fog lifts over Nob Hill. Highly recommended.” — Sheldon Siegel, New York Times best-selling author of the Mike Daley/Rosie Fernandez Mystery Series

“Copy Boy is a fantastic story of a young woman’s survival and reinvention. Blanton-Stroud’s prose sings and crackles and brings us into the world of Jane with so much compassion and beauty and wisdom. An engaging, wonderfully original book.” — Karen E. Bender, author of The New Order, long-listed for the Story Prize, and Refund, a National Book Award finalist

“Full of adventure, chutzpah, historical detail, and, most of all, heart, Copy Boy is a thrilling, Depression-era coming-of-age story well suited to our times.” — Maggie Shen King, award-winning author of An Excess Male

Shelley Blanton-Stroud’s Copy Boy is one of those novels that can rekindle your faith in fiction. Her distinctive voice, command of historical details, and sheer storytelling verve show through on every page. Maybe this exact story never happened, but it should have—in exactly this way. A bravura debut—I’m expecting great things from this author. —David Corbett, award-winning author of The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday.

In an interview, Shelley Blanton-Stroud can discuss:

  • Her family’s dust bowl history and how that influences her writing
  • Grit and resilience and their connection to success
  • Women at work
  • Gender stereotypes and fluidity
  • Why noir is right for now
  • Her experience amplifying writers and why she tells her own story now
  • Book clubs and their effect on reading life
  • Jane’s struggle between her ambition and desire to connect
  • Themes of fact vs. fiction and how they relate to the novel

An Interview with Shelley Blanton-Stroud

1. What is your novel’s origin story? How did your family’s dust bowl history influence you and your book?

As a boy, my father lived in a Hooverville tent camp near Wasco, California, convenient to the cotton fields where his family picked. One day, his friend’s mother asked the two boys to get rid of his friend’s daddy, who was drunk again, spending their picking money, putting them further at risk. She told them to drive the man 30 miles south and leave him there by the side of the road. Though they didn’t know how to drive, they did what she said. This was the seed of my novel.

2. Women in the book behave unconventionally. Is this a modern sensibility or did women in the Depression-era act this way?

Depression era photographer, Dorothea Lange—inspiration for one of my characters—used the male pronoun to describe herself. She called herself he and him, explaining that doing so made her believe in her own ability to take the pictures that improved conditions for people living without homes along the side of the road. Women have always behaved unconventionally if they wanted to achieve significant things. It has always been necessary, and it has always created trouble.

3. As a reporter, Jane makes up evidence. What are you saying about facts and truth?

Documentary photographer Dorothea Lange took a quote from Sir Francis Bacon as her credo: “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention.” Yet her artistic eye led her to compose photographs, moving things out of the camera’s view. She was a historian of the contemporary. This selectivity is part of what makes her photographs so compelling. Historians have always shaped selected facts into narratives that align with their own point of view. We all choose where to look, consciously or unconsciously.

In my novel, Copy Boy, my main character, Jane, lies to survive. In the Great Depression, she remakes herself, reinvents herself, becoming a man, changing her name. And, as a result, she gets good work at a newspaper and begins to thrive in the lie. But her willingness to dismiss the gap between fact and truth in that profession creates trouble. The way she negotiates the gap reveals her character. Or maybe it creates it. As it now does for all of us.

4. Many Dust Bowl migrants are still alive. How was their situation like or unlike the situation of homeless Californians today?

There are differences. But the core elements are the same—people have lost their shelter, the very basis of what is necessary to survive, often due to economic facts outside their control. These people, aiming to survive, don’t have the basics they need to get back on their feet. And on top of that struggle they are judged and hated. Now, as then. But also, as a result of this
hardship, some will be crippled in their life’s trajectory, never recovering what or who they
might have been. Others will be made stronger, more resilient, by the test.

5. Does Jane’s cross-dressing mean she’s questioning her gender? If not, how should we see it?

I conceived of Jane cross-dressing not because she is consciously exploring her sexuality or her gender, but because she feels that she is better able to survive and thrive as a man than as a woman, that it is easier to do so as a man. I believe Jane would have many lovers, men and women, in her life, secretly, but also more freely than most women would have because she is surrounded by artistic creatives who, even in the Depression era, were given a bit more latitude. But for me, the main thrust of that choice, for Jane to wear a fedora and suit, was to see who she was capable of becoming without the limitation a woman faces.

6. Why is noir relevant now?

Noir is back. You may know it as a literary and film genre of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye and Farewell My Lovely come to mind. But the genre cycles back when cultural conditions are right, shifting in its particulars according to the zeitgeist.

I love the way novelist Megan Abbott explains it—”In noir, everyone is fallen, and right and wrong are not clearly defined and maybe not even attainable.” Today many of our traditionally moral institutions—government, elections, churches, universities—are doubted and rejected as not worthy of authority. This is a noir sort of world, when a person must struggle to get as close to “right” as possible.

7. You have quite the extensive career helping other writers, what inspired you to write Jane’s story now?

I was a reader first. Though I always dreamt of being a writer, I did not believe in my own ability to make that happen. So I organized my life around being writing-adjacent, guiding other writers into making successful choices. It wasn’t until my husband’s heart failure that we both agreed, if there was something we wanted to do, we’d better get around to doing it.