Author On the Bookcase: Shelley Noble
Please welcome Shelley Noble, author of Stargazey Point, to On the Bookcase as she tells us more about her book!
"How Stargazey Point Came to South Carolina"
Stargazey Point is the first book I’ve written that takes place in the south.
I grew up in Georgia, haven’t lived there for years, haven’t even visited recently. I consider myself a Jersey girl, but people always ask why I don’t write about the south.
And I never know quite how to answer. How do you write about a place you know so well? When you grew up in the same house all your life in a neighborhood where most of the families have lived for generations. Where you were applauded for your first successes and chastised for an infraction of table manners. Felt the pressure to conform while meeting people who were genuine eccentrics. How do you get past your own story in order to discover someone else’s?
I usually say, “It’s just too complicated.” But really, what kind of an answer is that?
I knew Stargazey Point would take place in a small, forgotten shore town; there would be an abandoned carousel. I thought of Maine with its sometimes rugged, sometimes sparsely populated coast.
But it didn’t quite work out in Maine; maybe the weather, maybe the terrain. I moved it down the coast. I drove to New Hampshire, but it didn’t seem right, either. Massachusetts was too populated.
The characters stayed silent, the story vague.
I briefly thought about the west coast. I’d spent several years in California and Oregon, but neither said “ooh, ooh, pick me.”
I never have this kind of trouble finding a setting. From the moment I imagined Beach Colors, I knew it would place at the Connecticut shore. I considered putting my carousel there or possibly Rhode Island next door. But they already have wonderful, working carousels at Lighthouse Point, Bushnell Park, Soundview, and the flying horse carousel at Watch Hill, among others.
Same with New Jersey, we have the best carousels ever, but lots of people even in winter, even in spite of Sandy. Plus there are those jersey shore reality shows . . .
I wanted a place where the carousel would be solitary, a beacon, a hope. A broken thing that would need to be slowly and meticulously brought back to life, while my characters transformed their own lives.
I continued down the coast.
Then my editor said, “How about South Carolina?” I thought, why not. It’s right next door to Georgia; I’d spent a lot of vacations there. And the low country offered a wealth of material and characters.
Great. But I hadn’t been south of Myrtle Beach in years. No matter. I looked on the map and chose an area below Charleston for my town of Stargazey Point.
That night I dreamed about alligators. I don’t think they were Freudian symbols. I went to summer camp across the road from the Okefenokee Swamp. It’s still a vivid memory. Too vivid for comfort.
I moved Stargazey Point up a few miles—still kept thinking about alligators. I kept moving it north, until I was getting close to Myrtle Beach and knew I had to stop. I needed a place without tourists. A town ravaged by decades of hurricanes, the beaches eroded, the businesses moved out. A dying town.
By now I was getting pretty tired of not having the perfect spot for my story. It isn’t usually this hard. Story, characters and setting all mesh before I start the actual writing. That synthesis is really important to me.
The story was getting impatient as well. It was in a holding pattern, the characters were grumbling but not “speaking” to me. I put an X on the map, crossed my fingers, opened up a blank document and started to type. I was a little petrified. Would strange childhood memories come out, things best forgotten, people who in retrospect weren’t what they seemed. Could I like the characters that developed from these people? Would people I used to know think I was writing about them? Could I keep the alligators away?
And the setting. I know the Connecticut shore, I spend lots of time there. If an image or description is just out of my reach, I jump in the car and in a couple of hours, I can step onto the sand or walk down the street of one of the beach towns. The Jersey shore is an hour away.
It’s a pretty long commute from New Jersey to South Carolina. One trip maybe. Lots of internet searches, talk with friends and colleagues who live there. There would be surprises ahead. What if I didn’t like them? I decided that I would just embrace them or reject them as they came up. Use them if they could be used in the story, and forget them if not.
I’m not sure why I was so ambivalent. I had a great childhood mostly. But what if I no longer loved the “warts and all” part. Could I portray the culture accurately? Or would it be elusive? Could I reconnect with the uniqueness of the society and portray it in a way that it became an active, meaningful part of my story?
While these questions rattled around in my mind, the characters and story were reveling in the new place. They began to develop and connect. The story began to take shape in earnest. A different story than it would have been if it took place in Maine. Well of course it would be. The people, the land, the culture, the pace of life; all different. I still had my share of ‘fingers crossed’ moments. But I knew it was going to work.
What I ended up with was the perfect setting for Stargazey Point, a story about family, for better or worse; about a stranger or two in a strange land, about community and what it means no matter what part of the map you place it in. And about going home . . . if not physically, at least in your heart.
Shelley Noble is a former professional dancer and choreographer. Most recently she worked on the films Mona Lisa Smile and The Game Plan. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Romance Writers of America, and the author of Beach Colors. She lives in New Jersey.