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In Her Own Words: Shelley Noble, Author of Stargazey Point

Today I am introducing something brand new to the blog: guest posts of writers in their own words.  The first feature in this series is by Shelley Noble, women’s fiction author.  Shelley’s newest novel is Stargazey Point.

Stargazey 2

Devastated by tragedy during her last project, documentarist Abbie Sinclair seeks refuge with three octogenarian siblings, Millie, Marnie and Beau Crispin, who live in a looming plantation house at the edge of the world—Stargazey Point.

Once a popular South Carolina family beach resort, the Point’s beaches have eroded, businesses have closed, and skyrocketing taxes are driving the locals away. Stargazey Point, like Abbie, is fighting to survive.

Abbie thinks she has nothing left to give, but slowly she’s drawn into the lives of the people around her: the Crispin siblings, with their own secret fears, Cabot Reynolds, who left his work as an industrial architect to refurbish his uncle’s antique carousel in hopes of breathing new life into his childhood sanctuary. Ervina, an old Gullah wise woman, who can guide Abbie to a new life and her true self, if only she’ll let her. And a motley crew of children whom Abbie can’t ignore.

She came for a safe haven but receives much more.  Stargazey Point is magic place—a place for dreamers.  It is also a place that can lead you home.

I’m proud to have Shelley here today.  Without further ado, here she is.

The Beginning of an Idea

Shelley Noble

Shelley Noble

Readers often ask writers where we get our ideas for a story.  Writers talk to each other about how they come up with ideas. Is it a character whose story you want to explore?  Is it a place that has caught your imagination? An event? An issue close to your heart?

Some of my colleagues say they always start with the characters, or with an issue or with a situation. I’ve never been one of those authors. In fact I’m not always sure where or when my story actually begins. And that’s what happened with Stargazey Point.

Does that sound crazy?

Well, maybe it is, just a little.

Certain elements appear in most of my stories.  I like writing about small towns, where everyone knows everybody’s business.  Where arguments may extend for generations. Where best friends and worst enemies come face to face daily. And where individuals find strength in community.

I also like to write about life at the shore, explore different life styles and include characters of different ages.

But even knowing that, the beginning of an idea is nebulous.  I might be driving along and an image just comes into my head.  I might see a girl walking a dog, a interesting house, two old men arguing at a bus stop.  Any of these have the potential to be apart of a story. Most of the time I don’t know which comes first. Maybe several aspects appear at once. But as soon as I recognize them, the elements begin to intertwine and grow together like one of those DNA helixes

The first two things I remember specifically about the beginning of Stargazey Point, was that I wanted to have a carousel. I love carousels, not only are they fun, and hold great childhood memories, but to me they’re a symbol of joy and hope.

But where to put it.  I live in New Jersey and we have great carousels. But the Jersey shore is crowded. My carousel would be neglected in a town once filled with tourists but was now virtually forgotten.

Now here’s an example of how ideas can come from unexpected sources.  I was running my carousel idea past a friend and colleague and she said, “I read about a carousel down south somewhere that had been stored in a shed to protect it from a hurricane and had been forgotten for years until someone discovered it by accident.”

That tidbit was just too good to let pass. After that my story took off. A town ravaged by years of hurricanes, the beaches swept away, homes destroyed.  I wrote this a full year before Sandy hit New Jersey and taught us first hand the devastation that a hurricane can bring.

The people are poor, the town is dying. I still didn’t have a main character or a plot exactly, but I did have a secondary character, Cab Reynolds. Cab spent every summer as a child in Stargazey Point with his uncle Ned. When Ned leaves him a derelict carousel, Cab gives up a lucrative career in architecture and life in the fast lane to return to a place of sanctuary filled with the memories of safety and love.

There would be three octogenarian siblings, Millie, Marnie, and Beau Crispin, members of an old southern family, who have also descended into poverty but are still treated with respect.

Now what?

Slowly my protagonist appeared, not clearly, but vaguely, like a ghost. Not a real ghost, but . . . Abbie Sinclair would be pale with light, almost white, blonde hair, ephemeral looking, but strong.  Though she doesn’t realize how strong until Stargazey Point begins to work its magic.

At this point everything began to twist and turn and it’s hard to say just how it developed.  It came in snatches of ideas written down on anything handy from iPhone to newspaper margin.  A plot line began to weave itself into a story, even though I wasn’t sure how Abbie got to the Point or why.

E-novella prequel to Stargazey Point

E-novella prequel to Stargazey Point

Gradually she grew into her character.  The youngest daughter of a family of do-gooders who became a documentarist and whose last project ended in tragedy.  At this point I wasn’t sure what the tragedy was, but I knew she was broken, like the carousel.

Okay, got it.  Sort of.

I tinkered with the elements, weaving and rejecting, adding and thinking.  Then one night just as I was dropping off to sleep, a new character appeared in my half-waking state.  This has never happened to me before.  But there she was, Ervina, an old Gullah woman, wise, tough, half conjurer, half full of beans.  She was surrounded by a group of young children.  Of course, a carousel needs children.  And the story took off.

Over the next three or four months I lived with these people twenty four-seven, wrote and rewrote, took a false turn and returned to the path. And ended up with four hundred pages of story.  Warts and all.  And the rewriting began—but that is another story.

 Shelley is also the author of Stargazey Nights and Beach Colors.  She has published two mystery novels under the name Shelley Freydont: Foul Play at the Fair and Holidays at Crescent Cove.beach colorscover 59copy

Visit Shelley’s Website

Follow Shelley on Twitter

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Read Shelley’s Blog

Buy Stargazey Point

Thank you, Shelley, for being a guest on my blog today!  Good luck with the book.

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Book Review: The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard

The Pink Hotel comes out April 23 from Picador.

The Pink Hotel comes out April 23 from Picador.

            In Anna Stothard’s candidly unflinching, evocative, and razor-sharp debut novel The Pink Hotel, the female protagonist is interested in creation stories and myths.  The Epic of Gilgamesh, Noah’s flood, and the Aztec legend of “Coatlique” fascinate the astute and precocious 17-year-old British girl.  And there’s a reason for her curiosity: her mother, Lily, left when she was only three.  The girl desperately wants to know her own creation story, and her dad has never been forthcoming about the tale.

Stothard does not give her protagonist a name.  Since Stothard tells the tale from the girl’s first-person perspective, perhaps Stothard did not feel the need to name the main character.  It is a rather curious move.  Naming and identity are so closely intertwined; because the narrator has no name, I never connect with her, I do not feel like I ever truly know her.  For me, she is unknown, unknowable, and rather unlikeable.  That is not to say that Stothard does not do a good job of fleshing out this individual—she does.  But not giving the novel’s main personality a name bothered me immensely.

Yet I appreciated the main character’s mindset.  Yearning for one’s mother is a universal concept that everyone can understand.  The Pink Hotel begins when the girl gets news that her mother, who lived in Los Angeles, has been killed in a motorcycle accident.  Stothard’s main character does not think of the consequences; she is 17, after all, and frantic over the prospect that she will never know her mother now that she is dead.

As she explains, “Presumably most people can conjure an image of their mother from childhood, but my memories are either from photographs or they’re physical.  I can’t imagine what she used to look like, but remember fragments of her holding my hand too tight in a supermarket, the texture of her legs when I grabbed them….” So she decides to travel to Los Angeles, where her mother owned “The Pink Hotel” in Venice Beach with her second husband.

For the young girl, her journey is really a pilgrimage.  When she arrives at the hotel for her mother’s wake, she sneaks into her bedroom and steals a red suitcase.  She stuffs it full of her mother’s clothes, letters, and pictures.  The girl flees the hotel after encountering her mother’s current husband.  With a stolen credit card and little money, the main character sets out finding the people her mother knew in hopes of learning more about the woman who left all those years ago.

In an effort to get closer to her mother, the protagonist seems to take on the role of her mother.  “I’m not Lily” she says, while wearing her mother’s “tight black dress and her red stilettos.”  “Are you as good at lying as you are at storytelling” a character asks her.  And she is quite adept at telling falsehoods, but not to the reader, only to others.  You would think this quality would endear her to the reader; alas, it does not.

The Pink Hotel is peopled by a quirky cast of characters.  Some of my absolute favorites are the Armenian women she meets.  “How did you come to America?” the girl asks one of them.  “My twin sister and I,” the woman replies, “weren’t interested in marrying men named Noah, you know?”

Stothard chooses the perfect setting for her characters and for the story.  In fact, it is setting that drives The Pink Hotel and its characters.  The author perfectly captures the essence of Southern California to create an atmospheric tale that would not have worked anywhere else.  With lines like “If the Atlantic was a foaming, snapping Rottweiler, the Pacific was a sleepy gecko in the sunlight,” Stothard grabs you and puts you in the middle of the story.

Sense of place is so important in The Pink Hotel.  In fact, the setting is what saved this story for me when I did not connect to the narrator.  Stothard writes, “Los Angeles isn’t built for the rain, and everyone panics.  The air gets saturated with ambulance sirens as oil rises up through the suddenly soaked tarmac highways, causing crashes.”  “The heatwave had finally ignited, and LA had a halo of fire over it.”

Descriptions such as these make The Pink Hotel compelling and worth reading.

Stothard is a master at using lyrical prose.  But I think The Pink Hotel would make a better movie than it does a book.  Perhaps the actress who played the main character could make her more knowable and more likeable.  A good actress could make moviegoers relate to the narrator and identify more with her, which was sadly missing here.

—-Bookmagnet

The author

The author

pink hotel original

Original 2011 cover

German cover

German cover

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Coming of Age in the 60s

Are you looking for a great summer read?  Are you a fan of Fannie Flagg?

If you answer “yes” to any of those questions, please add Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea by Morgan Callan Rogers to your summer reading list.  You will be glad you did!

I reviewed Rogers’s novel for the Mobile Press-Register.  To read my review of the novel, please go here.

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Good Girls and Bad Choices

I Couldn’t Love You More by Jillian Medoff (5 Spot; 432 pages; $13.99).

 

            Cinderella had a stepmother, so did Snow White.  Fairy tales, movies, and books often portray stepmothers as cruel, evil, ugly, and jealous women.  In I Couldn’t Love You More, Jillian Medoff dispels stereotypes and simultaneously dazzles us through her protagonist, Eliot Gordon.

 

Eliot is a thirty-eight-year-old daughter, sister, mother, stepmother, and wife.  But she is not married to Grant.  Confused? So was I in the beginning, but it’s only semantics.  Eliot refers to Grant as her “husband,” although they are not married.  They have been together five years and raise three girls: Hailey, their four-year-old daughter, and Charlotte and Gail, fourteen and seven respectfully, Grant’s daughters.  Grant has never asked Eliot to marry him, but they live like husband and wife.  Eliot treats Charlotte and Gail as if they are her own children, especially since Beth, their mother, is flaky and clueless.  Eliot loves all her girls, even the ones she did not give birth to.

 

Medoff tells the story from the first person perspective of Eliot.  Her portrayal of Eliot is intimate.  Medoff does a superb job of bringing her characters to life on these pages, but none more so than Eliot.  She is very real and achingly relatable.  Her strengths stand out; her flaws, though, are what really drive this story.

 

Eliot, by her own admission, is a “good girl.”  Yes, she is.  However, Eliot makes some bad decisions throughout Medoff’s story.  Some condemn Eliot for her actions, while others sympathize.  At its heart, this is a novel about the choices we make and their consequences, both short-term and long-term.

 

An old boyfriend resurfaces.  The sparks fly.  The presence of Finn distracts Eliot.  Everyone notices, especially Charlotte.  Eliot believes a week at the beach with her mother and sisters will help ease tension between her and Grant.  While the girls play in the ocean, Eliot’s phone rings.  It is Finn.

 

Her back is turned for one minute, maybe two.  The unthinkable happens.  Eliot is forced to make a choice: who should she save? Her real daughter?  Or her stepdaughter?  Medoff writes, “And this is what I know: I can swim in only one direction, toward one child…but I must make a choice and I must make it now.”  Whatever the case, nothing will ever be the same again.

 

Despite its grim subject matter, Medoff intersperses humor throughout her novel.  The hilarity in no way distracts from the story; instead, it adds to it.  Sometimes, even in the grip of despair, life can be funny.  Medoff makes me laugh and cry, once at the very same time.  Never has mowing, pooping, or eating dog food sounded so funny.  I applaud Medoff for telling the story in such a way.

 

Eliot is not the only character who stands out in this book.  Her sister, Sylvia (named after Sylvia Plath), is often a scene-stealer.  Eliot’s mother, Delores, is another of Medoff’s characters who demand your attention.

 

This is a story about love and family.  But the novel is also about sisters.  It matters little whether they are full, half, or even step.  A sister is a sister for life.  Medoff makes this only child wistful of the sisterly bond that Eliot and her sisters share.

 

I Couldn’t Love You More is women’s lit at its finest.  This is a far cry from chick lit.  Do not get me wrong: I am not disparaging chick lit in any way.  This is a story for women.  The issues Medoff writes about are subjects in which women deeply care about.  This tale is about women written for women that happens to have been written by a woman.

 

I predict I Couldn’t Love You More will be the read of the summer.  Medoff’s novel will be as essential to beach bags as sunscreen and beach towels.

 

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Spotlight on I Couldn’t Love You More

My current read is Jillian Medoff’s I Couldn’t Love You More.  It comes out on Tuesday and is already getting a lot of buzz.

It’s easy to understand why.  Funny, poignant, compelling, and highly readable, I Couldn’t Love You More is about a harried mom, her crazy life, and the road not taken.  Eliot’s college boyfriend shows back up after a looooong absence.  Although she is happy being a “quasi-wife,” the grass is always greener, as the saying goes.

The real scene-stealers of this book are Sylvia, Eliot’s sister, and Beth, mother of her “step”-children.

Medoff reminds us not to take anything for granted and to appreciate what we have.  Her novel will appeal to women this summer.  I predict this will be as essential to beach bags as sunscreen and beach towels.  This is women’s lit at its finest!

 

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