Please welcome guest blogger, author Shelley Noble, to the Book Club Girl blog! Shelley's newest novel, Stargazey Point, went on sale yesterday. Documentarian Abbie Sinclair comes to Stargazey Point seeking a safe haven after a devastating tragedy, but finds herself drawn into the lives of Stargazey Point's myriad inhabitants. In looking for a place to rest, Abbie ultimately finds so much more. Shelley is here to talk about why the setting is so important in this novel -- and all of her books!
Most of my stories take place at the shore. There’s just something special about the ocean, so vast, so powerful. And yet we can find comfort and solace there as well as challenge and sometimes fear. Each beach is different, sometimes flat and wide and white, sometimes rocky and dark. Each of my stories has its own special relationship with the shore and the water.
I was at a book club recently where we’d discussed my novel, Beach Colors, and I was giving them a preview of my newest novel, Stargazey Point. One of the members asked, “How do you choose where your books take place? Do you see a place and say I have to write about this? Or do you look for the perfect spot until you find it? Or does it just happen?”
In other words, how do you choose your setting?
Real places often inspire and intrigue me, I’ll see a place, a house, a beach that might appear in some form in some book, at some point. But until recently I’ve always made up the places where my stories unfold. My towns are fictional.
I love that part of the process, where a town or neighborhood slowly comes to life. I imagine the kinds of stores, restaurants and houses they have. Move them around until they all fit into place. Make a map or two or three in case I forget where everything is. Think about distances. Can my protagonist ride her bike? Walk? Take her car? Does it rain a lot? Does she need a jacket? I imagine her first glimpse of the beach, see it in my mind, the shape of it, the color, how coarse or fine the sand is beneath her feet.
It takes a lot of mental work and probably isn’t the most efficient way to choose a setting. It’s what my teachers used to call daydreaming. And it’s something I perfected a long time ago. Now I call it work.
And it is work. Because even if the town is made up, and the beach and countryside are figments of my imagination, they have to be believable. The rugged terrain of Maine wouldn’t ring true along the New Jersey shore. A small town in south Florida would be out of place in New England. And this filters all the way down to the tiny details. If you don’t get it right, then the story loses.
The towns I write about are small, close knit. A haven, maybe; somewhere to feel safe enough to actualize your life. Where you can’t live without interacting with the other people who live there. Where their problems and their emotions are constantly in your face, and their support can be at your back.
Setting has a personality. It’s a dynamic thing that is as much a part of my stories as the characters themselves.
Beach Colors took place at the Connecticut shore. The main character was a fashion designer who designed black cutting-edge clothing. She needed to rediscover color in her designs and in her life. Where better than at the shore with the vibrant greens of the marshes, so many shades of the sea and the sky, the white of heron wings open against a clear blue sky, and red and oranges of sunset, lavender and violet of the evening sky.
In Stargazey Point a documentarist takes refuge in a small South Carolina shore town in hopes of finding solace for her grief. What she finds is a town in need of some tender loving care. The shores are eroded, the people are poor, the businesses have mostly closed. And in the midst of it all is an abandoned carousel that one man wants to bring back to life. Ocean, town, and carousel: symbols of strength, safety, and childhood joys.
In my next novel, Breakwater Bay, the huge dark boulders that protect the tiny rocky beach take a major role. Mysterious in the moonlight, frightening in a storm, it protects the shore and its inhabitants from the vagaries of the tide. But it can also be a dangerous place, a challenge not to be taken lightly. And this is juxtaposed with the very real town of nearby Newport, Rhode Island, home of the Gilded Age mansions. Light and Dark, dark and light. Which is which?
And my next novel? I haven’t started it. Haven’t thought too much about it, yet. But my metaphorical suitcase is packed, ready to go when the next story needs a place to land.
Do you have favorite settings you like to read about?
Read an excerpt of Stargazey Point
, the prequel to Stargazey Point!