If you’re searching for the perfect beach read for Labor Day weekend, look no further than “Stargazey Point” by Shelley Noble. With its charming South Carolina setting, lovable characters and a believable romance, you’ll be thinking about the residents of Stargazey Point long after the book is over.
After witnessing an unspeakable tragedy on a documentary film trip, Abbie Sinclair needs to escape, and fast. When her best friend Celeste invites Abbie to go stay with elderly relatives in a rundown South Carolina beach town, it seems like the ideal place to recuperate. What Abbie doesn’t count on is falling for Cabot Reynolds. After more than a few money-hungry real estate developers showed up in Stargazey Point, he’s dubious about this random newcomer staying with his friends. Cabot’s also fiercely protective of his secret project – restoring the old Stargazey Point carousel, which had been managed by his late uncle. But when he learns the truth about Abbie, Cabot makes it his mission to help her get over her past.
Despite trying her best to remain distant, Abbie becomes entwined in the lives of Stargazey's residents. Suddenly she’s helping to save Celeste’s family's beautiful but decaying plantation home, working with disadvantaged kids on a film project at the local rec center and generally breathing life into the struggling town. The more Abbie becomes involved, the longer her visit stretches out, and suddenly she’s wondering if staying in Stargazey Point forever wouldn’t be so bad …
Noble took the time to discuss her latest beach read, Southern Gullah culture and what she's working on next.
KC: Is the town of Stargazey Point inspired by an actual place? I think many of your readers would love to visit if it were real.
SN: Stargazey Point is many actual places. With all my fictional towns, I take different aspects of several different towns, plus a healthy dose of imagination, and make up my own. I love deciding where the people live and where the stores are. In “Beach Colors,” Crescent Cove was a combination of Madison, Old Lyme, and Stonington, Connecticut. Plus a few characteristics I just threw in for fun. Stargazey Point is also a combination of several small towns, but with a twist. I wanted a town that was almost left behind, forgotten, so in addition to my composite town, I added memories of towns that I had visited in the past to give it that “out of time” feeling.
KC: Abbie’s work as a documentarian in third world countries is a fresh occupation for a women’s fiction character. What made you decide to give her this background?
SN: I always love my heroines to have some outside the box occupation. It immediately gives them a different way of seeing things. With Abbie, she sees Stargazey Point, not the way the inhabitants see it, but with a filmmaker’s eye. With a little distance, but totally engaged. Like any good filmmaker. I like to think Abbie is that kind of filmmaker. One who gets inside her subjects and understands their hopes and fears and brings them to life. Sort of the way she does in reality with Stargazey Point.
KC: Why do you think the Crispins so readily accept an outsider like Abbie into their lives, especially when other people in the town, such as Cabot, are so skeptical at first?
SN: The first big reason is the old engrained Southern Hospitality. It really exists. Especially when invited by a relative. A friend of the Crispins’ niece, Celeste, is welcomed with open arms. Millie, especially, is in her element, remembering a more gracious, prosperous time. She is naïve, living in a place where they were cushioned from the harsh realities of life. She expects the same respect their family was always given . . . in the past. Marnie, her sister, has seen some of the world and is not so naïve, but she’s glad of the company. And Beau instinctively feels the uniqueness of their guest. They each have different reasons for welcoming Abbie.
KC: The Gullah culture is shown throughout the book, particularly in the character of Ervina. What type of research did you do to integrate this into the story?
SN: I was born and raised in Georgia and spent many wonderful summers on the Georgia, Florida and South Carolina coasts where the Gullah culture presence was a part of life. Gradually over the years, the population dispersed, beliefs changed, the culture was in danger of being lost. Now there is more interest in preserving the culture. The character of Sarah is one of the people trying to do just that, while at the same time she is conflicted between her sophisticated New York professor self and her personal Gullah heritage. And then there is Ervina, who still lives the culture she was raised in, who practices what she preaches, so to speak, and who hopefully makes us wonder about the power of belief.
KC: “Stargazey Nights” is a novella featuring Cabot’s backstory. Did you always plan to release a novella first as a teaser for the novel, or was that an idea that came later?
Actually no. When I finished Beach Colors, my publisher asked for two e-novellas featuring Margaux’s two friends, Bri and Grace, which became “Holidays in Crescent Cove.” When I wrote “Stargazey Point,” I kept that in mind and was ready with ideas for Bethanne and Sarah. But my editor surprised me with a request for a prequel. And they were so right. Cabot’s story fell into place and I knew I had to write about him.
KC: Will we see more of the characters in “Stargazey Point” in future books?
SN: Well, I do have ideas for stories with Sarah and Bethanne and Celeste, the Crispin’s niece who is coming for a visit just a few weeks after the end of Stargazey Point. Not to mention a distant prequel: the reason for Beau’s fight with his father. Hmmm.
KC: Your previous women’s fiction release, “Beach Colors,” also is set in a coastal town. Do you plan on continuing this theme in your books?
SN: Yes. Absolutely. The ocean and the shore are major loves of mine. The ocean is so powerful, and yet inviting. Can be comforting, soothing, but can turn violent and frightening. The shore holds our fondest memories of vacations; friends and families and summer love and also our experience with devastating storms, homes destroyed, lives lost. What better place to find stories of strength, fear, anger, hatred, love, stories of lost hope and new beginnings. Totally inspiring for me.
KC: If you could bring one book to the beach this summer, which one would you choose?
SN: Is it possible to take only one book to the beach? Even if I’m just going for a couple of hours I always carry at least two. This past week I took “Astor Place Vintage” by Stephanie Lehmann, “Gilded: How Newport Became America’s Richest Resort,” by Deborah Davis, and “The Firebird” by Susannah Kearsley. Crazy, right?
KC: Favorite vacation spot?
SN: The beach of course. Or as we say in Jersey, “Down the shore.” Any time, summer, winter, spring and fall.
KC: What’s next for you?
SN: Well, you might have guessed from my choice of beach reads, my next women’s fiction novel, “Breakwater Bay,” is scheduled for summer 2014. It takes place in and around Newport, Rhode Island, mainly along the rural shoreline of eastern Rhode Island and a house restoration project in Newport. It’s the first time I’ve used an actual town as a setting and I’m doing a lot of on and off site research to make sure I get it right while still getting to have my own special take on life there.