Saturday, September 5, 2020

Teri Bailey Black

Teri Bailey Black grew up near the beach in Southern California in a large, quirky family with no television or junk food, but an abundance of books and art supplies. She’s happiest when she’s creating things, whether it’s with words, fabric, or digging in the garden. She makes an amazing chocolate cherry cake—frequently. She and her husband have four children and live in Orange County, California.

Black's new novel is Chasing Starlight.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

For a year, this book didn’t have a title as I waited for the right words to pop into my head. You know, that perfect little phrase that explained to readers that this is a murder mystery set in Old Hollywood, with a main character inspired by Katharine Hepburn and Nancy Drew; a mansion filled with quirky, aspiring actors; a gangster subplot; the inner workings of a movie studio; and romance.

Then cover design started and I needed a title fast. I frantically scribbled ideas in a notebook. At first, I wanted something a bit obscure and literary. Maybe ... The Luminosity of Stars? My publisher (wisely) wanted something more sellable.

Since my main character is an aspiring astronomer, I thought it would be fun to play off the double meaning of stars—both the glamorous type and heavenly. I wrote down every star-related phrase I could think of, but nothing felt right—until I wrote down Chasing Starlight and knew it was perfect. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t thought of it sooner. But isn’t that always the way with good ideas?

What's in a name?

My main character was inspired by Katherine Hepburn—a smart, no-nonsense, say-it-like-it-is girl, who’s trying to remain sensible as she’s caught up in the allure of Hollywood and a murder mystery. I named her Katherine Hildebrand, and she went by Kate.

As the story evolved, I realized something significant happened to her four years ago, which changed how she felt about herself. In my second draft, she was called Kitty as a child (when she felt safe and loved) and changed it to Kate after that significant event. Now, whenever someone calls her Kitty, she quickly corrects them; she’s Kate now (a name of hard edges, as she points).

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not surprised. Growing up, I wrote prolifically from every genre: historical, contemporary, high fantasy, Regency romance, detective stories.

My first published novel, Girl at the Grave, happened to be a Gothic murder mystery set in the 1800’s, so when I set out to write a second book for the same publisher, I imagined a similar historical setting. But I wanted it set in my home state of California, and life was still very wild west in the 1800’s. I hadn’t planned on writing a western.

I wracked my brain for an interesting time and place in California’s history -- hit upon Old Hollywood and got very excited. My grandfather worked at the MGM Motion Picture Studio as a propmaker for thirty years, so I felt a personal connection.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Endings are easy, because I know my characters and story so well by then. But beginnings are the fun stuff. Those first few chapters have no boundaries, with ideas pouring in—an intriguing situation, interesting characters, an atmospheric setting. I can change anything without having to rewrite an entire manuscript.

The muddy middle is the hard part, when I have to figure out what all these interesting people are supposed to be doing. At that point, I stop and outline the entire plot (loosely), and then start over at chapter one, with a better idea of where I’m going.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Kate Hildebrand is a lot like me. More sensible than emotional. Organized. I laughed as I wrote one of my own pet peeves into her dialogue: a sign-up clipboard passed around a large meeting, nobody knows which way to pass it, so an entire section of the room gets
missed. For Kate’s perfectionist traits, I looked to my daughter, who writes daily lists and checks the weather forecast every night so she can plan what to wear the next day. (I write lists but tend to ignore them.)

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

As I started writing, I set out to watch a few old films to learn about movie making in the 1930's—and quickly became an obsessive fan, my TV airing a nonstop stream of black-and-white singing, dancing, and snappy dialogue.

Everyone should do themselves a favor and watch To Have and Have Not, Stage Door, The Big Sleep, The More the Merrier, and His Girl Friday. (I could go on.)

I’ll add a warning: Vintage films are often sexist and racist. In a strange way, it’s so blatant, it actually showcases how ignorant and abhorrent those attitudes are. Old movies are history lessons as well as entertainment, and sometimes that history shows its ugly side.
Visit Teri Bailey Black's website.

The Page 69 Test: Chasing Starlight.

--Marshal Zeringue