Shelly Frome's Twilight of the Drifter

My guest today is Shelly Frome. Shelly is a member of Mystery Writers of America, a professor of dramatic arts emeritus at the University of Connecticut, a former professional actor, a writer of mysteries, books on theater and film, and articles on the performing arts appearing in a number of periodicals in the U.S. and the U.K.. He is also a film critic and contributes to writers blogs. His fiction includes Tinseltown Riff, Lilac Moon, Sun Dance for Andy Horn and the trans-Atlantic cozy The Twinning Murders. Among his works of non-fiction are the acclaimed The Actors Studio and texts on the art and craft of screenwriting and writing for the stage. His latest novel is a southern gothic crime-and-blues odyssey entitled Twilight of the Drifter. He lives in Litchfield, Connecticut.

Anne – Welcome to the Muriel Reeves Mysteries, Shelly. If you’re comfortable, help yourself to a cyber beverage, and let’s talk writing. Let’s begin with something personal. Tell us a something about yourself that you would normally only share with close friends.

Shelly - On the surface, I seem to be outgoing and somewhat witty, but underneath it all I often feel anxious (unless I’m with close friends who will just let me be). Moreover, at, say, a book signing, I find myself thinking, What if I relax and take it as it comes? Will I disappoint people, become ordinary and fail to meet their expectations? It often feels like a throwback to the days when my old pal Joan Rivers and I were starving actors in New York and felt we had to keep producers, directors and agents entertained; to somehow hold their interest, get a leg up or at least keep all the balls in the air. Actually, most of the time I’m much more comfortable being by myself writing.

Anne – I love Joan Rivers! Her ability to turn any subject into a laugh is a true gift. When did you first realize you were destined to be a mystery/suspense writer?

Shelly - Though I didn’t know it at the time, I truly enjoyed writing cliffhangers during study hall at Miami’s Shenandoah Junior High. I would write an episode, pass it around and the other kids would scribble But what happens next?on my paper. Or, How is he going to get out of this one? Things just keep getting worse. Then, of course, I would have to come up with something for the next installment. The handwriting wasn’t exactly on the wall but I knew whatever I decided to do with my life, the stakes would have to be high. Admittedly, I was always an incurable daydreamer and storyteller, a kid who doted on comic books and film noir.

Anne - Tell us about your book. (Title and story blurb.)

Shelly - Twilight of the Drifter is a crime story with southern gothic overtones. It centers on thirty-something Josh Devlin, a failed journalist who, after a year of wandering, winds up in a Kentucky homeless shelter on a wintry December.  

Soon after the opening setup, the crosscurrents go into motion as Josh comes upon a runaway named Alice holed up in an abandoned boxcar. Taken with her plight and dejected over his own squandered life, he spirits her back to Memphis and his uncle’s Blues Hall CafĂ©. From there he tries to get back on his feet while seeking a solution to Alice’s troubles. As the story unfolds, a Delta bluesman’s checkered past comes into play and, inevitably, Josh finds himself on a collision course with a backwoods tracker fixated on the Civil War and, by extension, the machinations of the governor-elect of Mississippi.

In a sense, this tale hinges on the vagaries of chance and human nature. At the same time, some underlying force seems to be seeking closure and long overdue redemption.

Anne – Would you share an excerpt of Twilight of the Drifter with us?

Shelly – Absolutely!

Wolf Creek was silent again, shrouded and hidden away in the fading early December light. 

Then the cracking sound of wood as the old hunter’s blind gave way somewhere in the near distance, a sudden scream and a muffled thud. The cracking sound was not nearly as sharp as the first gunshot or the second, the scream not at all as piercing as the first cry or as grating as the moans that followed and faded.

The coonhound took off immediately, ignoring the touch of frost in the creek water, the obstacle course of fallen tree limbs and bare forked branches, the muddy slope and the snare and tangle of vines and whip-like saplings. Within seconds, the hound was bounding higher until he came upon a prone scrawny figure totally unlike the one that had just fallen on the opposite bank.  

Sniffing around, barking and howling, the hound snapped at the flimsy jacket and bit into it. As the scrawny little figure began to stir, he tore into the sleeve, ripping it to shreds and barked and howled again, turning back for instructions. The sight of the skinny flailing arms sent the coonhound back on its haunches—half guarding, half confused as it turned around yet again, looking down the slope to the creek bed, still waiting for a signal. 

Presently, a tall, rangy man made his way across the same obstacle course, long-handled shovel in hand. But he was only in time to catch sight of a girl clutching her head, staggering away from the scene through the tangles and deepening shadows. Then again, it could’ve been a boy for all he knew, but he settled on a girl, a flat-chested tomboy, more like. Casting his gaze up to the snapped rungs of the tree-ladder, he spotted the broken edge of the rotting hunters blind some eight feet above where she could’ve seen everything.

The coonhound began circling around him, displaying the shards of material dangling from his jaw. Instinctively, the man rushed forward. Then he thought better of it as his overalls got snagged in the brambles. From the look of things, the girl was probably dazed and confused and wouldn’t get as far as the dirt drive, if that.

Wrong guess. The slam of a hood as the flat-bed’s worn V-8 motor fired-up, the grinding of gears and the familiar whine and squeal of tires signaled the tomboy was away and well out of reach.

Anne - What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself from writing?

Shelly - I suppose the most surprising thing I’ve learned about myself from writing crime fiction is that I have the ability to take a set of seemingly disjointed elements from ongoing reality and some unfinished business in my own life, do some research, imagining and find linkage. Bypass the randomness and incoherence of so-called real life so that the final resolution satisfies both the storyline and something that’s been nagging at me for a long while.

For instance, as a child I often felt abandoned, as if I truly were an orphan. Later on, there was a period when one of my actor friends told me if I quit I would be letting her down, letting myself down and forsaking my art and my destiny. Later still, when visiting relatives in Beverly Hills I found the Hollywood scene to be shallow and loopy as can be, especially when working on a book on screenwriting. At this point, a Tinseltown escapade began to unfold, prodding me to, in a sense, come to terms with the inner orphan, an abiding concern over giving up on acting in favor of a normal life. All this plus an irrepressible urge to shake Tinseltown up and give the industry some real trouble to deal with. I’m always amazed that I have the ability to craft a compelling story out of a bunch of discombobulated elements and, at the same time, help myself come to terms. Perhaps there’s such a thing as a muse after all who comes along as a guide.

Anne – Quick. Your five favorites – author, actor, movie, song, quote.

Shelly - Off the top of my head, five favorites are Brando, J.D. Salinger, Vanessa Redgrave, Raymond Chandler and the poet Rilke’s claim that all art is the result of having been in danger, of going as far as one can possibly go and well beyond.

Anne - How does your experience as an actor, director and professor of dramatic arts come into play?

Shelly - If you look at my book on The Actors Studio, I guess it’s pretty obvious I have a great love and appreciation for truth, genuine conflict and the spirit of the moment. Unlike a strictly commercial writer like Dan Brown, I can’t even begin unless my characters have a life, flaws and contradictions and a unique way of thinking and expressing themselves. Of necessity, they must be motivated, have a vital stake in the given circumstances, remain in character and absolutely refuse to do or say anything for its own sake. In this way, things naturally begin to “catch fire” as Tennessee Williams used to put it, the story becomes self-generating and the outcome is both surprising and inevitable.

I should also mention that as a longtime film buff, film critic, teacher of film and author of a book on screenwriting, something cinematic seems to pervade my writing. That must be why readers have told me that reading one of my novels is a little like going to the movies.  

Anne – Thanks so much for dropping by today, Shelly. I’d like to mention to readers that Twilight of the Drifter is available on Amazon and Kindle, from the publisher Sunbury Press, and through most independent book stores and chains. Shelly Frome can be reached on Twitter @shellyFrome, Facebook, and through his publisher at info@sunburypress.com.

Reader comments are always welcome and appreciated. Become a follower to ensure you receive every author interview, announcement and/or blog post on the Muriel Reeves Mysteries. Until next time, happy reading! J


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3 comments:

Anne K. Albert said...

Welcome to the Muriel Reeves Mysteries, Shelly. So glad you could drop by and chat!

marja said...

What an interesting interview, Shelly. I find writing to be very therapeutic, and it sounds like it has the same effect on you. So nice to learn a little about you.

Jean Henry Mead said...

A lovely interview and I've got to read your intriguing book, Shelly.
Great excerpt.