Frome finds endless inspiration for mystery set in Black Mountain

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

It’s not hard to see how the charm of Black Mountain lends itself to the creative process. In front of a mountain backdrop, Lake Tomahawk, Cherry Street, and quiet residential neighborhoods with cozy cottages are among the things that can make it feel like a setting for a good book.

Mix those elements with the arrival of cool October nights and the imagination of Black Mountain author Shelly Frome and you have the Mystery Writers of America member’s latest book, Moon Games, set in his hometown.

Black Mountain author Shelly Frome and his dog Baxter meet people everywhere they go in town. Many of those characters ended up in Frome's latest book Moon Games, which is set locally.

Throughout his career, Frome, who will read from and sign his book at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12 at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts, has written plays, screenplays, fiction and non-fiction books. Since moving to town four years ago, the professor of dramatic arts emeritus at the University of Connecticut has been a regular contributor to The Black Mountain News with his Call of the Valley series that highlights the personalities he uncovers in a place where the list of characters seems endless.

“It’s like I was dropped into this set and there are all of these characters,” Frome said. “There is really no telling who you will meet.”

That quality is among many that makes Black Mountain unique to the author.

“Even though I’ve hung out in Greenwich Village and San Francisco and London and all that, there’s something fascinating about living next door to a down-home Baptist and your neighbor two houses down who is a sculptress,” he said. “And we’re all living together. We’ve got this collection of colorful people.”

Frome moved to Black Mountain after becoming a widower in 2014. He thought he'd found a quiet place to heal, but learned that his new home was far from a sleepy little town. 

"Most places and things are predictable," he said. "Here it's not."

He once heard at the Hartford Stage that there is no story "unless your basic assumptions are threatened," and that's exactly what happened when he began looking for a home in the Swannanoa Valley. 

Black Mountain author Shelly Frome will read from his latest book, Moon Games, on Friday, Oct. 12 at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts.

"In Connecticut all the realtors dress up in suits and heals, they're a little standoffish," he said recalling his first interactions with a local real estate agent who served as the inspiration for his book's protagonist. "She was wearing overalls and some ratty shoes and she took me up to some place and disappeared under the crawl space. She seemed like a cross between Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird and Huck Finn, but she definitely didn't seem like a realtor."

The characters kept coming, Frome said, as he frequently had encounters that would add interesting elements to a good story. 

"I remember working with Tennessee Williams when he was writing Sweet Bird of Youth," Frome said. "He would come up from Key West with a new scene, and he'd try it out. If it didn't work he'd first like 50 people on the spot and say 'if this don't catch fire, this is not catching fire.' When elements start to crackle and smack up against each other it becomes kind of intriguing."

Moon Games follows the story of Miranda Davis, a Black Mountain realtor who works weekends at a local bar. She's asked to search for a missing hiker as the story puts Davis in contact with all kinds of shadowy, local characters. 

Like one Frome met his first Halloween on Church Street, as he wondered why he didn't see churches. He found the scene would fit perfectly in his book. 

"It was like Church Street had been taken over by demons," he said chuckling. "This guy came over to me, dressed like Rasputin, he's like six-eight, wearing all black, and he has something twinkling against his chest. He said 'this is your fate.'"

Many of Frome's experiences since moving to Black Mountain collided during the creative process, and the result is a story that connects seemingly unconnected things as the plot plays out in a place where nothing is what it seems. 

"I don't set out to write something," he said. "But there's something about this place that makes it feels like you're somewhere that's filled with characters."