Shelly Frome spins a new yarn

Myra Schoen
Special to The Black Mountain News

Writer Shelly Frome’s new mystery novel, “Murder Run,” debuts this week. To celebrate publication, Frome will read excerpts from the book and sign copies on Thursday, Oct. 8 at Black Mountain Center for the Arts at 6:30 p.m.

“Murder Run” follows the path of amateur sleuth Jed Cooper, caught up in a mystery surrounding the sudden death of his reclusive employer, Ms. Julie, a fragile, 39-year-old choreographer, in Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills. Cooper’s unwelcome meddling endangers his own life as he probes the seedy underworlds of crime, drugs, human trafficking and shady theater doings while dealing with his own grief.

“While the characters and plot of the book are fiction, the impulse behind it isn’t,” said Frome, who moved to Black Mountain two years ago from Connecticut, after his wife of 50 years passed away suddenly.

“The loss of someone you love is profound,” he said. “Although the tone of the book is intended to entertain readers, with twisty spins and turns and fast pacing, the writing of it helped to express deeply personal feelings.”

Like the novel’s Ms. Julie, Frome’s wife had been a choreographer and dancer. “We met in Vermont in summer stock theater when we were very young, and fell in love,” he said. “She was the only pure person I ever knew.”

As his friends and colleagues know, Frome is a natural yarn-spinner and storyteller. He frequently writes profiles for The Black Mountain News and is also a film columnist for Southern Writers magazine. He is a prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction works. His recent fiction includes “Sun Dance for Andy Horn,” “Lilac Moon,” “Twilight of the Drifter” and “Tinseltown Riff.” A playwright and former actor, he has written nonfiction works that include “The Actors Studio” and texts on the art and craft of writing for screen and stage.

Retired as a professor of dramatic arts emeritus at the University of Connecticut, Frome’s early experience as an actor provides “Murder Run” with a gritty setting of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, home of the legendary Actors Studio.

Frome describes himself as a “wonder child,” who always had to figure out what life is all about. Frome’s father died when the boy was 3, and his mother uprooted the boy from their Massachusetts home and plunked him down in Miami.

“My mother’s approach to parenting was ‘fend for yourself,’ or ‘unparenting,’” he said. “I didn’t say ‘what if’ as I grew up,” he said. “I wanted to know, to take a chance and see for myself.”

Frome grew up and went to high school in Miami where, he said, movies, radio, comic books – the stuff of stories – filled his head, made him feel alive and inspired him to pursue acting and writing.

“Early on, I wanted to become an actor,” he said. “People around me said, ‘No real man does that.’ ‘No one around here does that.’ So I knew that acting was a risk, not safe, not predictable, but it didn’t matter.”

Yielding to suggestions he be realistic and practical, Frome enrolled in law school in Tucson, Arizona. “But my heart was so set on acting that my fellow students actually took up a collection to send me to Greenwich Village in New York,” he said.

From theater roles in Manhattan to summer stock in Vermont, to directing and writing plays in London, New York and Los Angeles to a writing career and 35-year professorship in Connecticut, Frome’s life has been filled with the elements of his fiction – romance, excitement and risk.

But when he discovered Black Mountain, he thought, “This is a nice place with nice people.” He felt safe, nestled in the mountains, perfectly at home.

He laughed and recalled meeting Realtor Dawn Wilson while house-hunting in Black Mountain. “She told me, ‘We decided to adopt you.’ And that’s how I feel, that the town’s adopted me.”

Still a “wonder child,” Frome retains the refreshing sense that life is continually surprising. And to those who know him, he meets life with warmth, openness and great good humor.