Finalist Spotlight

Teri Bailey Black

Teri Bailey Black may write about troubled people in dark places, but she grew up in a large, happy family, surrounded by books, art, and California sunshine. She’s happiest when she’s creating things, whether it’s with words, fabric, or chocolate. Her debut, GIRL AT THE GRAVE, won the Thriller Award for Best Young Adult Novel, and the Whitney Award for Best Debut and Best Young Adult Novel. Her latest, CHASING STARLIGHT, is a YA murder mystery set in the Golden Age of Hollywood. She and her husband have four children and live in Orange County, California.

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Teri Bailey Black on her Whitney Award Finalist novel,

Chasing Starlight

What was the inspiration for your Whitney Awards finalist novel?

It didn’t start out as a book about Old Hollywood. I thought up the basic plot first: a teenaged girl shows up to live with her estranged grandfather on a dark, eerie night and discovers that he rents out rooms to boarders (including a good looking guy, of course). One of them is murdered, and she suspects everyone in the house. I first imagined Boston in the 1800’s (college boys), then realized the story could really be set in any time and place. As soon as I thought of Old Hollywood (aspiring actors!), I was excited and ready to start typing. My grandfather worked at the MGM movie studio for 30 years during this era, so it felt very meant to be.

What was the tipping point that turned this novel from “just an idea” to a project you HAD to complete?

As soon as I started watching Turner Classic Movies for research, I was addicted. Couldn’t get enough of the singing, dancing, and snappy dialogue. I only watched movies made in the 1920’s and 30’s, because that’s my time period. Moviemaking was in its infancy, and there’s a definite style to those movies that changed in later decades. I gotta say — SO FUN to see my setting played out on the screen! The way they dressed and talked, actually filmed in those years. Made my job easy.

 How did this book evolve into the final story? Did it end up the way you thought it would, or did the plot or characters change along the way?

I knew the opening and closing scenes. I knew the killer. I knew she would work at a movie studio and fall in love with an aspiring actor. But a lot of the fun details were discovered along the way. I revise as I draft, going back and adding good ideas as they come to me, which is slow, but more creative and fun for me. So my first drafts take forever but end up very clean. My editor only had minor suggestions, so the second and third drafts went quickly. (I have a weekly critique group that helps me iron out the wrinkles in that first draft.)

Who is your favorite secondary character, and why?

Stella Nixon. She’s sarcastic and outspoken, which allowed me to bring in the snappy dialogue that’s so prevalent in movies from that era. I could write Stella Nixon scenes all day long.

If your book was made into a movie, which scene would you want to be a background extra in?

The fancy Hollywood party scene, so I could put one one of those glamorous dresses.