I owe a lot to Captain Shelby. Yes. I do. After all, he got me my first published book. He mystifies me, inspires me, fills me with hope for the future, sweetly terrifies me, and floods me with humble gratitude.
I am not sure if a writer sits down and maps out a character. I believe that characters are born from the pages of a novel, squirming, screaming, kicking, treading in the amniotic whiteness, clawing at its author’s heart to be pulled onto a black boat of words, a floating sentence, from which they can grow into paragraphs, chapters, and hopefully memorable novels.
Captain Shelby surprised me. Really surprised me. PELICAN BAY was not supposed to be about him at all. The novel was supposed to be about a sunken cemetery and an eccentric, forlorn beach town. And it is, make no mistake. It is. But the old fisherman was delivered and then just kept stretching, barking his sea bark at me to make him bigger. Bigger. Bigger. And if you read PELICAN BAY, you will quickly understand that it was better for me not to argue with him.
I know, I know. But I have not answered the question at stake, have I?
I suppose I could talk about the old man’s “raw materials.” Yes. That’s it.
It was as if everything that was meaningful to me, the darkness of life, the lightness of life, the enthralling sea and its boundless mysteries, all the father figures of my life who have come and gone, it was as if all of that stuff, animated by little lightning bolts from my fingers like a Dr. Sea Frankenstein, birthed Captain Shelby.
And I wanted to do something new with a character’s voice. Something impossible yet tangible. Something deeply original yet accessible. So the question occurred to me, “What if an old man, having been around so long, could be a melting pot of dialects and adages and mannerisms … some misfit of the sea?”
And the old man was born, to the best of my recollection, early February, 2011, on a snow day when my neighbor’s kids were riding snow mobiles incessantly and annoyingly all over the street, and I, well, I was doing what all writers do on snow days …
… I was creating a character.
I hope that you enjoy Captain Shelby as much as I have.
Yours in literature,