An Interview with Sibella Giorello, author of The Stars Shine Bright
Q: The Stars Shine Bright takes place at a race track. What drew you to that setting?
Here's one key for writing fiction: Don't squash the "weird idea." Sometimes that weird idea is your best friend.
Last year, the weird idea was gambling and horses. Aside from driving around Seattle in the rain, I don't gamble. And I'm not a "horse-girl." But this idea kept pulling at me. When I mentioned it to my husband, he said: "I got a guy."
Note: My husband is from New York City, he's "got a guy" for everything.
But this guy turned out to be a former jockey, who now owns part of a race horse. He spent weeks showing me the local track, including the back barns. He also introduced me to the track vet, who was invaluable. The vet told me to come on his rounds, starting at 5 A.M.
It was all a gift, because it's difficult for strangers to get inside barns at most big race track. Trainers and owners are wary -- justifiably so -- that somebody will steal their training secrets or use the information to sway the betting odds.
But with these two guys, doors opened.
And from there, the "weird idea" started to unfold like a map.
Q: Your books are known for in-depth research, especially with geology. Beside horses, what kind of research went into The Stars Shine Bright?
My kids have gotten used to piles and piles of books in my office. It looks like a cave with stalagmites made of paper.
Before starting each book I comb through Forensic Geology by Ray Murray. It's the definitive textbook on the subject, and a really great read even for the layman.
For this book specifically, I read several autobiographies of agents who went undercover, including The Last Undercover by Bob Hamer. Then a bunch of books on wagering, which were colorful and often funny. How odds are determined, what constitutes a long-shot. I still don't understand wagering entirely. It's like some intuitive calculus with greed as one of the variables.
But I also read a half dozen astronomy books, trying to understand something about space and getting to know constellations. I wasn't sure how this title -- The Stars Shine Bright -- fit into the story, but the more I read, the more clear it became.
Q: Raleigh Harmon's definitely faced some serious ups and downs. When you first started writing about her, did you see those challenges coming, or have they surprised you?
Raleigh's taught me that sometimes the writer is the last to know.
When I first "saw" her, I was a reporter at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I would walk to work and pass a certain house, this brick mansion on Monument Avenue. It sat across from an enormous statue of General Robert E. Lee. But this house wasn't like all the other stately mansions. This place was a mess. Overgrown magnolia trees, ivy climbing over the cracked slate roof.
But I clearly "saw" who lived there. Raleigh Harmon. Her mentally ill mother. The black dog. Back then, Raleigh struck me as so strong and capable that she was unlikely to change.
I know God gave me Raleigh Harmon to write about, and I also know He's laughing now. Because I was so wrong about her.
Q: Did you have an easy time finding an agent and publisher?
No. And yes.
A friend sent the manuscript for my first book, The Stones Cry Out, to her agent. This was a great agent, among the best in New York City.
But we didn't see eye-to-eye.
First of all, she couldn't believe a forensic geologist would question evolution. Secondly, she wanted me to change Raleigh Harmon from a Christian into an alcoholic. I guess she saw them as equal handicaps, except being a drunk was somehow better marketing.
I wrote her back, thanking her for her time, then politely advised her to get out of New York City.
My writer friends were horrified. That reply was the kiss of death, they said, the agent knew better than I did.
But another writer gave me the name of her agent. Several months later he sold that same manuscript to Revell, and the following year The Stones Cry Out won the Christy for best first novel.
Which means, five books later, I'm still right about Raleigh Harmon.
Q: So you don't think there's a problem with a scientist who's also a believer?
No. In fact, I can't understand how anyone, especially a scientist, could believe in evolution. It's scientifically impossible. For evolution to work—for random chance to be the operating system—we would see tornadoes blasting through junk yards and leaving behind F-15 fighter jets.
But that's not how what we see.
We live in a highly designed world. Check out one tree—just one—from its root system to its leaf veins. In mathematical terms alone, random chance can't create that sort of engineering. Meanwhile, we have scripture telling us, the heavens declare His glory. That's an invitation. God wants us to explore all these mysteries of nature. I think atheists and Christians make the same mistake, seeing the world as binary. As either-or.
The world is both. God and science.
That's why Raleigh Harmon is a geologist and a believer. She knows who created the universe, and she looks to science for the means and methods.