Tuesday, August 11, 2015

FEATURED AUTHOR: SCOTT WILBANKS

ABOUT THE BOOK

Annabelle Aster has discovered a curious thing behind her home in San Francisco — a letter box perched atop a picket fence. The note inside is blunt — “Trespass is dealt with at the business end of a shotgun in these parts!” — spurring some lively correspondence between the Bay Area orphan and her new neighbor, a feisty widow living in a nineteenth century Kansas wheat field. The source of mischief is an antique door Annie installed at the rear of her house. The man who made the door — a famed Victorian illusionist — died under mysterious circumstances. Annie and her new neighbor, with the help of friends and strangers alike, must solve the mystery of what connects them across time before one of them is convicted of a murder that is yet to happen . . . and somehow already did.


INTERVIEW WITH SCOTT WILBANKS

Scott, what's your favorite thing about the writing process?
You know, I think the answer to that would change on any given day, to be honest, but being a more of a pantser than a plotter, I absolutely love the “eureka” moments, the ones where a plot twist or resolution leaves me rubbing my hands and cackling. Those are the best! The irony behind that, of course, is that I’m usually struck by inspiration at the most inconvenient moments. I can’t tell you how many of my plot twists came to me just as I was crawling into the shower.

Oh! I also love taking the words I’ve written and infusing them with my narrative voice. I want the reader to be as charmed by the words on the page, and the rhythm, as they are by the story line.

How do you feel about Facebook?

I’m an American living in New Zealand with my frustratingly perfect husband—a DOMA refugee, of sorts. (I’m serious, he is.  P-e-r-f-e-c-t.) Facebook and Skype are my salvation. Facebook allows me to be a part of my friends’ daily lives back in the states. It’s just one big conversation in which I learn about the flat tire they had the day before, or their niece’s graduation, or the new trendy coffee shop opening South Of Market. It’s so organic. I’m there, in their lives, experiencing it with them, and that’s pretty wonderful. Skype, on the other hand, is the lifeline to my family, my umbilical cord. I pretty much talk to them every day, usually while I’m making breakfast. I’ll sit my laptop next to the stove, call my parents back in Texas (can I get a shout out for San Marcos, folks?), and gab away while waiting on the eggs to scramble.

Who would you want to narrate a film about your life?
I’m thinking A. A. Milne. There was a peculiar boy who turned into an even more peculiar man . . . Something like that will do for starters. A. A. Milne can make even the most mundane things sound like a wakeful dream.

I love A.A. Milne. If you had a swear jar, would it be full?
OMG!  Why do I suddenly feel like I’m in a confession booth? Laughing out loud over this one. Give me a second to catch my breath . . .

Uh . . . I think I’d have to trade in my swear jar for a ginormous, expandable swear balloon. Having confessed that, you have to let me explain! (Otherwise, I’ll be hearing from my mom.) I was raised in a proper Southern family with my brother and sister. We were, all of us, confirmed in the church when we turned twelve, had our assigned household chores, never skipped school (except for my older brother), etc. And mom had a bar of soap and a toothbrush all ready to go if any of us succumbed to the rare verbal slip-up.

But writing is hard! It’s not just a little bit hard, it’s super hard! And I’ll have to confess to a wee bit of OCD. If the perfect words aren’t finding their way onto the page? Well, let’s just say it’s a good thing my little home office is sound proof.

I’m so embarrassed now . . .

Don't be. There are several Mark Twain quotes on swearing that I like, but this one is great: "There ought to be a room in every house to swear in. It's dangerous to have to repress an emotion like that." Okay, moving on . . . Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
I am, quite possibly, the most contrary thing ever put on this planet. I can overwhelm you with a deplorably excessive personality one second, and completely clam up the next. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. One of the characters in Lemoncholy — Christian Keebler — is burdened with a situational stutter. I drew on some of my life experiences to breath life into him. Another character, Edmond, can take a room by storm. And while I based him on a very dear, departed friend, some of his mannerisms are all me, if you know what I mean.

What is the most daring thing you've done?
Are you kidding me? This!! I walked away from a pretty successful career (if you measure those things solely by the economics) to try my hand at writing. It was an act of desperation, really, once I realized I lacked the necessary meanness to go the distance in my industry.

What is the stupidest thing you've ever done (besides walking away from a successful career to be a writer)?
Depending on how things go after the book launch August 4th, the answer to this question may be the same as above, but one can hope for the opposite! All kidding aside, whether my book takes the world by storm, or I only sell a single copy (to my mom), I have no regrets.  This has been a magical journey.

What would your main character say about you?
I can tell you what she’d say to me. “Listen to me,” she’d say. “You can spend all the time given you on earth making terrible sacrifices for others who, without ever having walked in your shoes, presume to decide what is right and wrong on your behalf — people who want the world only on their terms, parading their intolerance, their ignorance and narrow-mindedness while calling morality. Or you can set your own course. You know right better than anybody. It’s your particular genius. Promise me you won’t sacrifice your happiness for something as cheap as acceptance. Find your courage, Scott. To hell with everyone else.”

That’s exactly what she says to Christian, but I wrote it as if she were talking to me.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to write?

Maybe that which I just wrote above, because it took me nearly fifty years to realize the truth of it.

What is your favorite movie?
I’m only going to answer this question to prove to you that I’m not afraid to be the brunt of gender norm jokes. Keira Knightly’s Pride & Prejudice. I may or may not have watched it three times on a row one night. (It was a looong night.)

Oh my gosh! That's my favorite movie, too. LOVE it! What are you working on now?

Funny you should ask! I just sent a bunch of chapters and a synopsis to my agent! The working title is Easy Pickens, and tells the story of a young Southern man living in San Francisco who is burdened with the world’s only documented case of chronic, incurable naiveté — the result of a curious subtype of ADD and a lightning strike at the age of four. He becomes a shut-in and night owl when it becomes painfully clear early on in life that he’s a magnet and a sucker for every con artist who crosses his path.

He does manage to get out of the house at 3:00am when the rest of the world is asleep and safely out of reach to ride his tandem bicycle with banana seats and cow horn handlebars around the city. There’s a wicker basket between the front handlebars containing a bag of Cheetos, a diet cola, and individually wrapped slice of bologna, and an urn containing his mother’s ashes.

And he rides a tandem bike because his mother’s ghost joins him nightly, regaling him with stories of his childhood.

Lightning round:
Cake or frosting? DONUTS! (Or Cheetos.)
Laptop or desktop? Desktop
Chevy Chase or Bill Murray? How could you even watch The Life Aquatic, The Grand Budapest Hotel, or even Zombieland and even ask that question?  Bill Murray is simply IT.
Emailing or texting? I do it old school. Email.
Indoors or outdoors? Outdoors.
Tea: sweet or unsweet? Really? You’re going to ask a Southerner this one? Puh-leez!  Sweetened.
Plane, train, or automobile? Just get me there, already!!! Plane.


EXCERPT FROM THE LEMONCHOLY LIFE OF ANNIE ASTER


One


Pray for Me, Father

May 16, 1895
San Francisco, California
Mission Dolores Basilica

Randall—­

I’ve not forgotten our quarrel, but I’m asking you to put that aside for the sake of scholarship and the friendship we once shared. You were right, I fear. I meddled in something beyond my understanding.  The time-­travel conduit works—­I’ve shaped it as a door—­but not, I suspect, by science or my own hand. You are the only person who won’t think me paranoid should I put words to my suspicion. Something slumbers within it. Something with designs of its own.
Words have power. You know that better than anyone. And I am beginning to suspect the ones the shaman spoke—­and which I foolishly copied into my journal’s companion piece, my codex—­were an invocation.
Please come soon, I beg you. Or don’t come at all. And if you don’t come, then pray for me, Father. Matters are coming to a head, and my instincts say this will not end well.

David Abbott

#

Cap’n — ­adolescent con artist extraordinaire, picker of any lock, leader of Kansas City’s notorious sandlot gang, and unofficial mayor to all its throwaways — ­plucked a wilted lettuce leaf from her hair as she peered through a break in the pile of rubbish where she was hiding.

Fabian didn’t look so good, she thought, but there wasn’t much she could do about it. He was lying in the mud, his legs bent at odd angles, and was staring down the length of his outspread arm, his mouth opening and closing in a creepy imitation of a fish on the chopping block. She couldn’t make out the words, but it was clear Fabian was telling her to flee.

He wasn’t going anywhere. Danyer had made sure of that. Whether it was a first or last name, Cap’n didn’t know. He just went by Danyer. He was Mr. Culler’s hatchet man, and he didn’t fight fair. Danyer wasn’t interested in fair, though; he was interested in results, and Fabian had failed. Cap’n knew it was a bad idea to let failure go unanswered in their line of business, but she never imagined it would come to this. Fabian was a moneymaker for Mr. Culler, after all.

Danyer towered over him, a granite block with meat-­hook arms, his legs straddling Fabian’s belly. As his boots rocked in the muck, Danyer’s duster swept back and forth across Fabian’s chest. His voice reminded Cap’n of a humming turbine—­deep and dangerous—­as he read from the letter they’d filched. “‘Please come soon, I beg you —­’” Danyer crumpled the paper, lobbing it into the air. It bounced off Fabian’s cheek and into the mud. “Where’s the journal?” He squatted, grabbing Fabian’s chin with his sausage fingers before slapping him lightly across the cheek. “Hmm?”

Cap’n said a quick prayer for her friend and started backing up. But it was too late. She stepped on a stick that lifted a crate at the base of the rubbish heap just a fraction of an inch, and she could only grit her teeth as a tin can toppled from its perch, tinkling down the pile of debris while making a sound like a scale played on a badly tuned piano.
She froze as Danyer pivoted to stare at the pile of rubbish. He turned back to Fabian, speaking warily. “And where’s Cap’n?” he asked. “Where’s your pet pickpocket?” She watched him slap Fabian’s cheek one more time, the muscles in her legs tensing as he turned and started to walk toward her hiding place. Five feet out, Danyer lunged, but all he got hold of was the remaining head of lettuce as she bolted from the mound, racing down the alleyway in a flurry of muslin, freckles, and carrot-­colored pigtails.

Three blocks later, she rounded a corner, waiting. When the crack of the gun echoed down the street, she ducked into a drainage pipe to collect herself. A cockroach crawled over her foot, its antennae waving. Fabian admired cockroaches, she remembered. He said they were survivors. Suddenly, a whimper broke from her throat, and she ground the bug into a mosaic of chitinous shards before huddling in on herself, sobbing. And just as suddenly, she sat upright, her mouth set in a grim line while she ran the back of her hand across her nose.

Tears were for kids, and she needed to make a plan. When Fabian turned up dead, and there was no doubt he would, Danyer would want to tie up some loose ends — ­namely her. She wasn’t too worried about that. She knew every hidey-­hole in Kansas City, and the gang would watch her back. She regarded what was left of the cockroach, one of its severed legs agitating as though not realizing the body it belonged to was already dead, and nodded to herself. It was time to put the shoe on the other foot, she decided. Something had to be done about Danyer and his boss.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Scott is an American expat living in New Zealand with his frustratingly perfect husband. A former national title holder in the sport of gymnastics whose left arm is an inch shorter than his right  — the result of a career-ending accident — Scott ditched the corporate world to “see where this writing will take me.” He is the author of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, a commercial fiction novel with a fantasy premise releasing August 1, 2015 through Sourcebooks that tells the story of two pen pals who are fighting against the clock to solve the mystery behind the hiccup in time connecting their homes before one of them is convicted of a murder that is yet to happen . . . and yet somehow already did.

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