Guest Post: The Inspiration And Irony Of “Annie Aster” by Scott Wilbanks

Read this essay by THE LEMONCHOLY LIFE OF ANNIE ASTER (which releases today!) author, Scot Wilbanks. You won’t be sorry.

You will be engaged, heartbroken, and inspired. 

Amy xo

Inspiration And Irony

by Scott Wilbanks

High Res bookcoverI head down to Los Angeles next week for the second leg of my cross country journey, and while I have no intimate connection to that city, other than a smattering of friends, it will be, by far, the most poignant stop on my tour, because of a particular young woman.

You see, there’s a story I must share while I’m there, and I’m afraid it will make her sad. It’s about the inspiration behind my debut novel The Lemoncholy Life Of Annie Aster, and she really needs to hear it.

I still find it baffling that my book—and my career, for that matter—owes its life to such humble and awkward beginnings. But there you have it.

And yet it had all begun so charmingly.

I’d never seen him before that peculiar weekend when our paths crossed five times at my local haunts in San Francisco’s Castro district.

The first of our encounters was so vivid that it even found its way into Lemoncholy’s pages. The passage is a wee bit melodramatic, I’m afraid, but I was walking down the street with my head in a book, had glanced up from the pages just as he walked past, and, well, time kind of stood still.

The cars crawled. A hummingbird inched forward like a slow-motion sequence in a National Geographic special, its wings undulating in the exquisite fashion of a Japanese fan dancer. A dog floated upward in the park across the street, a look of pure joy frozen on its face, eye focused on a Frisbee hovering inches from eager jaws and spinning so slowly that you could read the word Wham-O on it. Then, whoosh… time repaired itself and Christian was walking all too quickly past the face with the secret smile.

It was all a bit of a mystery, those encounters, and as the narrative indicates, I quickly dubbed the object of my fascination “the face,” while finding myself building a story in my head as to who he might be in those odd moments when I wasn’t doing business-y things, or washing dishes, or nodding off in bed with a book in my hands. All I knew for certain was that he was stupidly handsome, a condition that was offset by some pretty ridiculous sartorial choices.

Note to self: NEVER wear an orange flannel button-down over fade brown corduroys.

That face, combined with those clothes, fascinated me. Who was this guy?

In my book, Annie Aster suggests that he could be a “third cousin, twice removed,” or “a killer for hire” who has marked her best friend Christian for liquidation, which only prompts Christian to respond that those options need not be mutually exclusive, considering that he comes from Texas. (Many apologies to any proud Texans reading this. It’s an inside joke, and I do the state proud in the end.)

The fifth of my encounters with “the face” was a perfect illustration that Kismet does, indeed, have a sense of humor. Clearly annoyed that I’d wasted four good opportunities, the universe took a much needed break from its attempted match-making and my life had gotten on with the business of the humdrum for a good week or so, leaving “the face” little more than a memory; that is, until I’d felt a light tapping sensation on my shoulder at the gym. I turned around to find him staring me down with his trademark smile, the one that went through me like catnip. To my surprise, he pointed at my tank top, unraveled a kink in one of its straps, and simply wandered off.

Okay, the universe was not to be denied this time.

I quickly re-tangled the very same strap, tracked him down (politely interrupting the conversation in which he was involved, in the process), and suggested that his efforts lacked conviction.

That got me a laugh and his phone number, and, truth be told, I’d thought everything was going swimmingly, but then my date made it clear that we had separate agendas by rocking back in his chair to declare, “I think we are destined to be great friends.”

Great… friends.

Definitely not the response I was looking for.

Thirty minutes and a cataclysmic decline into tragically boring conversation later, I found myself driving home with my tail tucked firmly between my legs when it occurred to me that things are only inevitable if you accept them as such. By the time I’d pulled into my drive, I’d concocted a pair of characters in my head—Annabelle Aster and Elsbeth Grundy—pen pals who write one another between contemporary San Francisco and Victorian Kansas, depositing letters in a brass letterbox that stands in some common magical ground between the two.

I ran upstairs, whipped up a letter from Annie to Elsbeth in which she asked for advice regarding her love-struck friend—me—and promptly emailed it to my date. I know, right?

Within a couple hours, I received a call. Apparently, my email had made the rounds at his office and was a bit of a hit. More were demanded.

“Sadly, I cannot,” I said.

“Why’s that?”

“Elsbeth hasn’t written back,” I responded, as if nothing could be more obvious.

The next morning, I found an email in my inbox with Elsbeth’s name in the subject line.

Our correspondence became a regular thing. I would write as Annie, talking about Scott’s feelings, my feelings. He would write as Elsbeth, talking about his. Somewhere around the sixth exchange, we’d become an “item.”

A year later, we’d moved in together.

Five years later, his prophecy came true. We found that we were much better suited as friends than lovers. And we became the best of them, very nearly inseparable.

I began writing the first horrible draft of Lemoncholy the following year, a story that, at its heart, is about five misfits who are seeking understanding and enlightenment in an unforgiving world.

Of course, Annie and Elsbeth play the lead—one an eccentric in contemporary San Francisco who refuses to wear anything but Victorian clothes, the other a truculent., old schoolmarm living in turn-of-the-century Kansas.

But there’s also Christian. He’s Annie’s best friend; a young man burdened with a secret buried so deep within his subconscious that it leaves him with a stutter. And there’s Edmond, the charismatic, sweetheart who is weighed down by a demon—drug addiction.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I based Christian off my own life experience, and Edmond’s off my nearly failed date, turned partner, turned best friend.

And… this is the point where I suspect I’ll struggle a bit while sharing my story with the audience.

You see, four weeks after The Lemoncholy Life Of Annie Aster went into production, and just two weeks after I’d spent an hour on Skype, discussing my date’s first international trip to visit me and my husband in New Zealand where I’ve been living for the last six years, I received an email from the young lady who will be attending my reading.

She is my date’s sister—Edmond’s sister.

And she wrote to inform me that he’d passed away. His demon had gotten the better of him.

She’s never heard this story. But she loved her brother fiercely, and deserves to know.

As for me? There’s not a day goes by that I don’t miss him.

And for the curious. He’s in the dedication.

Scott's bio photoScott is the author of THE LEMONCHOLY LIFE OF ANNIE ASTER, a commercial fiction novel with a fantasy premise releasing August 4, 2015 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.

Scott’s website: http://scottwilbanks.wix.com/scottwilbanks

More about the book: http://scottwilbanks.wix.com/scottwilbanks#!books/cosk

Twitter: https://twitter.com/scottbwilbanks

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/scott.wilbanks.7

Author Interview: Colleen Oakley Shares Her Hardest Scene And Straightforward Advice For Writers

Before I Go paperbackToday we’re celebrating the paperback launch of Colleen Oakley’s BEFORE I GO. And before I go on — let me tell you that Colleen has four (coughFOURcough) little kids. And by little I mean two of them are twins. And they’re babies. So when you say or hear someone say (and by say I mean whine) “I don’t have time to write,” tell them about Colleen. Tell them you (and she) have the same 24 hour days that they do. Then tell them to read BEFORE I GO to see what can be accomplished.

Below you’ll learn about a paperback vs. a hardcover launch, Colleen’s favorite and hardest scene to write, and her straightforward advice for writers. 

Please welcome Colleen to WFW!

Amy xo

Author Colleen Oakley Shares What Readers Have Taught Her About Her Own Book 

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A WFW Book Review: My Very Best Friend by Cathy Lamb

cathy lamb mvbfToday is the book birthday for Cathy Lamb’s latest novel MY VERY BEST FRIEND. It’s Cathy’s ninth book, and had me turning the pages late into the night. And if you know me, that’s no small feat. I’m an early-to-bed kinda gal.

Sometimes I have an idea what a book is about before I start reading, sometimes not. Even when I do, my expectations of story seem to vanish on page one as I allow the author to do his or her (oh, who are we kidding, usually HER) job.

That’s definitely the case with MY VERY BEST FRIEND.

I was whisked away to the Oregon and the life of Charlotte Mackintosh, a romance writer who has no romance in her life. She’s an odd duck, to say the least, which made her completely endearing. Charlotte is also generous and kind and while she hadn’t traveled in years, she sets off to Scotland to sell her parents’ old cottage, where she lived until she was about twelve. The story takes us then to Scotland–and that’s where the whirlwind begins!

Cathy is a master at pacing. I sometimes felt like I couldn’t keep up with how fast I wanted to read. I’m not sure that makes sense but so much is happening I wanted to take it all in. There’s friendship, heartache, mystery, romance, and some real growth by Charlotte, and all the other characters, by the end of the book.

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Guest Post: Author Claire Dyer On Managing Multiple Points Of View In Your Novel

TPA ebookI’m a one POV writer. At least so far. I love multi-POV novels but it’s not something I’ve tackled in my own book-writing journey. Today, author Claire Dyer shares with us some thoughts on writing a novel with multiple points of view. What are your thoughts? How do you do it? Do you stay far away from it? In the past, I’ve used short stories to experiment with POV and different literary devices and techniques. When I was reading Claire’s post I remembered I’d had a short story published that used two points of view…and I went back and read it. It was published a year before The Glass Wives (May 2013) — and I’ll be honest, it took me about a year and a half to find it a home! (So yes, I’ve always been persistent) ;-) Here’s a link if you want to read Minding Joe

But first — share your many thoughts on managing multiple points of view in the comments. 

And please welcome Claire Dyer to WFW!

Amy xo

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Guest Post: Author Laura McNeill’s 11 Tips For Writing Domestic Suspense

Center of Gravity 2It’s summer and domestic suspense is HOT! What makes me want a guest post about domestic suspense on WFW? Because many of these novels today feature women as their protagonists, and when you read Laura McNeill’s post, you’ll see how the advice transcends any strict genre lines you (we!) may have conjured up in our heads. I mean, who doesn’t want some suspense in any novel? If all the answers are right there, why bother turning the page?  My favorite bit of advice below is #7—Make Things Worse, because that’s the hardest part for me and I know how important it is.  Which piece of writing advice speaks to you? Please tell us in the comments! And most importantly, today is pub day for Laura’s CENTER OF GRAVITY!!! Congratulations, Laura!!

Amy xo

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Curiosity Might Just Kill The Author

 

If you’re a writer putting your work out there for others to read, at some point you’ll hear the advice: Do not read your reviews. Oh, you’ll do it anyway, at least for a while, but those bad reviews can sting. Well, at least when they’re coherent they can.

Bad reviews also sting because writers have feelings. (This seems to be a missing cog in some reviewers’ wheels.)

If we didn’t have feelings, we wouldn’t be able to write anything worth reading. We internalize what we read and what we see. That’s how we have enough mishegas—craziness—in our heads to need to GET IT OUT onto paper. For others to read. And review. Apparently so that we have more to internalize. Because we internalize what we read. (See a pattern emerging?)

And that’s what brings me to this next bit of advice that no one ever shared with me. I’m giving you this to your straight to save you all some heartache and to save you a trip to the reflecting pond. Because you know we all go there anyway. No need for extra travel.

Do not read the long bios of other authors.

I did this so you don’t have to.

Have a great time reading the short snappy ones on the back of the book, but back away from the long ones. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones tucked away or maybe even highlighted online that outline a lifetimes of degrees, travels, accomplishments, and diseases cured. Or the ones that detail the scuba diving prowess, the years digging wells in underprivileged countries, the Fortune 500 job ditched when a novel written on weekends hit it big.

Until I fell down the online rabbit hole of author bios, I’d really considered writing the great equalizer of my life. You write, I write, we have something in common. That’s all we need. Writing is an intense gig, writers can talk about a paragraph for hours.

But, for some reason, these compacted lives just toppled me. Had fact that I’d not done any of those important things tipped the scales in someone else’s favor? What else had I missed out on? I didn’t have time replant forests and living in a hut or in Dubai was not an option. I started raising kids in 1992. But some of these authors have also raised children (although my daughter assures me there is no way these people have friends).

I insisted to myself I am the only published author in the universe without a master’s degree in something. Had everyone been required to join the peace corp or save dolphins or spearhead urban gardening initiatives? And why didn’t I get the memo?

In those few moments of hazed uncertainty I was sure that while I was following my ex around the country while he followed his dream everyone else was intentionally padding their future curricula vitae for a website they didn’t even know would exist—when it never even occurred to me to do anything but what I was doing simply for the sake of doing it.

Where was everyone else who did nothing?*

While some of my everyday and everything friends are writers, I don’t know too much about most of my writer friends other than their writing, and the tidbits they share on social media. Cute kids and sports. Cute kids and school. Cute kids and awards. Inspirational quote. Pedicures (which I hate). Vacations. Food.

Is it better that way? Keep Writerland Clean? Is that our motto? Writerland is the place I belong. With a few exceptions, it’s my favorite place.

When I took a breath and a step back (which required assistance), I realized that none of the things I read about on any of these bios are things I wished I had done. Ever. Not one. None of them interested me, they just impressed me. And there’s a difference.

Your path, my path, his path, her path. It doesn’t matter how we differ as writers, what matters is what makes us the same. That’s the secret sauce for the writing life. That it is a great equalizer. (So go! Climb your mountain! Sail your seas! I’ll be right here when you get back!) And all that good stuff is exactly what I remembered after letting off some of my under-achieving steam with the help of a wonderful writer friend. One with a Ph.D.

But we didn’t talk about that.

Amy xo

* I am fully aware I did not spend my life doing nothing. I am proud of the kids I raised, the person I am, the things I’ve done. But now I have to go dig a well in my backyard for underprivileged suburban bunnies. Cya. 

Author Interview: Kelli Estes Talks About Her Debut Novel: The Girl Who Wrote In Silk

TGWWISFinalCoverAfter emailing and interviewing debut author Kelli Estes, I’m confident in saying, YOU’RE GOING TO LOVE HER. The description of her book will give you the chills, her publishing journey will inspire you, and her advice will ring true. 

At least that’s what happened to me!

Please welcome Kelli Estes to WFW!

Amy xo

Debut Author Kelli Estes Talks About Her Debut Novel: The Girls Who Wrote In Silk

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