Today I’m excited to share an excerpt of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks. In addition to sharing an excerpt, Scott participated in a fun Q&A for the blog! Thank you to NetGalley for connecting me with the author and his blog tour. I hope you enjoy the post and don’t forget to check out Scott’s novel!
The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks
Annabelle Aster doesn’t bow to convention—not even that of space and time—which makes the 1890s Kansas wheat field that has appeared in her modern-day San Francisco garden easy to accept. Even more peculiar is Elsbeth, the truculent schoolmarm who sends Annie letters through the mysterious brass mailbox perched on the picket fence that now divides their two worlds.
Annie and Elsbeth’s search for an explanation to the hiccup in the universe linking their homes leads to an unsettling discovery—and potential disaster for both of them. Together they must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen…and yet somehow already did.
Interview with Scott Wilbanks
Author Bio: They say, “Write what you know.” Who ‘they’ may be still remains a mystery, but I took the advice to heart when I wrote a book about five misfits who found themselves walking a path I trod daily, seeking understanding in an indifferent world, but more on that later.
With my life constantly pushed and pulled by a pair of opposing bugaboos—ADD and drive—I surprised myself by graduating summa cum laude from The University of Oklahoma while also garnering a handful of titles in the sport of gymnastics.
Life-changing accidents, lost loves, and an unremarkable career path followed, that is until a lawsuit and Mike changed everything. The lawsuit motivated me to step away from my career. Mike added the extra push, convincing me to take a leap of faith, and move to the country of his birth, New Zealand, while also encouraging me to “see where this writing will take me.”
1. Would you like to start by introducing yourself?
Hi Arielle! Heaps of thanks for including me in your blog. And, lord help me, where do I begin with that question?
My friends joke that I’m a guy who writes “girl stuff” just to get my goat. You know what, though? It’s pretty on the money.
For the record, though, I’m an American expat—a DOMA (Defense Of Marriage Act) refugee, of sorts—living in New Zealand with my frustratingly perfect husband. We don’t own any pets, but the neighbor’s cat thinks we belong to him. His name is Teddy, but I call him Teddy-The-Terrible, because he’s totally incorrigible.
Aside from being a gym addict—I was a national title holder in the sport of gymnastics back in the dark ages—I… write… books. More specifically, I’ve written a book, and a good half dozen more are bouncing around in my head.
2. Can you give us a brief overview of your latest novel and the inspiration behind it?
It’s called THE LEMONCHOLY LIFE OF ANNIE ASTER, and tells the story of two women—one being a young, modern day San Francisco eccentric with a passion for Victorian clothes (she wears them everywhere); the other a cantankerous, old schoolmarm living in a turn-of-the-century Kansas wheat field—pen pals who get off to a rather rocky start, depositing their correspondences in a brass letterbox that stands in some common magical ground between them.
Their search for an explanation to this hiccup in space and time leads to an unsettling discovery—and potential disaster for them both. With the aid of a cast of unlikely misfits, they must solve the mystery of what connects their two homes before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen—and yet somehow already did.
And would you believe I drummed up the premise while driving home from a botched first date?
We were having coffee, and I thought everything was going swimmingly; that is, until my date said, “I think we’re destined to be great friends.” The conversation took a cataclysmic decline at that point, and I drove home with my tail tucked between my legs. It was during that drive, however, that I decided outcomes are only inevitable if you accept them as such, and immediately drummed up Annie and Elsbeth (the two characters I described above) in my head. When I got home, I had Annie write a letter to El, asking for advice regarding her lovestruck friend—me—and fired it off to my failed date’s email address.
The next day, I received a call… from him… at work. Apparently, my correspondence had done the rounds at his office and was a bit of a hit.
“Annie needs to write more,” he said.
“Sadly, she can’t,” I responded.
“El has to write back,” I answered, as if nothing could be more obvious.
The next morning, a letter from Elsbeth was sitting in my in-box, and we began a regular correspondence that I resuscitated years later to form the genesis of my book.
3. What other novels have you published and what are you working on at the moment?
My current work-in-progress tells the story of a young Southern man who is burdened with the world’s only medically documented case of incurable naiveté—the result of a curious subtype of ADD and a lightning strike at the age of four—who becomes a shut-in and a night owl when it’s made painfully clear early on in life that he’s a sucker for every con artist who crosses his path.
He lives in San Francisco, and sneaks out every night at 3:00 am to ride around the city while the rest of the world is asleep and safely out of reach on his tandem bicycle with banana seats. There’s a wicker basket containing Cheetos, a diet soda, an individually wrapped slice of bologna, and the urn holding his mother’s ashes resting in a wicker basket on the front fender.
The reason he rides a tandem bike? His mother’s ghost joins him on his nightly rides, regaling him with stories of his childhood.
4. Do you have any tips for emerging authors?
Do not listen to that voice inside your head that is telling you to give up, and certainly don’t listen to the people who tell you to move on. What do they know? Writing is simultaneously a journey and a trial by fire.
I was the beneficiary of well over a hundred rejection letters before that insane moment when I woke up to an email from The Irene Goodman Literary Agency and nearly fell over head-first onto the bedroom floor. The irony is that were it not for that endless parade, coupled with my absolute refusal to give in, I would have never actually learned how high to set the bar to become published, nor would I have acquired the level of craft to achieve that goal. It was a painful, poignant, and incredibly rewarding process. And, I think, that’s the way it should be.
I wrote (badly), and queried agents, then rewrote (less badly), and queried agents again in so many cycles that each successive draft of my manuscript became something like the outer ring on a tree, possessing a character and depth greater than the previous iteration. The end result became so much better for it. More importantly, that struggle provided me a rudimentary understanding of the craft of writing, something that I’ve been able to build upon while working on my sophomore effort.
5. What inspired you to start writing and what continues to inspire you?
It was an act of desperation, really. I used to own a small insurance arbitrage firm and found myself in the unhappy position of having to bring forward a lawsuit against a very large company for an unpaid commission.
Three years later, and after the closing arguments in Philadelphia, I found myself on the floor of my hotel room, experiencing a mother of an anxiety attack. I rather imagine it looked like a seizure. When able, I crawled my way into the shower. And as the water poured over me, a sentence popped into my head—one about Annie, the San Francisco eccentric. It simply would not go away, bouncing around like a ping pong ball. I turned off the water, dried myself, and made my way to the hotel desk where I simply wrote it down, before catching a flight home several hours later.
I couldn’t bear the idea of going into the office the following morning, and started cleaning house, beginning with my brief case. In it was the piece of loose-leaf paper with that sentence written on it. I sat down, and wrote another. Then another. Just over two months later, I’d written 450 pages of a manuscript that was so bad I jokingly say that the pages on which it was written are on suicide watch.
6. What are the things you can’t live without in your wardrobe?
My fleece-lined suede house shoes, sweats, and polar fleece pull over. They’re my go-to winter clothes for winter. It’s 7:15 pm and I’m still wearing them!
Then there’s my 50’s style high wasted slacks with suspenders. Can’t do without them. I’m a bit weird that way.
7. What would we find if we looked in your handbag right now?
I want to answer this one so bad! But the only thing that comes close is my backpack, and it’s chock-a-block with my gym gear.
8. A few of your favorites…
Favorite scent? Night jasmine
Favorite color? Yellow, of course!
Favorite food? Cinnamon and sugar covered anything…
Favorite word? Defenestration, only because it takes longer to say than to define, and its use is so ridiculously limited. The act of throwing a thing, especially a person, out a window. I mean, what’s the point of that? “Honey, quit playing with the burglar and defenestrate him already.”
Favorite book? The Lord Of The Ring Trilogy, because it turned me into a book-a-day nerd by the age of fourteen.
Favorite vacation spot? Trekking up and down the coastal highway through California, Oregon, and Washington.
Favorite time period in history? Today (How many people have said that?)
Favorite article of clothing? Okay, this is going to sound so weird, but I am a bit obsessed with sundresses. Don’t panic! I don’t wear them, or anything, but it stops me in my tracks when I see one on a woman, or even a store mannequin.
Favorite drink of choice? I’m a soda stream addict.
9. Either or…
Dogs or cats? Noooo! I have to choose? Uh… kittens! No, wait! Puppies!
Red wine or white? Red
Coffee or tea? Coffee so strong the spoon stands on end.
Summer or Winter? Nope, neither. I love Fall for the quality of the light, and Spring for the flowers.
Sleep in or get up early? My body is constitutionally incapable of sleeping in at this point, much to my dismay.
Apple or PC? Apple, for sure.
Excerpt: The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster
Pray for Me, Father
May 16, 1895
San Francisco, California
Mission Dolores Basilica
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.
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.
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.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.
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.