Celebrate The Sinner
by Steven Merle Scott
Welcome to BK Walker Books Etc. I'm so happy you could join me today from outside Cedar Breaks Monument in Southern Utah
BK: Looking out the nearest window, describe the scene you see.
It is a perfect morning outside. The sky is the color of the bluebirds nesting nearby. We’re in a rustic cabin high in the mountains, above 10,000 feet. The snow is nearly melted, although a few patches remain. The wildflowers are blooming and a light breeze is toying with the spring grasses.
BK: Tell us about your office. Is it a mess like mine, or is everything in its place?
I write at the cabin and also at home in the basement. The view from the basement doesn't rival the mountains, but it's not as bad as it sounds. I have a lovely tiled workspace with area rugs and an old black Labrador. I write in one of two spots: seated in front of an ancient oak desk or semi-upright in a cracked leather reclining chair. When I'm working on a first draft and need to get into a creative zone, I tip back the recliner and work at my laptop—almost in a fugue state. When it's time to edit and use that other part of my brain, I put on a coat and tie (metaphorically speaking) and belly up to the desk. Having two different 'spaces' for creative work and editing work helps me keep the two processes separate. I always have clutter around my feet: dictionary, newspaper clippings, folders for research etc. I also have photos of characters and settings tacked onto the wall to help me visualize places and people.
BK: What is a must-have, such as coffee or a favorite pen, that you need to write?
My laptop computer and dictionary are fundamental. I never write longhand and rarely dictate unless I'm hiking and want to preserve an errant thought.
BK: Do you like to write in silence, or do you need music or background noise?
I have to have silence--especially when I'm trying to place myself inside a scene. That's why I banished myself to the basement, and wife didn’t object. When I’m the dungeon, I close the door and usually work three to four hours at a sitting--except to periodically let the dog in and out.
BK: Tell us a bit about your hero/heroine, and their development.
I can’t honestly call Teddy a hero—he is much too flawed for that designation, especially by the end of his life. Sadly enough, the boy I created and the man he becomes is based on the life of my father. The reader first meets Teddy when he is an innocent lonely young boy trying to find some connection outside of himself. Connecting with others, either due to his nature or his environment is extremely difficult for Teddy. In the first person, we see Teddy’s intelligence and insight. We journey with him as attempts to make sense out of the world. Perhaps the effort he makes, his attempt to understand, is cause enough for us to celebrate the person he ultimately becomes.
BK: As a writer myself, I'm always curious how other writers get through stumble blocks. When you find a story not flowing, or a character trying to fight you, how do you correct it?
I take a hike, and the harder the hike the better. When I’m hiking and typically a little oxygen deprived, my brain cuts through the clutter. I find that the physical process of hiking frees up the subconscious, allowing it to wander around the blocks and come up with fresh solutions. If and when ‘clarity’ arrives, I pull out a notepad or Dictaphone and record it before it can vanish.
BK: Using the letters of your first name as an acronym, describe your book...
Searching: All of us search for connections that might give our lives meaning or help make sense out of the world. CtS celebrates that search, regardless of ultimate outcome.
Troubles: Teddy’s mother acknowledges, “We all have troubles. Enough of them will add up to heartache.”
Echoes: Echoes from the past shape the present. No adult can avoid the words, sounds or screams heard as child.
Victories: Even in the grayest of places, victories can shine through. Teddy comes to know several wonderful characters that confront and ultimately overcome their troubles: what is different about them? Can Teddy learn from other people’s victories?
Environment: Is context primarily responsible for shaping a person’s character, do people and events create the sinner? Or is it some powerful force that resides inside even the most innocent child?
Narcissism: You can’t expect to have an anti-hero without a little narcissism thrown in.
BK: How did your writing journey begin?
I’ve always wanted to write; I enjoyed writing as a kid and in high school. After college and professional school, work and life suppressed the desire, but didn’t kill it. The day I turned fifty, I decided that I would try to write. I bought books about writing; I attended seminars; I joined a writing group and I started writing. I did not want to die with the regret that I never tried. I’m still at it, and I think I’m getting better.
BK: Using the letters from the word, Summer, how would friends and family describe you?
Sunny Disposition! Occasionally.
Uptight in the operating room at times. Also during the parenting process.
Musically marooned, stuck in the 60’s and 70’s, still listening to The Big Chill soundtrack.
Maudlin. I cry during Sleepless in Seattle. My teenage boys can’t take it and leave the room.
Earnest. I take most things seriously, unless they prove to be too ridiculous to do so.
Rummage around. What I do in my office when I can’t find an incredibly important piece of paper.
BK: What is the craziest thing you've ever written about, whether it got published or not?
I wrote a short story, entitled Hard Rock, Blue Ice. It was about climbing Mt. McKinley and getting lost in a whiteout, nearly falling in a crevice. When things are at their worst, with the protagonist thinking he is about to die, he blames his mother.
BK: Tell us one thing you've done in life, that readers would be most surprised to know.
I climbed Mt. McKinley and got lost in a whiteout.
BK: What can we expect from you in the future?
I am writing a medical suspense novel, using my background in surgery and biotechnology. It is a plot-driven thriller with fresh eccentric characters. My heroine is tough and resilient, a character to cheer for!
This or That...
Coke or Pepsi?
Night Owl or Early Bird?
Early bird. I get up a five, usually exercise and am at work by seven. I’m also asleep by ten.
Fantasy or Mystery?
Mystery—except for The Lord of the Rings. Had I not limited myself to two chapters of TLOTR each night, I’d have flunked out of college.
Pen/Paper or Computer?
Laptop computer in a semi-reclining position if preferred.
Pizza or Burger?
Rock or Country?
Rock without the metal.
Chocolate or Vanilla?
Beach or Mountains?
Thank you so much for having us as one of your stops today. It has been great getting to know more about you and your book, and wish you the best of success!
About The Author:
S.M. Scott was raised and educated in Oregon, Alaska, France and Africa. Born in the Willamette Valley, his father, grandfather and great grandfather were Oregon lumbermen. When he was eight, his parents packed up the family and their portable sawmill and moved to Anchorage, Alaska where they began cutting homesteader timber in the summers and teaching school each winter.
He later returned to Oregon to pursue undergraduate studies at Linfield College. Along the way, he has studied economics, biology, French and medicine. He attended medical school in Colorado, undertook surgical training at the University of Utah and completed his cancer training at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. He and his family now live in Salt Lake City in the warm company of Saints and sinners. He is a practicing orthopedist and cancer surgeon.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Blue Amber Press
Release Date: January 30, 2013
“Unsettled conditions anywhere give rise to fear,” Old Ted remarks. “Fear finds scapegoats and easy solutions.”
In 1924, Marie walks through the Waverly Baby Home and chooses Teddy because he looks like the child she deserves...but the boy has hidden defects. Five years later, against a backdrop of financial ruin, KKK resurgence, hangings and arson, Marie's husband, Merle, struggles to succeed, Marie loses her way, and troubled seven year-old Teddy begins to see what he and his family are missing.
CELEBRATE THE SINNER unfolds with the onset of The Great Depression after Teddy’s father buys a bankrupt sawmill and moves his small family to an isolated Oregon mill town. Merle feeds his hunger with logs and production, while his young wife feels like rough-cut lumber, unworthy of paint and without a future. When a conspiracy threatens the mill, Merle adds the powerful KKK to his business network. Untended, Teddy strays as he searches for a connection outside himself. He loves the machines that take the trees, but he also worships his new, young teacher. He discovers the Bucket of Blood Roadhouse and begins spending his Saturday nights peering through its windows, gaining an unlikely mentor: Wattie Blue, an ancient, Black musician from Missouri, by way of Chicago, plays the lip harp and calls out square dances. When Wattie faces the Klan and his past, Teddy and his family are confronted with equally difficult choices.
Framed by solitary, narcissistic, ninety-year-old Ted, this story of desperate people contains humor, grit, mystery and an ending that surprises, even stuns. "Spines and bellies soften and round off with the years," Old Ted muses. "Thoughts, too, lose their edge, but secrets scream for revelation. Perfect people, after all, don't hold a monopoly on the right to tell their stories.
YOUNG Teddy with his mother:
“Teddy,” Mother called through her bedroom door. “I need you.”
I left the front window and knocked on her door. She insisted I do that. If she answered, I could come in. If she didn’t answer, it meant I should go away.
“Come in,” she said.
Mother had just finished bathing. She was at her dressing table, sitting on the chair with the soft embroidered seat, staring into the mirror, studying her image. A white towel bound her hair. I stood in the doorway and watched her pat and squeeze the towel. Her hands traced its length from top to bottom, working the moisture into the fabric. As she let the towel fall, with a single hand, she carried her thick braid forward and laid it beside her breast.
“Sit here, Teddy, and brush my hair.” She patted the seat cushion and inched forward. “We can make room.”
I climbed onto the chair behind her, my legs astraddle her naked hips, my spine pressed against the hard wooden back. The wet length of hair seemed to swell against the loose braid that held it. I released the braid and watched the strands fall apart. As I picked up the hairbrush and started with the damp ends, I knew that when I finished, when her hair had dried, it would ruffle and fan out like the tail feathers of a bright red bird.
I was Mother’s spectator, her silent confidant, forever held by the promise of more. Small secret jars, some pink and lavender, some with gold lids, others with glass stoppers, she arranged across her dressing table like figurines. She touched a shade of color with her fingertip and carried it to her cheek with the love of an artist completing a masterpiece. She reached for a second color, sampled it, but chose another. Rarely did she move her eyes from the glass in front. And rarely did I.
Mother’s eyebrows were slender because she plucked them, but her lips were full. When she looked down, lids masked her eyes like shades lowered, but the aching green behind them was always present. She wore her makeup bright red across the lips for the world to see, but more subtly along her cheeks and at the angle of her jaw. In her jewelry box, she kept gold hoops and bobs to wear when she and Father went out. During the afternoons at her dressing table, I chose the earrings she wore.
“You are the best little man,” she told me as I worked the brush through her hair.
“I know I am.”
I carried the brush higher and used it to massage her scalp the way she had taught me. She tilted her head to the left and then to the right to change the angle of view, the cast of light, and I followed her movements, careful not to pull. The thin muscles at the front of her neck tightened and released and slid beneath her pale skin like silk ropes under tension.
Held between the chair back and her spine, I barely moved, the warmth of her bath rising against me, damp like the rope of hair between us.
“I am so lucky to have you,” she said.
I searched her mirror for an echoed smile, a flickered glance, the small treasures she’d hide for me to find, me alone.
Mother stood and moved away, but moisture from her thighs remained on the brocade cushion, altering the color of its fabric from blue to purple, which, after years, became an imprint that stayed.
“Go play, now.”