Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Steven Merle Scott - Celebrate the Sinner - Author Interview

Author Interview 

1. How did you come up with the title?
Old Ted, an inveterate sinner, seems unreformed into his last days. “There were reasons for what I did,” he remarks. Unrecognized were forces that molded him; those that deformed him. Rather than scold the sinner, cast him aside, or vaguely accept him, I chose to celebrate the hard and unseemly life that produced the man.

2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I am not overtly religious, but I do believe in the concept of sin. However, like beauty, I believe that, too often, it resides in the eye of the beholder. Certainly there are absolutes in the world—I’m not a relativist about all things—but the person who seen as a tainted soul, may actually reflect intolerance or misunderstanding on the part of the saint looking down. And then there is loneliness. I ask: can an untouched child hope to grow into a complete person?

3. How much of the book is realistic?
Half. The sinner is my father, a man who shared the household in which I was raised, but never grew to know. I collected germs from his childhood—places, people and events—and created a story that celebrates the life of an innocent boy who became that man. I placed the boy’s face on the cover so that we can’t forget the child he once was.

4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
I wrote, revised, cut, gave up, and rewrote the novel over the course of ten years. It is the book I set out to write.

5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part was staying in the room and finishing—keeping at it until it was the best I could do; walking away before I turned it into mud.

6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I can’t catalogue all I learned, but here is one fact: The Ku Klux Klan was not a phenomenon limited to Jim Crow South or to Reconstruction following the Civil War. During the 1920’s and 30’s, the ‘Invisible Empire’ swept across the entire United States—from New England, into the Midwest, all the way to the Pacific Coast—as the Klan broadened its targets. “Unsettled conditions anywhere give rise to fear,” Old Ted muses. “Fear finds scapegoats and easy solutions.” The best men in town secretly belonged. In 1922, as a demonstration of its influence, the KKK burned a cross atop Skinner’s Butte in Eugene and claimed to have 35,000 members in the state of Oregon.

7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Since high school, I wanted to write, but it requires a broad commitment, a communal sacrifice. For a number of years life—job, family, and survival—got in its way. One day, I realized that I didn’t want to die with the regret of not having told a significant story and given my best effort. It turned out to be a relatively safe midlife crisis.

8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I look up to Cormac McCarthy. A direct and beautiful storyteller, he shows us life’s underbelly without glorifying or changing it into something unreal.

9. Tell us your latest news.
I’ve finished the research and developed the characters for my next novel, a medical mystery and character study that should be ready for publication late next year.

10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Above is a photo of a 1930's Oregon sawmill.

About the Book

“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.

Prices/Formats: $12.95 paperback, $3.99 ebook
Pages: 318
Genre: Historical Fiction/Literary Fiction
Publisher: Blue Amber Press
Release Date: December 19, 2012
Buy Links: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

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.

Links to Connect with Steven:
Web Site

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  1. Fascinating interview. I loved this book!

  2. I think a lot of us don't really understand the reach the KKK had. Very interesting. Great book.

    1. Jeana,

      During my research, I stumbled on this history of the KKK in the Pacific Northwest. Until then I had assumed it to be limited to the South, but not so. For several years during the 1920's, the KKK and its fellow travelers essentially controlled the Oregon Legislature and nearly pushed through a very restrictive "American School Bill" outlawing private schools, including Catholic schools. I melded that history with the idea that, "Unsettled conditions anywhere create fear, and fear finds scapegoats and easy solution."

  3. I loved this book. It was fascinating. I stayed awake late into the night reading it over just a few days. The sign of a good book.

  4. Thank you for hosting me. I enjoyed it very much.
    SM Scott

    1. Steven, you are most welcome. It's a pleasure hosting you :)

  5. Excellent interview and I love the whole premise :). Great job Steve!