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.
Inspiration And Irony
by Scott Wilbanks
I 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.”
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.
“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 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