A talk with Author Scott E. Tarbet
Admit it, bibliophiles, you are all biased. When was the last time you picked up a book, examined every character inside, and then led these make-believe people through your conscious mind equally, with legal precision? Face it, our relationships with fictional characters are no different than they are with living people — we like some better than others. Ever wonder why that is?
Here’s an answer for you: we authors have our favorite characters, too. It is true for me, and the same is certainly true of Author Scott E. Tarbet. In this, my second interview with him, I learn about the characters in his newly revised novel, A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk, and how he relates to them personally. Did you expect a writer to stand at a distance from a work of fiction? If you did, prepare to change your mind. If a story is the relationship between fact and emotion, then a good storyteller is the person who can bring you into such a relationship.
Brought to us by Xchyler Publishing, this second edition of A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk features characters that draw us in from the start. When you read your copy, you will instantly guess which ones our author finds most engaging, for he does not keep this a secret. I reasoned that a man who writes such deep characters is likely to have a deep relationship with each of them. I was right.
Ginger: In the writing you’ve done so far, do you have a favorite character?
Scott: Oh, do I! Pauline Spiegel, the young protagonist of A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk, became my little sweetheart as I wrote the first draft of the novel. I feel about her exactly as I would if she were a real person and my own daughter. She is smart, capable, charming, caring, and extremely determined. Unlike real life young ladies of her turn-of-the-century generation, the conventions of Steampunk let me give her a wonderful education and profession worthy of her intelligence and talents. And she puts them to good use, while remaining true to her femininity and her heart.
It is one of the crosses novelists have to bear that we have to put our protagonists in trouble. The old dictum is, in the first third of the novel you chase your character up a tree. In the second third, you throw rocks at them, and in the third, you get them back down again. I grew so fond of Pauline that I felt protective of her, which made it really hard to get her up the tree, let alone throw rocks at her. But I managed. How successfully, I leave it to the reader to decide.
Besides Pauline and her best friend (real life historical figure) Clementine Hozier, several of my other stories feature heroines I am very fond of: Sindisiwe, a slave girl of Zanzibar—very much in the Cinderella mold—and Britney, the plucky pre-teen protagonist whose life is changed by mysterious old man and a magical horse in The Year of No Foals.
But my Pauline’s adventures are far from over. There is lots of story yet to tell.
Ginger: I do hope you are right! And I hope you agree that Pauline will make an appearance right here in my Notes, sometime in the coming weeks. There is something tragic that happens to her toward the end of the book. I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s say that young Pauline is radically changed. Knowing you are fond of her, what was it like for you to first imagine, and then write the scene where she came into harm?
Scott: Physically painful. I know many writers who can disconnect themselves dispassionately from the craft of writing, but I’m not one of them. I feel the physical pain I inflict on characters I care about. I feel the emotional pain that results from big changes like Pauline experiences, and the joy that comes with the resolution of other issues. Even though AMNS ends on an upbeat note, the reader knows that Pauline has a ton of struggles ahead of her. And hopefully those struggles will make for some good storytelling.
Ginger: Indeed, I can already imagine some more great stories with Pauline in them. Clearly, she is a special one to you. It sounds as if she takes the role of every female who is closest to you. I want to ask you a rather delicate question now: did you want to protect her from the outcome of your novel? How much did you have to struggle with yourself?
Scott: Yes. Absolutely yes. I did want to protect her. As I said before, I didn’t really want to get her up a serious tree, let alone throw serious rocks at her, God forbid I hit her with them. But stories without serious, credible peril, and serious, credible consequences, are pale and sickly. And heros without serious, credible peril, and serious, credible consequences, are frankly uninteresting.
In AMNS, as in my other writing, bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people, just as they do in real life. Pauline is a good person. Bad things will continue to happen to her, but she will continue to decline the role of victim. She is not passive. She will fight on. That, to me, is what makes her a hero.
Ginger: Do you have a least favorite character in AMNS? How did you empathize with him/her?
Scott: Doctor Oberon Malieux is a thoroughgoing baddy. But he didn’t start out that way. That is what makes him such a tragic figure: in the early stages of his life and career he was what one of the other characters calls a “genius humanitarian”. But he has fallen. He has gone the way of seeking fortune and power. All the light has gone out of him. He is willing to do whatever it takes, manipulate whomever it takes, to the point of destroying them without qualm, to achieve his ends.
Many of us have made conscious decisions in our lives to go in one direction or another, toward the light or away from it. Where Lakshmi is the fulfillment of turning toward the light, Oberon is the fulfillment of turning away from it.
Keep up with Ginger’s Notes (http://www.songofmann.com). More exclusive interviews with Scott E. Tarbet are coming all week long!
Next: Scott E. Tarbet talks about acting and singing, and tells me how they influence his writing.
Scott E. Tarbet will appear at Marissa’s Gifts and Books on Friday, October 9th
Have you been dying to meet a rising star in steampunk? Utah fans, here’s your chance.
Marissa’s Gifts & Books, a charming local independent bookstore, is hosting a signing of the new second edition of A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk, featuring the heroic Pauline on a gorgeous new cover, Friday, October 9th, from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. Author Scott Tarbet will sign tonight.
Located at 5664 S 900 E, Ste 8, Murray, UT 84121, Marissa’s is your home for hard to find vintage and collectable books, as well as new titles from local authors.
Already own a first edition copy of AMNS?
Bring it by, and get the second edition, autographed, for only $10. That goes for Kindle copies of the first edition, too.
Come in Steampunk costume, and get $2 off your copy of the second edition.