A talk with Author Scott E. Tarbet
Painting, acting, singing, dancing, writing . . . who cares? It’s all art, right? Well, try this: if you are a talented singer and actor, perhaps you are an expert at your craft, sit down and try to write some of the plots you deliver to an audience every day. Sound simple? It is not. For Author Scott E. Tarbet, telling a story is like breathing. However, few people know that it is only in recent years that he began to tell stories in writing.
A seasoned actor, opera singer, poet, and guitarist, Scott knows about delivering a live story to an audience. How, then, did he decide to step behind the scenes, and become a writer of tales? Why did he start writing late in his career, and what keeps him writing, despite the steep learning curve? In this, my third interview with him, I learn about the passion that drove him to write novels like A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk, produced by Xchyler Publishing. I also learn what compels him to continue writing stories, as he grows rapidly into his new craft.
Here is what this new author had to say when I asked him just one pivotal question: What inspired you to write books?
Ginger: I have read about you, and I know you were an actor and a musician before you were an author. What inspired you to write books?
Scott: I have lots of enthusiasms, but they all boil down to one thing: telling stories. Acting, evocative music, short stories, novels, screenplays—they’re all about the storytelling. So as a guy addicted to storytelling, I look at it this way: A song lasts a few minutes. A musical theater or opera production or a movie lasts a couple of hours. A novelette-length short story might take a reader two or three to read. But a novel will likely take twenty hours or more. Is there really a choice?I look back on some of the most transformative times in my life, the times I have been most thoroughly engaged by storytellers, and those storytellers have been novelists. Tolkien has held me for weeks. And still does, every few years. Ditto Card, Asimov, and Heinlein. On a slightly smaller scale, Rowling, Clancy, and King entertained and tickled me for a number of happy hours. And those are just the most recent ones. As a lifelong, voracious, omnivorous reader, the list of novelists who have captured my mind, who have transported me to different worlds, if only for a while, or who have deepened by understanding of this one, is as long as my arm.
So how could I not want to engage in that kind of storytelling? That the good folks at Xchyler Publishing have seen enough value in my stories to publish them is a bonus—a nice one, but not the reason I write. I write because the stories have to come out. As I write the response to your question a new idea popped into my head, and I took a minute to write it down in my Writer’s Notebook, where good ideas go to gestate. Frankly, it’s hard not to stop doing this interview, and go tell that story. That’s the writer’s compulsion.
Ginger: Telling stories through singing or acting uses different methodologies than novel writing, wouldn’t you agree? You are a seasoned actor, but you are just emerging as a novelist. When you started writing, did you ever think, “Darn, if I could just act this out, I could finish the book.”
Scott: It surprised me to learn, as I began honing my craft as a writer, that my other storytelling skills (acting, singing, poetry, songwriting, etc.) not only didn’t help my writing, they actually hindered me. Skills I had worked hard to hone in other crafts, such as the dramatic monologue, don’t translate well into fiction writing. Imagine, for instance, how the reader of a modern novel would react to a three hundred word passage of language like Hamlet’s soliloquy (“To be or not to be . . .”). Three hundred words is nearly two pages of a modern novel. While it’s one of the highlights of the entire dramatic canon, having a single character rattle on in a novel for that long, giving voice to his inner turmoil, would fall flat on its face.
By the same token, a song lyric and a novel are two very different animals, and just because you can write one doesn’t mean you can write the other. Ditto a love sonnet and a novel. They’re just too different, and the tools that build one just don’t work for the other.
So I’ve had to work hard to unlearn some skills I used to count on, because they’re just not applicable.
By the way, the exact same thing applies now that I have been concentrating on fiction writing for several years, and thought I could quickly and easily turn my hand to screenwriting. I thought because I see the scenes in my head vividly as I write them down for a short story or novel, I would be able to transform them into the visual medium of film without a problem. Nope. Screenwriting is hard!
Ginger: Easy to agree with that, even if I have never written a screenplay. Focusing on the writing of a novel, though: what would you say is the most important lesson you have learned as a new writer?
Scott: There is quite a list, but they can all be grouped under one main heading: make the story pleasurable for the reader, both in content and in execution. It is easy for new writers (and I’m talking about myself here) to fall into the trap of falling in love with their own words. That’s all well and good, but it is the heart of the writer’s craft to get the reader to fall in love with the story. Paradoxically, the best way to do that is for the words themselves to disappear from the reader’s consciousness, so that they carry the story along like a pleasure boat going down a river. I want the reader to enjoy the ride, not worry about the rocks and shoals. That is the narrative art.
At one time in my life I aspired to write “literary fiction”, which is all about the rocks and shoals. As my tastes matured, I realized that many of the litfic authors I was reading didn’t give a fig about the narrative–the whole thing had gotten turned on its ear. The narrative seemed to exist as a framework for the rhythm and flow of the words. That wasn’t what made me a reader in the first place, and I don’t believe it is why most avid readers keep coming back.
Ginger: But surely you must be tempted, sometimes, to just play with the words, for the sake of making something beautiful? How do you resist that?
Scott: I don’t try to resist that urge; I try hard to tailor it to the needs of the narrative, including the needs of varied audiences. Consider this passage from the Prologue of A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk:
“From one end of the sprawling London metropolis to the other, over palaces and hovels, elegant townhouses, rundown wharfs and warehouses, the micromechs fluttered.
“They rode the summer breeze through every open window, swooped down chimneys, crept in at every crack and crevice. Their multifaceted eyes searched and their ears recorded. Their tiny feet carried them silently across the ceilings of peopled rooms. Mingling with the insects of high summer, they went unnoticed and unremarked, even in the infrequent pools of gaslight through which they flashed on whirring, iridescent wings.”
Different audiences require different voices, including different rhythms and degrees of ornamentation of the language. The quoted passage is aimed at hitting a middle ground between prose poetry and straight-ahead narrative, for a moderately educated, adult audience. I leave it to the reader to decide whether or not it succeeds.
Part of my process is to read passages like this aloud, initially only to myself, then to my first reader/listener, my wife. She is a fellow voracious, omnivorous reader, and I rely on her to help me know when it’s working and when it’s not.
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 tells about his latest inspirations, including a new story he discovered in a dream.
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.