3 to 5 with James Scott

3 to 5 Questions for Authors:

In Which A Librarian asks a Talented Author a Small Number of Questions

One of our many awesome book clubs is Books & Brewskis. We meet monthly at The Filling Station Microbrewery where the staff is suuuuuuuper nice and the pizza is hot and delicious and the beerz is flowin’. And we talk about awesome books (or at least regular books that awesome people have feelings about).

In February, we will be reading the debut novel of James Scott: The Kept. Here is the summary:

In the winter of 1897, Elspeth Howell treks across miles of snow and ice to the isolated farmstead in upstate New York where she and her husband have raised their five children.  But as she crests the final hill, and sees her darkened house, immediately she knows that an unthinkable crime has destroyed the life she so carefully built.

 Her lone comfort is her twelve-year-old son, Caleb, who joins her in mourning the tragedy and planning its reprisal. Their long journey leads them to a rough-hewn lake town. There Caleb is forced into a brutal adulthood, as he slowly discovers truths about his family he never suspected, and Elspeth must confront the terrible urges and unceasing temptations that have haunted her for years. Throughout it all, the love between mother and son serves as the only shield against a merciless world.

 A scorching portrait of guilt and lost innocence, atonement and retribution, resilience and sacrifice, pregnant obsession and primal adolescence, The Kept is told with deep compassion and startling originality, and introduces James Scott as a major new literary voice.

Sounds beautiful and creepy, two of my favorite qualities in a book. And, lucky us, James Scott was nice enough to answer some questions about himself and his new novel, which is receiving excellent praise.

Q: Reviews of The Kept categorize it as a western, a thriller, a historical novel, crime fiction AND literary fiction. How would you describe your book and did authors of a specific genre inspire your work?

A: I like authors that sprinkle some genre into literary work. I love Cormac McCarthy for example, and he often draws from westerns or thrillers. Right now, I’m reading Station Eleven, and that combines a bunch of things. If you had to put it on one shelf, though, it would be literary, simply because it doesn’t adhere to any of those genre conventions fully enough to qualify completely, I don’t think. It’s the platypus of books.

Side note: I don’t read reviews. I read three and a half. That was plenty.

Q: How important are titles to you?

A: Pretty important, but not crucial. I liked The Kept because it spoke to many elements of the book, and in that sense, it shifts in meaning depending on where you are. I have trouble with them until I have a clear idea of what the book’s about in the larger sense.

Q: This novel is set in the turn of the twentieth century. How much research do you do before you began writing?

A: Before I started? Almost none. Once I got going, I had a better sense of what I needed and was able to fill in the holes as I went. I can fall down research holes and never emerge, so I wanted to go to the library/internet/youtube/expert with questions that were as specific as possible.

For the aspiring historical fiction writers out there,  if there was a Sears catalog when your book takes place, find one. It has everything– guns, clothes, perfume, food– you could ever need.

Q: Whatcha working on now?

A: A novel set in Vermont in the 1990s. The main character runs an architectural salvage shop and is a volunteer diver for the police department. I told my agent it would be funny, and it’s funnier, I suppose, but it’s definitely not funny. More death and misery!

Q: Anything unexpected in your reading pile/ #toread stack?

A: Unexpected? Probably not? Lemme see… Find Me by one of my best friends from grad school, Laura van den Berg; Sometimes the Wolf, by my other best friend from grad school and best man, Urban Waite (I read that one, but he made some changes that I’m sort of skimming to find); The Kid (Ted Williams bio that I’m sort of savoring); Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell; Duplex by Kathryn Davis; and All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu.

I keep some short stories close by in case I don’t have the patience/time for a novel: Best American Short Stories (Egan, ed), Man v. Nature by Diane Cook, Karen Bender’s Refund.

Librarian’s note: Ok, I asked more than 5 questions. But it’s my blog post and he’s got great answers so, if you’re a rule stickler, don’t read on.

Q: What’s just about the best thing you’ve ever seen?

A: I don’t have kids yet, which would be the easy answer. Instead, here is a list of finalists:

  • My wife in her wedding dress
  • Walking up to my mom’s house at Christmastime, when it’s all lit up and warm inside
  • My dog swimming
  • Sunsets:
    • reflected on the St. Lawrence River in upstate NY
    • over the land beneath Lookout Mountain, in Georgia, which is one of the places I go to write and also where I got married
    • from the Cross at Sewanee, in Tennessee
    • on the horizon of the Atlantic in Ogunquit, Maine
    • on the mountains in Vermont
  • The moment of blackness before a movie starts
Q: If you were a Dewey Decimal number, what number would you be?

A: Oh, I’m fine being in old 813. 8 is my lucky number and 13 is 13. So it’s nice and even.

Books & Brewskis will be discussing The Kept on Tuesday, February 24 at 7 PM. In the meantime, check out James Scott’s website and his recommendations for wonderful things!

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