(Editor’s Note: I’m so pleased to share that BiblioSmiles is a blog tour stop for Scott Wilbanks, the author of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster. Gabriele was given a copy via NetGalley, and Scott Wilbanks is here to promote the book with a personal essay.)
I wonder how many writers can claim a botched first date as the inspiration for their debut novel? And if they could, how many would actually have the cheek to admit it? As Stephen King said, “Fiction is a lie, but good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” So here goes…
It had all begun so charmingly, really.
I’d lived in the Castro district of San Francisco for a good ten years up until that fateful moment, and can say with a good degree of certainty that our paths had never crossed until that peculiar weekend when I’d spied him at my regular neighborhood haunts five times.
The first of our encounters was so vivid that it even found its way into Lemoncholy‘s pages.
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, eyes 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.
Okay, so I just gave away two secrets right there. Christian—Annie’s best friend, a young man burdened with a debilitating stutter—is based on me. And, as the excerpt reveals, I do love my melodrama.
But getting back to those mysterious encounters. As the narrative indicates, I quickly dubbed the object of my fascination “the face,” and by the fifth encounter (at the gym), one that involved my tank top and a joke about “third cousins, twice removed” that earned me a laugh, I had his phone number.
We met for coffee—a calculated decision on my part—what with dinner showing too much commitment, and drinks at the local pub showing too little class. In my opinion, coffee for a first date is the equivalent of the third bear’s porridge. It’s not too hot, it’s not too cold, it puts everybody at ease, and is j-u-s-t right.
Truth be told, I’d thought everything was going swimmingly, that is until my date made it clear that it wasn’t by rocking back in his chair to declare, “I think we are destined to be great friends.”
Not the comment you’d expect when you’re picking colors for a picket fence.—I might have been jumping the gun a wee bit, but who hasn’t? I’d even come up with a name for the dog the two of us would surely be adopting. Sneeze. I’d already decided that we’d name him Sneeze.
Thirty minutes and a cataclysmic decline into tragically boring conversation later, I found myself driving home—fenceless, dogless (sad face emoji)—and with my tail tucked firmly between my legs when it occurred to me that things are only inevitable when 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, a modern day San Francisco eccentric with a penchant for Victorian clothes, and Elsbeth Grundy, a cantankerous, old schoolmarm living in turn-of-the-century wheat field —pen pals who write one another between contemporary San Francisco and Victorian Kansas, depositing their correspondences 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?
The following day, I received a call. Amidst the laughter in the background, I was slowly beginning to grasp that my email had made the rounds at my failed date’s office and was a bit of a hit. More were demanded.
“Sadly, I cannot,” I said.
Wait for it now… (This part is positively diabolical.) “Elsbeth hasn’t written back,” I responded, as if nothing could be more obvious.
Within the hour, there was an email in my inbox with Elsbeth’s name in the subject line. And while he’d certainly gotten into the spirit of things, I must admit that Elsbeth’s grammar was shockingly poor for a schoolmarm.
These letters became a regular thing, and ultimately formed the core around which I built the plot of my book.
And what my date’s prognostication, you might ask? We did become the best of friends. After all, how could we not? He’d inspired Edmond, the character in Lemoncholy who coaxes Christian’s secret to the surface, curing him of his stutter.
Sadly, my friend passed away two years ago, though I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s rolling his eyes at this little piece of drollery from Heaven.
About the Book:
Annabelle Aster has discovered a curious thing behind her home in San Francisco–a letterbox perched atop a picket fence. The note inside is blunt—trespass is dealt with at the business end of a shotgun in these parts!—spurring some lively correspondence between the Bay Area orphan and her new neighbor, a feisty widow living in nineteenth-century Kansas.
The source of mischief is an antique door Annie installed at the rear of her house. The man who made the door—a famed Victorian illusionist—died under mysterious circumstances.
Annie and her new neighbor, with the help of friends and strangers alike, must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen…and somehow already did.
Scott Wilbanks graduated summa cum laude from The University of Oklahoma and went on to garner several national titles in the sport of gymnastics. Scott’s husband, Mike, is a New Zealander by birth, and the two split their time between the two countries while Scott is at work on his next standalone novel. Visit Scott’s website at scottbwilbanks.com.