BookLife Talks with Alec Scott
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'Until It Shimmers'
What’s the story behind this book?
It's about a young Canadian man, Ned Baldwin, who moves from Toronto to London for work and to figure out what to do with his life–and to come out. He makes a hash of this by telling his parents when they come for a visit, just after a minor car crash. His year in London is full of such accidents, many unfortunate, some lucky, all of them, in their way, equipping him to move forward in his life.
To what extent, if any, did you draw from real life?
The details are often drawn from real life—the carols sung at a Christmas party, the hors d'oeuvres that were passed. I gave Ned some of my ancestors: an early Canadian prime minister who forged a partnership with the Québécois, a lover and great friend of Oscar Wilde. These characters felt colorful enough to include, better than something I could have imagined. The main people in the book initially had some habits and traits in common with real people, but they soon took on lives of their own, especially Ned's mother, Helena, and his lover, Luca. I'd read about that happening but never quite believed it.You have a background in writing short- and long-form pieces, but this is your debut novel. Was there anything that surprised you during the writing process?
Well, it was great not having a fact-checker ringing me up! No disrespect: it’s a job I've done and a necessary one. I was surprised at how much was transferable from long-form journalism: the scenes that you need and how you only quote things that tell you something extra about the character.
But there was more terror to face here. My magazine profiles try to understand others. The novel required plumbing my own depths—an uncomfortable thing. And there seemed fewer rules to help me convert a blank page into a filled one. How to begin? I went to workshops at Stanford, Banff, and Bread Loaf, learning things from the fellow participants and leaders. I've always been a voracious reader, but for pleasure, not for craft. To hear Stanford's Nancy Packer speak of what makes a Gogol, a Hemingway, a Flannery O'Connor story tick—a revelation.
How do you imagine readers at this moment will connect to Until It Shimmers?
Ned comes out at the height of the AIDS crisis. That early consciousness of mortality that he developed, with so many of his friends dying, is something I'm also seeing in those coming of age now during the second pandemic of my lifetime. But mainly, I think, and hope, stories set at childhood's end, on the cusp of so many things, never quite go out of style. It's about that moment that Neil Young sings of: “When you're old enough to repay but young enough to sell.”
When can readers expect your next book?
I am writing a book about San Francisco. It focuses on the city’s history, speaking of the longtime institutions that have helped make it what it is today. Oldest San Francisco (from Reedy Press) will tell the story of the older innovations coming from this city: the world's first blue jeans, rainbow flag, and suicide hotline, to name a few. I've also written a second novel, focusing on Ned's younger brother Henry and his freshman year at Dartmouth College, then roiled by a duel between anti-apartheid protesters and neoconservatives.