(Mirror) “It's summer down here in New Zealand. I'm sitting at the breakfast table with my husband, my niece (who is visiting from Texas) is on the back deck feeding the neighbor's cat treats (don't tell the neighbor, please), and all is well.”
This is the first email I received from Scott B. Wilbanks after asking if he would be interested in an SFGN spotlight focusing on his writing career and his experiences as an LGBT author. What was supposed to be a six-month experiment in his husband’s country of origin turned into nearly a decade in the picturesque New Zealand.
Wilbanks is the first to admit that his life is like a fairy tale — living in a cottage as he spends his days in Auckland crafting new stories (when he is not going to the gym or watching TV with Mike, his husband)
But like all stories, this one had its fair share of conflict.
Wilbanks graduated summa cum laude from the University of Oklahoma and became a decorated gymnast. But an accident rendered him unable to compete, and a lawsuit motivated him to step away from his career.
In the wake of hardship, and with an extra push from his husband, Wilbanks decided to try his hand at writing.
“One hundred twenty three. That’s how many rejections I got before something stuck,” Wilbanks said. “Some people get lucky. But for most it is an endurance contest.”
Practice and endurance paid off, and Wilbanks released “The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster” in August of 2015, a time-travel mystery following the exchange between two pen pals who are racing against the clock to find out why a hiccup in time has connected their homes — and how to stop one of them from being convicted for a murder that has yet to happen.
Now Wilbanks spends his time on his new project, which follows the early life of a boy whose birth was induced by lightning during the storm of the decade — and as a result leaves him looking just a bit different. As bullies push him to hermit-hood he finds solace in writing, unknowingly honing his craft to a skill level comparable to some of the most celebrated poets.
“The more time you spend with a manuscript, the deeper you get into it, the more you develop your characters,” Wilbanks said. “There is nothing more boring than a one-dimensional antagonist, and nothing better than an antagonist that becomes a protagonist at the end.”
Wilbank’s characters each have a deep story to tell. In “The Lemoncholy Life,” the six main characters are each representatives of a marginalized group — an elderly woman, drug users, someone with a chronic illness, and two gay characters. As any good characters, there is far more to each of them than their marginalization.
“One of the gay characters is based off of myself, while the other is based off of one of my exes,” Wilbanks said. “He was a very close friend, and he actually died two weeks before the [publication] date.”
For Wilbanks, exposure to LGBT themes and characters is key. “There’s not enough [LGBT] content,” he said. “There’s never enough content. It’s about getting all of us out there — normalize us.”
Wilbanks has put his own experiences into his characters and his stories, and advises up-and-coming writers to do the same. To those who want to change attitudes and perceptions toward LGBT people, Wilbanks believes telling stories — fiction and nonfiction alike — is the best way to do so.
“The best form of education is story, we are hardwired to respond to stories,” Wilbanks said. “Stories give us context, they give us a reason to involve ourselves that regular facts and figures don’t provide.”
Take a page out of Wilbank’s book — find your voice, find your characters, and give the world a story that will last beyond the closing line.
Check his book out on Amazon.