By Bruce Christian, November 2017 Issue.
With a highly productive and critically acclaimed career in custom home construction as well as interior and landscape design, it was easy for local resident Michael Scott Garvin to keep another artistic outlet hidden for two decades.
But after taking the literary world by storm a year ago, with his award-winning novel A Faithful Son, Garvin is out of the writers’ closet and is being compared to some of America’s great novelists.
“I think I had a lot of success in design and home construction, and I think I just hit that age when I wanted something more – maybe just another outlet for creativity,” Garvin said during an interview from his award-winning MSG Studio on north Seventh Street.
“I had started novels in my 20s, in my 30s and even my 40s, but I think it wasn’t until my late 40s that I think I finally realized why I was able to continue. This time I started writing about people I knew rather than people I wanted to know,” Garvin said. “I started writing about places I had been verses places I had wanted to go. I think I finally discovered that that’s the way I could tell a story.”
A Faithful Son took him nearly three years to finish. He had planned to shove it away in a shoebox and maybe share it someday with nieces and nephews.
“I knew the subject matter would not sell a lot of books,” he acknowledged. “I wrote it quietly for three years without telling a single soul. When I finished it, I went to my sister, who works with me, and told her I’ve written a novel. She was somewhat shocked, and I said ‘here you go.’ and I handed it over to her.”
A Sister’s Love
Garvin’s sister, Christi Seipel, loved it, so he decided to self-publish it. Unbeknownst to him, Seipel submitted A Faithful Son to the New York Book Festival.
“One day last July we get notification that it is a finalist,” Garvin said. “It was a true surprise. Talk about someone living in a dream.”
One reviewer went so far as to compare the Cactus High School graduate with Harper Lee of To Kill a Mockingbird fame. And, in the year it has been available, the coming-of-age novel has won an Independent Publisher Book Awards Gold medal; was declared the winner of the 2016 Beverly Hills Book Awards; was named a finalist at the 2016 New York Book Festival; and was declared Best Fiction of 2016 International Book Festival.
While Garvin was being recognized at book fairs and book signings nationwide, his newly found writing success and fame remained a secret here in his hometown. And as the whirlwind of activity may have forced most people to seek a reprieve, Garvin dived head first into writing novel No. 2.
“My sister will tell you that I work day and night,” Garvin said. “I’ve had a lot of success over the years, but once I got the bug to write, it is like I suddenly have dueling masters.”
Lightning Strikes Twice
His second novel, Aunt Sookie & Me: The Sordid Tale of a Scandalous Southern Belle, was released at the beginning of July. By the end of July, Garvin learned it too is being honored as a New York Book Festival finalist.
“We are experiencing that same kind of adrenalin,” he said. “It’s like lightning is striking twice. I’m proud of what I’ve put out, because it’s a different novel than A Faithful Son.”
The two novels are as different as a devout, Bible-reciting, coddling church lady is to a sarcastic, irreverent, jaded-to-the-Lord eccentric. And Garvin did that on purpose.
“After A Faithful Son, I promised myself I would take a break,” he explained. “But I wasn’t expecting the kind of almost vacuum in my time it created. There was sort of an emptiness, so I had to go directly into another novel.
“But I remember telling myself, if you are going to write again – if you are going to go into another manuscript – make sure it’s a satire, because I didn’t want to go through something as heavy as writing A Faithful Son,” he recalled.
Garvin purposely chose two distinct writing styles for his books. In A Faithful Son, his poetic prose prolifically paints a picturesque landscape of Durango, as well as penetrating portraits of each personality. In Aunt Sookie, the writer depends on delicious dialogue to drive the story.
Pieces of Himself
Garvin’s first novel centers around a young man, Zach Nance, growing up in a religiously devout family during the ’60s in Durango, Colo., – where his parents had a home. The book is introspective as Zach searches for answers, knowing he is different. Zach faces the same trials and tribulations that so many LGBTQ individuals face, and Garvin captures the innocence, conflict, purity and acceptance beautifully.
Zach’s major antagonist is his sister, Laura, who becomes a zealot with her religious beliefs.
“I just find that people who are zealots, whether you are right wing, ultra-religious, agnostic, I just believe anyone who is a zealot can look at their life in absolutes, and that is who I wanted Laura to be. I wanted her to be someone who looks through life through black and white, because I think life is toned with gray,” Garvin said.
Aunt Sookie is a comedic romp with titillating surprises. It focuses on 13-year-old Poppy Wainwright, an “unusual” girl who moves to Savannah, Ga., also in the 1960s, to live with her crusty, cantankerous, blunt and hoot of an aunt. The twists and turns keep readers turning pages at a torrid pace in anticipation of the next surprising reveal to occur – and there are plenty!
“I think there are pieces of me in every character,” said Garvin, who came out during the mid-1980s. He acknowledged he was kind of a club kid at places such as Hot Bods, The Connection and Charlie’s before settling into his adult life, leaving all that behind.
“I was once in a relationship with a Phoenix Police Officer, it was my only substantial relationship, and because of that, I think the only characters in these books that weren’t a part of me were Jackson Taylor, Poppy’s boyfriend, and Doug, Zach’s boyfriend. They were probably the least flushed out characters, because I just kind of created them out of the boyfriends of my dreams,” Garvin said.
“While certainly A Faithful Son and Aunt Sookie are not my life story, I certainly knew those people,” he added.
Despite the different moods set in each of Garvin’s novels, he leaves readers satisfied that in the end Zach Nance and Poppy Wainwright will be all right.
A common thread in both books is religious references, which shows Garvin knows his Bible. He grew up in a Pentecostal household, where his family was “so kind and understanding” that his experience is nothing like the fictional Zach’s.
“I approached the writing apolitical, because I don’t have an ax to grind with the Religious Right,” Garvin said. “I think there is a place for everything in this world.”
However, he recalls vividly the almost smothering church ladies – their smells, behaviors, attitudes. He captured them in A Faithful Son. “I remember those women with their Polyester dresses and their bouffant hair-dos. I remember them pulling me into them and the smell of talcum powder and sweet perfume. They were momma bears, taking care of their young ones.”
With Aunt Sookie, his fun side shines. “Again, I’m not a political person, but I think we all need to laugh,” he explained. “You can see how politically incorrect she is. And religion? When Aunt Sookie’s final draft was complete, I realized that some of the same religious themes repeated in both novels.
“I had to tone down some things with the church ladies, and I had to edit out some of the scenes with the church, because I thought, ‘Hey, I’ve done that.’ So, I made the pastor in Aunt Sookie a good person. I liked the idea that a pastor – who often is a negative character – I liked that he is kind and sort of takes care of Poppy and oddly enough Sookie and Daryl the ice cream man.”
Character development is rich in each book. Other than the two individuals who Garvin said he did not fully flush out – Jackson Taylor and Doug – readers will care deeply for each person, either because they recognize a trait or traits from the character in themselves, or because they have a relative just like those church ladies or Aunt Sookie.
Far from The End
The former ASU College of Architecture student, who switched to the design program, continues working in that industry, which he calls his passion. However, writing has become something he must do, he said. And he writes whenever and wherever he can, such as when traveling to a job site across the country.
“I actually look forward to a five-hour layover, because I get so much writing done in an airport,” Garvin said.
As these were his first finished novels, Garvin admitted he learned as he wrote. He researched the cities and the kinds of people who lived in them during the time periods the stories take place.
“With A Faithful Son, I wrote the first chapter and the last chapter, [before] I realized that because of the time it took me, I was being neurotic over every word and every sentence,” Garvin reflected. Once he realized that he couldn’t finish the book at the pace he was on, he said he used Google to search for “How to write a book.”
The first suggestion he found was to set up an outline.
“I found out very quickly that my neurotic tendencies went right along with me because I ended up having a 75-page outline,” Garvin laughed. “But the beauty of that, was that it was like the skeleton. It basically was my novel, and all I had to do was go in and add narrative and prose and description and dialogue. So, the outline was the body and soul of the novel. It was surprising how the outline helped me.”
For Aunt Sookie, Garvin said he wrote the beginning of every chapter, before going back to complete the book. And, with his two-novel success, we can’t help but wonder if the same is true for the chapter that has been his writing career.
While Garvin hasn’t committed to whether this is The End, he share that A Faithful Son sold well enough that it paid for itself and for Aunt Sookie and also that he’s received at least two offers from publishers.
For up-to-date information on Garvin, his titles and travels, visit michaelscottgarvinbooks.com.