Interview with Sebastian Stuart

Whilst I total up the Texas Kitty votes, enjoy a brief interview with Sebastian Stuart.

Who is Sebastian Stuart? He’s the author of a few books, most notably Charm!, as the ghostwriter behind Kendall Hart’s fast-track novel from All My Children. When Mr. Stuart left a comment here in the original entry about the book, I contacted him because, well, as usual, I’m a curious, nosy woman.

Sebastian was kind enough to answer my questions about the writing process, and told me that as of this coming Sunday Charm!will be on the New York Times bestseller list.

Did you have to take a crash course in the plot (or plots!) of All My Children?

Sebastian Stuart: I did have to take a bit of a crash course in AMC.  I watched it, I met with Megan McTavish, who was then the headwriter, and I spoke with some fans of the show.  But the plot is all mine.  In truth, I found the show a bit confusing—there is just SO MUCH going on, and I had a hard time figuring who was who, who had slept with who, and who was related to who.  So I tried to put myself in Kendall’s shoes (not literally!) and write what I thought was her emotional truth.  I had a great time writing the book—my primary goal is always to entertain. 

As a writer, and, judging from your initial comment, you appear to be one who pays attention to the craft of writing quite closely, is it more or less difficult to write a fictional work based on characters and story threads that are not of your creation?

Sebastian Stuart: Writing is never easy, for me at least. I consider it my job to adapt to the demands of a specific assignment, to be flexible and responsive. Charm! was a first for me in that it was related to a TV show. Once I had watched the show long enough to capture its “feel” and get a sense of who Kendall was, I sat down and wrote Charm! as stand-alone entertainment. I’ll let the show’s fans ponder the parallels between the book and the show — and I hope they have a lot of fun doing so!’

Many of our readers are writers with multiple pseudonyms writing in multiple genres, and some have talked about pieces of clothing or pieces of music they use to tap into the writing voice of their different identities. Writing as Kendall Hart, did you have a process to “get into her head” or invoke her voice?

Sebastian Stuart: What a terrific question! What helped me most was talking to a couple of Kendall’s fans and hearing their subjective impressions of her. What came across most strongly were her drive, her moxie, and her cunning. This is a woman who goes after what she wants. I just kept that in my mind — and in my gut—at all times as I wrote.

Have you ghost written before?

Sebastian Stuart: I’ve done a lot of ghostwriting, and my last novel—24-Karat Kids —was co-written with Park Avenue pediatrician Dr. Judy Goldstein. I’ve ghostwritten business books, political books, self-help books — you name. I’ve always written plays and screenplays. My first novel was a psychological thriller, The Mentor. I’ve just finished a mystery set in New York State’s fascinating and beautiful Hudson Valley.

You’ve written previously about affluent microcosms in society; was a soap opera family that much of a stretch from the Upper East Side?

Sebastian Stuart: I set Charm! in Manhattan because I grew up there and I have an instinctive feel for the city. Once I started writing, I concentrated on Avery Wilkins and her struggles and romances. The drive for wealth and success is more interesting and dramatic then wealth itself. The same is true of romance — a happy couple is a lot less interesting and dramatic than a conflicted one. You see a lot of the same dynamics on the Upper East Side as you do in Pine Valley.

You mentioned that you interviewed the former head writer of the show and the fans, and that you watched a good amount of AMC. Which worked for you in terms of understanding the characters you were writing?

Sebastian Stuart: Talking to the fans was the most helpful. The show has a long and complicated history and I just didn’t have enough time to get up to speed on everyone. The headwriter at the time, Megan McTavish, is a fascinating gal who truly understands what soap fans want, and talking to her was very helpful. I hope fans of the show enjoy the book, but I also hope it’s fun for folks who’ve never watched. It’s filled with bad behavior, sex, drugs, betrayal—and perfume!

Thanks to Mr. Stuart for answering my nebby questions. As I wrote in my reply to his email, I’m fascinated by ghost writing, and by the idea of creating a work of fiction from the voice of a fictional character created by an entirely different team of writers. Thank you very, very much. It’s refreshing to talk with a writer who so enjoys and respects the pure craft of writing, and doesn’t judge any one type as greater or lesser than another.

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