Christopher Scotton, a software company CEO in the Washington, D.C., area, never forgot the look of grief in the eyes of a friend’s mother.
“Naturally curious, I asked my friend about the sadness,” Scotton says. “He paused, then told me the story of how his older brother died.”
The mother witnessed the death of her 3-year-old son in a horrific accident.
“Thirty years on when I met her, I could tell she hadn’t fully healed,” Scotton says.
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The 53-year-old Scotton turned his exploration of those emotions into a gritty coming-of-age novel, “The Secret Wisdom of the Earth” (Grand Central Publishing, $26).
Set in 1985, the story is narrated by Kevin, a man looking back at the summer when he was a 14-year-old healing from the accidental death of his younger brother. He spent that time with his grandfather in a small town in Kentucky rallying against a coal mine company.
“The Secret Wisdom of the Earth” has received praise from critics and readers. Kirkus Review called it “a powerful epic of people and place, loss and love, reconciliation and redemption.” Shelf Awareness declared it “a masterpiece.”
Scotton answered some questions about the book and his writing life during a telephone interview between stops on his book tour.
Q: What traits do you and your main character Kevin have in common?
A: My early teenagehood was very similar to Kevin in that I was a bit nerdy and very bookish. I read a lot, was trying hard to find out who I was as a person. It’s a scary and disconcerting time. When you lay on that Kevin is dealing with the guilt from the death of his brother, it’s a tough navigating for him. I have his perseverance and his positive outlook. Ultimately, it’s that perseverance and his positive outlook that allows him to find redemption in the end.
Q: Did you have a friend like Kevin’s best bud, Buzzy?
A: I did. He was much more wild and rambunctious than Buzzy. He will remain nameless because he’s still out there. He was something. He became a successful businessman.
Q: What’s the role of love and loss in Kevin’s redemption?
A: Love is obviously a universal experience and is essential for any kind of redemption. Loss can take many forms: loss of innocence, integrity, or in the case of Kevin, loss of a loved one … Kevin must also deal with the loss of his father, who has stacked Kevin with blame and guilt. His world is torn apart. But out of the wreckage, he finds a faltering path to redemption.
Q: I read that it took you 15 years to complete your novel. Did you ever think you were going to finish it?
A: At times, no. The reason it took so long is that I have a demanding day job, two small kids, coaching soccer and all this stuff. My writing time was fairly limited. I had a lot of thinking time but not a lot of writing time. I put it on the shelf for seven years. I was starting a technology company and that became consuming. Then something wonderful happened: I got fired. We were trying to compete with Google. The board fired me because all of my turnaround strategies didn’t work. That gave me time to pick the novel back up and finish it. Sometimes getting fired, it’s not a bad thing.
Q: Did you decide to make money as a software developer first and then complete your novel?
A: I love writing. And I also love running companies and working with teams. They are two different skill sets and desires. In some ways, I’m schizophrenic like that. I love the solitary nature of writing. I also love working in teams and mentoring folks.
Q: You had no discernible author platform. Were you shocked at Hachette’s 100,000-print run of your book?
A: I’m new to the whole publishing business. I was very pleasantly surprised and extremely happy with the reception the novel got within Hachette. When they made that commitment to run 100,000, I knew they were also making a commitment to market it very aggressively. I felt like I was the beneficiary of some very good fortune.