Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Susan Roebuck's Perfect Score

Thank you so much for letting me waffle on your blog today, Jadette.

People who have read my novel, “Perfect Score” won’t believe what they’re going to read now so I’d better just clarify: when I’m asked whether I meticulously plot my stories or whether I take it page by page, I reply that I “wing it”.

My inspiration for “Perfect Score” came about when I was staying in the Catskills, Upstate New York. Oh how I loved it – for a Brit, perhaps that’s not unsurprising. I stayed in a Gothic skiing lodge complete with bats in the belfries and the guy from the Munsters who’d open the great creaking wooden door. The whole place was made of wood which heightened the excitement because every room had a fireplace. The nearest village day-dreamed in a pall of dope-smelling smoke and the tiny shops sold hand-made trinkets or insipid food. And the golf pro firmly believed in levitation to improve your swing. But inspiration really hit me at the site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival. I had Alex as a successful singer/songwriter and Sam as a starry-eyed fan. Ahem, a girl fan. I swear this is true! Now you’ll understand why I said I “make it up as I go along”. There are twenty-seven versions of “Perfect Score”.

First to change was Sam. You see, one of the main themes of the book is “dyslexia and stuttering” – issues I’ve been fascinated by ever since I became a teacher. And Sam suffers from both. I wanted to maintain the time-setting (1960s and early 1970s) to show how little was known about the conditions at that time, which, let's face it, wasn't that long ago. And Sam suffered appallingly as a result of it. Because of those traumas, and because he became homeless as a child, I changed his sex! (No operation required and it didn’t hurt, he tells me). Poor Sam was mostly considered a "retard" who should be "locked up", yet as another character says about him: "he's probably the most gifted person I know".

I then changed the location of “Perfect Score” to the West Coast where there is a large farming, ranch belt and where Sam could find work, since he had no qualifications and was an adept handyman. Alex was relocated nearer to Sam and, as they say, the rest is history.

By the way, the title of “Perfect Score” comes from the words of a song Alex writes for Sam early on in the book.


"Perfect Score" is set in mid West USA in the 1960s and is a story about family relationships, corruption, growing up, integrity, responsibility, and being a man of worth in a society of the worthless.

The two main characters are Alex and Sam. Alex, who lives with a wealthy uncle, is a blend of musical genius, stubbornness and firmly believes in his fantasy that his love for Sam is reciprocated. Sam has more direction in his little finger than Alex has in his whole body. He’s strong, yet of small stature and has developed a tough outer-coating after the knocks of a traumatic up-bringing which left him homeless. His one aim in life is to earn enough money to look after his disabled sister. He has no time for a spoiled, rich, guitar player. Sam also stutters and has what is probably a severe form of dyslexia.

When Sam unexpectedly disappears, Alex begins a somewhat bungling quest to find him, only to discover that Sam has a fearsome enemy: Alex's powerful and influential yet sociopathic uncle.

As Alex spirals downwards towards alcoholism, many questions need answering. Just why did Alex's evil uncle adopt him at age eleven yet deny him any affection? And what's the mystery behind Alex's father's death?

Excerpt. Because “Perfect Score” offers two points of view, here’re two short excerpts, one from Alex’s POV and the other from Sam’s.

Here’s a bit of ditzy Alex (from the beginning):

Congo drums. How the hell did a guy like me, with straight As in acoustic guitar and piano studies, end up on a stage playing bongo drumsfor chrissakes? I had a reputation to maintain and being wild, woolly, and wicked just ain't easy with those things wedged between your legs.

“It'll be a blast,” Jamil, who came from Arabia or someplace, had said. “We'll conjure up the spirit of the shifting dunes, the limpid oasis.

We'll sock it to the judging committee—they've never seen anything like this before. We'll be a first in the Academy's history.”

Damn straight. I'd been in half a mind to do something more traditional along the lines of Floatin' Cornflake followed maybe by The Lady Came from Baltimore with some pretty nifty acoustic guitar riffs.

But Jamil had pouted and lifted irresistible soulful eyes.

“You got great rhythm,” Jamil winked at me now, and I flashed a bright grin back.

“If you reckon that's good, wait 'til you see my rhythm when the action really gets started,” I sparkled. He raised his dark eyebrows in reply which made me shiver in expectation.

While I slapped the drums with the knuckly part of my palms in an attempt to sound like a lumbering camel, I admired his dopey, dark beauty and his arm muscles rippling as he picked away at the strings on his oud.

He half closed his eyes and looked sultry. “Come on Alex, you're a nomad, constantly on the move in mesmerizing, undulating, never-ending sand.” He upped the plucking and created a sound like a pebble in a tin can which was anything but mesmerizing. The vibration unhooked the banner hung over the stage and  Verdigris Music Academy—Graduation Talent Contest wafted delicately to the ground where it lay in a heap.

Yeah, we were nomads all right, dressed like fatheads in tunics and towels. We hadn't rehearsed, we weren't in harmony, and we had no idea what either of us was doing. Jamil said improvisation was the name of the
game, that's how they did things where he came from, that's how they captured that special tone. Special tone, my ass.

And here’s a bit of Sam:

“So, what do you want to hear? I can play anything,” Alex said.


“Well, how about something by Simon and Garfunkel?”

“Garfle and...?”

Alex strummed a chord. “Never heard of them? I thought they were as famous as Jesus Christ. Never mind, perhaps you never heard of him neither. Okay. Let's try someone else.”

He tried out a couple of chords, his head down, concentrating and then settled in. The drifting lyrics and melody sent Sam into a dream. He watched Alex's fingers stroke the frets, captivated by his long slim fingers
and neat nails on the strings.

Wasting time.

As the last chord echoed and faded, Sam blinked. “Did you w...write that? It's good. Time w...w...wasting time.”

“Yeah right. And the fact nothing's ever gonna come my way. That's not my song, old buddy, that's by Otis Redding, died a few months ago. You not heard it?” He strummed a lower register. “Now if you want to hear something by me, here's just some music—no lyrics yet. But this is mine. Listen.”

He started out with a lazy scale, descending, tumbling and then swelling. To Sam, who knew as much about music as he knew about the Swedish Royal Family, the sounds that shimmered through the night air
were stunning, a kaleidoscope of notes that rippled rainbow-like, sparkling into his mind.


Sam blinked and realized Alex had stopped with his hand in midair.

He was looking at him curiously.

“What?” Sam replied, his mind a dazed fug.

“You looked like you were focused somewhere between here and there. Like you were watching something. What was it?”

“The pattern in...intri...cate?”

“Intricate pattern?” Alex took his hands from the instrument and sat straighter. “Where?” He looked at the sky.

Sam sighed. He'd goofed up again. “No. I didn't see any...” He started to get to his feet.

There’s another excerpt on the publishers site:


Lauracea said...

Thank you so much for having me here today!

Judith Leger said...

You're very welcome, Susan!