Meet the author
What: Scott Evans of Davis releases his new novel, “Sylvia’s Secret”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: The Avid Reader, 617 Second St.
Local author Scott Evans may be heading down Interstate 5 as you read this, with ideas for his next book running through his head as he drives past a rolling agricultural landscape.
The stretch of highway between Stockton and Sacramento is where Evans’ fictional “literary murder mysteries,” as he describes them, have been born.
The last in Evans’ three-part series is “Sylvia’s Secret,” which will be release Friday with an event beginning at 7:30 p.m. at The Avid Reader, 617 Second St. in downtown Davis.
The novel furthers the ongoing narrative of Joe Conrad, a Davis resident and professor at a fictional Stockton college. The protagonist is summoned to investigate whether American poet and author Sylvia Plath’s suicide actually was a premeditated murder.
Suspicion falls upon Plath’s husband, British poet Ted Hughes, who profited off of Plath’s published works (such as “The Bell Jar”) after her death. Though the story is fiction, Evans based it on factual information from Plath’s journals.
Mirroring his main character, Evans lives in Davis and teaches at University of the Pacific in Stockton. He teaches a composition class, as well as a course on crime, punishment and justice in society.
Evans began writing six years ago when his lifelong aspirations collided with a series of events: his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis, budget cuts eliminating income he earned teaching at a community college, and turning 50.
“I realized that my time was running out, and I’d better get busy on this,” Evans said. “I’d been thinking about this in my head, during my drive between Stockton and Davis. It gave me a lot of time to think.”
That’s where the aforementioned commute-endowed imagination comes in. Evans explained that the hours he puts in on the road to and from his job are an opportune time for brainstorming:
“I actually have the plot for about seven or eight more books in mind, but I’ll need time to do them,” he said. “It all just sort of floods into my head as I drive, and then I need to sort it out later.”
Evans’ first novel, “Tragic Flaws,” was directly influenced by the highway’s setting, and even referenced some of the same locations he often passes by. His murderer was inspired by the I-5 Strangler, a real serial killer who preyed on women in the 1980s.
His second book in the series, “First Folio,” introduced the idea that one of history’s most influential writers — William Shakespeare — was a fraud. Evans did five years of research to collect enough context for the story.
He also spent more than a year studying Plath’s life and the circumstances of her death for “Sylvia’s Secret.”
It exposes a bitter marriage between the deceased novelist and Hughes, who abandoned Plath and two kids for a mistress whom he impregnated. That woman similarly committed suicide about six years later.
“He wasn’t a great guy,” he said. “A lot of people blame him sort of indirectly for Plath’s passing. This book looks at the actual circumstances surrounding her death.
“Interestingly enough, through my research I’ve discovered a real secret about those circumstances.”
Thus, the appropriately named book contains an often overlooked detail within. Whatever that secret may be is something that cannot be pried from Evans, at risk of spoiling the experience for readers.
Evans did, however, speak about his goals as an author, which are to continue melding autobiographical and historical information into fast-paced psychological thrillers.
“It gives people who may otherwise find that sort of thing not so appealing something to be interested in,” Evans said.
Evans also is interested in guiding those with hopes of becoming a writer themselves. To this end, he’s organizing a Creative Writing Conference on June 14-16 at Pacific. More information can be found at goo.gl/sDFHw.
And Evans’ advice to the aspiring mystery novelist in crafting a story? Much like his daily drive, it’s to “know the end before you get started.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at email@example.com or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett