While Paul Scheuring is returning to a familiar story this spring—his celebrated TV series Prison Break will have a new season after eight years in April—he has also moved into uncharted territory with the independent release of his first novel, The Far Shore. A departure from his action-packed onscreen efforts, Scheuring’s novel follows Lily, a middle-aged woman forced to leave her home in North Carolina and travel across the world in search of a man presumed dead since WWII, her own grandfather.
A major focus of the book is that leaving your comfort zone can be both intoxicating and terrifying. What drove you to write a story that tackled these ideas?
One, I’ve traveled quite a bit and have often found myself in uncomfortable circumstances; invariably I’ve grown from the experiences. Unease, properly confronted, is fertile with the potential for growth. The second thing is that, in general, I love the story of the journey, the picaresque—it’s one of the most ancient and fundamental story constructs. I’m a sucker for it.
There is a lot of attention paid to some specific locales. Do these places hold special significance for you?
I’ve traveled extensively in southeast Asia, and it’s one of my favorite corners of the world. In some ways, I was living vicariously through Lily as I wrote it. I love the heat, the jungle, the food, the Buddhism. I was stair-stepping her into ever more ‘exotic’ locales—by the time she’s lost in the jungles of Myanmar, it’s for all intents and purposes Mars to her. The ever more foreign lands both embody and trigger her spiritual growth: she’s not only going into uncharted territory on the map, but within her heart as well.
Lily is a fascinating character. What inspirations did you draw from to bring her to life?
My goal with Lily was to create a seeker that didn’t know she was a seeker. She claims to know how the world works and has fashioned for herself a very wry, over-it-all outlook. But what’s missing for her ultimately is a relationship. And it takes a random knock on the door to set in motion the most improbably world-wide picaresque. And in the process, she will have to confront all the things she’s managed to sweep under the rug in the preceding decades.
What draws you to create characters facing such huge struggles, both external and internal?
Someone wiser than me once said the secret to great storytelling is a) make characters people like and b) drag them through hell. I agree with that. If your character doesn’t seemingly have all the odds stacked against them—subtly or overtly—you’re in for a very boring story.
What kind of effect do you think working in television had on writing The Far Shore? Do you prefer one medium to the other?
They’re two different beasts. You write a book for yourself. You write a show or a movie with a dozen different people leaning over your shoulder. Film is much more about structure; books are about the in-betweens, the asides and tangents and character folly. Basically all the stuff that would end up on the cutting room floor. In short, if your soul is screaming to be put on paper, unadulterated, it’s books. No two ways around it.
What have been some of the advantages to publishing the novel independently?
Obviously, editorially you have far greater (and if you want) total freedom. Additionally, in writing The Far Shore, I learned a great deal about how the publishing world has changed. The old model, which I came up in, was that you got your book published by a publishing house, and that was that. In exploring publishing The Far Shore in 2016, I started going through the process, submitting it to lit agents, and the further along I went, I started to realize that even if a publisher took on your book, they’d give you a comparatively paltry advance and then they’d say the most horrible words a writer (at least me) can hear, “What’s your plan to promote it?”
“I thought you were going to promote it.”
Um, no. And then they’d ask about your ‘author platform,’ your social media plan, etc. So they wanted you to do all the painful stuff—promotion—then reap all the benefits for the most part if you somehow pulled off promoting your book so wonderfully that it sold in the thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. Basically, in my opinion, they’re scattering around a bunch of $10,000 bets on writers, then letting the writers run with it and seeing which ones come back with a hit. I decided that if I had to do that infernal promotion myself anyhow, I might as well ‘own the business,’ as it were. In the end, it’s all a journey into the unknown for me. That quixotic sally forth like Lily. Hopefully good things come of it.
Rhett Morgan is a writer and translator currently based in Paris.