With two feature films, eleven movies for television, four television series credits, as well as eight theatrical plays produced around the world, WHAT REMAINS is Bart’s second novel. Bart’s first novel, HONEYMOON WITH HARRY, was a critical and commercial success and the movie rights were bought by Warner Bros./New Line Cinema for a feature film. He’s recently sold a film project in conjunction with the hit song by Miranda Lambert, OVER YOU, to the Lifetime Network. Bart lives in Ellisville, Missouri with his family.
Q: Thank you for this interview, Bart. Can you tell us what your latest book, What Remains, is all about?
A: Ultimately, it’s about family. The family you’re born into, the family you create. It follows four characters, Conner, who has been banished from New York City after cheating on his society wife, his brother, Cody whom Conner has always been jealous, Cody’s ridiculously wealthy, adventurous husband Rhett and Zinzi, the half black, half Puerto Rican nanny the two men hire to help out with their two adopted Cambodian children. Each of these people’s lives are tested by tragedy and with each event they face, we witness a new family emerging. It’s a poignant and laugh-out-loud funny as life tends to be. But I think what makes it special is it’s filled with the love that people have for each other that bonds them for life.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
A: We follow Conner into the story. He’s a man who has floated through life on charm and wit. He married well, fell into a job with her father and looks great in a photograph on the society pages. But when his cheating costs him his marriage, he’s forced to fly across country to stay with his brother. Conner has been jealous of his brother Cody for years. Cody’s life has always seemed charmed. Great athlete, diligent and hardworking, Cody is the antithesis of his brother. Even in the fact that Cody is gay. Conner has never recognized that his brother worked exceptionally hard for everything he’s achieved, choosing to believe it’s all fallen into his brother’s lap. And Conner has no idea of the pain and fear that Cody is living through because of issues with his husband Rhett and a life-changing event that Rhett causes. Add into the mix Zinzi, whose violent past comes back to stalk her while she’s working for Cody and her mutual attraction to Conner, who couldn’t be more wrong for her, and the characters add up to an eclectic, electric mix of people who are forced through some horrendous and hilarious adventures together that bring them closer than they ever thought possible.
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
A: Every character I write has a bit of me in it. And I tend to base them on people I have known, taking pieces that I find intriguing and raw, blend that with some imaginative facets that I create and then the characters take over from there. They eventually lead their own lives in my head. I can’t take credit for that, I simply see them in my head and document in their voices.
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?
A: I’d like to say I have a grand plan but I don’t. I discover the story as the characters take me on their adventures. I am often times more surprised by where the story is going than they are. I probably sound like an insane person, talking about the characters as real people living real lives but in my head that’s exactly what they are doing. I’m simply the guy that writes it all down to the best of his ability. And yes, there’s probably a lot more rewriting to keep the story on the rails than if I had a grand plan. But I love the unknown, to have the characters take me by the hand and allow me to follow what they do and discover who they are.
Q: Your book is set in Sonoma. Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?
A: I lived in California for 30 years. A few years ago, I moved back to Missouri so that my two sons would know my father – one of the greatest characters ever to have graced this planet, a bigger-than-life personality who is actually sort of legendary in the city of St. Louis. He passed away this last year after a two year illness. Anyway, I digress…I chose Sonoma because of the beauty of the wine regions of California. There’s a lot of money which played well into my story, and I could use San Francisco, one of my favorite cities in the world, and quite honestly, that area is a place I could only live in fantasy. So, since writing is partly my fantasy, I chose to write about a place I’m intrigued by and wish I was part of.
Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
A: I think the house in the story is the mecca. I created a house that has a great deal of character so that it is alive in the story without the story being about the house. But this house becomes an integral component in the storytelling both in the plot and emotionally.
Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
A: I had the book printed without page numbers. I didn’t want the reader thinking about what page they were on but rather where they were in the storytelling. (So when you read the book, have a book mark handy.) But on page 69 – and yes, I had to go and count the pages – Conner is relaying a story about his brother when they were younger and Conner decided to set his brother’s sports poster on fire. We see Cody lose it and almost kill his brother when the fire gets out of hand. Being told for Conner’s wryly slanted point of view it’s both funny and scary because he actually believes that Cody would kill him.
Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?
A: There are a few scenes that come to mind with this question. The scenes with Rhett’s mother, Virginia, who comes from old southern money, are delightfully mean. But I think the best except is when is a scene in a hotel room (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) after Cody has learned Rhett has died and is trying to retrieve his body from a small town in Colombia. He has called Conner to come down with fifty thousand dollars sewn into his pants because Cody needs the money to barter Rhett’s body back by paying a local drug lord to steal it from the police who refuse to give it to Cody. When they are making a deal with Hector, the man who is to steal the body, Conner is completely flipped out and believes his brother has lost his mind.
Here’s a bit of it:
“Since my brother has completely lost his mind, I got a few questions,” I snarked to Hector. “We’ll get to the ‘how can we trust you’ question at the end, but first, how do we know you can get this body? Second, how do we get the body? Third, how can we be sure that once we get to your cousin’s ranch there will a plane waiting to take us to the States? Fourth, how do you get into American airspace without jets with rockets trying to blow us from the sky? Fifth, where does it land once it’s in the United States of America, Land of the Free and Home of the Brave? Remember we are carrying a dead body with us. Sixth, what assurances do we have that somewhere along ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride’ you won’t kill us? Seventh, how much is all of this going to cost? And finally, how the hell are we going to trust you to do all you say you’re going to after we give you whatever you want? No offense, you’re the first step to a bad addiction. Where I come from that doesn’t make you a go-to guy unless you’re insane like my brother. And so far, I’m not.”
Hector and I stared at each other. More accurately, glared. He thought he could intimidate me with his heavy-lidded scowl. And it was working like a charm. But I wasn’t about to let him know that. Or Cody. If Cody was going to act loco for real, I made the choice to pretend to be loco to fit in with the surroundings. When in Rome, pretend you speak Italian.
Besides, what did I have to lose? I figured if the gun came flying out from under Hector’s jacket, I was smaller than Cody, and in a short race to the door, I had to guess I was faster. I would make it out the door, Cody would be full of bullet holes. I would run to the police station and tell the captain all was forgiven, he could keep the body as long as he saved my sorry ass from the homicidal cocaine grower with the .45.
I stood up. “While you’re contemplating your answers to my myriad of concerns, Hector,” I said, and then signaled to my brother, “Why don’t you and I step out into the hallway and have a little one-on-one time, my mucho loco hermano pequeno.”
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Bart. We wish you much success!
A: Thank you. And I hope if your readers read What Remains they will contact me through Facebook or at my web page HYPERLINK “http://www.bartbaker.com” http://www.bartbaker.com and let me know what they think. I love hearing from readers.