Scott Hylbert spent most of his youth surfing in San Diego before attending Denison University in Ohio to play soccer. Amidst a stalled-career as a rock-n-roller in San Francisco, he packaged spring break tours and ski trips for students before finding a niche in the alternative newsweekly business. There, he sold advertising to concert promoters and record companies for over a decade before enrolling in a masters program at Vanderbilt University while continuing to work and raise two kids. With a focus on creative writing, he pursued a career-long goal to pivot from the marketing side of the media business to the editorial. Recently, with his photographer wife Ashley, he opened a rental photography studio and boutique event space in Nashville called White Avenue Studio. More on Scott…
+ What inspired you to become a writer?
I became frustrated with songwriting as a channel for self-expression. I had trouble getting traction in the music business, both as an artist and as a professional. I felt destined to never get out of my limited role as an ad guy when I really saw myself on the other side of the office as a writer. But I decided it was okay to make a living and keep my creative juices flowing on my own terms.
When I turned 40 I had a couple extra bucks in my pocket so I found a back door into the creative writing graduate program at Vanderbilt University. I had considered grad school over the years but never followed through. The curriculum in the MLAS (Masters in Liberal Arts & Sciences) program was a kin to taking college for a second time, only this time you show up early and pay attention to every minute, soaking it in with a perspective of having lived life a little. Everything made sense this time around.
+ And how did this inform your new writing career?
My creative spark suddenly had wind in its sail. I was never at a loss for ideas but now I could see the scaffolding behind the building of words. By reading more and workshopping stories I started to have confidence in storytelling like I hadn’t before.
The other important point is I was feeling cynical about music, recording and trying to set the world on fire as an artist. “Author” seemed so much more possible and dignified at my station in life. So I put the music into the story so to speak, living vicariously through the characters.
+ How much of Task Lyst is fiction versus memoir?
There’s a lot of me in all the characters whether it’s actually me or how I see myself or wish to project. A lot of the sounds, smells, tastes are mine. Much of what creates the tension though comes from what I see in the day to day existence we all share. There’s an idea that society challenges us daily with choices between what’s good for us and what’s not. Good and evil, light and dark, the oldest theme in storytelling.
I told someone I tried to incorporate all ten of my masters program classes into the novel. That’s more or less true, mostly unconsciously though. But you could call it my thesis or capstone to a five year span of going to evening classes studying writing, history, art, psychology, philosophy. MLAS is a very inter-disciplinary platform and I guess you’d say I’m a believer in a liberal arts education. Not to win a first job salary contest perhaps, but for understanding the world and pursuing self-examination and expression.
+ Who are some of your favorite writers and do you have a guilty pleasure?
Early on I enjoyed the Choose Your Own Adventure books with the different endings. As I became obsessed with rock-n-roll, first KISS and then the Stones, I would seek out and read magazines and books which to the present day make up my genre reading: biographies, memoirs and tell- alls about pop stars. I was one of those high schoolers that “got” Holden Caulfield but struggled through Grapes of Wrath. I loved The Sun Also Rises but Faulkner was too wordy. Gatsby was a favorite. And then later much of Tom Wolfe’s work; Kool Aid, Bonfire and Pump House Gang and anything by Kurt Vonnegut, particularly Sirens of Titan and his essays. At Vanderbilt I rediscovered Jack London and his novels Valley of the Moon and Martin Eden which were inspiring. And don’t get me started on Don Quixote.
It wasn’t until my thirties that I came to appreciate what was inside the covers of the books building up on my shelves. I started to find time to read The Good Earth, Garp and current authors like Eggers, Hornby and then beach reads like the Dragon Tattoo series. I saw my old friend James Frey enter the publishing milieu and that reinvigorated my pivot out of who I was becoming and into who I wanted to be. It still took quite a long time to get that into motion.
+ Who are some of your favorite current authors?
I’m open to good writing across many topics and styles, finding value in writers experimenting with perspective, form, and craft. Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, Justin Torres’ We the Animals, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Joe Henry’s Lime Creek are examples. Also anything by Dave Eggers piques my interest. I’m still discovering what many authors my age would consider old hat. For that I’m grateful, that much of creative writing and literature is new territory. Historically, rock-n-roll is the vehicle that framed my world view.
+ How do you describe Task Lyst to someone unfamiliar with it?
It’s a fictional memoir, it’s a business plan and it’s a bildungsroman cautionary tale straddling the line between literary fiction and dystopian thriller. I haven’t quite perfected my elevator speech yet, obviously.
At its core, the novel asks the question: “is the internet our generation’s atomic bomb?” Three parallel narratives weave around a Silicon Valley-based “gig economy” tech app made to simplify lives before seducing its users into a vortex of temptation and intrigue. Told through the lens of compelling thirty and forty-somethings the reader is privy to perspectives of a struggling recording artist, an alluring venture capitalist and a soccer dad approaching mid-life crisis.