Author Interview: Sam Carter

Enjoy a fascinating interview with Sam Carter, author of Dying to Live.

When did you begin writing, and what inspired you to start?

I dabbled in the writing a little while in college, but nothing really came of it. It wasn’t until 7 years ago when I really started to write. At that time I was in between jobs and spent most of my time looking for work. Knowing that I was going stir crazy, my brother, who was living in Australia working in baseball, asked me if I would write an article for a sports magazine there because he wouldn’t be able to do that for them that month. I wrote an article about one of the players there who had a stand out season and I remembered just how much I loved to write.
Right after I finished writing that article, I started putting pen to paper (actually, I mostly typed) to write my first book where the antagonist was an Australian baseball player who was having a stand out season while playing in America and using his fame to carry out a plot to hurt the people of Seattle in ways they could never imagine. Because I work in healthcare, I added a doctor as the protagonist. So, I guess it was unemployment, my love for sports, and healthcare that got me writing. And Harlan Coben.
When I decided to finally write my first book, I wanted to name the main character after him. So, I sent him a letter him know and asking what he thought. He responded, “Sure. As long as he’s a stallion of man.” No pressure or anything! But, I truly tried to make Dr. Harlan Allred someone Harlan Coben would be proud of too.
I read, “The Stranger,” while I was writing, “Dying to Live,” and it was another book that I loved and related to. What really helped me about this particular book was that Coben wrote from many different perspectives and gave the reader insight the minds of how a lot of people were handling the story around them. At the time I had mostly used the perspectives of just the protagonist and the antagonist, but had thought about using a few more people to help get the reader more involved with everything that was taking place. Seeing how well this can work, I decided to give it the ol’ college try and am pleased with how it worked. The ending, and I won’t spoil anything, inspired me as well. Not everything has to be tied up in a big, beautiful happy bow. Life isn’t always that way. Life can still get better, and it often does, but there will still be struggles from the past events. I needed to remember that in my writing and I think it has made me a stronger writer.
(All of this makes it sound like I only read books by Harlan Coben, but that is not true! I have also been inspired by books from Lisa Scottoline, John Grisham, Catherine Coulter, Jeffery Archer, James Patterson and Jennifer Jaynes. Just to name a few!)
I love Clara’s confidence in herself and her abilities. She loves herself and is not afraid to speak her mind. It makes her this fantastic nurse that Harlan can count one in any situation. I have worked with quite a lot of nurses and medical assistants and the best ones to work with her those that are confident and stick up for themselves with their doctors. They create this great team that can help any patient. I used a lot of these nurses and medical assistants as inspiration in writing Clara. That made writing her even more fun.
So, what does this story have to do with writing? Well, this may sound simple and obvious, but I am a simple person. Just do it. Write. There are so many books that give great writing advice, but it can become paralyzing and make it not fun anymore. When it’s not fun, I honestly feel like it’s harder to write the story that you want to tell. Find what works for you and do it. Just write! You have a story to tell and there are people who want to read it.

What author inspired you the most?

Harlan Coben, and there isn’t a close second. While I was in graduate school my dad introduced me to him. I bought the book Gone for Good and finished it in about 2 days. After that I spent all my free moments (and graduate school, with a wife and child does not bring you many free moments!) reading his books. He has this ability to draw the reader in from the first sentence and then keep you guessing until the very end. I wanted to do that same thing for people. I want to make them feel every emotion throughout reading a book the same way he was able to do for me.

What was your first writing project? What was it about?

When I was doing my undergrad I started to write sports articles for fun. My first one was a satirical piece about how George Bush needed to be reelected, because the New York Yankees won something like 90% of their World Series titles when a democrat was president. I either read it or sent to everyone I knew. I think most people got a good laugh at it, which was really awesome for me.

Share a 'turning point' in your life as a writer.

I really love this question. It’s a tough one. I am not sure I would describe anything as a full-on turning point. The first time I really started to write was when my brother asked me to write the article for the magazine in Australia. This reminded me how much I love to write and I begin to write a book. Then I took a break and didn’t begin to write again when we moved to Oregon. There wasn’t some big moment there, I just decided it was time to finish Harlan Allred’s story and, as I did, I fell in love with writing all over again. There have been a lot of moments like that for me. Every time I write anything, it’s a turning point for me, because I love doing it so much.

What projects are you working on now?

I have one book, Dying to Live, available at this moment and, like most writers, I have about 4,821 other projects that I am working in some way, shape or form. I am really trying to figure out which story I want to tell first. It’s hard! One is a continuation of the events of Dying to Live and the world of Dr. Harlan Allred. It would show how he has handled everything that happened and also the ramifications of those events.

The second, and I think I am leaning towards writing this one first, is a story about depression, anxiety and suicide. For me, this is very important subject that I don’t take lightly, so it is not a light story. This would be a first-person story about a man, his struggles, what leads him down the path he is on and how it affects those he loves. I want to raise awareness for those who suffer from anxiety and depression and begin a positive conversation about suicide prevention. I also want the reader to understand the warning signs in both themselves and others and how we all can help those in need. Really, I hope people can see how they can be a light to those who are struggling in the dark.

What character from any project was the most fun to write, and why?

It would either be Cole and Clara in Dying to Live. Both characters have big personalities, but in different ways. What I really loved about writing Cole was his imperfections that made him real. Here is this incredibly intelligent guy, who could have had it all, but he let the expectations that he had for himself derail his future. He never let that stop him from being a fierce friend to Harlan and driving him to get where he needed to be. Cole’s loyalty made me love writing every scene he was in.

What character was the most relatable to you?

Dr. Harlan Allred. Here’s the thing, he is a lot like me in a lot of ways - at least in his struggles with himself and who he is. He’s an excellent doctor, who knows what he is doing and makes sure the patients and their families feel comfortable with them. I don’t think the patients or the staff he works with would know how much he doubts himself outside of his work life and often in his work life too. He wants to be the perfect father but doesn’t know how to and fears his kids will never really love him. He wanted to be the perfect husband, but let his self-doubt led him to making some bad decisions that ended his marriage. He never fells like anything is anyone else's fault and takes all the blame on himself. Writing him helped me see somethings in my life that I could improve upon, but also somethings that I actually like about myself. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s crazy how much you can learn about yourself just by writing a fictional character. Writing really is a fascinating exercise!

Do you have any tips for your fellow writers?

Someone once told me a story about at time he took golf lessons and with each different person he met he got different advice on what he needed to do to create the perfect swing. It got to be so much that his swing became robotic and actually got worse. The advice, while most likely good, was too much and made him no longer enjoy golfing. Eventually he learned to relax and just swing! He played better and, most importantly, he began to enjoy playing golf again.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a writer?

Fear and perfectionism. I have never been the most confident person in the world, which makes putting something out there for people to read and judge absolutely terrifying. It took me 7 years to finish my first book. During that time I would write off and on while we lived in 4 states. Our youngest son was also born during that time and he spent the first 3 weeks of his life in hospital, then had another hospital stay and one more for 2 weeks over his 1st birthday. He has Down syndrome and that also means more time teaching and helping him grow. We also 3 other great kids who need attention and help, so with them and work I didn’t have a lot of free time, so I just didn’t have the time to write. At least, that is what I told myself! Please understand me when I say this, all of these parts of my life are extremely important, and they do take time. But the real reason it took my so long was fear. I was (and still am) afraid that people would read my book and hate it. Even when beta readers, family members and editors told me how much they enjoyed it, I was paralyzed by fear. Ultimately, I had an epiphany. The story would never be perfect and not everyone would love it and that is OK. And, even though I still have that fear, it’s a less than before and I can write knowing it will work out.

Find Sam Carter:

Purchase Dying to Live