'The Guilt We Carry' Book Review and q&a by BookTrib

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BookTrib.com, a website that serves as a discovery zone for readers to learn about

debut and emerging authors, recently conducted an interview with Samuel W. Gailey

to discuss his latest book, The Guilt We Carry, publishing in January 2019 from

Oceanview Publishing. A review of the book appears on the BookTrib.com website.

Here are extended responses by the author to some of BookTrib’s interview questions.

BookTrib: How did the plot for The Guilt We Carry come together?

Samuel W. Gailey: I have never considered myself a purely plot-driven writer. I’m

much more drawn to character-driven stories. That said, there is one plot device

that is a must for me: an extremely strong and compelling inciting incident, or what I

call the catapult—that experience or act that propels the character forward for the

rest of the book with no turning back. The catapult has to be visceral, a real punch

to the gut. Something shocking and disturbing, but at the same time, a situation that

makes the reader crave more. After writing four manuscripts, I see a pattern in that

my catapults are always about simple twists of fate -- accidents that alter the destiny

of my characters in catastrophic ways. In my first novel, Deep Winter, my character

Danny incurs permanent brain damage after nearly drowning in a frozen pond. In

The Guilt We Carry, Alice’s younger brother dies in a tragic accident under her

watch. Interestingly, these ideas always seem to come to me unconsciously, then

later, I become aware that an event or relationship in my past or current life heavily

informed and shaped the character.

BookTrib: Alice’s journey and actions come from her guilt -- either perceived

or real — as it pertains to her younger brother’s death. Discuss your

understanding of guilt and its relevance to the story.

SWG: I find guilt quite fascinating and have dealt with various levels of self-imposed

guilt over the years. If you’re not careful, guilt can be crippling, and it can chip away

everything positive in your life.

I also believe that people process and cope with guilt differently, and I attempted to

represent various coping mechanisms with the main characters in my story. There

is Alice, who grapples with guilt by self-medicating and coming to despise the

person she’s become. Then there are people like Sinclair (the drug dealer), who

never acknowledge or admit to feelings of guilt.

Because of her guilt, Alice makes many mistakes. Way too many. They’re all

missteps that are a result of how she copes with her guilt. I love reading stories

about good characters making bad decisions. Every single one of us makes poor

choices at some point—it’s the human condition—but, as Alice discovers, in order to

persevere, it is vital that we not only find a way to forgive ourselves, but try our

damnedest to not make the same mistakes again and again.

BookTrib: Even though Alice heads down a desperate path for much of the

book, the reader roots for her. What is it about Alice that holds out hope for

the readers?

SWG: Alice’s young age and innocence when the story begins help the reader

sympathize with her. I wanted to make sure the catapult for the story was

something that could happen to anyone. Also, it is not as if Alice necessarily looks

for trouble. In fact, she flees her childhood home to give her parents some relief

from the reminder about their dead son, but through Alice’s constant pattern of

poor choices, trouble ultimately finds her. The fact that she, albeit begrudgingly,

helps other people along the way, makes her more likable and sympathetic, too.

Interestingly, I have learned that the concept of hope and sympathy for a character

is much more critical to an American audience of readers. In France, my publisher

chose to depict a character who may be perceived as less sympathetic. They

preferred the darker path for Alice.

BookTrib: The characters are down on their luck, yet a duffel bag with

$91,000 becomes the focal point for much of the narrative. Explain the

significance of money.

SWG: Money represents false hope or salvation for many people. They believe that

if they had a lot of money—and $91,000 is a lot to Alice—their lives would change

for the better. Alice convinces herself that $91,000 will get her out of her dead-end

existence and give her a new start. She slowly discovers that money solves nothing

for her, and, in fact, only makes her life more challenging. The duffle bag itself

transforms as the story develops. At first, it represents temptation, then salvation,

then danger, then death, and finally a chance for absolution.

BookTrib: Of all the seedy characters that Alice confronts, Sinclair, the drug

dealer, is most unusual. He is the most well spoken and educated of anyone in

the book. How did you come to create him in this way?

SWG: I wanted to create an antagonist that was not a stereotypical drug dealer.

Someone that we haven’t necessarily seen before. Someone unpredictable.

Someone that you would least likely suspect to deal narcotics.

Sinclair is a contradiction in many ways. He is intelligent and thoughtful. He shows

respect and kindness to many, but on the flip side, he can detach and condone brutal

acts of violence. He is cold and relentless. When breathing life into this character, I

felt it important to paint the picture of how and why Sinclair came to his specific lot

in life.

In many ways, Sinclair and Alice have a similar past—they were robbed of their

childhood. For Sinclair, due to a pituitary gland disorder, his growth stunted,

leaving him to be a diminutive adult. He was both mocked and ignored as a child,

treated more as a case study by his psychologist parents, and underestimated as an

adult. As a result of all those years of pain caused by ostracization, he chose to take

the dark path in life because it empowered him. Another connection between

Sinclair and Alice is that they both think that the money is the answer to their

problems.

BookTrib: The plot is well crafted and the writing keeps the reader on edge.

Did you have the basic plot all mapped out from the beginning or did you alter

it along the way?

SWG: This particular story has taken many twists and turns over the years, the plot

and various characters evolving and changing and some being entirely omitted from

the book.

I always begin with a general arc for all my stories. After that, I develop my

characters; I dwell on them until I know who they are, how they speak and how they

would react to any given situation. Then, I create the basic structure (my

protagonist’s ordinary world, the catapult that thrusts them into a situation where

there is no turning back, plot point one, crisis point, etc.).

And although many aspects of this story have changed over the years, a few things

have remained from the very beginning: Alice’s involvement in the tragic death of

her younger brother; Alice running away from home and living on the streets;

Sinclair and Phillip pursuing Alice; and the final brutal showdown between Alice

and Sinclair.

BookTrib: Someone described the work as “the Breaking Bad of books.”

Thoughts?

SWG: I love that quote and find it quite flattering. Perhaps there are not distinct

similarities between the stories or the characters, but what they do have in common

is the depiction of the desperation and brutality that everyday people can find

themselves trapped in within the dome of the drug culture. In Breaking Bad, Walter

White is dying and believes that money will provide security for his family. In The

Guilt We Carry, Alice is dying emotionally as the result of her guilt and believes that

money will help give her a fresh start.

Regarding the inspiration behind my characters, when I started to create Alice, I was

inspired by many of the roles that Clint Eastwood portrayed in some of his earlier

films—a character with a tortured past that ultimately becomes a quiet loner, then

is forced to become a reluctant hero.

Elton is a composite character of a few men that I knew growing up in my small

town in Pennsylvania. Living in a rural area in the late 70s and early 80s, and being

a homosexual was not an easy life to maintain, but these men didn’t conceal their

sexual orientation. They were ostracized by many, but I respected their courage and

inner fortitude to stay true to themselves and live the lives they were meant to lead.