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