As author Samuel W. Gailey introduces one seedy character after another to a troubled teenager trying to find herself in his latest novel, The Guilt We Carry (Oceanview Publishing), one can only hope there’s a payoff down the line – for the characters and for the readers themselves.
Believe me, there is.
Called the “Breaking Bad” of books, The Guilt We Carry, overloaded with downtrodden personalities and sprinkled with a few noble ones, is a fast-paced and enthralling thriller in which a duffel bag stuffed with $91,000 is the hot potato of happiness for many of the players, in particular protagonist Alice O’Farrell.
For much of the story, the sack of cash represents escape from life on the run for Alice, 15 years old when we first meet her, who flees home after the death of her younger brother – for which she feels responsible. In the course of her journey, she faces a series of life-threatening situations (brought on, to a great extent, by her possession of the money) with a variety of people, including a strip club owner; a smart and unusually small drug dealer and his thug; a junkie; and a host of other untrusting sorts.
Alice has left home. She finds work at a strip club as a bartender (not a stripper). At the end of the night, she goes home with her boss so drunk that she wakes up the next morning to a dire situation and also finds the bag of money. Can the money be her way out?
“Money represents false hope or salvation for many people,” says author Gailey in a recent interview. “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.”
Alice by nature is not a bad girl. But bad things happen to her, all triggered by her guilt over the tragic accident that caused the death of her brother. How did this event set up the plot?
From a literary perspective, Gailey explains, “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.”
“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.”
Of all the low-life characters Alice confronts, perhaps the most fascinating is Sinclair, a drug dealer who is well spoken, well educated, polite, and kind to many of the people he encounters. For the most part, this is the demeanor in which he deals with Alice, even though he believes the $91,000 is his, that Alice has stolen it and that he has not-so-elegant plans for her.
“I wanted to create an antagonist that was not a stereotypical drug dealer — someone we haven’t necessarily seen before,” says Gailey. “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.”
“In many ways, Sinclair and Alice have a similar past—they were robbed of their childhood,” Gailey continues. “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.”
Then there’s the matter of guilt – the guilt we carry from the title of the book to understanding how and why people cope with guilt in the ways they do.
“If you’re not careful, guilt can be crippling, and it can chip away everything positive in your life,” notes Gailey. “I also believe people process and cope with guilt differently. Alice grapples with guilt by self-medicating and coming to despise the person she’s become. Then there are people like Sinclair, who never acknowledge or admit to feelings of guilt.”
“Because of her guilt, Alice makes many mistakes. Way too many. 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.”
The Guilt We Carry will be available to purchase Jan. 8th.
To read the full transcript of Samuel W. Gailey’s interview with BookTrib, visit www.samuelwgailey.com.
Want more BookTrib? Sign up NOW for news and giveaways!
ABOUT SAMUEL W. GAILEY:
Samuel W. Gailey was raised in a small town in northeast Pennsylvania (population 379) and now resides on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest. The Guilt We Carry is his second novel, following the critically acclaimed Deep Winter. Gailey’s novels are intriguing studies of human nature and portray how the simplest act of fate can alter and shatter lives. Before writing novels, he worked in film production and eventually became a screenwriter, writing and developing shows for Showtime and Fox. He lives with his wife, author Ayn Gailey, and daughter on Orcas Island where he is a founding member of the Orcas Island Literary Festival, the Telluride of book festivals. Visit www.samuelwgailey.com.