Mr. Cartwright has contributed to a number of articles on a wide range of financial, strategic planning, and policy topics. He frequently contributes articles, commentaries, and editorials focusing on current economic and political topics for the private think tank, Thinking Outside the Boxe. He is also an enthusiastic supporter of local no-kill animal shelters and humane societies, the Wounded Warrior Project, and local Meals on Wheels programs. He enjoys golf, participating in charity golf tournaments, falconry, and attending WWE events. He divides his time between Washington, D.C., South Carolina, and Florida.
1. As an author of several mystery novels, what motivated you to shift gears with your latest project and write an inspirational book?
Actually, it wasn't my idea to write my latest book, Conversations on the Bench. I was asked if I would be interested in writing a book about Sebastian, the central figure of this novel. What really motivated me to undertake the project was Sebastian himself and the story he had to tell. I only met him in person at a symposium hosted by the think tank that he had been instrumental in establishing. Over the next couple days I got to know him and his colleague, and I realized that he had a very fascinating perspective on life that was really the result of his own unique set of life experiences. The more I learned from my few conversations with Sebastian at that symposium and the more I subsequently learned from Robbie, the founder of the think tank, the more motivated I got about writing this inspirational book. It was clear to me that Sebastian's story needed to be told. He had such a huge personality that you couldn't help but like the guy, and I think everyone did. Everyone that I talked to had something good to say about Sebastian or had some story to tell about him and how he had impacted their life. He was always very positive and encouraging, and he was always there for his friends. He was just a remarkable individual and the more I got to hear his story, the more inspired I was. And ultimately, this entire project, Sebastian's story, has really had a very big impact on my life, just as Sebastian himself had a big impact on the lives of people who knew him.
2. Could you tell us a little bit about the real life friendship that inspired Conversations on the Bench?
Robbie was a young college student when he met Sebastian in the mid-1990s. They met while both working at a hotel in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Robbie was a full-time student studying finance, business, economics, etc. and worked full time. Sebastian had an educational background in economics and worked two jobs--tax investigator by day and hotel reservationist by night. They would spend hours talking about everything going on in their worlds and the world at large. And thus began a lifelong friendship. After Robbie graduated from college, Sebastian had some very poignant words of wisdom and anecdotes to share to help the young college grad get through some tough times. Robbie ended up starting his own successful business at about the same time that Sebastian was forced to retire due to health issues. That gave them the opportunity to spend a lot of time together, Sebastian mentoring Robbie and giving him encouragement, and Robbie integrating Sebastian in the business as much as possible.
They ended up starting a think tank, Thinking Outside the Boxe, to share their writings about any topic they could debate as well as their economic commentaries and research. As Sebastian's health declined, Robbie was there to offer support and encouragement, just as Sebastian had been there for him. These two guys had this great brotherly relationship. Robbie even referred to Sebastian on many occasions as the brother he never had. And I think Sebastian liked that and really thought of Robbie as his little brother. He was there for Robbie to give him advice on women, relationships, business, whatever, and all the advice came from Sebastian's own experiences. It's the type of friendship that very few people are lucky enough to find in this life. It's really just a heartwarming and truly inspirational friendship that I have recounted in Conversations on the Bench.
3. What are the unique challenges of writing nonfiction compared with writing fiction?
With fiction you can do just about anything. You can suspend reality, and the bigger the lie is, the more believable it is to some extent. With fiction, the writer is bound only by the bounds of his own imagination. It's like an artist with a blank canvas. You start with nothing and slowly but deliberately fill the canvas and bring the picture to life.
Nonfiction is a little more restrictive. Nonfiction is sort of like paint-by-number. You've got a pre-established set of lines and you just have to paint inside the lines. You might get away with changing up the colors a little bit, but you've got to stay in the lines. Nonfiction is reality. You're just re-telling what has already happened. Now, as an author you can take certain liberties and change up the scenery. Maybe you make it raining in a scene where it was a sunny day. Maybe the people involved don't remember where a certain conversation that is being recounted took place, so you have to create a scene where there was not one. With a work of fiction, you get to create the people and everything about them. With nonfiction, you have to get to know the people you're writing about and try to convey a factual representation of them as best you can.
With Conversations on the Bench, I was able to obtain the crux of the lessons and the conversations through interviews with one of the characters in the book. There may not have been a record of exactly when the conversation took place or who else may have been there or in what circumstance the conversation came up or exactly what was said in the conversation. So, as the author, going back to the artist example, I had a paint-by-number that had some missing lines. I had to create those missing lines, then fill in inside the lines with the right color and the right amount of that color. It was certainly a challenge for me going from fiction to a factually-based storyline. You've got to know the people you're writing about pretty well. It took me time and a lot of telephone conversations to get the story from Robbie and get to the point where I felt comfortable that I knew him and Sebastian.
4. How have you balanced your career in business with your interests in writing and publishing?
It's been difficult to balance the two. When I started writing, I did it as a hobby primarily. I did it because I just enjoyed it and wanted to tell some stories. It wasn't really a priority for me. When I could find time, I sat down and wrote a little bit. But the more I wrote, the more I wanted to write even more. I wasn't satisfied with having a book sitting incomplete, so I started to schedule more of my time for writing. I had to keep in mind that business was what made money. In the early days, writing only cost me money in terms of time, and writing at that point didn't have much financial return. As I wrote more, I started to dedicate a little more time each day to writing until I finished a particular project. That's really how I still do it. I don't write full time. I still have business to tend to, but I really try to manage my time well. There's always going to be sleepless nights when I'm working on a project or missed meetings or cancelled lunches, but I've come to accept that.
In the past few years, however, I've really started to focus more and more on writing as a business unto itself. I've chosen to go the independent, self-published route for a number of reasons that are neither here nor there, and that has really gotten me to examine and get deeply involved in the business aspect of being an independent, self-published author. I've really integrated the entire process from writing to marketing into my overall business structure and found some synergies there. I've adopted the perspective that as a writer I'm creating a product and it's my company's job to sell copies of my book. It's been a very entrepreneurial endeavor in writing a book and bringing it to market. That's one of the primary reasons that I'm working on setting up the National Federation of Self-Published Author Entrepreneurs as an outlet and resource for other self-published authors who are serious enough about writing to undertake it as an entrepreneurial business venture. If you're a writer who is serious about your work, you can turn your writing endeavors into a business. Just like any entrepreneurial venture, it's not necessarily easy, and it takes a lot of dedication and hard work. But if you dedicate yourself to it and have a passion for it, you can make self-publishing a successful enterprise.
5. What advice would you give to other authors who have ideas for writing an inspirational book but aren't sure how/where to start?
The first thing you have to do is identify someone or something, maybe an event in someone's life, that has been inspirational for you or others. It's really not hard to find something inspirational to write about. Unfortunately, most people aren't really looking for inspiration. Most people are too wrapped up in their daily lives to see the inspiration in the world around them. Maybe you write about someone who has overcome some great adversity in life. Maybe they fought and beat cancer or some other life-threatening or debilitating disease. Maybe they defied the odds of growing up in a socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhood only to go on to great success. Probably the most likely source of inspiration is an older person who can share their life story. If you ever sit and listen to someone like my grandmother, it's fascinating to hear her recount her childhood, growing up during the Great Depression, World War II and the greatest generation, and so on. The world is full of inspirational people if we just take the time to listen to them, and I venture to say that if you just keep your eyes and ears open, you may find inspiration in the most unlikely of places. But don't just limit your search for inspiration to people. We're surrounded by a wonderful world of nature and animals of all kinds that can offer inspiration just from the sheer miracle of life and survival. Ultimately, as a writer, you have to be aware of the people and the world around you all the time.