Author Digger Cartwright has developed a dedicated following for his mystery writing, but he has recently released Conversations on the Bench, which inspired by actual conversations and lessons learned from a man who was larger than life. The book follows a man named Sebastian who was one of the leaders of the in-depth think tank Thinking Outside the Boxe.
I conducted an interview with Digger Cartwright about his most recent book and about the protagonist in the book, Sebastian.
ML: What was your inspiration behind the Conversations on the Bench?
DC: I was actually asked to write Conversations on the Bench by the founder of Thinking Outside the Boxe as a tribute to his good friend and colleague, Sebastian. I met Sebastian on one occasion and over the course of a couple days got to know him and hear a little of his story. He was a larger than life type of guy, a real life of the party. He just had this tremendous positive energy about him, and he had a story that I knew had to be told. I was a little hesitant at first to undertake a project that was out of my comfort zone, but the more I learned about this guy, the more I wanted to write this book. He was a truly inspirational figure to a lot of people, and I figured it was my calling to tell his story. It was almost as if Fate had arranged this. I get invited to this symposium being held by this think tank that I hadn’t heard of at that point. This was back in 2007. I get introduced to the two principals of this think tank, the real brains behind the operation, and I was intrigued by these two individuals and their story. It fascinated me. Then I get asked to write this book. One thing led to another, and now we have Conversations on the Bench, which is a great tribute to this brilliant individual.
ML: The protagonist in Conversations on the Bench is Sebastian. Who is Sebastian?
DC: Sebastian was one of the main figures of Thinking Outside the Boxe. He was in his 50s. He was morbidly obese, but he didn’t let it get him down. He was brilliant. He was quick with a joke and with statistics. He had a mastery of economics and a good grasp of world affairs. He could debate with you. He could be devil’s advocate. He was a mentor for a lot of folks. He was the life of the party. He had this aura about him. He just emitted this tremendous amount of positive energy. You couldn’t help but like the guy. The women all loved him; they thought he was a giant teddy bear. The guys loved him because he was like a brother to you. He was always a very positive person. He offered such encouragement and support to his friends. He was just a good man and a good friend to a lot of people, particularly his colleague at Thinking Outside the Boxe, Robbie. They were this Mutt and Jeff duo. Sebastian was this loud, garrulous person, large in stature, who was the center of attention. Robbie was this reserved, quiet, but highly intelligent friend who tried to motivate Sebastian to get out and do more after he became disabled and was forced to retire. Thinking Outside the Boxe was Robbie’s way of keeping Sebastian involved, keeping him “in the game” as Sebastian like to say.
Sebastian grew up in Charleston, South Carolina during segregation and desegregation. He was of Spanish, Filipino, French, American Indian descent, so he didn’t feel he ever quite fit in with the whites or the blacks in Charleston. Growing up, he had to try to find his place in a tough world. And throughout his life he would just keep accumulating these very worthwhile life lessons that he tried to share with anyone who would listen, and he found an apt pupil in Robbie. He encouraged Robbie. He gave him advice. He was a confidant. He was like Robbie’s big brother. And when you read the conversations and understand the lessons he was offering up, you really see Sebastian for the warm, caring, and insightful guy that he was. There are very few people like him in the world. If you’re lucky enough to find someone like him, don’t take them for granted. They have a lot to say, and we can learn a lot from listening to what they have to say.
ML: Conversations on the Bench is inspired by actual events. How much of the book comes from real life experiences?
DC: A good deal of the book is factually based. Once I decided that I had to tell Sebastian’s story, I spent several years, off and on, having conversations with Robbie who recounted a lot of the conversations he had had with Sebastian over the years. On occasion he had tremendous detail about the time, place, and events surrounding the conversations. I understand that he kept detailed notes about things he felt were important. Now there were a lot of gaps in his memory and his notes from time to time, so I had to fill in the blanks and create the scenes. What I tried to do was get a whole chronology from the time he met Sebastian until the time we started writing the book. I had him give me significant events, people in their lives, people who they had encountered at various places, and so on and so forth. What I did was try to fit everything together so I didn’t have to make things up. I did have to make a few people so that the story flowed and made sense, and I did have to alter a few situations so that other people could more easily relate. But it’s important to keep in mind that all of Sebastian’s lessons as discussed in the book were the actual lessons that Sebastian shared with Robbie. The presentation of those lessons may have been dramatized when needed or when there was insufficient information about the circumstances surrounding the conversations Robbie and Sebastian had, but the lessons themselves are Sebastian’s lessons and anecdotes.
ML: Who was the book written for and what do you hope that the reader will take away from the book?
DC: The book is written for just about anyone. It doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, white or black, young or old, a CEO or a blue collar worker. There is something in this book for everyone. I don’t think anyone can read this book and not take something away from it. Sebastian’s lessons speak to everyone, and I think anyone can relate to something he has to say. I’ve actually had people tell me that they read the book and it’s as if Sebastian is talking directly to them. They’ve currently got a similar situation or they had a similar situation, so they say they can relate to what he’s saying.
I hope readers take away a few things from the book. I want people to be inspired by Sebastian’s personal story. He overcame a lot in his life. He didn’t let his disability keep him down. He looked out for his friends, and most importantly, he made a difference to a lot of people in the world. I want readers to take away some of the lessons he offered in the conversations he had. They’re nothing earth shattering. They’re nothing really ground breaking, but they’re all things that wise people learn through life experiences. People like Sebastian take the time to analyze situations and take something away from each situation. They take time to reflect on life and things that have happened. They take time to share this with other people to help make a difference in their lives. I want people to take away an awareness for people around them and hopefully to treasure someone like Sebastian that they may know. I would hope that people would take away a sense of inspiration that they too can make a difference in someone’s life.
ML: How can people find out more about the book and your writing?
DC: The book is available online at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. We have a website for the book itself, ConversationsOnTheBench.com. You can find a lot more information about this book, my other books, and me at my own website, DiggerCartwright.com. I also want people to know that I will be donating a portion of the sales price from all sales my website to the Sebastian G. Perey Endowed Memorial Scholarship at Coastal Carolina University through the end of this year. It’s a good scholarship that helps deserving economics students, so you’re getting a good book and helping make a difference through the scholarship.