Two minor characters from Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter's bestselling debut, The Emperor of Ocean Park (2002), take center stage in his second novel, New England White.
What led you to try your hand at fiction?
Fiction is something that I always wanted to do. When I was a little boy, I used to buy spiral notebooks at the corner store and write little novels in them. From that time, I always wanted to write fiction, and my first novel came about after many years of working on characters and scenes in my mind, and finally, I came up with a story to fit them.
New England White isn't written in the first person like The Emperor of Ocean Park. Was it because one of the main characters, Julia Carlyle, is a woman?
No, the decision to write in the third person came first. The initial version of the plot didn't have Julia in a major role. Writing The Emperor of Ocean Park in the first person was extremely difficult for me to do. Trying to invent a tone of voice and keep that tone going for a whole novel of several hundred pages was really a great deal of work. I found writing in the third person much more satisfying and, in some ways, easier to pull off.
When you wrote your first novel, did you already plan on using Julia and her husband in a future book?
I think so. I had several different ideas as to how I might pursue a second novel, some of them based on characters from the first. Deciding which of those characters to center a story around was a matter of figuring out who made the most sense; I wrote a lot of pages trying out a lot of different things—one reason that it took me several years to finish New England White.
Why have you chosen to write mysteries?
I really like mysteries, not simply for the aspects that make them mysterious, but for the opportunity to take the reader on a journey to places the reader might not have been. My first two novels, set largely in upper-crust African America, have been about an arena that most readers don't know much about. At the same time that I have fun crafting a thrilling mystery, I can also have fun exploring some themes that are independently interesting and even express some interesting ideas.