Drawing Upon Experience

There’s an old saying… “write what you know.” Dr. Candace Carter (’92) has definitely drawn upon her vast real-life experiences to tell her stories. Her on-line bio even says she “has walked many paths in life.”

A few of those paths including serving in the military, working in private veterinary practice and at the USDA Bureau of Land Management after earning her DVM from Iowa State University. Carter also worked for the National Park Service as a biological science technician at the Canaveral National Seashore along Florida’s Atlantic Ocean coastline.

Carter’s stories also reflect on growing up in rural Ohio where she was often found fishing, hunting or horseback riding. Her love of old western movies came from nights watching the flicks with her father.

“My stories reflect small town life and the feeling of family shared by people in rural communities,” Carter said.

Those stories revolve around Henry “Whispering” Smith, a Colorado range detective who in Carter’s first book returns to his North Carolina home after years of tracking livestock rustlers. In Muddy Waters, the range detective seeks to bring a killer to justice.

Carter turned to writing after retiring from the National Park Service a few years back after contracting Lyme Disease.

“I used to write in a journal,” she said, “but I never thought about being an author. I did some technical writing while I was in college. It wasn’t until much later that I decided to be a fiction writer.

“My childhood dream was to be a park ranger.”

While she was a park ranger, Carter would jot down things from time to time that would stick in her brain. Like the time she was in Searchlight, Nevada, and saw a wanted poster that just read, “Wanted Sheep Rustlers.”

Those thoughts were just that – thoughts until 2001 when Carter joined a writers’ critique group, which she describes as “three old guys.”

“I didn’t think my writing was any good but the guys in that critique group really helped me, especially with my character’s development and help brainstorm to come up with ideas to move the plot along,” she said.

The critiques Carter received helped mold Muddy Waters into an award-winning mystery novel. Carter received the Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Award from the South Carolina Writers Association in Novel First Chapter for the book and the prize included having Muddy Waters published.

It took Carter eight years to write and finish Muddy Waters. She is currently working on a sequel and has penned a short story, “For What It’s Worth,” that also features “Whispering Smith.”

Her subsequent works have been both easier and harder to work on.

“It’s easier in the sense that you know what you’re doing,” Carter said, “but it’s harder because there’s always a doubt in the back of your mind that maybe this book isn’t as good as the first one is.”

At least one thing has been easier with the second book.

“In Muddy Waters, I wrote half the book with a specific character in mind as the murderer, but then changed who guilty party was,” Carter said. “I knew who the murderer was in the second book, before I even started writing.”

In the sequel, Carter is still writing about what she knows. The main character works for the National Park Service.

September 2022