Ep. 182: Caleb Carr – The Curse of Knowledge

By the time you finish reading this, everything I’m about to tell you will already be over.

What you choose to do with it is up to you.

Caleb Carr was beaten as a child. His father, Lucien Carr, was an Ivy League boy, friends with Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg.

They were the rebels of society. Known as The Beat Generation. But Caleb reminded me of their other legacy…

“My father gets arrested for murder. Jack gets arrested for accessory because he helped hide the weapon…”

“And then Burroughs, of course, shoots his wife down in Mexico.”

“My father’s murder case gave their movement a type of darkness and gravitas it wouldn’t have otherwise had.”


“All of these cycles, all of these abusive things are cyclical,” Caleb said.

His father didn’t get the help he needed. Neither did Caleb. “It’s one of the reasons I never had children myself.”

I didn’t understand at first.

Caleb has the awareness. He understands the cycle. So I asked, “Don’t you think if you had children, you would have been able to hold yourself back?”

“I simply could not trust that,” he said.


As adults, we look at our lives and question what happened and why? We pick at our scabs and then wonder why we’re bleeding.

What’s done is done. And how you choose to live with it is your legacy.

So Caleb writes. And between the intersection of abuse and history, he found relief.

Caleb’s latest book, “Surrender , New York” begins with “The Curse of Knowledge,” It’s the idea that once you know something you can’t unknow it… pain, loss, grief.

No pain heals without air. Eventually, the bandaid gets soggy. And the cut below turns green.

That’s when I start reading. Caleb’s books are the air.

Keep reading to learn three lessons from the brilliant, historical novelist, Caleb Carr. Two will give you relief. One will not…


1. History can save you.

A lot of people write thrillers. But Caleb wasn’t sure how he’d set himself apart. But he found a simple solution.

Training + Interest = Success

Caleb is a trained historian. He has an interest in serial killer novels. And now he’s a bestselling author. He writes historical thrillers where characters like Theodore Roosevelt and Alexander Hamilton rescue neglected children from serial killers.

2. Pain reinvented is freedom.

Caleb needed to write… (as all writers do).

But he didn’t want to write a memoir like his father’s pack. He tried it once. “I found the experience incredibly creepy.”

So he found fiction.

Caleb said he’s not depressed but feels “intense melancholia.”  “It’s a dark, dark place you go.”

“Are you able to function with it?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” he said, “that’s when I work.”

3. Always end on a cliffhanger

Every unresolved problem in my life is a cliffhanger.Cliffhangers keep the story going. They create chaos. So I just stay curious.

Caleb told me the warning signs of a serial killer: childhood violence, torture against animals, fires.

“I loved starting fires,” he said. “I set my house on fire when I was four years old. It was the only time my father didn’t hit me.”

I later asked if he has sociopathic tendencies… “functional sociopathic tendencies.”

“Ummmm…”

He was thinking about it.


 

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  • Juana Malatesta

    I am a clinical psychologist. I am a writer. I certainly have my own, unsettling history. Mr. Caleb Carr is certainly correct that history can save a person, and heal a person, albeit, the road can be a nightmare. I would add that childhood violence, torturing animals and fire starting are indicators of more than just serial killers. Regardless, they are mega huge indicators of past and potential future atrocities. Having a few sociopathic features can help character development…in stories, of course. I look forward to reading his books. Thanks.

  • healthandnutrition

    Fascinating interview. I haven’t read his books. They are next fiction purchases.
    I was so intrigued at the mention of Jon Benet Ramsey…and grateful he spoke his piece on it.
    It was (is) one of those horrors in history should have gotten a better closure.
    I liked your questioning particularly about his research and the way he goes about writing, especially how the character drives the story past a certain point.
    I write non fiction and was prompted to write a memoir…I like the idea of turning it into a novel…I’m not one who like being exposed close up and personal yet feel compelled my story must be told. Again, thank you for the interview, great job, James.

  • CouchKumara

    I find it bizarre that there are no Kindle versions of his books available. That’s a shame. I was going to buy one.

  • James Buechler

    Huh, that’s weird, last night the podcast was missing, now it’s back.

  • Murray Beaulieu

    I could have listened to this interview all day. Wow. Great work. Please bring him back!

  • bill shire

    Read Memoirs of a Bastard Angel by Harold Norse if you want to begin to know what the beats we’re really like.

  • bill shire

    Hats off for admitting that he couldn’t trust himself to bring up kids right. Too bad more people don’t follow suit.