NC Author, RJ McCarthy, Reveals His Writing Process

Author Bob McCarthy and his wife, Sue, signing a book at UpFront Gallery (FCAC) in Franklinton, North Carolina.
Author Bob McCarthy and his wife, Sue, signing a book at UpFront Gallery (FCAC) in Franklinton, North Carolina.

By Donna Campbell Smith

Raised in New York City and King’s Park, New York, local fiction writer RJ McCarthy has lived in the South more than half his life.  He received his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1972 and worked as a Clinical Psychologist before retiring in 2006 to devote himself to writing full-time.

McCarthy is author of three published books. Quarry Steps Up and Quarry Steps In are two books in the crime fiction series Tony Quarry Carolina Mystery. In these novels the main character, Tony Quarry, an ordinary man, is called to contend with extraordinary events. As violence stalks him, Quarry is guided by his self-defense ability (karate) and his moral compass. It is the latter that ultimately lifts him to do the right thing.

A third book departs from the series as a historical fiction novel, WILHELMINA: An Imagined Memoir. Interviewing historians and family members McCarthy tells Wilhelmina’s story in her own voice, filing in the blanks with the poetic license of a writer. Wilhelmina Johnson Hamlin died in 1930, shortly after the birth of her sixth child. She was only twenty-six years old. McCarthy writes that in her “ordinariness” she was an extraordinary human being. A woman of color, living at a tenuous, often harsh, time for African-Americans, she created a legacy of love in her brief life.

When asked at a recent book signing about his writing process McCarthy explains it all begins with an idea. “I’d like to believe I’m alert to story ideas as life floats them by me. An idea might appear in an article I’m reading, an expression I overhear, a quotation, a single word. It might pop out from the news, a television program, or a story I’m reading. Often, it emerges while I’m driving. So often, creative ideas and problem solutions occur while I’m immersed in a repetitive task. Another rich source for me is the unbidden memory. Crucial, the moment the idea arrives, I need to write it down ASAP. If not, it’ll disappear. Once written, it goes into a file labeled story ideas.”

He goes on to say, “An as yet unpublished novel I’ve written (a tale of revenge set on an Indian reservation) was triggered by an article I read in Harper’s Magazine several years ago concerning violence toward tribal women.

“Once focused, I develop my version of a story board. I begin by making notes about the projected story. The idea for a novel may result in many pages of notes. As I do this, the outline and possible story arc materialize, indistinct perhaps, but there. Some characters are immediately obvious, some will only occur once the story has begun. For the obvious, I set about creating names. I’ll review a book I’ve developed with prospective names, both sur and given.

“This is a period in which preparation is also infused with research, especially regional dialogue. For my Quarry crime series, set in rural North Carolina, I’ve tried to listen to conversations whenever possible – friends, acquaintances, overheard asides, my barbershop. If I hear something that perks my ears, I write it ASAP. For the novel set on the Indian reservation, I called the Standing Rock Reservation in the Dakotas to check on policing procedures. I spoke with the tribal district attorney who was cordially helpful.”

RJ (Bob) McCarthy has won several awards for his short stories, including first place in the 2011 Virginia Writers Club Spring Shorts – “Smile a Mighty Jesus” and in1992 he was awarded first place in the Christopher Newport University Writers Conference contest with his story, “Huff and the Magic Bag.” He also won the 2015 FCAC Writers’ Guild Carolina Prize with his story, “Do You Love Me?”

McCarthy is a member of the Virginia Writer’s Group, the North Carolina Writer’s Network, and both the Franklin County and Vance County Arts Councils.  He’s been writing fiction for forty years and he says he has a binder full of rejections to prove it. In addition to the book set on the Indian reservation he also has a third Tony Quarry book in the works.

Married and the father of two adult children, he and his wife, Susan, reside with their two dogs and three cats in Henderson, North Carolina.   McCarthy’s books are available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble online and locally at Mainstreet Marketplace in Henderson, UpFront Gallery in Franklinton, and Page 156 in Wake Forest. Visit the author’s website.


Donna Campbell Smith has been writing for over thirty years and is author of ten books. She is also published in many magazines including Carolina Country, Grit Gazette, Back Home, Our State, The Horse, Mules and More, Boys Life, and Young Rider. She is a member of Franklin County Arts Council. Visit her website at

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About Donna Campbell Smith 78 Articles
Donna Campbell Smith, an author based in Franklinton NC, worked in the horse industry for over thirty years as an instructor, trainer, breeder, and writer. She has an AAS Degree in Equine Technology from Martin Community College and is a certified riding instructor. Smith has written four non-fiction books on equine management: The Book of Donkeys, (The Lyons Press 2016) The Book of Miniature Horses (The Lyons Press 2005), The Book of Draft Horses (The Lyons Press 2007), and The Book of Mules (The Lyons Press 2009). All her books are available at or ask for them at a bookstore near you. Donna is a member of Franklin County Arts Council. Visit her website at