Interview with Sam Harris, Author of The Substance of All Things

21 Jul 2020

What can you tell us about your new release, The Substance of All Things?

This novel is 4 years in the writing/making. It is the story of Theo Dalton, when, at six years old, his hands are irreparably damaged in a horrific car accident that takes his mother’s life. Six years later, during the sweltering summer of 1968 in rural Oklahoma, Theo meets Frank, a Native American outcast, and learns that he has the ability to heal through his disfigured hands.

As he explores the extraordinary, Theo desperately attempts to remain an ordinary boy. But when word of his gift spreads, Theo is shunned by the church for doing “the devil’s work.” He is immediately swept away by his Auntie Li, and into a world which ultimately threatens his life as he saves others’.

Told from Theo’s perspective some fifty years later, it is through his work as a therapist with a broken woman that he musters the courage to relive the summer that haunts him.

What or who inspired you to become an author?

I’ve always written. But as a playwright, television writer, essayist and author of the memoir, “HAM: Slices of a Life” which became a musical performed in NY and Los Angeles and was filmed for television. But this foray into fiction is a whole new experience. It is the most personal and investigative. And it requires an entirely different level of soul than any previous work I’ve done in other medium. I love to make stuff up. But, of course, it’s always grounded in my own experience.

What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?

Tough. Tough. Tough. “She’s Come Undone” – Wally Lamb. “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” – David Wroblewski. “A Prayer for Owen Meany” – John Irving. “Of Mice and Men” – John Steinbeck. “The Grapes of Wrath” – John Steinbeck. “Fire From Heaven” – Mary Renault.

Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask

Presuming the author has to be alive… John Irving. I’d ask him to talk about the inspiration for his work and how he remains so prolific. I’d ask him about his process, his discipline, and who inspires him.

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

The feeling of starting with writing a character and then letting the character write me. The feeling of being inside the book to the degree than I don’t know what’s going to happen even as I write it. And the wonderful experience of looking back at the work and not remember writing it.

What is a typical day like for you?

I have a 12 year old son, so much of my day is about him – especially in Covid. I do what everyone does: I deal with the house, shopping, cleaning, laundry, answering 4000 emails, being available to my child and husband. I always have 3 or 4 projects going at the same time in different entertainment medium and also as an actor/performer, so it’s about a lot of juggling. I’m always tired…

What scene from The Substance of All Things was your favorite to write?

Hard question. Probably the chapter where adult Theo is dealing with his therapy patient about the admittance of the sexual abuse by her father, and the confusion that was for her, as she felt she was healing the very person who abused her, and felt complicit in her own victimization.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

Say yes.

Sam Harris is the author of the new book The Substance of All Things.

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