Originally created 12/03/99

Ramblin' Rhodes: Writer had 'Nothin' Left to Lose'



It took Carl T. Smith several careers and two failed marriages to discover what he was really good at in life.

The Fripp Island, S.C., resident turned his love of country music, experiences of four summers in Nashville and skill at writing into the recently published novel Nothin' Left to Lose.

The story about a renegade singer/songwriter who runs into Mafia-controlled entertainment dealings has received good reviews, and Mr. Smith's Fripp Island writing friend, Pat Conroy, has been urging Mr. Smith's publisher to pitch the novel to movie producers.

"Pat has been a big supporter and has called my publisher (Summerhouse in Columbia) three times to say they need to get my book into movie hands," Mr. Smith said. Mr. Conroy's novels, Prince of Tides, The Water Is Wide, The Lords of Discipline and The Great Santini, have been made into hit movies.

Mr. Smith will be at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 1336 Augusta West Parkway, from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday autographing copies.

Mr. Smith said his book has broad appeal because it is more about the music business in general than just country music, and it has locales in Philadelphia and New York City.

He does admit that the main character in his book, John Ryan Stone, bears similarities to Kris Kristofferson and that several incidents in the book come from personal experiences.

"I find it difficult to believe there is much fiction at all," Mr. Smith said. "Most writers write about what they know. ... I do like people who turn their backs on what is secure in life to take on something insecure, which is what John Ryan Stone does."

Now 62, Mr. Smith's life is an example of turning away from securities in life and taking chances to follow dreams.

After growing up in Danville, Va., he tried singing with a big band and managing other musical groups, but that didn't work.

He tried to make it as an actor (using his fine arts degree in theater and English) but landed roles only in local TV commercials and industrial films.

He taught English in high school and introduced his students to the works of great writers for five years, but that didn't last.

Four summers in Nashville in the late 1960s were spent trying to make it as a country songwriter, but none of his songs were recorded by a major artist. Mr. Smith did become friendly with top-notch songwriters such as Merle Kilgore and Mickey Newbury.

And he tried developing and selling condominiums in Ocean City, N.J., but that also didn't fly.

He did learn that he was good at being a motivational and training speaker for major corporate clients, but that, too, trickled out with a decline in the economy in the early '90s.

An old college friend, Tom Robbins, author of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, encouraged him to write. That pursuit led to three years working on Nothin' Left to Lose, a third marriage, to Archer Lee Hannah, and settling on Fripp Island, near Beaufort, S.C.

"To me, the primary appeal of the island is a great deal of solitude, which a writer needs," Mr. Smith said. "I live off the main drag on a lagoon five minutes from the beach."

Mr. Smith now does, in a way, have at least one published song. The music notes for part of One Lonely Night, a song he wrote during his summers in Nashville, are printed on the cover of Nothin' Left to Lose.

"I'm hoping some drunken guitar player will play the music notes on the cover and say, `Hey, this is a hit,"' Mr. Smith added with a laugh.

Book signing

Who: Carl T. Smith, author of Nothin' Left to Lose

When and where:3-5 p.m. Saturday, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 1336 Augusta West Parkway

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 29 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at ramblin@groupz.net.