SPARTA — Touted as a "coming-of-middle-age journey," Sussex County resident Don Carswell's debut novel "Look at the Sun" follows the story of Doug Roth, described by the author as "an everyman figure." When middle-class IT director and family man Doug finds himself facing down a midlife crisis, he decides to travel alone to Central America, encountering people and places along the way that guide him through a deeply personal and at times philosophical journey.
"All your life you have this roadmap of where to go," said Carswell. "Then you hit age forty, and you're standing there and you've done all those things, and you think, 'Well, now what? There's no map here, there's this barren field of life ahead of me, and nobody's telling me where to go.' It really can be one of the most beautiful and fascinating times of your life, if you do it right."
Although Carswell has written for publications such as The Sparta Independent, The New Jersey Herald, and an Australian magazine called International Traveller, this is his first novel.
He has along been a freelance photographer for the Sparta Independent, the Township Journal and other Straus Newspaper publications.
"I started out not knowing what I was going to write," said Carswell, whose career in international sales has enabled him to travel through a total of 89 countries. "I just wanted to capture the beauty of Central America."
In fact, he began writing much of the backdrop for the novel during his own extended solo trip to Central America in 2009. Although various life events drew him away from the manuscript over the next eight years, Carswell always returned to Doug's story. A significant portion of the book was taken from his own experiences, but Carswell maintained that Doug is a distinct character with his own set of personal challenges.
"He'd never really been anywhere," said Carswell. "He's following along in this path that he thinks is the path of least resistance in life; he hasn't really taken his breaks and done things for himself."
Carswell himself set out in search of adventure when he was just seventeen years old, taking a backpacking trip across Europe on a "shoestring budget" shortly after his high school graduation.
"My parents were not interested in travel at all," said Carswell. "I felt kind of trapped in the house where I was; I wanted to see what was out there."
Carswell hopes that "Look at the Sun" will inspire readers to think about their lives in a new way, and especially to consider what it means to truly think for themselves.
"There are a number of messages in this book," said Carswell. "My hope is that people will consider some of these things – 'am I really being myself here, or am I being led along by other people, for good or for bad?'"
He added that ultimately, the book also presents a hopeful message of moving forward and embracing uncertainty. "You can tackle these mid-life issues," he said. "You can reach happiness. You don't want to spend your whole life sitting in that armchair watching it go by on a screen in front of you. You want to get out and live and experience life."
When asked about his own future travel plans, Carswell replied that he prefers his trips to be a little more spur of the moment.
"For now," he said, "I'm going to see where the book can take me."
"Look at the Sun" is available in both physical and e-book formats, and can be found everywhere books are sold, including online retailers such as Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. There will be a book signing at Sparta Books on Saturday, March 25, from 1:30 to 3 PM.