July 22, 1996 12:00 PM

>Tom Carter


JEOPARDY! ANSWER: THIS NASHVILLE journalist has cowritten more bestselling celebrity memoirs than any author in the ’90s. Question: Who is Tom Carter?

His name has no marquee value, but for country warblers hankering to tell their heartbreaking tales, Carter, 49, is the man with the golden pen. During the past six years he has shared bylines with Glen Campbell, Ralph Emery, Reba McEntire and George Jones, whose new autobiography, I Lived to Tell It All, has sold more than 150,000 copies in its first seven weeks. “People are not buying Tom Carter,” says the author, who has four hardcover and three paperback bestsellers to his credit. “My task is to put the celebrities’ stories into their words.”

To do that, he says, “I become a surrogate member of their family. I eat, I sleep and breathe next to these people. I live totally at their disposal.” That means, for example, getting summoned to Ronnie Milsap’s tour bus at 3 a.m. when the durable singer got a sudden urge to gab. “I didn’t have much of a life until I began doing these books,” says Carter, who is divorced and the father of a 26-year-old son, Travis. “Now I’m pretty much married to my work.”

That is, after he persuaded his subjects to say “I do.” All were reluctant at first. When Ralph Emery said no, Carter had to corner the talk show personality five times in The Nashville Network’s parking lot. The result of their eventual collaboration, Memories, spent 26 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. “Talent counts, but it’s persistence that pays,” says Carter, who wrote a sample chapter for Reba McEntire before making a deal for Reba: My Story (more than 600,000 copies in print). “George Jones didn’t want any part of a book,” says Carter, “but I kept calling his house and talking to his wife.”

Carter, writing solo, is now working on a novel set in Nashville. Oh, and he has a call in to Kenny Rogers.

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