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A few words about the magnificent South...

Nothing conjures an image quite like the words, the South. It's not a direction as much as it is a place, one that possesses...

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Q&A with Southern Mystery Author Tina Whittle

On April 3rd, 2018, Necessary Ends, Tina Whittle's 6th book in the Tai Randolph/Trey Seaver series will be released by Poisoned Pen Press. Three days. Hot damn! I'm a huge fan (not in a creepy stalker sort of way) of Ms.Whittle's, and though we've never actually met, she was kind enough to grant me a interview so we can all get to know her a little better (but not in a creepy stalker sort of way). She is not only a talented writer and storyteller, but from what I can tell, she is also witty (or should I say, whitty), intelligent, engaging, charming, caring and kind. I get the feeling she is someone you'd be fortunate to have on your side should a battle of wits and honor ensue. And my guess is that she was likely never to be chosen last for dodgeball either.

(Photo by Kaley Whittle)

Photo credit: Kaley Whittle
Put up your dukes, let's get down to it. Here's Tina Whittle: 

CL: You taught both high school and college English from what I know about you. Was there a certain turning point in your life where you decided that you wanted to become a writer instead? In other words, was it just sort of organic or did you plan it? Were you teaching and trying to finish your first book? Was your first book published before you quit teaching? Can you elaborate on this, please? Curious minds want to know.

TW: I enjoyed teaching (and still do), but one of the main reasons I chose it as a primary career was its seasonal nature—I’d have Christmas breaks and summers off to write.

My real “commitment moment” came during my Fiction Writing coursework in graduate school, after I’d been teaching for several years. The professor sent my first story back with only two words at the end: “See me.” So I did, convinced he was going to tell me to abandon all hope and exit stage left. Instead, he said I needed to take my writing seriously, and he offered to direct my thesis, which would be the very first creative thesis at Georgia Southern University. That gave me the confidence to complete what would become The Dangerous Edge of Things, the first novel in the series that I am still writing to the day (thank you, Poisoned Pen Press, for your continued support!)

By the time it was published, I’d left teaching for other reasons (long-winded ones). And so now writing is my full-time gig. I still miss students, though. Not the grind and the hours and the grading (have mercy, the grading). But students…yes. I miss them.

CL: Did you ever think of becoming a PI or getting a PI license?

TW: Why, yes! I am about to begin taking online classes to do that very thing. Though I don’t think you’ll see me gumshoeing around South Georgia any time soon, I did want to learn the process, mostly for my own writerly curiosity.

CL: When you write, do you listen to music or do you like it totally quiet with no disturbances? On that same note, are you able to write in public spaces such as coffee houses, airports, etc.? Or are you distracted by people watching/listening?

TW: To put words to page, I need total quiet and solitude. I tend to walk around muttering to myself while thinking about scenes, and I get self-conscious about that part of the process when others are around. I do love coffee shops, although more for musing and pondering not for writing; I am an unrepentant eavesdropper.

CL: Do you choose your own book titles and covers?

TW: Mostly yes, with input from my editors, my publisher, and the design team at Poisoned Pen Press.

CL: What led you into/pulled you toward the crime/sleuth/mystery genre?

TW: Scooby Doo. I wanted to be Velma. As I grew up and learned that not all villains were shady businessmen in sheets and rollerskates, I continued to devour crime fiction in all its forms because I find the questions at its heart to be important ones.  What is right and wrong and who gets to decide? What is the difference between justice and retribution? How does the whole of humanity deal with the worst of humanity? Do people change, and if so, how? Crime fiction is a way to wrestle with big issues in a safe space.

CL:  Of all the crime shows on TV, documentaries, dramas, whatever, do you have a particular favorite? What about podcast?

TW: Right now, I am loving “Good Behavior” on TNT. Letty is a fascinating crazy quilt of a human being—fully souled and dimensionally complex. Her relationships with her mother, her mother’s boyfriend (who is Letty’s age), her estranged son, and her sexy hitman lover are totally outside my range of experience and yet totally relatable. This show surprises me every single time, and yet feels like it could be happening right down the road. Well worth watching.

As for podcasts, I adored S-Town. And Criminal (of course) which describes itself as “stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.” A recent episode of criminal inspired my most recent short story, “Liquor, Larceny, and the Ordinal Classification of Courtship Rituals.”

CL: Is every moment of life a possible story to you? In other words, how much of everyday life finds its way into your novels? (For example, the conversations you overhear, the people you meet, the headlines…)

TW: Every book I write has at least one thing that happened to me in it. I am a great collector of life’s weird situational trinkets, though I don’t get to put most of them into books because they’re too odd/coincidental/inexplicable. Like the time I passed out on an airplane, and when the flight attendant called for a doctor, the passenger who stepped forward to provide care was in fact the brother of a guy who’d just agreed to blurb my third book. We figured this out as he was checking my responsive readings, but that will never go into a book (the other details are fair game, because even as I’m regaining consciousness, the writerly part of my brain is taking notes). As Mark Twain said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.”

CL: Were you born/raised in Georgia? What do you remember most about your childhood? 

TW: I am Georgia born and bred and have lived in one part or the other my whole life. What I remember most about my childhood growing up in the middle lands is the sensory progression of cycles and seasons: the scent of newly turned earth in the spring, the sound of the air conditioner in the summer when I slept in the thinnest of my father’s t-shirts because I had a perpetual sunburn, the taste of stewed doves in the autumn, the rare dustings of snow that sheened the landscape picture postcard white. It seems as if the colors were more saturated then, my skin more tender, my hearing more acute.

CL: How did you get into Tarot card reading? What is your favorite card and why?

TW: My very first reading came from a friend. She knew I was stuck with my book (a wild and unmannered thing that sprawled to around 120,000 words) and offered to shed some divinatory light of the situation. As she turned over cards, I saw my characters revealed—Trey as the King of Swords, Tai as the Queen of Wands—and the plot points coalesced. Justice, the Magician, the Two of Swords. I could sense of the spine of the story suddenly, and I knew what needed to fall away and what needed to remain. And that became The Dangerous Edge of Things. And I decided I needed to learn tarot—its strong sense of narrative coupled with its archetypal richness make it the perfect divination tool for a writer.

I have many favorite cards—The Star, the High Priestess, the Two of Swords—but right now, I’m really feeling connected to the Nine of Pentacles. A woman stands alone in a lush garden, surrounded by the fruit of her labors, a falcon on her arm. It’s a card that’s often called The Self-Made Woman, and it really resonates with me at this time in my life—post childrearing, pre-retirement, ready to move into the next stage of my life.

CL: If you are permitted to speak about this, what is in the cards for Tai and Trey?

TW: I am so glad you asked (even though I can’t spill many beans). Necessary Ends, the sixth in the series, is a pivotal book in my characters’ story, one that I’ve been writing toward since the very first scene. Library Journal calls it “the culmination of this series’ primary story arc with the two damaged protagonists, after struggling with family and personal demons, finding answers and moving on with their lives.” I’m currently writing the seventh book, and while Tai and Trey are absolutely still around in it, their circumstances have changed drastically.

CL: William Gay or William Faulkner? Why?

TW: Faulker. Because his “A Rose for Emily” is one of the finest pieces of crime fiction ever written. Also a fine commentary on the violence of loss and the organic possessiveness of the human heart and the price we bear for weaving the multi-threaded story we tell ourselves about ourselves. Simply brilliant.

CL: Savannah or Charleston? Why?

TW: Savannah. Both places have their Lowcountry charms, but Savannah is wilier and less well-behaved—just how I like my cities. 

CL: Your favorite thing about the South? Least favorite thing?

TW: My favorite thing? Our storytelling gene. We know how to work a narrative down here, how to build one from scratch or how to renovate one with a few tweaks to the factual nature of things. We know this in our blood. I never met a Southerner who couldn’t tell a story.

My least favorite? I know it’s a cliché, but the heat gets me. It’s soul-sapping. I’ve never had the constitution for it. I think I was made for the mountains instead of the coast.

CL: What is, in your opinion, the most memorable thing about Tai as a character? What about Trey?

TW: Tai is utterly herself. Unlike me, she is rarely plagued with self-doubt—she inhabits her somewhat feral and ferocious nature without apology or pretense. In a world that encourages chameleon-like tendencies, Tai is as straightforward and obvious as her birth sign, the Aries ram, and just as singular. My editor described her thusly: Tai appears to be open and unguarded, but her heart is a walled city. You may think you’ve charmed her, cajoled her, swept your way into her innermost rooms. But you’ve only gotten as far as her boundary line.

As for Trey, I think his most memorable quality is also the one easiest to miss—his courage. I mean, he’s brave when he’s chasing down bad guys or defending the innocent with his paladin-like single-mindedness—that’s easy to spot. His real courage, however, reveals itself every time he raises his head and forces himself to look someone in the eye. Every time he pushes forward with a sentence when the words are failing him. Every time he manages to take Tai’s hand of his own initiative. His world is often baffling and blinding and laced with pain, body and soul pain. But he perseveres.

CL: Are you a No. 2 or a retractable pencil girl? (No judgment)

TW: No. 2. Very sharp. No need for an eraser since I have seven on my desk (including a Black Pearl, which is a sensory pleasure, almost worth making a mistake just for the excuse to hold in hand).

CL: Fears and/or phobias? Do tell.

TW: I say none, and it’s mostly true. Roaches disgust me, clowns creep me out, and crowds make me anxious, but they don’t make me afraid. And still, most nights I dream that the world is ending and it’s all my fault, and I wake up panting and screaming. So obviously I’m not the best judge of my own state of internal terror. Obviously the whole world is too much for me.

CL: Do you believe in ghosts? If so, have you ever experienced one, personally?

TW: Ah. The first answer is yes, and the second answer is no. I believe because I know people who have experienced extraordinary things, verifiable things. Unfortunately, I don’t have the psychic ability to peer beyond the veil. I think this is a shame, but I am assured by my friends who do perceive the otherworldly that I am actually lucky to be so supernaturally blind.

CL: As a final question, what is your favorite cemetery and why?

TW: My favorite tourist cemetery is Bonaventure in Savannah. Nestled in the bend of the Wilmington River, Bonaventure is part graveyard, part park, and park marsh—there are benches throughout where you can grab a spot of Spanish moss-dappled shade and watch herons and ospreys fish, smell the salt air coming in from the ocean.
But my favorite cemetery is the tiny one a mile from the house where I grew up. I can see it from the side door, a smattering of modest headstones smack dab in the middle of a cotton field. My ancestors are buried here—some I knew, most I didn’t—and I feel my place in our bloodline when I’m walking that quiet consecrated place. It’s where I want to be buried.

CL: Thank you so much, Tina, for taking the time to answer all my questions (I'm so damn nosy) and giving us a little peek into both your personal and writing life. My favorite character in your series is you. :)

To learn more about Tina Whittle, please check out her site: tinawhittle.com 

Necessary Ends from Poisoned Pen Press will be available for purchase, April 3rd, 2018 in both print and e-book on Amazon and e-book on Kobo and Google Play.

Also please check out my review of Necessary Ends, here.

Image result for necessary ends amazon

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Book Review: Tina Whittle's, NECESSARY ENDS

Image result for necessary ends tina whittle
I received NECESSARY ENDS directly from the POISONED PEN PRESS for review purposes. It will be available for purchase April 3rd, 2018.

The Envelope Please…

Tai Randolph can’t resist a mystery. She may be an amateur sleuth, but she's a professional badass. One who happens to know a lot about guns. What she claims not to know is stuffed in an envelope under the register of her Kennesaw gun shop and has to do with Beauregard Forrest Boone, a ghost from her past. Trey Seaver, Tai's lover extraordinaire, is a former SWAT officer with the Atlanta PD. He’s precise but careful, calm but intimidating. Hot as Georgia asphalt in July, Trey has his own ghosts. Oh, and he can detect a lie as soon as it hits air. Or can he?

Necessary Ends, the 6th book in Tina Whittle’s atmospheric Southern series, begins with a bang. With Tai still suffering with her Savannah nightmares of being bound, gagged and tagged for alligator bait in the back of a trunk, she isn’t at all excited to see PI Finn Hudson walk through the front door of her shop. Finn looks like a pixie and can be trusted about as much. She relays to both Tai and Trey the explosive news that she’s been hired by Talbot Creative Group to investigate “discreetly” who made an attempt on Atlantawood former producer Nick Talbot’s life. Here’s the bang: Trey is the number one suspect.

The last thing Trey wants to do is to reopen the unsolved murder of model/actress Jessica Talbot. He has his reasons. One of which concerns his faulty memory caused by the deadly car accident that claimed the life of his mother just after the murder. The other is because Trey is certain that Nick Talbot, Jessica’s husband, killed her and staged the scene to look like a robbery. Nick was never charged, however, because the court tossed the evidence, which they felt had been compromised by a dirty cop. Now four years later, someone wants Nick dead, and the evidence points to Trey, the man most convinced that he not only killed his wife but got away with it. In order to keep off the suspect list, Trey must grant Nick an interview. It’s a chance for Trey to use his post-accident superpower skill of lie detecting to determine once and for all if Nick really killed Jessica, but by doing this, Trey risks exposing the secrets in his past.

Chasing the truth is never easy especially when dealing with actors who are trained to lie for a living, and Tai and Trey have their hands full with the cast of Moonshine when they begin their own investigation into the Jessica Talbot murder. With a little undercover work, and a donkey—yes a donkey, the stubborn truth is finally revealed, but not without at least one tragic, high-speed consequence.

Whittle crafts her characters like a fine albeit heavy-handed cocktail, sometimes stirred, often shaken, and Tai and Trey’s relationship has only become stronger with each pour. They are a perfect combination of “ghost peppers and Vidalia onion jam.” Sweet, spicy, and just a touch haunted.

Necessary Ends is a character-driven Southern crime mystery with a tight plot and the perfect blend of ingredients: lies, lust, betrayal, humor, secrets, romance, revenge, and a gun or two. A recipe the South wouldn’t be—couldn’t be the South without. It’s what keeps us Whittle fans coming back for more.

Now about that envelope…

To learn more about Tina Whittle, please visit:  
To pre-order a copy of Necessary Ends visit: https://www.amazon.com/Necessary-Ends-Randolph-Tina-Whittle/dp/1464209855

Thursday, October 20, 2016


I spent some time in St. Petersburg, Florida. Much of it involved drinking and good stories. Another part of it involved the law, but let's not go there. Though I haven't lived in Florida in a very long time, there are pieces of it that will always be with me. When I read Ravis Harnell's Ghostwriter, I really missed those pieces. Plus I think I might have screwed Chris Skinner. And Rand Allen. But not at the the same time. That would be slutty.

It's a mystery. It's a ghost story. It's damn good, people. And it's just in time for Halloween. Here's the premise:

Ghostwriter by [Harnell, Ravis]Budding horror screenwriter Chris Skinner enlists friend and police detective Rand Allen in his search for a location with an unsavory history. What he finds in a vacant local apartment, however, entices him beyond lurid inspiration into a generations-old legacy of obsession, murder and supernatural power that offers him the ultimate story ... if he's willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Sadly, I recently learned that Ghostwriter will no longer be available after November 1st, 2016. You only have 32 days to read it. Please do so. I promise you, it's worth it. It's available on Kindle and Smashwords. Here are the links:



Thanks for the memories Ravis Harnell!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Reckoning and Ruin

I received Tina Whittle’s upcoming release, Reckoning and Ruin, directly from the publisher for review purposes.

Tai Randolph left her past behind when she moved to Atlanta. Or so she thought. What’s that legendary quote from Faulkner about the past never being dead? Well, it definitely holds its weight in Whittle’s fifth book in the Tai Randolph/Trey Seaver series, Reckoning and Ruin out in April 2016.

While awaiting trial, Jasper, Tai’s unscrupulous cousin with splintered ties to the KKK, has decided to sue Tai and Trey for millions. (Not all cousins kiss here in the South.) Busy running the gun shop and trying her best to quell her inner detective as well as Trey’s sexy French ex, Tai feels something’s not quite right in her relationship with her former SWAT beau. When witnesses testifying against Jasper begin to disappear, Tai is forced to confront the ghosts she left behind in Savannah and risk losing Trey for good.

As Tai begins to untangle her knotted roots, she discovers the truth about her past, a shocking revelation that will make both passionate followers and those new to the series line up for book six. You’ve got some explaining to do, Tina Whittle, and I’m not sure I can wait. Perhaps we can talk over a refreshing glass (or two to four pitchers) of Chatham Artillery Punch.

Not surprising, Whittle, a former English teacher knows how to cross her T’s: Tai, Trey, a Trist, Tension, Truth and a Twist. Expertly combined, in a setting overtly comfortable with the dead, these ingredients are the perfect concoction for a Southern Gothic mystery that will keep readers engaged and guessing throughout the squares of the Hostess City.

You can pre-order Reckoning and Ruin and also learn more about the author by visiting www.tinawhittle.com.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Last Kind Words: Film Review

All the necessary Southern Gothic elements: Eerie music, misty river, angry father, abused mother/sister, ghosts, slaves, hangings and, yes, incest. What would the South be without it? Shit twice and fall back in it. The only thing missing is dueling banjos and a satisfying ending. (Even Deliverance offered up a satisfying ending.) Enjoyed it up until the last 15 minutes but well worth it until then. (Isn't that what Burt Reynolds said?) On a serious note, I'm still captivated by Geeshie Wiley's haunting voice and lyrics. They were my favorite part of the movie.

              Meanwhile here's a few alternative endings: 

 1. Eli cuts Amanda down from the tree and they both fall into      the rabbit hole and drink tea with the Mad Hatter who looks        suspiciously like one of the Allman brothers.

 2. Eli cuts Amanda down from the tree but in the process            impales himself on one of her brittle bones due to her lactose      intolerance when she was alive.

 3. Eli never cuts Amanda down but instead carves their                initials into the tree bark and decorates her bones with              festive lights.

 4. Eli leaves Amanda hanging but cuts the tree down and NO        ONE ever hears it fall.

 5. Burt Reynolds (wearing an I heart Loni Anderson T-               shirt) shows up and mounts the incestuous brother never once      mentioning his mouth.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Where All Light Tends to Go: Book Review

David Joy’s big country noir debut 

‘Where All Light Tends to Go’ leaves a great first impression

The South isn't just a region or direction. She's an existence. Years of practice have fine-tuned her adversarial skills, generating one of the best damn antagonists literature has to offer. She's flawed but captivating. Has a backstory (Trail of Tears, Civil War, civil rights ... ). She's convincing. Her past is troubled (see backstory). And in David Joy's debut novel, Where All Light Tends to Go, the South's reputation for being a badass is backed by Jackson County's intensely complex characters.
No one knows the word struggle better than 18-year-old Jacob McNeely, who carries his birthright like a "loaded gun of hope and faith." With a junkie mama and a meth-dealing daddy, he's battling more demons than a tent of Pentecostals. But drugs aren't the only poison running through Jacob's veins. While the McNeely name may protect Jacob at times, it also prohibits him from being anyone but a McNeely. It imprisons him in an isolated Appalachian town where pistols, Bibles, and methamphetamines are law.
Waiting around to die is something Jacob has done for some time. "It wasn't the dying part that ate him. It was the waiting." Jacob's fatalistic approach isn't a ploy for sympathy. It's a by-product of resilience. This ability to bend and not break has kept him alive over the years. It's a Kevlar vest that shields his empathy and desire from the bullets of despair. This is what the writing world calls a damn fine character. Joy has many of them.
Jacob's multifaceted structure is the author's way of instilling in him a fighting chance against that tough beautiful bitch, the South. Jacob may or may not be able to defeat her, but at least he's been given the skills to confront her.
Charlie McNeely, Jacob's daddy, is a mean drug-running son-of-a-gun. He keeps the law in one pocket, his pistol and Bible in the other. "Outlawing was just as much a matter of blood as hair color and height," Jacob expresses. He desperately wants to escape both his lineage and the family business, but he's trapped in tradition.
The one light in Jacob's glazed-over eyes is Maggie Jennings, who has always been "something slippery he couldn't grasp." Maggie's been accepted to a college in another city but doesn't have the money to go. Though Jacob dropped out of high school, the two have remained friends, bonded by the viscous threads of an impoverished childhood. From a distance, Jacob watches over her, intent on making sure she escapes what he feels he cannot. "It had always been obvious Maggie was only passing through."
Some may feel that Joy's use of clichés in the novel is overkill, but writers who choose loyalty to their characters at the potential cost of readership are not only courageous but, in my opinion, admirable. Credibility often has a price.
If you're expecting a happily-ever-after ending, you won't find it in Joy's novel. It's not for the fainthearted or what Charlie McNeely refers to as "pussies." Southern Gothic is not a genre with a light at the end of the tunnel. Just ask Jacob: "That old adage rests entirely on the direction being traveled."
What you will find between the covers is a combustible concoction of well-crafted characters and a gripping plot. Joy's ability to cook up a story that is equal parts of both makes a compelling read. Of course, he can't take credit for the South. She's been antagonizing families for years (see As I Lay Dying's Bundrens). A gritty narrative propelled by poignant imagery and stunning prose, Joy's Where All Light Tends to Go is the South with a capital, albeit slightly crooked, S.
Where All Light Tends to Go
by David Joy. Penguin.
Books. $26.95. 272 pp.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

As I Lay Dying: Film Review

Disclaimer: I'd like to make it known that I'm a huge Franco fan and not just because we share a love of Faulkner.
Directed by James Franco, As I Lay Dying, made me feel that dying may have been a good alternative to seeing Addie Bundren buried in Jefferson. So much tragedy and grief, and poverty in such a short span of time. It's what Faulkner refers to as, "the outraged entrails of events."

Another name for this film could have been Brian De Palma's Great Influence on Billy Faulkner. This is not to say that the acting is not superb. It really is. I just think a split screen wasn't the best choice cinematically.

Another Disclaimer: I've never been a fan of the split screen.

It may have worked had the film been a modernized version but nothing about Faulkner screams dual image to me. His work is very singular. Complex characters with very few choices. There are no forked roads or turning points for the characters of his novels--only family trees that have no branches and one-way paths that all lead to the 4Ds: destitution, dysfunction, depravity, and disgrace. Had Faulkner not been a writer, he would have made a damn good country-western singer. 

I feel Franco captured the tragic essence of what should have been a simple burial. The film did a great job of following the original story of a poor, desperate family's attempt to honor the matriarch's dying wish.The only thing I didn't find engaging was the split screen, and that's just a personal thing. Don't be offended James. I still adore you.

Oh, and if anyone ever figures out what the hell Anse is saying throughout the film, drop me a line and let me know.