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