Monday, October 8, 2012

Robert Blake Whitehill - Deadrise - Author Interview

Author Interview

1. How did you come up with the title?
DEADRISE was an easy title for me for a couple-two-three reasons as they say back home. I come from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, in the Chesapeake Bay area, where a “deadrise” is actually the generic name of the most common workboat used to harvest the waters there, the same way a “down easter” is the name of the go-to workboat of the Atlantic northeast fleet. Throughout the story, my protagonist, Ben Blackshaw, gets around on a small deadrise called Miss Dotsy, which was the name of a workboat my brother Michael Whitehill once owned.

Just as important, DEADRISE seemed a natural fit when I looked hard at the storyline itself, and realized that there was a theme of characters who were believed to be dead, but who later reappear big as life, for good or ill. Some have called it a Christian metaphor of redemption, but with all the truly unsavory, violent, and salacious things that happen in the book, that might be a stretch.

For the boat nerds out there, deadrise is also a marine architectural term for the angle of the “V” of the boat’s bottom as seen from the stern, let’s say, from the keel of a boat to the sides of the boat. The more acute the “V” angle departs upward from horizontal, the greater the angle of deadrise.

2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
If there is a message to take away from DEADRISE, it’s the personal truth for me that neither great blessings nor oppressive difficulties should be kept to oneself. A great boon, if kept secret, can become a curse. A grinding hardship, if shared, can become good fortune; or at least the burden will be made lighter in the sharing. It may seem highfalutin to say this message could be found in a thriller like DEADRISE, but in retrospect it’s definitely there.

What happens when we don’t talk? The fact is, humans are social animals, and when we shut down all our vast methods of communication out of selfishness or a sense of unworthiness, or anger or for whatever reason, we deny who we are at our core. We are a sharing beastie.

Plus, a fair amount of story conflict is generated when a character denies this natural trait of interaction and communication for credible reasons germane to the plot. Secrets, for example, can cause a world of pain for characters, both internally and interpersonally. And that’s great for a story. Ben Blackshaw loses beloved family members and friends because of secrets. He might even lose his fiancé LuAnna, because he clams up when he should open up and trust.

To me, isolated solitary characters with no companions to relate to or spark off of are not that interesting. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think a modern audience of readers will tolerate the internal monologue for very long if a story has only one character. Daniel Defoe, one of the earliest proponents of the novel, gave his eponymous Robinson Crusoe someone with whom he could talk, interact, and share dangers and burdens. His readers were probably the first to declare, thank god it’s Friday. Different character voices allow a writer to express many different ideas. There are many forms of conflict, but Man vying against Man is the most interesting to me.

Think about it like this. Half the plots of daytime drama on television would instantly unravel if characters simply and promptly told the truth about how they felt. We are social animals, and secrets and lies violate who we are, and are therefore a rich mine of conflicts for writers that will never gin out.

3. How much of the book is realistic?
DEADRISE is most certainly a work of fiction. That said, the Chesapeake setting of the book, with some massages here and there, is based on my growing up on the bay. I also actively researched the area, in case I missed anything, or lost sight of anything from being too close to the culture and landscape.

I visited Smith Island by boat with my friend Hon Lawson, who is a terrific guide to the area. I flew our Cessna 152 to Tangier Island for additional research, just getting a feel for the big-picture topography seen from the air, and for the sounds of the residents there. There is a catastrophic plane crash in DEADRISE that’s based on my visiting the Tangier airstrip. Fortunately, I did not have to experience that personally.

I read numerous books on the bay, and also made several trips to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland. The research I did while writing articles for Chesapeake Bay Magazine was also tremendously helpful.

I made a solo cruise of the Chesapeake in a 21’ electric Duffy as part of the research. I must say, that cruise was an insane undertaking, and nearly got me killed, but I earned a tremendous education out there.

So, while DEADRISE is certainly not intended to be a field guide, or an anthropological study of the Chesapeake culture, I hope to convey a sense of the beauty of the marshes and its denizens, as well as to provide a glimpse of the unique stalwart vitality of the people of Smith and Tangier Islands. I hope a reader visiting the islands would feel as though she were on familiar ground because of reading DEADRISE. I hope such a visitor would be inspired by DEADRISE to feel profound respect for her hosts, not for fear of violence, but because of the rich history and traditions of these very special people.

4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
If I had to do it all over again, I don’t think I would change very much in DEADRISE. I’ve tortured myself by picking up the book a few times since its publication, opening it to random pages. If I have found things to rue, they are limited to word choices here and there.

I worked so hard on the book. My agent, editor, and readers gave me great insights. I know where some flaws are, and of course other readers will notice other faults, but I took pains with DEADRISE to the point that I’m satisfied with it, and content let go of it and move forward on NITRO EXPRESS, the next book in the Ben Blackshaw series.

Leonardo da Vinci is credited with saying, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” This might be true of popular fiction as well, but it’s much easier for me to move on knowing I will be working with at least some of these characters again in the next book.

5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part of writing DEADRISE is also the most difficult thing in life for me, which is gracefully receiving constructive, well-intentioned criticism. The insights from the readers of my early drafts, including, among many, my agent, Matthew Bialer, and my bride Mary Whitehill, are vital to the success of DEADRISE. I regret to report that I still offer up a very immature writer’s silent prayer that the rough manuscript will be deemed absolutely perfect from the very start, and that no rewriting will be necessary. It’s a delusional wish. I wonder if I’m alone in that vain hope.

Two things help me cope with this. One, I pick good, supportive, smart readers to check my work, readers who don’t have a secret vindictive “gotcha” agenda. Two, I also pay a professional editor. Paying makes me listen with more openness. Paying a seasoned professional editor assures there will be something worth hearing.

In any case, I still have to actively calm my mind, particularly the reflex to defend my primal ideas and their fledgling expression on the page. It helps to remember the story will be vastly better if I just shut the heck up and listen.

6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Oh yes. Writing DEADRISE taught me how to write a novel. Almost all my experience before DEADRISE was in writing feature film scripts, and true crime television. I wasn’t bad at these forms. My feature script U.X.O. (Unexploded Ordnance) earned me an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation award, as well as a win at the Hamptons International Film Festival. The Blue Rinse Killers which I co-wrote with Andrea Shane, was a winner at the Hudson Valley Film Festival, and is in rewrites for production. My television writing for the Discovery/Times channel’s THE NEW DETECTIVES got some wonderful ratings, paid well, and taught me a great deal about murder and how investigators approach a case. So I was really good at those forms. And yes, I was very fortunate that early drafts of some of my works did get awards, and lucrative options, without excruciating hardship and effort.

Unfortunately, therein lies the problem. I arrogantly thought I would be instantly good at writing a novel. Matthew Bialer, my agent at Sanford J. Greenberger, thought so, too, or he wouldn’t have nagged me over several years to start writing one. It turned out to be quite difficult for me at first. I was not very good at it out of the gate. I made a very high-toned literary first pass at the story, and it was dreadful. Thank goodness Matthew pulled no punches in letting me know it, and was willing to continue the vetting process over several more drafts. That was the beginning of a long and arduous road in learning the form of the novel, and sorting out which of my traits as a writer worked, and which needed to be excised, burned, buried, stomped on, and otherwise expunged from my being before sitting down to write every day.

7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
My parents were my inspiration to write. My mother, Cecily Sharp-Whitehill, is a fine poet who also writes and edits prose elegantly. She is a lavish correspondent. My father, Joseph Whitehill, wrote short stories, some of which were published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. He had numerous stories published in Asimov’s Science Fiction. He got an O. Henry award, and published in The Atlantic as well. He wrote two novels, THE ANGERS OF SPRING, and my favorite, PRECIOUS LITTLE, which I adapted into a feature script while he was still alive. Some of Dad’s titles can still be found on Abebooks and Alibris, commanding prices that are so far above the original retail price, that he got an enormous, if slightly bitter laugh when I showed him. So my parents demonstrated to me what a writer’s day looks like. I feel proud to share in a family tradition.

8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Favorite author? There is more than one. What a dangerous question. I am a voracious reader. As a child, I loved Jules Verne. What boy wouldn’t want to travel the oceans of the world in a submarine, or homestead a mysterious island after a stormy hot air balloon ride? Today, I truly enjoy Scott Smith, (A SIMPLE PLAN), and Lee Child (author of the amazing Jack Reacher series). Selfishly, I wish Smith published more often, but the wait is always worthwhile. Child’s Jack Reacher is an archetypal lone stranger, truly compelling. In my opinion, Child also writes fully dimensional female characters, to the extent that part of me as a reader projecting myself into Reacher’s shoes, cannot imagine drifting on and leaving any one of these gals behind the way Reacher does.

Carl Hiaasen, who loves Florida, is delightful, but he never clubs you with his subtle environmental message. He is a fine story teller, and a literary zany.

Randy Wayne White is a great adventure writer. He, too, includes a concern for Florida’s environmental well-being in his works, without subjugating plot and character to that theme. Doc Ford is a dynamic, accessible franchise character. Tomlinson, Ford’s friend, is brilliant, and infuriating by turns.

James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux is another great series character. My family comes from the New Orleans area. I have a bit of cypress swamp water mixed with the ink in my veins, and I dig Burke’s occasional forays from Southern Gothic into magical realism through the device of Robicheaux’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His characters are astoundingly messy inside and out, just the way I like them. Obviously I prefer a story if there are great plots, fascinating, troubled characters, and some water involved.

9. Tell us your latest news.
The launch campaign for DEADRISE is going just wonderfully. Shelton Interactive and Smith Publicity are dynamic, aggressive partners. It’s one thing to write a novel, and do your very best on it, but if you want the book read by a wider audience, you need a great team to help spread the word to important new-media literary taste-makers like Tribute Book Reviews. I feel that DEADRISE has the best possible support. Feedback for DEADRISE has been so encouraging. I am convinced the Ben Blackshaw series has a solid foundation from which to grow. I’m also working hard on NITRO EXPRESS, the next book in the Ben Blackshaw series.

This fall, I’ll be formally launching DEADRISE at two events. The first party will take place in Montclair, New Jersey, on the 13th of October, 2012, (12:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m.), at a great restaurant in town called Palazzo. Print and Kindle copies of DEADRISE are available in advance from; print books can also be had from from Barnes & Noble’s on-line site, and locally from Watchung Booksellers at 973.744.7177.

Two weeks later, we’ll have another blowout shindig in Chestertown, Maryland, where I grew up, on the 27th of October, 2012, (12:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m.), at The Bookplate. Print copies for that party are available from all the places I mentioned before, as well as directly from The Bookplate at 410.778.4167. This party will fall during Downrigging Weekend in Chestertown, where beautiful tall ships gather and get their rigging struck and stowed for winter, along with a great show of antique boats of all types. It’s a great excuse for a town-wide party, as only Chestertown can throw them. These boats are really quite something to see.

The fact is, we are throwing these launch parties because I want to celebrate DEADRISE with my family and friends. They helped me get the job done. So, to keep my guests from nodding off while I read brief excerpts from DEADRISE, and sign print copies, we’ll be serving up delicious foods inspired by the cuisine of the Chesapeake, crab, oysters, goose, duck, and such like, along with wines and craft brews from the Eastern Shore. These are public events, so stop by if you’re in town!

On the evening of Friday, the 26th of October, at 7:00 p.m., I’ll be speaking on a panel at Writing Matters, at Watchung Booksellers, in Montclair. The chirpy-sounding topic is The Desolation of the Writing Life. See what I mean? Cheerful. It’s about balancing the author’s need for solitude in order to create, with the requirements of being a social animal to help interest readers in one’s work. I think they will be serving glasses of absinthe, and perhaps a beaker or two of laudanum. Suicide counseling will be available as well.

Also, on Saturday, the 3rd of November, from 10:00 a.m.until 4:00 p.m. I’ll be exhibiting at the Chestertown Book Festival, in Chestertown, Maryland. At some point, I will speak for about thirty minutes on independently publishing books. I would love to see you at any or all of these exciting events.

In other news, rewrites on THE BLUE RINSE KILLERS, a feature film script I crafted with Andrea Shane, are going very well. In this script, three older women accidentally run over and kill the enemy of the town mobster. The mobster is grateful for the favor, and sends the women on their way. But a few days later, he realizes that older women are invisible in America, and so he blackmails the ladies into being his new hit team. Producer Bill Jarblum (CLOUDBURST) has signed Thom Fitzgerald to direct THE BLUE RINSE KILLERS, with Olympia Dukakis to star. I will admit that rewriting a feature film script with a collaborator who is also an ex-girlfriend presents its challenges, but so far there has been no blood-letting; it’s gratifying that, several years after first finishing the script, we are seeing some exciting changes coming out in the new draft.

10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I want my readers to know how deeply grateful I am that they have entrusted a few of their precious leisure hours to my stewardship. We are so busy these days that time for a nice indulgent period of reading is quite rare. I truly understand that. And knowing how harried we all are drives me to write to the very best of my ability at all times. We have no spare heartbeats to waste on poor work. I take this responsibility, this honor, very seriously. My thanks to my readers are truly heartfelt.

About the Book

Diving the frigid Chesapeake Bay for oysters, former SEAL Ben Blackshaw discovers a sunken speedboat filled with nineteen cases of gold bullion, the twentieth case containing a dirty bomb counting down to zero. At the wreck's helm, Blackshaw finds the corpse of a man he hasn't seen in fifteen years - his father. Corrupt NSA operatives Maynard Chalk leads a pack of bloodthirsty mercs to steal the infernal cargo. Blackshaw must rally his fellow Smith Islanders for a fight to the death, or ignite World War III.

Price: $4.99
Pages: 337
Genre: Thriller
Publisher: Calaveras Media
Release Date: September 5, 2012
Buy Links: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

About the Author

Robert Blake Whitehill was born into a Quaker family in Mardela Springs, just outside Salisbury on Maryland’s Eastern Shore peninsula. The family home lay next to the pond that powered a colonial-era relic: the Barren Creek Mill. He grew up sailing the Chesapeake Bay, and one of her most beautiful tributaries, the Chester River.

The Bay is the backdrop for Whitehill’s explosive, debut novel Deadrise (September 2012), the first in The Blackshaw series. Deadrise follows former SEAL Ben Blackshaw as he discovers a wrecked speedboat carrying cases of gold bullion and the corpse of his long-missing father, at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay. When a corrupt NSA operative and his mercs plot to steal the cargo, Blackshaw must rally his fellow Smith Islanders to preserve their survival and the safety of the world.

After graduating from Westtown School Whitehill stayed in Pennsylvania to earn his Bachelor of Arts in creative writing at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges. Later he trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and at The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City. As with David Mamet, exhaustive studies of the best English language drama for the stage and screen transformed an aspiring actor into a passionate writer.

An early focus on feature screenwriting earned Whitehill film festival wins at the Hudson Valley Film Festival and the Hamptons International Film Festival, where he also received an Alfred P. Sloan Grant for his script U.X.O. (Unexploded Ordnance). His feature script Blue Rinse, co-written with Andrea Shane, is currently under option with producer Bill Jarblum (Charley Bartlett, The Little Traitor, Cloudburst), with Olympia Dukakis to star.

While writing many highly rated episodes of Discovery-Times Channel’s The New Detectives, Daring Capers and The Bureau, he served as the vice president of independent film acquisitions for the groundbreaking, developing and managing their independent film channel.

Whitehill lives in Montclair, N.J., with his wife and son. For a number of years, he has worked with the Montclair Ambulance Unit as an emergency medical technician. When not knocking around the sky over Tangier Island in a Cessna 152, Whitehill is an active blogger and discusses the craft of writing and his home waters on social media. Whitehill has contributed to Chesapeake Bay Magazine.

Links to connect with Robert:
Web site


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