MY INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR CHANNING WHITAKER
What’s your name and what genre would you consider your books to be?
My name is Channing Whitaker. So far, I’ve published in mystery, horror, and sci-fi, and I have a new book in fantasy, so I’d boil it down to mystery and spec fiction.
Tell me about your book. How did you come up with that (story, angle, idea)?
My latest release, The Peddler, is a fantasy novelette (57 pages) which is the third in an anthology series I’m calling “Black Band Shorts.” Each short book features an eerie and fantastic story independent from the other volumes but similar in tone. Some people compare them to episodes of The Twilight Zone, or Black Mirror, which I find apt.
The Peddler features an old hermit, who whittles lifelike figurines which seem to come alive in the hour of need for the people who buy them. I’m not sure what sparked the first notion of the character or the details of his fantastic reality, but the themes which propel the story, including standing up to injustices and challenging bigotry, are topical to current affairs, and I believe most readers will identify with one or more of the characters.
How did you get interested in writing this particular genre (historical novels, mysteries, sci-fi, children’s books, etc.)?
I think I always wanted to be a storyteller. As early as 1st grade I remember saying I wanted to be a cartoonist, however in retrospect I think I just wanted to make up stories and share them, and it just so happened that cartoons were my primary story input. Later, as a teenager, my drive evolved to becoming a filmmaker, and by college that grew to include writing books as well. I’ve written for the screen, and as of the last six or seven year, I’ve been working in books too. Through it all, I see my desire as merely to tell well-crafted stories, whatever the medium.
As for the genres, I find my imagination can take me in about any direction, from horror to family drama to sci-fi to comedy. I would like to think one of my writing’s strongest points is deep and easily relatable characters, which to me transcends genre. This actually creates a challenge in marketing my books as they often cross two or more genres. I also try to focus which story ideas I pursue into at least a general audience direction, leaving others on the back burner. As an example, my current published works (as well as a produced screenplay) lean towards the dark—horror, dark sci-fi, dark fantasy, and dark mystery. I’ve made a conscious attempt to put my time towards ideas which will appeal to the fans of those works. However I’ve got a couple great ideas for Hallmark-style Christmas movies, children’s adventures, among other drastically differing concepts, which in turn I have to relegate to the back burner. (For now.)
Can you tell me about your Series?
My newest book, The Peddler, is in a series called Black Band Shorts, which is a series of un-related spec fiction novelettes and novellas. I think of it much like an anthology sci-fi or horror TV series, much like Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, or Black Mirror. Each book has its own, stand-alone, narrative though they are related by their compact size and similar themes which span horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, but all with dark-leaning atmospheres. So far, The Peddler is the third book in the series. I had considered releasing some of these stories as an anthology collection in one volume, but I enjoy helping to craft engaging covers for each work, which I wouldn’t be able to do in a collection of loosely tied stories with drastically different narratives. The format of short books has also allowed me to release something new every three or four months rather than waiting a year or more for the next group installment.
The other books in the series are a 54-page horror/thriller called, The Remnant, and a 52-page dark sci-fi called, Existence Augmented. Both released earlier in 2018. I have many more instalments planned for the series, and as the characters don’t’ carry book-to-book I think it can remain fresh and new though a dozen or more volumes.
Where did you get the inspiration/idea for your series?
As the series is an anthology, I suppose it draws from the reasonably well-established sub-genre of horror short stories anthologies, however, as my series is formatted as single, stand-alone short books, I think it also draws from the history of TV horror or suspense anthologies. The series spans horror, sci-fi, and fantasy widely, so the individual inspirations are probably to vast to list.
Do you have a new book in the making and if so, what’s the name of your upcoming book?
In 2015 I published “Until the Sun Rises – One Night in Drake Mansion,” which is a dark mystery that sets up what you might expect for a haunted house story but follows a paranormal skeptic as an amateur sleuth. I have written a sequel to that novel which will be another dark mystery that carries over two of the principal characters from the first. The book is at a point where I’m seeking outside editing and proofreading, but that process is longer for a full novel, so I expect to see it coming out mid-2019.
That said, I hope to release at least one more, if not two more, installments of the Black Band Shorts series within that same time frame. Perhaps one more by the end of 2018 and another by Feb or March 2019.
Where do your ideas come from?
I really draw ideas from everywhere. Sometimes something in real life inspires the seed of a story, sometimes I see other stories and find my mind racing in a direction drastically different than that author or filmmaker took their work. But most of the time things seem to just come out of thin air, or more likely a desire to spice up the mundane. In my short book The Remnant there is an antique book which, when read, gives power to a real monstrous creature. As a writer, I sit in an office full of books, and the idea of giving a supernatural consequence to reading a book might well have started as a little spice on top of an everyday sight.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
I’ve never really run into writer’s block or anything of that nature. My mind is always racing so I’m more likely to get off track or get thinking about a new or different story when I should be finishing the one I’m on, but I usually manage to balance that conflict, let my mind wander for a bit, make some notes, then get back on task. However, the idea-generating part of writing is only a small portion. I happen to be dyslexic which poses a problem in editing and revising my work. There are often times when I just can’t see word mistakes, and that sometimes proves frustrating, but being aware of my limitations just means I’ve developed a process for filtering my short-comings out.
Those two things combined probably make fine polishing of a story, the part once the story narrative and language are essentially locked, and you’re down to meticulous sentence editing and grammar which is the hardest for me. My mind is already geared to want to wander to the next story, and my technical editing ability is average on my best day, so staying focused is hardest in that phase. But I get through it, then get it off to a professional editor.
Have you always liked to write?
I’ve always liked to tell stories. I’ve dabbled on the stage, I’ve worked in many aspects of movie making, and at times I’ve just fed people lines of B.S. for the simple pleasure of seeing what I could get away with. Writing is where I’ve landed, but telling stories has always been the goal. If I weren’t making up and telling stories legitimately, such as through fiction writing, I fear I would have ended up a con man.
If you didn’t like writing books, or weren’t any good at it, what would you like to do for a living?
Well, If I could keep myself from the con game, (see previous answer) I think I could comfortably work in a math or science field. Math came very easy to me, I worked ahead in high school and even had 10 college credits of math before I graduated. I went to college for cinema and literature, but since I already had almost 1/3 of the credits I would need, I went ahead and majored in mathematics as well. I also have held a life-long interest in many disciplines of science. I think both math and science aid my writing. When you’re writing a mystery the evidence has to add up to the outcome, which is not dissimilar from a math proof, though the mystery hopefully reads a lot more intriguingly. Likewise, delving into the depths of just about any science discipline can spark a great sci-fi idea for me. But, to return to the question, if I couldn’t use those interests to bolster my writing, and if I couldn’t write at all, I think I could find joy and meaning teaching math or working in a lab somewhere.
Do you read reviews of your book(s)? Do you respond to them, good or bad? How do you deal with the bad?
I do read reviews because I’m still at a point where each one counts, so to speak. As a relatively unknown author, one has to reach out to prospective reviewers personally if one wants to get more than a handful of reviews. Thus, I pay attention from time to time so see if my reviewer outreach efforts are working, and in turn the quality of the reviews. If I reached out to a reviewer or group and they didn’t connect with my story, or only left a few words in review, or didn’t review it at all, then I know not to try that same reviewer or group the next time I publish. If I get to a point where each new book gets hundreds of reviews without me directly pushing it, I probably won’t be as likely to go thumb through them.
I don’t respond to a review unless it includes a question which I can answer without spoiling the book. At times, it is tempting to comment, whether a review is good or bad. I’ve had reviews where a reader accuses the book of not explaining something or of having a big plot hole when I know what they were looking for was in there. I’d love to ask them if they just skipped chapters willy-nilly, but I feel like the integrity of the reviews and what they mean to new prospective readers is better if the author is hands off.
I don’t’ get too bothered by bad reviews. I think every book, even one of the greats will have its detractors. I’ve personally been lured to a book by how much press it’s gotten or how famous it is, only to be sorely disappointed, so I try to remember that just because I didn’t enjoy it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t great for others, I just wasn’t the right audience for it. Thus, for my own work, a bad review just tells me the book found its way to the wrong person.
I’ve never seen an onslaught of bad reviews, but if I did, I would probably try to see if I had done something wrong in marketing the book, such as listing it as a genre where it didn’t fit, or wrongly assuming fans of one sort of book were a group likely to enjoy mine. I don’t think I’d feel too down about my writing.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
This is a bit of a sticky question because it implies an author can know what readers want, or for that matter that readers know what they want, I believe both are mostly untrue. If you surveyed a group of readers and asked them whether they’d be more excited about a book which is a lot like many of the books they’ve already read, or a book which is unlike anything they’ve ever heard of before, many if not most would vote for the latter. However, I think anyone in book marketing could tell you, that is not how most readers actually spend their money. I’m probably guilty of this too.
For me, this then becomes a question of, do I favor trying to forge my own path, or to travel a road which is not only cleared but currently being well traveled. An author could (and many do) look at what readers are currently buying, and reviewing well, and then try to craft a story that fits in the same pocket – similar theme, similar character, similar journey. I’ll call this the “New spin on…” type of book. I think that can sell some books, but it is hard to build your name as a distinct author if your work is not so distinct. This is just not for me.
Alternatively, an author can craft a story that intrigues them, follow their ideas in whatever direction their creativity compels them, and wind up with something which is hopefully not derivative of anything else too closely. Then, once they have that story, the author can turn to thoughts of marketing and try to find an existing group where it might, sort-of fit. That’s where I’m at. I write the stories I want to read even if they blend several genres or start in one genre and move drastically away in a new direction. My first novel, Until the Sun Rises – One Night in Drake Mansion, begins looking very much like a haunted house mystery but ends considerably different than any such book I’ve ever encountered. So, once I’ve finished a story, I go back and try to find somewhat similar themed books to compare it to in marketing.
This is probably not the way to get a bunch of new readers right away, a lot of readers won’t go for something which is so different. But ultimately an author’s uniqueness can become a genre of its own. Their name becomes a brand, and then they can write whatever they want, and the readers will follow because their books eventually fit perfectly into a genre, it’s just the genre they created. That’s where I hope to be.
Where can your fans find you and follow??
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Thank you for taking your time to do this interview ❤️