Friday, March 25, 2011
Q & A with Tina Whittle
Q: What makes Tai and Trey different from other (unofficial) PIs?
In many ways they’re very traditional. Tai is an amateur sleuth with no investigative background who is drawn into a murder investigation involving her brother. Trey is an ex-cop with a tragic past operating on the civilian side of the thin blue line. Their differences come from who they are more than what they do. Tai is a former tour guide who knows how to make coherent stories from little pieces of information here and there; she’s adept at filling in the blanks (even if that involves a little creative supposition). Trey is in recovery from a car accident that left him cognitively impaired, yet the same brain trauma that limits him to a certain linear thinking also opens up some startling new abilities. Neither got into the PI game on purpose, but as it turns out, they make a pretty good team.
Q: How did you come up with the characters?
Tai is a creative amalgam of several women my best friend, who is smart and extroverted and a little mouthy; my Southern girl cousins who climbed trees in their dresses and told outrageous stories, and a certain liberal feminist woman I know who runs a gun shop.
Unlike Tai, Trey has no real life counterpart, but he does have a factual inspiration, an article in Scientific American on aphasic stroke victims (people who have lost the ability to speak resulting from stroke damage to certain parts of the brain). This article explained that such people were much more gifted than average at knowing when other people were lying. In fact, their abilities were CIA-caliber, without any special training. I decided that a person with such abilities would make an interesting detective, even if this one strength came packaged with many deficits. And thus Trey, my fictional character, was born.
Q: What's next for you and Tai?
So far, she still finds me interesting and capable enough to hang around with through the second book in the Dangerous Edge series (to be published by Poisoned Pen Press in March 2012). It’s as yet untitled, but it’s set once again in Atlanta, this time in the competitive world of performance poetry, also known as spoken word. Take a bunch of dramatic artists, throw in some illicit sex, season with a few nasty secrets, then toss liberally with potential fame and fortune . . . Let’s just say that the more I studied the real world of these literary powerhouses, the more I’m surprised somebody hasn’t been killed for real. They live big, poets do.
Q: How do your promote your work?
With some reluctance. I got into this writer business because I’m an introvert who likes to spend long hours at the computer talking to imaginary people to say that this PR stuff has taken some personality re-tooling is an understatement. That said, once I learned to see promotion as a potential partnership a mutually beneficial connection between me and readers, me and booksellers, me and reviewers I learned to enjoy it. I blog, answer Q & A, speak at libraries, conduct workshops, write articles, attend conferences and hold book signings. I also maintain an online presence through my website http://www.tinawhittle.com and through Facebook and Goodreads. But my favorite thing to do is sit around with a bunch of fellow writers and talk about what we love to read, especially if there is wine and sushi involved.
Q: What are your thoughts on ebooks as a reader AND a writer?
I love e-books. Viva la revolution. They are changing the way we think about what a “book” is, opening the market to writers in unprecedented ways, and giving readers a smorgasbord of talent to choose from. I am very old school; I prefer the multi-sensory experience of a book the texture of pages, the papery smell but I see e-books as a complement to my book collection, not a replacement. There’s only one caveat to this e-book business the vanishing brick and mortar bookstore. I do my part to make sure my local independent book shop stays in business, however. No electronic gizmo is going to replace that community in my life.
Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
I’ve always found them fascinating of course, the kinds of quirks that render them psychotic could also apply to my characters, especially Trey. He has a deep but easily accessible violent streak, the same violent streak we all have, but unlike most of us, he has the training that makes him truly deadly. Plus, he‘s lost the ability that most of us have to render valid judgments about when to use violence, and when to use diplomacy. Trey is always just one binary choice away from deadly force (which is why he’s one of the “dangerous edges” referred to in the title).
I think that’s why we find these people so intriguing they represent that part of us that could run amok and do serious damage to those who have wronged us. There’s a quotation I use in the book: “Revenge is just a form of wild justice.” These characters on the edge the ones willing to wrench retribution from the jaws of circumstance, no matter the cost give us vicarious satisfaction. The moral landscape may not be more orderly after being swept by their kind of justice, but it will be more balanced, even if that balance is of the “eye for an eye” variety. Lady Justice is blindfolded, after all; all that matters in the end is that the scales swing level.
Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation?
I think all of these fine writers will continue to inspire future crime fiction writers they each wrote turning points in the genre. Lehane is well on his way to becoming one of the grandmasters read his short story “Animal Rescue” (which is up for an Edgar this year) to see a writer at the top of his game, with even more top to come. Lee Child deserves his place in this company as well.
But you must add three more writers to this list: Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller, and Sue Grafton. They made history by creating strong female PIs who weren’t femme fatales, who were tough and smart and professional, who didn’t define their work by their gender, but who didn’t deny their female-ness either. Their protagonists forced a generation of crime fiction readers to confront all the misconceptions about what makes a strong woman (it used to be that she acted like a man not anymore). They didn’t just shatter a glass ceiling; they tore down a big wall, brick by brick. Any novelist writing a crime fiction series owes them big time they made the creative space that we all benefit from today. And they’re still writing strong.
Q: Brian Drake came up with the following question: How has your motivation for writing evolved over the years?
I don’t think my motivation has changed all that much. The thing that gets me into the chair and at the keyboard is pretty much unaltered from when I sold my first story in my teens what has changed is the discipline. I write because I enjoy the mental challenge of rendering an experience into words. But not all days are golden gifts from the muse. Some days are a hard slog. And I write through those hard days now, put in just as many hours as I do when the words flow like honey. That’s what’s changed about me as a writer my willingness to write even when it’s no fun, even when it hurts, because in the end, the reward is the same no matter the effort.
Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
What I want to ask every PI writer I read is this what kind of detective do you think you’d make? I mean, we write all these smart sleuths, and we research all these cool new technologies and forensic tools. So we should make pretty good detectives ourselves, right? And yet I know that I would make a lousy detective. I get bored too easily, and frustrated at the drop of a hat. I also trust people too much and would take everyone’s story at face value, even the murderer’s. I’d never see though anybody or anything. I’d make a great sidekick though (just not one of the psychotic variety I’m more Dr. Watson than Mr. Hyde).