Robert Whitehill Author Interview
Author and screenwriter Robert Blake Whitehill was born just outside Salisbury on Maryland’s Eastern Shore peninsula. He grew up sailing the Chesapeake Bay, and one of her most beautiful tributaries, the Chester River.
Prior to writing his novel, Whitehill wrote many highly rated episodes of Discovery/Times Channel’s The New Detectives, Daring Capers, and The Bureau, as he served as the Vice President of Independent Film Acquisitions for the groundbreaking Centerseat.com, developing and managing their Independent Film Channel.
Whitehill settled in New Jersey and for a number of years, has worked with the Montclair Ambulance Unit as an emergency medical technician. When not sailing, Whitehill published several articles about his home waters in Chesapeake Bay Magazine.
Book Synopsis: Deadrise (September 2012) is 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.
Why should readers should pick up your book?
Deadrise has been described as a thriller, a suspense drama, and a mystery all caged inside the same cover. Deadrise boasts the linchpin genre ingredients of a light-speed pace, a slew of shattered characters both heroic and brutal, and a plot that’s kinked with twists, slaloms, chicanes and moguls that keep the reader off balance and unable to guess what will come next. Some readers have charged that I owe them several nights’ sleep because they have been helpless to put the book down at a reasonable bedtime. How can I repay them, except with my profound thanks for the compliment?
How did your book come to life?
Deadrise started with a request from my agent, Matthew Bialer, at Sanford J. Greenburger, to depart from my TV and feature writing comfort zone, and to jump with both feet into the thriller novel arena. I hashed a plot out in my mind for a couple of years while I finished other projects. Then, another year later, I turned in one heck of a doorstop of literary fiction. Many rewrites later, the manuscript was hacked, bashed, and whittled down to something that was truly fit for a discerning thriller audience. Matthew’s advice was spot-on the whole way.
Matthew Bialer also recommended I team up with Shelton Interactive, a web development and digital PR firm. Rusty Shelton and his fantastic team stood on the mountaintops and shouted like crazy until, thank goodness, readers who were looking for something genuinely fresh came flocking to Deadrise. My site, www.robertblakewhitehill.com is Shelton’s design. (If you drop off your email address there, you’ll get two free chapters of Deadrise by return email.)
I worked closely with a professional editor who also helped shape the story.
Brian Boucher / Barsoom Design worked up a mesmerizing cover for Deadrise which just blew me away. It includes motifs torn directly out of the heart of the story. I feel very fortunate that I could work with such an amazing artist. Boucher was also recommended by my agent. Matthew Bialer is the unsung hero in the Deadrise backstory.
Then, I went to work with the publisher Telemachus Press, and they advised me daily on making the most handsome paper edition of Deadrise possible, while also formatting the manuscript in every ebook available on the market today. They provided complete concierge service from beginning to end.
Bearing all this in mind, the notion that a writer’s life is solitary is true, but only until the first draft is complete. That’s when you better find a great team to work with, or your manuscript will never see daylight. Let me put it like this: Deadrise went from being an idea, to being named in the Conversations Book Club Top 100 Books of 2012, thanks to some amazing support from many different quarters. Not bad when you consider that about 1,100 books are published each and every day of the year.
Who is you favorite character in your book and why?
I think the Deadrise protagonist, Ben Blackshaw, is a sterling man who is confronted with awful choices and circumstances. He is true blue, but he also has a soul-wrenching shadow side that he must learn to check before he kills the folks he loves most in all the world. That said, my arch baddy, Maynard Chalk, scares the living daylights out of me. He is charming, vicious, funny, evil, and soulless by turns. (A real Gene Hackman role, that is, if Hackman hadn’t quit acting to write his own novels.) Imagine the dead eyes of a great white shark before it bites. That’s Chalk. So, while I would not want to come within a thousand miles of Chalk personally, he is by far one of the most fascinating characters ever to claw his way through broken glass and rusted razorblades to emerge from the black oubliette of my creative psyche.
Are the characters in your books based on people you know?
I can say in all candor that no Deadrise character entirely reflects any individual I have ever known. Having said that, there are many qualities of friends, family members, acquaintances, and actual historical figures that have been pieced together into characters much the way Dr. Frankenstein cobbled the creature into life in Shelley’s book. Maynard Chalk is the most monstrous of them all. My good guys were imbued with the best qualities of friends and family, including intelligence, strength of character, wit, cleverness, a neat turn of phrase, and resourcefulness. My human jackals are also resourceful, but they reflect a ruthless, explosive temperament that, thank goodness, I have only read about, or met in person while they were safely in police custody.
Why do you think your readers are going to enjoy your book?
Readers will enjoy Deadrise because it defies cliché and formula. On the contrary, the characters’ voices are fresh, like the Smith Island setting. The inner and outer conflicts are excruciating, the plot pressures are crippling, and the outcome is, by all reports, absolutely shocking. Readers will still be able to root for, and identify with, Ben Blackshaw all the way through, but some aspects of this kindred feeling might be extremely uncomfortable for readers until they reach journey’s end.
Did you learn anything from writing your book that was unexpected? (What was it?)
The most unexpected discovery from my experience of writing Deadrise was the genuine delight of meeting readers in person, or hearing from them directly through emails and reviews from sites like Amazon.com. I make an effort to respond to everyone who takes time to reach out, whether they are sharing their thoughts on my work, or delving into questions they have about their own writing process. In this digital age, the freedom and ease of being closely in touch with the folks I write for is a real gift. I think readers, reviewers, and bloggers are embracing their newfound power to be tastemakers in their own right. I fully support and encourage this, even when I have to absorb constructive criticism about how my work could be better.
How do you start writing a new book? What comes first? The characters? The story?
In the evolution of any of my work, be it for narrative feature scripts or a novel, the What-If of plot always gets me thinking first. There might be a grand theme or observation that sparks my thinking, but usually a string of awful circumstances plays the primary role in getting the creative juices flowing. I haven’t really started something based on a Who question unless it was germane to the plot. Characters develop out of actions they take. Actions are the ligaments, tendons and muscles that propel the bones and the heart of a plot forward.
Can you describe your hero in one sentence?
Ben Blackshaw is searching for his roots by trying to piece together his relationship with a long- absent father; a journey that nearly kills him and everyone he loves, and which might ravage the entire world as he knows it.
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Image courtesy of Michael C. Wooton.