by Kevin Lucia
Brad Whittington Interview
a lot of writers, I didn’t have a childhood dream of getting
-- Brad Whittington
Brad Whittington was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on James Taylor's eighth birthday and Jack Kerouac's thirty-fourth birthday and is old enough to know better. He lives in Austin, Texas with The Woman. Previously he has been known to inhabit Hawaii, Ohio, South Carolina, Arizona, and Colorado, annoying people as a janitor, math teacher, field hand, computer programmer, brickyard worker, editor, resident Gentile in a Conservative synagogue, IT director, weed-cutter, and in a number of influential positions in other less notable professions. When he isn't writing he does what he can to impact the productivity of his fellow workers in the telecommunications industry. He is greatly loved and admired by all right-thinking citizens and enjoys a complete absence of cats and dogs at home.
Kevin: Your bio makes for some pretty interesting reading; it seems like you’ve done a little bit of everything. How important do you think this broad, life experience is to a writer?
Brad: It definitely comes in handy. Rubbing shoulders with a broad range of personalities in all social strata is useful for knowing the little details that make characters feel real, particularly for the more subtle methods of character development. For example, did you know that truckers have their own internal caste system? Flat-bed drivers talk derisively about the guys who drive “boxes”. The box drivers taunt the flat-bed drivers because they don’t know how to back up to a dock; they just pull alongside the loading area. And I’m sure they both sneer at the delivery truck drivers.
"…enjoys a complete absence of cats and dogs at home." No cats and dogs, huh?
Through all the different things you’ve done in your life, what was it that drew you to writing? Was it a life-long dream you nourished since childhood, or something that developed along the way?
Unlike a lot of writers, I didn’t have a childhood dream of getting published. I’ve always written in one fashion or another, but I didn’t take up fiction seriously until 1981, when I got my first computer. It wasn’t until the late 80s that I thought of getting a book published. I gave up after about six months because trying to get published detracted too much from the thing I enjoyed, writing. I still write compulsively. I have two blogs, fredtexas.blogspot.com and StupidInternetTricks.com, where I ramble about food and stupid stuff when I’m not working on a book.
Your “Fred, Texas” series looks outstanding, and being a country boy myself – though from rural New York, not Texas – it looks like something I would really appreciate. Tell us a little about the series.
The Fred series is the classic story of Everyteen, if I can use that expression. (And why not, I say?) More than one person has told me about everyone on the plane looking at them because they were laughing so much. One guy said he was laughing one page and crying the next. At the end of a chapter he went to the bathroom. When he got back the guy in the next seat was looking at the book, saying, “I just wanted to know what in the world you were reading!” The FredBooks follow Mark Cloud, a preacher’s kid who has trouble toeing the party line, from age 8 to age 21. They rock, if I do say so myself, and I do. The first won the Christy and they get better as they go.
A wise person once said – or maybe it was just me trying to motivate my junior high students to write – that when a writer writes, a little bit of them flows onto the page. Did you draw off your experiences growing up in Texas for the “Fred, Texas” series? Is there a bit of you in those novels?
Good luck with those jr. high kids! Do you ever feel like Paul Giamatti in “Sideways”? The Fred series is fiction in that the things in the books didn't really happen. But it is a product of my experiences in that it is set in places where I have lived, and in a family similar to my own when I was growing up. It’s more like a story about my evil twin, Skippy.
Your collaboration with Phil Little in the novel Hell in a Briefcase looks like quite a departure from the “Fred, Texas” series. What was it like working with the suspense/thriller/espionage genre? How was this novel conceived?
Phil and I had the same editor, Gary Terashita, and he hooked us up for the novel. Phil’s experiences serve as the basis for “Hell in a Briefcase” like my experiences serve as the basis for the FredBooks. The writing process was different for “Hell in a Briefcase”. The focus was on pacing and character development and not on crafting great sentences. With the FredBooks I spent a great deal of time on every word. Six drafts and every word in the novel evaluated every time. Like Humpty Dumpty in “Alice in Wonderland”, I put a lot of demands on the words. If they didn’t pull their weight, they were gone. I wanted sentences that were worth quoting. For “Hell in a Briefcase” I didn’t craft the sentences to that level. It would have destroyed the voice and detracted from the point of the story.
What was it like sharing the creative process with someone else? Many authors love it, and others don’t – Frank Peretti recently said of his work with Ted Dekker on House that while it was worth the effort and he loved Ted’s work, he’d never do something like that again because of their different styles of writing. Did you and Phil run into any challenges during the course of writing this novel?
Unlike the Dekker/Perretti thing, where you have two writers collaborating, Phil and I brought different skills to the table, each with 20+ years of experience behind us in our fields. As long as I didn’t try to become a terrorism expert and Phil didn’t try to become a writer, we were OK.
I read in Phil’s bio that he has quite a background in counter-intelligence and anti-terrorism. Did this make for less research, or did you still find you had to research life in Lebanon?
For me to write with authenticity, I have to instinctively feel the setting and the mindset of the characters, not just know a few facts about them. Phil provided a story line and expert advice on how a raid goes down and interrogation techniques and such, but I still had to understand the culture and history of what I was writing about. That meant a lot of research. In 2005-2006 I read a couple dozen books on worldwide terrorism, nuclear terrorism, how to build a nuclear bomb, suicide bombing (both from the larger political picture down to accounts of individual bombers), Islam, Arab culture and mindset, the Palestinian struggle, al Queda, and other topics. Also a bzillion hours of Internet research. It’s fascinating, but eventually you have to stop reading and start writing.
Who would you say have been your biggest literary influences as a writer? Any favorite writers out there?
My favorites aren’t necessarily recognizable as influencing my writing. My top two are Robertson Davies and Graham Greene. The biggest influences are the humorous writers who develop the anti-hero theme, from the early practitioners like Robert Benchley, James Thurber and P. G. Wodehouse, up to current writers such as Garrison Keillor and Woody Allen. I read a lot of dead white guys.
You walk into a music store, head to the CD section…what’s the first thing you pick up?
My interests are fairly broad. I’ll skim through rock, jazz, blues, reggae, zydeco, classical, folk, country. When I spent 50% of my time traveling for the day job, I would search out venues for local music and often buy CDs from the artists. I’ve found some interesting stuff that way. Bought a CD from a Japanese band called Cram-Bo. They were playing on a bridge over the train station in Osaka. Bought a homemade CD from a guy named Andy Mazzelli at JJ’s Blues in Santa Clara who tried to sell me a Mexican Strat. I was there to hear the Lara Price Band with Laura Chavez on guitar. Now there’s a must-see group!
Stephen King mention in On Writing that it’s very important to write the first draft with the “door closed” – without any interruptions, comments, or suggestions until you’ve hammered out that first draft, but he also mentioned that it’s important to have a “close circle” of folks read it before it hits an editor, agent, or publisher. Do you have someone you trust with your manuscript before turning it in to anyone?
I have two people who read every draft: The Woman and Mark Spyrison. That’s an incredible sacrifice, because it’s a pain to read the same book six times in six months. The Woman does it out of love, but Mark doesn’t have that excuse. I got him on board for the second Fred book, and I’m glad he still puts up with me shooting him thousands of words of material and then ignoring half of his advice. I can point to dozens of places in my last three books that he was directly responsible for improving.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Quit now and avoid the rush.
And finally, the fun question: Jerry Bruckheimer has pitched a movie deal to you based on Hell in a Briefcase. Who would you chose as the lead roles?
This is so much a Phil question that I emailed it to him. His response:
Matt Cooper: Hugh Jackman
Stevie: JJ Rodgers, Actress, singer both film and stage
Nikki: Nicolette Little
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Brad.
Lucia Kevin Lucia writes for The Press & Sun
Bulletin and The
Journal. His short fiction has appeared in Coach’s
Midnight Diner, The Relief Journal, All Hallows, Darkened
Horizons Vol. 3 & 4,
NexGen Pulp Magazine Issues 1 & 4, From the Shadows, Morpheus
Bohemian-Alien, Shroud Publishing’s horror anthology, Abominations,
Tyndale House’s inspirational anthology Life Savors. He’s
writing a novella for Shroud Publishing’s upcoming novella series, The
Hiram Grange Chronicles. He resides in Castle Creek, New York, with his
wife Abby, daughter Madison and son Zackary. He teaches high school English at
Catholic Central High School
in Binghamton, New York; and is finishing his Masters of Arts in Creative Writing
at Binghamton University. Visit him at his website and