Member Spotlight: Meet David Whitaker

Posted by July 3rd, 2014

David WhitakerToday our blog guest is David Whitaker (aka DWhit), whose book PARADOX was an Editor’s Pick in June.

Lucy Silag: Environmental thrillers–what a great genre! Have you always been a fan of them, and if so, how did you get into them? What environmental thriller writers have you enjoyed reading?

David Whitaker: Deciding to classify my book as an Environmental Thriller was one of the more difficult parts of writing the book. At first I thought it was Sci-Fi, but it was when I started reading the Book Country Genre Map, and started digging into sub-genres, and realized that Environmental Thriller was more accurate. But there’s still a Sci-Fi component to it that is only hinted at in the first five chapters. So I guess I’m not positive that it’s an Environmental Thriller.

Maybe I’ll end up re-catagorizing it down the road somewhere if I get feedback to that end. I don’t want to mislead potential readers.

That said, I think it’s hard to strictly categorize stories by the sub-genres.

Many books I’ve read are considered one genre, but have elements from several other genres mixed in. I mean, you could look at the dearth of zombie fiction (books and tv/movie), and a lot of them could be considered environmental thrillers, but they’re also horror, or dystopian or sci-fi, etc. My personal reading preferences are so varied, and my understanding of the genres are so muddled, that I’m not sure I could really say I’m a fan of the genre. I like thrillers like Clancy and Flynn, but those are more traditional spy thrillers, right? I think as the story came together, this is just where I found myself.

LS: Now that you are writing your own book, what challenges are you running into?

DW: One of the challenges I’ve been working through has been the logic and procedurals. When I read a book, or watch a movie/TV series, I demand that their continuity is solid. If there are loopholes or loose ends, it bugs me.

They can have a totally fantastic premise, and as long as they stick to their own rules, I’m fine. But if something is completely unplausable within the world the author has created, it stands out to me and breaks my immersion. I don’t want any of that to happen to my readers.

I’ve spent countless hours staring at the screen debating on would a character do this, or would they react that way? What is the most logical and efficient way for this or that to get done? Is that good for the plot? Not always.

Sometimes I pull the rug out from under my own momentum, and start second guessing what I’ve written.

The effort seems to have paid off, though. The writers’ group that I’m a part of have read a lot more than I have posted on Book Country, and they’ve said that the continuity is tight. That pleases me. There are still some issues that need to be worked out, but I feel like I’m on the right path.

My biggest issue is Point of View. I originally intended to write PARADOX from the omniscient perspective, jumping around between brains as necessary to tell the whole story. But it seems that my natural story telling voice is third-person limited. I slip back into it constantly, and just feel more comfortable there. One of my readers pointed out that chapter one (of draft 2) of PARADOX flips back and forth like ten times.

I’ve decided to give up on omniscient for now, and the next revision pass is going to put everything in third-limited. It means I have to figure out how to dole out the subtle clues that other people are thinking, but it will be better in the long run. In the Chapter 1 example, you’ll get a much better sense of the girl’s powers of observation and analytical abilities when she tells you what she thinks others are thinking. That’s one of my next stops in revision hell, and I’m looking forward to it.

LS: You’ve posted just the first chunk of this book to Book Country, so I don’t yet know how PARADOX ends. Have you plotted it all out already? How did you approach that process?

DW: This is my second book. The first one just flowed as a stream of consciousness and was a lot of fun to write. But as I got to about 130,000 words, I realized that I had to trash about half of it because it was bad. I think the writing was okay, but a lot of the plot and character decisions were simply wrong. I gutted it and rewrote 80,000 words, but it took a lot of time. And ironically the new outline I ended up with for that was almost identical to the original brief one I started with before I led myself astray.

I didn’t want that to happen with PARADOX, so I started brainstorming some ideas. I made a conscious decision to start a new sci-fi book. and gathered plot devices from about 10 different sources. After I had the germ of the plot, the amnesiac and her backstory, I wrote the first draft of chapter 1 and was immediately in love with the idea. That was almost two years ago.

I didn’t actually stop with Chapter 1, but instead I wrote about 30,000 words following the journey of the amnesiac as she re-discovered who she was. It wasn’t until that was done that I started to figure out what else was going on.

That thread of the story was a bit more of a challenge, because it turned into more of a techno-thriller than I had intended. Not that that’s a problem, but it was not what I expected.

I roughed out the basic plot, and created a little table of contents where I wrote brief 1-2 sentence synopses for each chapter. This was what passed for an outline for me. Then I went about splitting up the amnesiac’s thread and filling out the other chapters. But when I got to the point where the amnesiac’s thread intersected with the rest of the story, and I kinda got stuck. That’s where the story rested until the epiphany last Friday.

LS: How did you get started on Book Country? What feedback has been helpful to you as you’ve revised?

DW: I learned about Book Country through a class I took. Dawn at Red Sofa Literary hosted a Publishing 101 class almost two years ago, and one of the things she encouraged us to do was check out Book Country.

I love the site, and really like the idea of the community, but I think I’m part of the problem just like 90% of the authors here. I want people to give me feedback, but I have a hard time finding time to review others’ works. I need to set aside more time for that, because I’ve found a couple of interesting stories that I’m following. I’m sure there are more out there if I take the time to read and find them.

The feedback has been mostly good, ranging from general encouragement for the story to specific grammar corrections, all of which have been useful. The people that have left feedback have generally taken the time to be thoughtful and thorough. I just wish there were more of them.

I realize though that I have also hamstrung my potential feedback by only posting a small section of the book. I’m hoping to correct that soon and post another 8-10 chapters by the time this goes live, and that will give people a much better sense of where the story is going, while hopefully leaving them wanting even more.

I like the idea of posting segments, but I don’t feel like it’s as successful as it could be. Neither of the reviewers that read the first draft, which was just the first chapter, came back to read the second draft, which was chapters 1-5. I hope that if I put the effort in to posting new chunks more frequently, it will hold the readers interest a little better.

ParadoxLS: Who designed your cover? It’s a really arresting image!

DW: I did, and thank you. I’ve had a second career as a professional photographer and the image used on the cover was shot about two years before I started my book. It had no connection at the time. Then when I was posting the first chapter here on Book Country, I realized I needed a cover.

The idea of using that image to represent the amnesiac walking up in the alley just popped into my head. It was kinda a no-brainer. The model was kind enough to let me use it for my draft cover, and while I’ve been toying with the idea of re-shooting or re-designing it with a model that more closely resembled the character’s physique, this version has received a lot of traction. I may keep it.

My photographic studio partner tells me I need a better font, though. I’ll probably get her to redo it since she’s a genius, but I’m leaning towards at least reusing that image.

LS: I know you are working hard on moving forward with PARADOX, and making big decisions about editing, revising–you are even considering changing the title! Can you talk about some of your thinking at this stage–what issues are you trying to sort out now, and why now, instead of earlier in your writing process?

DW: The story had been idling for about 4 months as I tried to get through the bit of writers’ block I was having. I was worried that my plot was too thick, and needed to be thinned out, but I wasn’t sure what to cull. And I needed an ending. I felt like I had a great story, and I giddy about the last couple of chapters that I had written, essentially the mid book climax, but I was stuck.

I spent the 4 months revising what I had written to correct a number of continuity errors that I had created while changing the story on the fly. Much better in the long run, but it just didn’t feel like making progress.

Luckily, about six months ago, three other writers and I met in a writing workshop and decided to start getting together to read and review each others work. Now that that has happened, and my group has told me that I in fact have a good plot going, I did a little brainstorming and took a couple of their suggestions and now have a solid outline for the final third of the book.

I just posted a brand new draft of PARADOX on Book Country. Now I’ll be diving headlong into the ending. I don’t know exactly how it ends yet, but I’m going to wait and let the characters tell me that as we get closer.

Besides writing the ending, I have considered changing the title based on some feedback. One reason is there are 100 pages of search returns on Amazon of books with “Paradox” in the title. The problem is, “Paradox” speaks more to the core of the book, while the alternate suggestion, “The Naked Girl in the Alley,” (coined by my seven year old) really only speaks to the first chapter.

It’s cute, but doesn’t lend itself to the long haul. So, I will go on without changing it for a while. My only fear is if I do change it down the road, any name recognition gained through the current version/reviews will be lost. I’m still debating.

LS: Do you have a master plan for this book? How can Book Country members help you to realize your goals?

DW: I didn’t set out writing to become a best selling author or anything. This was a fun hobby started on a whim during a business trip. But the amount of fun and fulfilment I’ve received from the process, and the positive feedback on the results, has convinced me to keep going, and make the effort to get it published.

A lot of that is on me, simply making the time to do the work I have to do. I already know how I’m going to break up the segments into manageable revision segments that I can post that will hopefully draw people back. I look forward to the community giving feedback on these segments as I post them, and even noting changes or improvements. Honestly, any feedback is encouragement, even if it is negative or short feedback. Just knowing that someone is reading makes the effort worthwhile for more than my personal reasons.

After I get the ending written, post it to Book Country, and have a couple of people read the whole book, I’ll start shopping it around to see if I can get it published. I’m not currently interested in self-publishing, though I haven’t made a decision on that yet. Once I get to that point, I’ll more thoroughly explore the options.

Connect with David on Book Country.

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