Interview with JL Whitaker

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in midwest America in the 1950s and 60s on a small farm near a very small town near a larger college town. These places and their people influenced my writing greatly and are the settings and models for some of my books, although as they say, the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Seriously, though, all my my characters are imaginary, but I'm sure aspects of real people turn up now and again. I sometimes imagine real places and adjust them for the story's purposes.

I also think the subject matter that is dealt with in the books are deep and subconscious expressions of patterns and cultures I've seen over the years, not just in my original home area, but also in other cities I've lived in, both in America and Australia. Some of my stories are set in Australia, with Australian voices, while others are purely American. Since I spent the first half of my life in the US, I'm sure my Australian characters have a bit of 'Yank' in them, but it's purely subconscious because of who I am. I have a multi-cultural view now which does influence my writing in possibly some unusual ways. Only the readers can tell, though. I'm just writing what I write.
What are you working on next?
This is always a challenge because I like writing so many different kinds of stories and have a few different ones nearly ready to publish. I will either do a last run-through of Sins of the Children (finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards a few years ago), which is a coming of age story of unrequited love, or Lost Anchors, which is about a missing husband, or Starving for Life, a story about an anorexic teenager who is running away from a robbery gone bad.
Who are your favorite authors?
I'm a big fan of Patricia Cornwell and Sue Grafton, having nearly everything they've written on my bookshelf. I also love Stephen King, John Grisham, Jeffrey Deaver, and classic writers like Charles Dickens and Tolstoy. I'm currently reading War and Peace and loving it.
When did you first start writing?
In about 2003, I wanted to write non-fiction, a book about using systems analysis for solving complicated life problems, not just in technology. So I started to figure out how to do this, and stumbled into a course that was supposed to be about getting published. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, the teacher put in the class didn't have a clue about publishing, so by agreement of the other students, it turned into a creative writing class. I was disappointed, but decided I'd stick it out and possibly learn something else. Which I did. I shifted from the stricture of writing facts and instructions, something I already pretty much knew how to do, and opened up to the unlimited world of fiction. Wow!

It also wasn't just me, but a collaborative writing project that kept me going. Several of us in the class decided we'd see it through to a complete manuscript. I still have it and one day it may see the light of day after a heavy haircut. It's a great story, but needs a lot of work. That experiment showed me the process and going from an idea through to 'the end'. I fell in love and decided I'd continue. So ten years later, a few more manuscripts along the way, working on improving my writing, getting critiques and encouragement, and the opening up of indie publishing, here we are.
What is your writing process?
So far I've been what is called a 'pantser'. I love that word. It sounds a little naughty. But what it means is writing by the seat of your pants, without an outline or a plan. As I say in the biography info in my profile, I like to set characters loose and see where they take me. For example, with On A Life's Edge, I just started with Shawna putting away her child's clothing in a chest. I had no idea in advance what was going to happen next, that there was a next door neighbor named Max or that her ex worked in a garage, or anything else. When each one turned up, they told me about themselves as the next thing happened and the next and the next.

Once I get near the end of all the events and an ending is near, I have to make sure the pieces make sense. Sometimes (usually) there is some tweaking required, and of course editing words before it's ready to share, but because the characters have told their story, it mostly holds together and I have either a good cry or a feeling of elation of typing 'the end'.
How do you approach cover design?
Since On A Life's Edge is my first published book, I wasn't sure how I would do this. One of the ebook publishing sites provided templates, so I used them. Must have been OK because so far all my readers like it. On Smashwords, I took a different tack, using my own photography. I know I'm not a professional graphic artist, but I understand basics. I put together a few samples and road tested them with friends.

I try to make the cover relevant to the story being told, at least at a symbolic level. For example, for On A Life's Edge, the crystals are made up of lots of edges, which represent the challenges all the characters are facing. Also, as the story progresses, their lives crystallize as decisions are made. And purple, to me, is a healing color. So the symbols fit.
What do you read for pleasure?
I always read for pleasure, be it novels or the daily newspaper. If it's not enjoyable at some level, I stop. Life is too short to spend it reading dross or pieces that don't teach me something about the world, even though I may not agree with it fully.

My daily reading pattern is: email, local Australian newspaper, then usually the Huffington Post for US news, then various things throughout the day, and finally, before I go to sleep, my latest ebook, which happens to be War and Peace at the moment - my winter reading project (it's winter in Australia as I'm answering this interview). But the ebook could be anything from classics to mysteries to contemporary fiction of all sorts, from The Book Thief (one of my favourites) to Matthew Reilly or Dan Brown.

The reason I spend time reading factual material is to get ideas for my stories. I keep a file of those ideas. The reason I read fiction is to enjoy the story and learn from other successful writers.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I look at lots of online stores, my local library ebook listing, the book section of online book news like Huffington post, as well as supporting other writers in my writers communities. I also take advantage of public domain classics. I think as a writer I can learn by reading all sorts of styles, even those of the past, to 'hear' the range of rhythms, such as Dickens' lyrical style and Tolstoy's depth of detail. Ebooks aren't just modern writers.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I resisted an ereader for a very long time. Like many people, I do like the feel of a printed book. I do still buy them, particularly when there is a minor price difference between a physical book and an ebook. But to get back to the question. When I decided to give an ereader a try, I picked a multi-function low cost tablet instead of a 'single' purpose device. Mine happens to be a 8" Bauhn from Aldi that does what I need it to do. I picked the size so I had a decent screen, but still small enough in weight and dimensions to fit in my handbag.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
I don't know yet since I'm just getting started with putting my work out for public access. I've started with my family and friends, with an email sent directly to them. I've updated my LiveJournal and LinkedIn pages, which are different networks of contacts. I am also adding a range of outlets, hence my presence on Smashwords. Plus I'm thinking about what my next book will be so that I can build a reader community. I will also be shifting my personal webpage, that I've had for years to support my consulting business, to focus on my writing. The search engines pick that up automatically.

Will it be effective? Come back in a few months and I'll be better placed to answer the question.
Describe your desk
That's funny. My lap is my desk now. I have a virtual desk on my laptop which is covered with shortcuts to stuff as I find it or need to keep it for easy access. About twice a year I go through what's there and organise the material into folders or ditch it. OK, I confess, I'm an information hoarder. There is still an office in another part of the house for my desktop and papers, but I think the cobwebs are overtaking.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I have a friend who is coming to the end of a four year battle against cancer. She inspires me greatly to keep trying to do more and more each day. We never know when 'the end' will be our own.
Published 2014-06-23.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

On A Life's Edge
Price: $5.95 USD. Words: 84,130. Language: English. Published: June 23, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Women's fiction » General, Fiction » Inspirational
Shawna Charity is a young single mother, trying to escape an abusive partner to establish a future for herself and her three kids. With the help of a gracious English gentleman next door, Max Candle, Shawna fights her stalking ex, the mayor's son, a drug kingpin, and a back-stabbing childhood friend who has her own dark agenda.