Monday, February 1, 2016

For the Warriors

When my friend and fellow mystery writer Tammy Kaehler offered to name one of her secondary characters after a female cancer warrior, I immediately wrote and nominated my high school classmate Tara Howell Raffield.

At the time, Tara was in the final stages of her battle against ovarian cancer. And oh, what a battle it was. Anybody who was acquainted with Tara will tell you this -- the woman was fierce, and tough, and strong, and she gave this fight her everything. But the most amazing part was that she never lost her compassion, her sense of humor, and her righteous love of friend and family and God. 

She shared her journey with all of us, her friends and classmates and community. And even though we lost her, she won. She triumphed. And this is what we remember of her, that no matter the pain that is left at her absence, we still have the joy that comes from having known her. What a privilege.

Tammy chose to name her character Tara Raffield. And so now a sassy, strong spitfire of a woman walks the pages of the book, Red Flags. She is fictional, yes, but she wears the name Tara well, and I can't help but think our Tara would be delighted.

Red Flags comes out April 12th. I plan on having some copies available at my Saturday, April 23rd book signing in Cochran. The cost is $15.95, and all profits from this one-day sale of Red Flags (and my own Reckoning and Ruin) will go to the American Cancer Society in the name of our BCHS Class of '85 members who left us too soon due to this horrible disease, including our beloved Allen Brantley.

If you'd like me to reserve an autographed copy for you, please write to me at tina @ tinawhittle dot com, and I'll have it ready for pick-up between 10 and 12 noon at Flowers by Jimmy in Downtown Cochran. I'd you'd like to order your own, it will be available on Amazon after April 12th, and I can have an autographed bookplate mailed to you.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

It's Here! The RECKONING AND RUIN Advance Reader Copy Giveaway!

It's not hitting the shelves until April 2016, but I've got one to give away this month! And it's only for newsletter subscribers.

If you already are a member of my mailing list, THANK YOU! And if you're not, here's how you can be. Visit HERE before midnight on Monday, January 11th, and sign up.

And thank you for being a reader!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Research – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A Guest Post by S.J. Francis

Research. What is a writer without research? Without research for accuracy, a writer’s words are just words. And today, research is easier done than ever. There is no longer a need to go to a library. Research can be done from the comfort of one’s home, or even in the car. Research is a wonderful thing. But as with everything else, there is always a downside.

I don’t know about you, but for me, research can be a double edged sword. Research is a valuable asset, as long as you use it in the right amount. On the other hand, the bad thing about research is that too much of it can cause a significant delay to the writer’s goal, which is to just write. There is such a thing as doing too much research. Some writers I know spend a great deal of time doing research before they will even put their story down, and then when it is time to write the story, they’re worn out from doing research.

All this leads us to the ugly fact that too much research can bog down a story. I’ve seen some writers overwhelmed with so much research they’ve done that they’re not sure what to use, or what not to use. I’ve learned that when it comes to research, both doing and then using, as with anything else, balance is the key. For me, I write my story first. I get the gist of it written down and worry about adding specifics later. How much details should a writer place in their story? How much detail in a story is enough? That is really up to you the writer. How much research do I put into my stories? I add just enough to touch basis. Enough to let the reader know where they are. Enough to set the time and place. Fiction isn’t fact, but for me it’s the next best thing. I’m a stickler for research. One can say, I’m even obsessed with it. As a reader, nothing turns me off more than when I read something, and quickly realize the writer didn’t do any research because it shows. When I read, I like to learn something new. I feel the same way about writing. For me it is important that when a reader reads something I wrote, they can look at it and find that I did my research.

Fortunately, when it came to writing my debut novel, Shattered Lies, I didn’t have to do much research online or in books. I lived where I set the story. Research was live in one way or another all around me. Kate Thayer and her family grew up in Mississippi, and that is where my story is set.

*    *    *    *    *

S. J. Francis is a freelance writer with over three hundred publication credits, a University Lecturer with doctorates in English, Mass Communications and Law, and most recently, a novelist. Francis writes for many publications, as well as regularly contributing to the local newspaper. Francis’ background also encompasses working as a television producer. A frequent traveler, Francis has resided in thirteen states and three countries. A confirmed bibliophile, when not writing Francis can be found reading a good book, or spending time in the outdoors. Francis currently lives in Mississippi, where a major part of Shattered Lies takes place—but grew up in New York City, where the latter portion occurs—and has a great respect and fondness for both places, and considers the world a notebook full of endless ideas. Francis’ first novel, Shattered Lies is a women’s fiction/mainstream/family saga novel. The family dynamic is a never ending source of ideas and Shattered Lies is no exception. As in all the stories Francis writes, in the end, it’s all about family. Future projects include a sequel to Shattered Lies and a novel about the dynamic relationships in Hollywood. Shattered Lies will be released by Black Opal Books in 2015.

Purchase Shattered Lies:
Amazon Kindle
Amazon Paperback
Barnes and Nobel Nook
Smashwords (epub, mobi, Kindle)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Deep Waters, Running Deep

In Blood, Ash and Bone, the third novel in my Tai Randolph/Trey Seaver series, I created a fictitious law enforcement agency, a task force collaboration between the Atlanta Police Department and the FBI. By the time the book was released, my pretend organization was real (it was called AMMO for Atlanta Metro Major Offenders Task Force).

In Deeper Than the Grave, the fourth book in the series, I decided to paralyze Atlanta in a freak snowstorm that stranded the entire city. I decided this one month before Snowjam 2014 hit. I was literally writing the scene when I saw its true-life version playing out on my television.

And so now I’ve just finished writing the fifth book, Reckoning and Ruin. This one takes place in Savannah, Georgia, during the springtime. Because my protagonist Tai Randolph is a woman who likes to be on the water, I sent her off on a fishing excursion to press a reluctant boat captain for information. I made her take Trey, her reluctant partner in crime solving, along.

Guess what she and Trey run across? Here’s a clue.
You know what this is.

That’s right, cue the soundtrack and get a bigger boat, I’ve cast a great white shark in my next book. Her name is Mary Lee, and true to how I’d written her, she showed up in the coastal waters off Savannah on April 9, almost exactly when she made her cameo in Reckoning and Ruin.

I tell you, the lines between fact and fiction are quite blurry at times.

No need to stay out of the water, though. Chances are slim that you and Mary Lee will get a chance to meet face to fin. People still worry, however. Thanks to The-Movie-The-Will-Not-Be-Named, sharks of any variety -- but especially great white sharks – get a bad rap. But they’re not the bloodthirsty killing machines they’re made out to be.

I should know, I’ve swam with them, dozens of them at the time, and I still have every limb on my body. But don’t take my word for it; check out the statistics – worldwide, annual shark attack fatalities average in the single digits or low teens. Meanwhile humans kill 11,417 sharks per hour. Per hour. Now who’s looking bloodthirsty?

Other interesting facts about these fascinating animals:

* Great white sharks can detect one drop of blood in 25 gallons of water, and they can sense blood up to 3 miles away.

* Sharks have a tongue made of cartilage called a basihyal; they use it to sample prey, to see if it is a good idea to eat it or not.

* In contrast to most fish, which tend to be cold-blooded, the great white shark is warm-blooded, so it can regulate its own body temperature, thus allowing it to adapt to different water temperatures (in Mary Lee’s case, from Tybee Beach to the Jersey Shore).

* You’re more likely to die from lightning strike, a falling coconut, a vending machine toppling onto you, or even tumbling out of bed. Seriously.

Mary Lee is a most eloquent spokesfish for her species – she’s been profiled everywhere from National Geographic to Fox News and has her own Twitter account: @MaryLeeShark. She’s 16 feet long and 3,456 pounds, and enjoys roaming the Eastern Seaboard. If you want to find out if Mary Lee is in your neighborhood, you can track her on OCEARCH’s Shark Tracker page, along with hundreds of other sharks that have been tagged and released.

One of the themes I like to explore in my series is the tension between wild and tame, civilization and nature, and having Mary Lee make a cameo alongside Tai and Trey is an excellent way to think about what scares us, what should scare us, and why it often doesn’t. People claim that sharks are infesting our waters, when the reality is, we’re infesting theirs. And it’s time we stopped being the villain and started respecting and protecting one of the ocean’s most magnificent predators.

Here’s to Mary Lee and all her kinfolk. Long may they range.

(This post originally appeared in the Let's Talk feature of Booklover's Bench)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Cover Reveal for RECKONING AND RUIN! Coming in April 2016!

Tai Randolph has several anniversaries under her belt: a year in Atlanta, a year running her gun shop, and a year together with Trey, her sexy if somewhat challenging ex-SWAT lover. She's also helped put a year's worth of criminals behind bars, including her cousin Jasper, the leader of a white militia splinter group too violent for even the Klan.

Before she can pop the champagne, however, Jasper's back, and he's got a fancy new lawyer and a diabolical scheme sure to ruin both her and Trey. Soon she’s deep in familiar troubles – a missing ex-boyfriend, a creepily literate stalker, a passel of stolen money – and back in Savannah, the hometown she’d hoped to have left forever in her rear-view mirror.

Old memories, older ghosts, and a killer on the prowl – the Georgia Lowcounty is a dangerous place once the sun goes down. And Tai's going to need every wit she has to see the morning light.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kennesaw Unconquered -- Where The Past Isn't Even Past

It’s always an odd feeling, when fiction and real life meet. It’s a crossroads moment – to the left, the world I created, with characters as I know as intimately as my own head. To the right, the world flowing under its own steam, with people of flesh and bone, events I cannot foresee or control. And then behind me history, as veiled as Scheherazade, and possessing as many tales.

I write a series featuring a woman who owns a Confederate-themed gun shop. Tai deals with Civil War re-enactors of both blue and gray, so she deals with the history of that period in American history, both the people who lived it then, and the people who re-live it now.

It was that history that brought me to the top of Kennesaw Mountain last weekend, during the swelter of a summer heat wave. My last visit had been six months previous, during one of the South’s more brutal cold snaps. It’s hard to remember such cold in this season of sweat and humidity, but once upon a time there was winter, and we had it here in Georgia. Would that I could have bottled some and saved it for now. I could make a fortune selling it on the parched sidewalks.

Kennesaw Mountain is a part of Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield National Park. During the summer, it’s a crowded place, full of picnickers and shady glens, leafy spots of shadow where somebody could get up to something nefarious. That day in January, I had the summit pretty much to myself, which made it an odd place to ponder its usefulness as a fictional murder site. My solitude felt too real, too precarious. They say in space no one can hear you scream. I suspect the same is true at the top of an empty mountain.

The ranger told me that during the winter, with the trees bare, I could see the ruts of the old road, that my view would be very much exactly like that the Confederates saw 150 years ago, as they waited for General Sherman to launch his next assault against their fortifications. The boys in gray suffered a rainy winter and an equally wet spring. Diaries from the time mention the mud and the bugs and the mud and the misery and the mud.

At the top, I saw a different Atlanta in the distance than Sherman did, however. That great Southern city had been in the distance then too, the gem in the Confederate crown, but in the twenty-first century, Atlanta was a shimmery mirage of steel and smoked glass, crisscrossed by Peachtree Road and Peachtree Lane and Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. Over seventy different streets with Peachtree in the title.

Sherman would eventually capture Atlanta, but not by capturing Kennesaw Mountain.  He never would get to the top of this particular summit. And it felt unconquered, it really did. Like the ghosts were watching me all the way down the mountain, making sure my trespass was a short one.

(Originally published in Let's Talk at Book Lover's Bench)