Life Everlasting, The Santee Series #2Life Everlasting, The Santee Series #2
Robert Whitlow
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Book Two in The Santee Series this book picks up with Baxter Richardson's recovery after a near-fatal fall from a cliff. Married to Rena, a suspicious and highly unstable woman, Baxter is faced with a choice of staggering ramifications. While Rena Richardson is desperately trying to conceal her crime, her attorney, Alexia Lindale, struggles to put the pieces of the case--as well as her own life--back together. As the mysterious circumstances surrounding Baxter's brush with death are revealed, the focus shifts from Life Support to the question of Life Everlasting.
     

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Interview with Robert Whitlow

How did you become a writer?

I had no ambition to be a writer. I joke that the only fiction I wrote before I starting my first novel were some of the things I filed in court. It wasnít something I really dreamed or thought about doing. I got the idea for the first novel in the fall of 1996. I told my wife about it, she said, ďYou ought to write that.Ē Thatís how I started. Had she said, ďthatís interesting,Ē I wouldnít be talking to you today. I owe the encouragement for this happening to her. And her name is Kathy, with a K.

Is that your answer for the person who influenced you the most with your writing?

Yes, I would say my wife, Kathy.

When did your writing start taking off?

In 1996, I considered doing something besides being a full-time attorney. I started The List, my first novel and worked on it for probably about 8 or 9 months and wrote 14-15 chapters. Then I spilled a drink on my laptop and fried it. I had printed out what Iíd written except for a few pages, but I didnít have a laptop anymore. I had 4 teenage children at home and it was impossible to get on our family computer, so I didnít do anything for about a year but just couldnít get away from the idea and what I had begun. About a year later in 1998, I started back and read through what I had written. It was really bad, except for one chapter. That chapter had some pop. That chapter was the encouragement I needed to get back into it and complete it. It was submitted to the publisher, accepted, and I signed a deal with them and I've stayed with them. I've never had a rejection letter from a publisher. Isnít that a miracle?

What type of law do you practice?

I'm an administrative trial lawyer, primarily working in the disability area. I've been practicing law for 25 years. I'm also a mediator, assisting people in alternate dispute resolution and Christian conciliator who helps Christians involved in disputes to resolve their conflict outside the court system.

Where is your law practice?

It's located in Charlotte, N. Carolina.

What challenges do you face being an author?

I try to keep the writing fun. I want to produce something with skill, that has the right element of realism to bring the reader into the world created. I donít think about the challenges other than just finding the time to sit at the computer. I work about 35 hours a week at the Law firm, so I write in the evenings after work.

How long did Life Everlasting take you to complete?

Itís a sequel so I had the cast of characters somewhat in place. It took 11 months to write the first draft.

Is this the last book in the series?

Yes, there are just two. As I wrote Life Support, and toward the end, I knew I couldnít wrap it up and do the story justice. I liked the characters and thought they were interesting enough to sustain a readerís interest through another book.

It was a constantly twisting love story between Alex and Ted. What made you decide who she would end up with?

I let my wife pick.

Have you experienced a real Rena?

Iíve represented a lot of unusual people but she's not based on any actual person that I've ever known.

Do any of the characters represent real people?

Yes, Ted. In the acknowledgements I mention a pianist named John Elliot. Ted looks like John. John assisted me on the technical aspects related to the classical piano music. Some of the stories that Ted tells are based upon incidents in Johnís life.

Have you experienced the music ministry?

Yes, we have a friend in N. Georgia that plays the harp. There are many people that are doing healing music ministry at various levels.

It makes sense to reach people in comas through music.

I was a little bit concerned because of Tedís technical ability, he was training for international competition, but then the injury to his hand made him more like us. He did his greatest good out of his own weakness. I want people to say, ďI'm limited too, yet God can use me.Ē Thatís what I want to show. Hopefully, somebody will be encouraged.

Do you have a background in music?

Yes, music was the center of my life growing up. I played the piano and was also a woodwind player. I went to college thinking I might be a band director, then decided in college that that part of my life was over and moved onto other interests.

What type of woodwind did you play?

I played clarinet and saxophone. We had a jazz band in high school. The first year of college I was in the band and the orchestra.

What made you decide to become a lawyer?

I had an uncle who was an attorney. Toward the end of college, I decided to apply to Law School and found I was really suited for legal studies. I did well in law school and enjoy the practice of law, most of the time. Especially,when I win.

You mentioned a restaurant that only the locals knew aboutÖ

Yes. Thatís based on a restaurant here in Charlotte.

And what is that restaurantís name?

Its called "Mertís Heart and Soul." They have the best corn bread and itís right downtown.

How much research did Life Everlasting take?

Not a lot. I did a bit of medical research [regarding comas]. Iíve represented many people with serious health issues for years so Iíve read tons of medical records. I actually read more medical records than I do legal information. I enjoy that! In the first novel, Life Support, there's a lot of interplay regarding control Baxterís health care. Rena has a power of attorney, and her father in-law has another one, so there is a lot of conflict going on with that. I did probably about an hour's worth of research to make sure I got the language correct.

How did you think up your characters?

One of the interesting challenges is creating female characters. I told one of buddies, ďYou just have to get in touch with your feminine side.Ē But, my wife has really helped me. Women live in color, and guys live in black and white. The female view of life is so rich, varied and complex. I enjoy female characters. I've done three books with male lawyers as a primary character and decided to do one with a woman attorney. One thing about women attorneys, because of the nature of the profession, they have to be like men in the professional sense, being combatants. I wanted just to do it and see what happened. I enjoyed Alex, I loved where she lived and her risk taking, going out and swimming by herself in the ocean with her dog. By the way, thereís always a dog in every book.

Do you have a labrador retriever, too?

No, we have bichons. I have a bichon in The Sacrifice. This muscular, weight-lifting kind of guy owns a little, white bichon.

Do you have a favorite character?

I enjoy the minor characters, like Mrs. Hobart who was so confused but yet so wise. I like the secretary, Gwen. You donít have to develop multiple facets of the minor characters, I can bring out a couple of things and emphasize them. That makes them fun for me because I can let them really be quirky.

One of the things I'm after, more wit and humor in Christian books, and I think itís a good thing if it's not done in a mean-spirited, cutting way. I think humor has a good place. In all of my books I've tried to have some dry humor. It's usually based on misunderstandings. If everybody totally understands everything everybody is always saying, thatís a pretty dull read. One of the rules of dialog is that there needs to be elements of misunderstanding or wrong perception or questioning. Thatís the way it is in life.

How did you choose the setting?

You write what you know. I've lived in Georgia, N. Carolina and S. Carolina. Everybodyís interested in the coast of South Carolina. Itís an area that has intrinsic attraction.

How personal are your novels?

I become emotionally involved in the story.

Are you one of the characters?

Iím in all of the good characters. I'm in none of the bad characters. I will start a conversation and then just be a part of it.

So you're not Jeffery?

Not really, but I know Jeffery. In Life Support I'm more like Alexis in some ways, more like her than Sean, the young lawyer in Charleston.

Do you have any projects on the horizon?

I'm working on another book now. I'm calling it Jimmy, after the main character. He's a mentally limited young teenager who lives in a small Georgia town. His father is an attorney. In the opening scene, Jimmy is that he's being called as a witness in a criminal case in which his father represents the defendant.

When is Jimmy coming out?

I'm about a third of the way. I hope to have the first draft finished by January, 2005. Itíd be nice if it comes out a year from this fall.

What were your favorite books as a child?

I went through stages. I really liked Steinbeck, and then I went through a Hemmingway stage. I read Tolkien. I read Somerset Maugham. When I was 18, I read ďLook Homeward AngelĒ by Thomas Wolfe and thought it was the greatest book Iíd ever read.

I have an older sister, who is now a professional librarian. She fed me books. I was just a boy that played out in the yard, but every so often I would get bored and Annette would give me a book. By the time I went to college I'd read a lot of the selections on the reading lists. I do appreciate her influence. You can't be a good writer if youíve not been an avid reader.

She should go in the list of people who influenced youÖ

Yes, After Kathy. I spoke a couple years ago at a workshop at the American Library Association National Convention. Annette was there and I was able to publicly acknowledge her influence. Other great influences include Hemmingway and the television, which has so affected our ear for dialogue. Things are short, snappy; back and forth; you just donít see as many writers writing long paragraphs of dialogue. Chapters are shorter, so you're seeing that influence in current literature.

What message would you like your readers to take away from Life Everlasting?

God is real and wants to be involved across the whole scope of life. I believe He is much more interactive than we're willing sometimes to allow Him to be. I want my readersí see that happen in the lives of the characters and say,Ē wow."

What is your Mission as a Christian writer??

I want to produce novels with skill and integrity that have a story that brings the reader into the world of the characters. And then communicates the life of the characters in a way that entertains and encourages those who read them.

What is your favorite verse?

The one thatís on my wall that my mother had made for me when I first went to law practice is Isaiah 30:15 and it ďIn repentance and rest is your salvation and in quietness and trust is your strength.Ē That would be one of my favorites. It varies a little bit. Another favorite is Romans 8:14. And thatís ďThose who are lead by the spirit are the sons of God.Ē