Traffic was really conjested with several cars slowing to a crawl as the snow fell on the roadway. I felt sweat beading up on my forehead. Fretting about being tardy, I thought to myself, "How rude would that be?" It was a great honor just to have the coffee invite accepted by such a great author and award winning screenwriter. Perhaps the cafe had a roaring fire inside. I had requested my favorite table which was located close to the warm amber glow when it was lit. Mr. Whitehill would surely scold me if I was late.
Not really. I really just had coffee by myself.
However, Robert Blake Whitehill, author of several great books including the Blackshaw series, graciously agreed to answer my questions which I think are quite exciting to share. I just finished Geronimo Hotshot. It's a great read and my favorite of the series thus far.
Without further ado-here is what every Blackshaw fan wants to know. Enjoy!
What inspired you for the story line in Geronimo Hotshot?
Devoted “Blackshaw Series” readers are always my most important inspiration. They demand a new Blackshaw mission every year now, and I would hate to disappoint them. In the Geronimo Hotshot mission, I wanted to ramp up the level of conflict far above anything Blackshaw’s handled before, creating a central nexus where several very different factions are smashing together to create an explosive critical mass. Think of Tolkien’s chapters on “The Battle of the Five Armies” in The Hobbit. I wanted that feel of an embattled landscape and disparate cultures are ripped apart, but in our dimension, in our country, and not in Middle Earth.
Any coincidence your books are inclusive of current events and hot topics in law enforcement?
There is no coincidence that Blackshaw tilts at windmills built from the timbers of current events. Blackshaw is not some hyper-violent berserker, killing willy-nilly. He responds and reacts to things that are happening directly in front of him. Whether he is protecting his home from bloodthirsty, corrupt rogue operatives, like in Deadrise, or sabotaging a coup in South America, as in Nitro Express, or settling the hash of sadistic human traffickers running an on-line snuff site, like in Tap Rack Bang, or hunting down murderous White Supremacists, as in Geronimo Hotshot, there is always an aspect of today’s most poignant, grievous ills underpinning the story. These true-to-life tragedies might not always be found on the front page, above the fold, but they do haunt the inner pages of our times. Blackshaw stories are built around bad people causing big problems. Maybe as an author, I start out each mission acting as a clipping service for today’s troubles.
like how you include the real thought processes in police officers struggling with good and evil-i.e. the darkness issues. Tell me more about that and how you bring it into Blackshaw's character.
Thank you so much Momma Fargo! Snipers are keen observers. Mythic accuracy at shooting gets all the attention, but SEALs are often deployed for reconnaissance to gather intelligence before they ever put the crosshairs on a target. They survey the area, and understand the battle space as much as possible, using a detective’s intellect to interpret input from all their five senses. So, let’s say I know a chapter conclusion that Blackshaw needs to reach for the plot to move forward. I begin with that, and then work backwards, thinking about all the clues that I can put into Blackshaw’s sphere for him to see that will lead him where I need him to arrive next. He has a high emotional IQ to complement his strategic awareness and tactical skills. Like the real life Sergeant York, and the late hero American Sniper, Chris Kyle, Blackshaw was raised as a rural hunter. A character with inspirational smarts and skills like this is unstoppable. He can read signs, spoor, clues, and human behavior to get to the next conclusion, just like a detective.
When you have to injure or kill off a character, what goes on in your mind while you are writing those story lines? Do you get emotionally attached to your characters? What decides their fate? (I know you do, but as the story develops...what's going on in the writer's mind?) Or do you think more so how the reader is going to be affected and how it develops plot twists?
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, at one point, killed off both Sherlock Holmes and his arch enemy, Professor Moriarty. He tossed them off a cliff into a massive waterfall! His audience was so pissed-off that after suffering a few years of reader invective, Conan Doyle resurrected his most famous character to unravel more cases. With that in mind, let me say that I injure and kill characters with great deliberation. One time, there was a character who was well and truly killed in an early draft of a story (I won’t say who, or when so please don’t ask.) When I showed the manuscript to trusted readers, I caught an incredible volume of flack about it. How could I do such a thing to such a beloved character? The anger, even the angry tears, they were quite persuasive, I’ll put it that way. It used to be that every character’s boo-boo, and every fatality used to serve my initial concept of a given story. Now, from the very first draft, I know to size up every character’s emotional value, and the impact of that character’s termination on a very real, profoundly invested readership. I respect my readers. I serve them, and their rightful wish for emotional satisfaction, but I don’t baby anyone.
The thing is, I’m not Blackshaw’s pal, even though he is the focus of the series. I am really best buddies with every last one of his enemies. I conspire with them to make Blackshaw’s life a living hell. The more awful, grotesque, sadistic, calculating, and irrational Blackshaw’s opponents, the higher Blackshaw has to rise to defeat them. We might like a hero’s ways, but deep down, we revere him because of the unmitigated monstrosity of the enemies he destroys. We want that guy on our side. We want to be him.
What is next for Blackshaw?
In Blackshaw’s next mission, entitled Dog and Bitch, he is forced to confront an earth-shattering relic from his time as a SEAL. The honor of his former team is at stake. Shadowy, brutal government forces have coopted a crucial mission to the point that, if the devastating secret were revealed to the public, it could phase-shift world politics into a wholesale holocaust. The problem is that these days, Blackshaw hates secrets…
What do you want your readers and Blackshaw fans to gain the most from your series?
The most important thing I want Blackshaw fans to take away from each book is that the 56 thousand irretrievable heartbeats a reader invests in devouring the work has been one hell of a terrific ride, and could not have been better spent in any other way. I hope the takeaway from the Blackshaw Series as a whole is that Blackshaw is a good, relatable, ordinary man battling his way through extraordinary times while still managing to march to his own drumbeat. If one reader can be inspired by Blackshaw’s actions to do the unusual thing, especially if it’s the right thing, then crafting the characters and events of all these adventures will not have been in vain.
When and where do you write? Do you have to have a special location? Inspiration? (for example)
I am very fortunate in that I can write anywhere, most anytime. That said, these days, what with writing the Blackshaw movie scripts, I cannot afford even the minimal travel time to a local café, or to a rented office to do my writing, no matter how refreshing a change of venue might be. It cuts into the time I need to spend making every line of the story sing or sock you in the gut. Nowadays, I wake up, maybe I exercise, but then I throw myself in front of the computer at home and dive into the manuscript. Working at home keeps it real. I am right there in the house with the mortgage my writing helps pay off. I can see my son, for whose education I have to save. There is no faking the urgency of sustaining one’s family. So, it isn’t a flowery, uplifting kind of inspiration with Celtic music playing softly in the background. As a writer, I either deal with a gun to the head, or face the wolf at the door.
Do your characters ever take on different directions than your original creative ideas as you progress through a book as you write?
My characters are so ornery! I plot, I plan, I think I know exactly where a day’s writing will lead, and then these imaginary beings I’ve created veer off in some unforeseen direction, or say the most outrageous things! It happens more than once every day. These characters are ungovernable, and unpredictable. It keeps things fresh for me as their employee, that’s for certain.
What is the most annoying thing about the writing process? Most satisfactory?
The most satisfactory moment of the writing process is when something so exciting, so explosive hits the page, that I have to get up and tell my wife. Then she asks what the heck I’m talking about, specifically. This brings me to the most annoying part of the writing process. I can’t tell her what I just wrote. We have reluctantly agreed that I will save it all for the moment I can hand her the finished draft. This really bugs us both, this temporary limbo of secrecy, but we both agree it’s worth the wait.
Anything you would like to add?
I want to thank you, Momma Fargo, for taking the time to craft delightful, provocative questions that have been so much fun for me to answer. I also want to thank the Blackshaw fans, because they always push me to do better. The feature film adaptations are in the works for them. As a more immediate thank-you, e-book readers who are new to the series can take the plunge with the Ben Blackshaw Box Set: The Alpha Missions, which includes the first three books for the price of one! It’s not only a great value, but it gets a reader primed and ready for the fourth book, Geronimo Hotshot, which is also available now. This is a good place to say I truly welcome emails from readers anytime.
Thank you so much, Mr. Whitehill!
You can check out Robert Blake Whitehill's collection on his website above, amazon.com, or other book sites! I encourage you to pick up his Blackshaw book set at that price! What a great deal!