Thursday, October 15, 2015

Talking with author Channing Whitaker

Please welcome author Channing Whitaker to the Reading Nook.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m originally from Iowa, though I‘ve lived in Alaska, Oklahoma, and currently reside in Texas. I’m an alumnus of The University of Iowa, where I studied cinema, literature, and screenwriting, as well as mathematics. While I was in college, I worked as a bouncer at a bar in Iowa City. I continued this as a second job for several years after graduating while I began my career at a local TV station. I’ve worked in TV news production, independent film production, and as a writer commercially for video, web, and print. I’m a father of one, a college sports enthusiast, and a dedicated coffee drinker.

My recently published novel, “Until the Sun Rises – One Night in Drake Mansion,” is the first I’ve penned, though I’ve written several feature screenplays over my career. One such screenplay, a mystery/horror, has recently been filmed and is due to release in 2016, entitled “KILD TV.”

What started your interest in writing?

The earliest I can remember having an idea of what I wanted to be was in second grade. When asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, all my classmates went around the room saying “policeman,” “fireman,” or “doctor” while I said “cartoonist.” A few years later that notion changed to wanting to be a movie director. Now, when I think back, I believe what I really wanted was to come up with stories and share them with everyone, to be a storyteller. I made my first short video at 13, performed in high school plays, and then went to study cinema, literature, and writing in college. Today, I write novels and screenplays. All along there has been a desire to tell stories at my core. I believe I’ve been interested in writing my entire life.

What are you currently working on?

I’m in the last stages of polishing a new screenplay, a sci-fi feature, currently entitled “Wanderer.” Once that is off my desk, hopefully in a week or two, I plan to start a sequel to my recent novel, which takes two of the characters from the first book into a new mystery.

How long did it take you to get your rough draft finished on your latest release?

I actually wrote what would become half of one chapter of my novel years ago. I had a very dark and palpable idea stuck in my head, which I wanted to get on paper, but I wasn’t sure if I’d use it in a short story, a novel, or a screenplay. After writing that, I shelved it for nearly five years while I worked on other projects. I often had little ideas along the way regarding it. When I returned to the excerpt after all that time, I had more story and ideas in mind than I could probably even fit into one novel.  When I sat down to write the first draft of the novel it took about six months to finish. Thus, I’d say it took six months, but one could argue it took five years.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing I’m likely chasing after my two-year-old son or wrangling the menagerie of pets my wife and I keep (one dog, two cats, and one turtle). Aside from that, I follow pro baseball, hunt from time to time, and generally enjoy getting outdoors with my family whenever possible. I also relish submersing myself in a great story, be it book, movie, play, or otherwise.

Do you keep a notebook near your for when new ideas pop into your head?

I’m a bit more modern. I typically have a smart phone on me so I email myself ideas when they pop into my head, after which they’re available from my home computer, laptop, and cell. Then if I want to add to the notes later, I start “reply” threads. When I decide to pull one out and actually start writing on it, I might have a chain of dozens of emails containing my notes. It works for me.  Just make sure you do regular back-ups if you decide to try it.

What do readers have to look forward to in the future from you?

In the short term, the movie I wrote which was produced will be coming out next year. I hope to have a sequel to my first book out sometime in 2016 as well. In the long term, I plan to keep writing in both formats, so more novels and movies, though I intend to try some genres other than mystery such as sci-fi, drama, and maybe even a western.

Do you prefer to extensively plot your stories, or do you write them as they come to you?

I wouldn’t say I extensively plot, but I do like to get a solid framework for where a story is going, particularly the ending.  I did some improv as a student and one of the first techniques I was taught was to come up with the ending first, after that no matter what else happens you always know where you’re going, and everything you do is to get you there.

I think in those terms with writing. When you’re writing a novel, you aren’t going to write out a first draft in one sitting. It takes day after day, starting and stopping in installments. I think it would be easy to get off track if I was just writing without a specific direction. Instead, whenever I write, I always have that ending destination in mind, guiding everything. Of course, as new ideas develop the ending can change, and then I work toward that new ending with the same focus and direction.

What has been the defining moment in your career that made you think “Yes, I am now a writer!”?

After years of writing screenplays without getting any attention for them or anything produced, I wrote my first novel. Within a month of when I secured my publisher for my novel, a production company bought the rights to produce one of my screenplays. With successes in both formats, I believe at that moment I started to consider myself a legitimate writer.

How much of your own personality bleeds into your characters? 

I try to put some of myself in all of my significant characters so I can easily step into their shoes and be honest about what they say and do. I think that gives a depth and realistic feel I couldn’t achieve otherwise. That said, in my recent book I felt more in common with one particular character once I started developing the story than I originally would have thought. Maybe he just became more and more like me, but so much so, I had to scrap the original ending of my story, which sort of betrayed that character, to a new ending, which didn’t. Otherwise, it would have felt like stabbing myself in the back. I think the book is stronger for it. You’ll have to read the story to find which character in particular.

Until the Sun Rises: One Night at Drake Mansion
Oak Tree Press

Eighty years ago, a wealthy Midwest family attended a traveling magic show, after which neither they, nor the dark and mysterious magician, Malvern Kamrar, were ever heard from or seen again.  When two police investigators and three bystanders lost their lives inside the family’s mansion, the investigation was dropped and the property sealed off, until today.  

After nearly a century of rumors, theories, and haunted stories, for a live television event, the Drake family mansion will be opened, allowing five contestants to test their bravery by spending one night in the mysterious house to win their share of a million dollar prize.

Soon after entering the mansion, the aged journal of the family patriarch, Vinton Drake, is discovered, shedding light onto the mystery and just how deeply it’s rooted - all the way back to Vinton’s service as a medic in WWI, when he first met the magician. 

The hand-picked contestants: a commune-with-the-dead psychic, a high-tech ghost hunter, a Hollywood scream queen, a local woman, and a professional skeptic and debunker named Harlan Holt, further fuel excitement as each tries to sort out the mystery for themselves.

A sharp departure from the familiar haunted house tale, through Harlan, this story explores the very nature of belief in the supernatural, with consequences more frightening than any ghost story.

Harlan’s investigation in the present is followed in tandem with Vinton’s own investigation of the magician Malvern in the past. Intensity soars when the contestants discover their lives, along with thousands more, are in genuine mortal peril. Is the mansion haunted? What fate befell Malvern and the Drake family? And will Harlan and the others uncover the truth in time to save themselves?

Excerpt Teaser:

Two TV crewmen, Brian and Jeff, stood on the front stoop of an aged, Dutch Colonial mansion in severe disrepair. Both men placed large lights onto stands directed at the boarded-over front door. Jeff inspected the nearest window for a glimpse inside, but the glass was veiled with filth.
Jeff shivered. “This place gives me the creeps.”
“I’ll be glad when the night’s over.”
Seconds later, a muffled, cracking noise caught Jeff’s attention. He stopped and surveyed the area. The noise faded. As Jeff returned to his work, a large wood beam fell from the overhang three stories above and slammed on the steps striking mere inches from the men. Both fell backward and tumbled to the ground. Neither could stand. They stared at the debris silently. A soft voice from behind broke their shared stupor.
“That’s exactly where the young couple died. Where you’re lying now, that’s where their bodies were found.” The men locked eyes then scrambled to their feet. Turning, they found a woman standing, her face and features hidden in the shadow of the house.
Jeff squinted. “Are you that psychic?”
“That’s right.” She stepped forward. “Madam La Claire.”
“Can you sense anything here?” Brian asked.
La Claire closed her eyes and reached for the stoop. Both men were mesmerized with anticipation. She let her fingertips gently dance on the wood. “Oh that’s terrible,” she uttered under her breath. The men grew further excited.
Jeff couldn’t wait any longer. “What? What is it?”
“It’s—” she began, but before elaborating she opened her eyes. “Maybe I should save it for the cameras. Don’t you think?” She smiled. Jeff and Brian sighed. La Claire turned and spoke over her shoulder as she walked away, “I just wouldn’t stay up there any longer than you have to.”

Author Bio and links

Born in Centerville, Iowa, Channing studied cinema, screenwriting, literature, and mathematics at the University of Iowa. He went on to work in the production of television news, independent films, and commercial videos as well as to write for websites, corporate media, and advertising. His nearly 10-year career in writing has taken Channing from Iowa, to Alaska, Oklahoma, and currently to Texas. In that time, Channing has also written and directed over 50 short films.
The publication of his debut novel “Until the Sun Rises: One Night in Drake Mansion,”comes in tandem with the production of his first feature screenplay “KILD TV,” also in the mystery/thriller genre, already filmed, and slated for a 2016 release. - author’s homepage

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