Robert Whitlow is the bestselling author of legal thrillers set in the South and winner of the prestigious Christy Award for Contemporary Fiction. A Furman University graduate, Whitlow received his J.D. with honors from the University of Georgia School of Law where he served on the staff of the Georgia Law Review. A practicing attorney, Whitlow and his wife, Kathy, have four children. They make their home in North Carolina.
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November 10, 2006
Legal thrillers are a wonderful showcase for examining good and evil, and few writers in the faith fiction market do them as well as Christy Award-winning author (and attorney) Robert Whitlow in his many absorbing novels set in the south. In fact, THE LIST has been made into a film, which will hit theaters in 2007. Here, Whitlow chats with Cindy Crosby about his latest book, MOUNTAIN TOP, his beliefs about dreams and visions, and that interesting southern delicacy, livermush.
FaithfulReader.com: What was your inspiration for MOUNTAIN TOP?
Robert Whitlow: I was intrigued by the idea of a lawyer turned minister character encountering a simple man in the community with an extraordinary spiritual gift.
FR: One of the things I've enjoyed about your books is how multi-faceted your characters are. The good characters are flawed, and the bad ones have some redemptive qualities. What can you tell our readers about this?
RW: It is my goal for characters to reflect real life. We often misjudge individuals because we meet them when they are having a bad day, or when they are having an unusually good day, and we think this is the way they are all the time.
FR: There's a strong supernatural side to MOUNTAIN TOP that you handled very well. What is your own view of dreams and visions?
RW: I believe dreams and visions continue to play a valid role in Christian experience today, just as they did in Bible times.
FR: Most of us would consider Sam Miller, the dreamer, someone who was "one French fry short of a Happy Meal" if we met him. Yet, you made him seem credible and like someone we'd want to know. What can you tell readers about this?
RW: People like Sam Miller march to the beat of a different drummer; however, they should be evaluated based on the effect of their ministry, not whether it conforms to our preconceived notions.
FR: I haven't seen "livermush" in a novel since Jan Karon's Mitford series. Can you tell our readers what it is and how it tastes? Do you like it?
RW: Livermush is a ground, fried liver. The seasoning added provides the primary flavor. If seasoned properly and doused in ketchup, I like it.
FR: How much of yourself is reflected in Mike Andrews, the lawyer-turned-pastor? Or do you feel he is very different from you?
RW: I share Mike Andrews's love of the outdoors and interest in helping people. I never gave serious consideration to leaving the practice of law to become a pastor.
FR: Church politics play an important role in MOUNTAIN TOP. You write as if you've had firsthand experience! Tell us more.
RW:I have served on administrative boards and committees in several churches over the past 30 years and paid attention to what happened. I'm not mad at the Church, but it is made up of imperfect people.
FR: As the author of six previous novels, what new things did you learn from writing MOUNTAIN TOP?
RW: MOUNTAIN TOP is the first book I have written almost exclusively from the point of view of the main character.
FR: North Carolina, where you live, provides the setting for this book. How does this sense of place influence your writing?
RW: MOUNTAIN TOP is set in Western North Carolina, an area where I have spent time on vacation and hiking. Small town southern life is my background and significantly influences all of my writing.
FR: What writers have influenced you the most, and how?
RW: I have been greatly influenced by Ernest Hemingway's simplicity in exposition and the short, snappy dialogue exchanges common on television shows.
FR: If we looked at your nightstand, what books would we find there?
RW: If you looked at my nightstand you would see Christopher Vogler's MYTHIC STRUCTURE FOR WRITERS.
FR: As a practicing attorney, your own experience as a lawyer must have been useful to you in MOUNTAIN TOP and some of your previous novels, such as THE TRIAL, THE SACRIFICE, THE LIST and LIFE SUPPORT. Has it been more challenging to write novels such as your recent one, JIMMY, in which courtroom drama isn't as central to the plot?
RW: Jimmy was a unique character and a unique book. I greatly enjoyed spending a year with him in writing the novel. The moral purity of his heart and spiritual capacity to touch the lives of his family and community made writing Jimmy one of the highlights of my life.
FR: You have some other irons in the fire besides writing books. Tell us about Peacemaker Ministries.
RW: As part of my law practice I provide conciliation services for Christians as described in 1 Corinthians 6.
FR: If you weren't a writer and practicing attorney, what career would you choose?
FR: What writing projects are you working on now?
RW: I am working on a new novel written in first person about a female law student from a very strict religious background who is going to be working in Savannah, Georgia on a summer clerkship. The working title of the novel is DEEPER WATER.
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