Tim McWhorter is one of the quietest, nicest guys I’ve met in quite some time. But you know they say it’s the quiet ones you have to worry about and, with Tim that may be closer to the truth than most people care to acknowledge.
Tim’s third novel, Blackened, just released a few weeks ago and it’s the sequel to the popular (and scary as hell) Bone White. Shadows Remain, a supernatural tale, was released in 2013, and earlier this year saw the release of his short story collection, Swallowing the Worm and other stories. To say he’s been busy is an obvious understatement and I’m grateful he was able to take time out of his schedule to answer a few questions (some serious, one pretty asinine) for me.
Chris: You’re a busy guy. Part of that is, as an independent artist, you have control over every aspect of your work: formatting, layout, and cover design. As a guy with a publisher, I have zero control over format and layout, unless it’s integral to the story, and minimal input on cover design. I love your covers, so tell me where the ideas for those come from. Do they come before the story is down, during the writing of, or are they something you worry about once the writing is done? Also, do you do all the art yourself or do you hire an artist?
Tim: First of all, thanks for the compliment! I appreciate it. Designing my own covers is something I really enjoy doing. It provides an avenue to create visual art to go with my words.
The ideas themselves usually don’t come until the writing process is well underway. As I start to get a feel for the story, potential images and designs start running through my mind. If not a full-blown design, then at least a concept. For example, I’m roughly fifty pages into my next book and as of yet, have no ideas whatsoever for the cover. But that’s okay. It’ll come when it’s ready. I’m a long way off from needing it. When I finally sit down to create the cover, it will most likely end up being a mashup of both original design and maybe a stock photo or two.
For Bone White, I wanted the cover to be clean, portray a sense of innocence and be worthy of making a statement. For the sequel, Blackened, I wanted to show the transition from innocence to a world that has been tainted, while still calling to mind the Bone White cover. I get compliments all the time on both of them, so I think I accomplished what I set out to do.
The only cover I didn’t fully create is Shadows Remain. For that one, I photographed the photos that ended up being used, but hired someone else to put it all together. Even though I’m not solely responsible for that one, it was fun putting it together because I was constantly scouting for possible photo opportunities. After taking over a hundred photos, we ended up using two, and I think the cover came out great.
Chris: On the subject of artistic inspiration, where did the idea for Bone White come from? After reading it and letting it settle, it had a definite “Turistas” feel to me, and I wonder if it was influenced by any particular news story, movie, or something else.
Tim: I’m glad you asked that question. I love telling this story. The idea for BW originated about twenty years after similar events happened to my friend and me. Let me explain…
In high school during the late 80s, my friend, Rick, and I loved to fish, and we spent a lot of our spare time on the water around central Ohio. There was one evening in particular where we spent a little too much time out. We were at Hoover Reservoir and a big storm was rolling in, and I mean rolling in fast. By the time we realized our motor wouldn’t start, and resorted to paddling, the sky was about as dark a grey as I’ve ever seen without being straight black. The wind had gone from 0 to 60 as fast as a sports car. It was whipping up whitecaps on the water and was threatening to overtake us. Talk about ominous. We obviously hadn’t eaten our spinach that day because no matter how hard we paddled, the wind kept pushing us further and further to the far side of the lake, separating us even further from Rick’s truck. By the time we reached the shore, we were soaked through, exhausted and had no idea where we were. Keeping in mind this was long before cell phones, our only choice was to set out on foot in search of a house with a phone. It all ended well enough. We found a phone, called Rick’s father and we somehow managed to navigate him to the house.
So not only are some of the events in BW pulled from real events, but some of the locations exist as well. Without giving away too much of the plot, the parking lot with the lumpy road leading from it, the long and winding driveway cutting through the woods, even the small cemetery that isn’t quite as described, does exist and still served as inspiration. All of it is out there at Hoover, and I visited several times for inspiration while writing the book. Combining what happened to us with the creepiness of the locations, I just thought it was a great backdrop for a scary story. Hey, maybe I should give moonlight walking tours of all the sites like they do in Salem and New Orleans!
Chris: Sticking with Bone White for a minute, talk to me about the infamous stair scene. I didn’t see it coming and, for some reason, still think I should have, but that’s just a testament to your skill. How did that scene come about, and were you shocked when you wrote it?
Tim: Haha yeah, everyone who reads BW brings up that scene. I generally get two responses. The first is like yours, ‘I didn’t see it coming,’ and the second is, ‘how could you?!’ Basically, without giving away too much to those who haven’t yet read BW, it wasn’t something I set out to do. As I was writing the scenes leading up to it, I felt it going in a direction I wasn’t wanting to go. I didn’t want it to end up in a ‘happy place,’ somewhere that felt too clichéd. I hate when books give the reader what they expect, so I said, ‘screw that,’ and did what I did. Love it or hate it, it’s a scene that stays with the reader, and as an author, I can’t ask for much more than that.
Chris: As Blackened just released this month, I haven’t had time to read it yet. What can we expect when we jump back into Luke and Corwin’s world?
Tim: It’s definitely a darker world. Luke is not the same person he was before his encounter with Corwin Barnes. We catch up with him a year later, and after struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, his outlook has changed. He’s more withdrawn. He’s not the same happy go lucky kid we met in BW. This all feeds into his actions as Barnes makes a reappearance into Luke’s life. As one would expect, it’s not a ‘warms your heart’ kind of encounter. And from what I’ve been told so far, I would suggest clearing your calendar when you get to the 2/3 point in the book. It’s a wild ride, and you won’t want to put the book down until it’s come to a complete stop.
Chris: Here’s your palate cleansing question… beer or wine? Defend your answer.
Tim: Depends. This time of year, it would most likely be beer. I drink a lot of wine when it’s cooler out, but when the air turns warm, I usually reach for a crisp, refreshing beer. When it comes to wine, I’m more of a red wine drinker. Pinot noir, cabernet, an occasional malbec and some of the new red blends people are coming out with, but since they’re mostly served at room temperature, they’re not what I consider refreshing like a beer, or even a chilled white wine. I know, it’s complicated. When in doubt, there’s always rum! It’s my year-round choice.
Chris: Now that we’ve had a drink, let’s move into some questions centering on the reading and the writing craft. It’s been said that you have to be a reader to be a writer. Do you agree or disagree, and why?
Tim: I’m not sure you have to be a reader, but you certainly hamper yourself if you’re not. There are so many writing tools you develop while reading, even when you don’t realize it. You learn not only tricks of the trade, so to speak, but an all around better grasp of the English language, and that’s definitely something that comes out in one’s writing. It’s the difference between mediocre, amateurish writing and dynamic writing.
My other response to that question would be, ‘why the hell wouldn’t you?’ If someone isn’t a fan of reading and the written word in any of its various forms, then why are they even writing? Filmmakers do what they do because they love movies. Musicians create music because they (wait for it) love music. So if you don’t enjoy literature, why would you write in the first place?
Chris: Should writers read outside the primary genres they write in?
Tim: Absolutely. Just as every author has their strengths, every genre has something to offer that’s worth absorbing. Thrillers can help a writer develop the skills to instill tension and build suspense in their writing. Reading comedy will help them know how and when to inject a moment of levity in their storyline. Dramas can teach us how to wield emotion. Erotica, well, we won’t go there. What it comes down to is that, anything worthy of reading has the potential to help us develop more as writers. So, yes, I definitely encourage reading outside your genre.
Chris: I usually recommend Stephen King’s On Writing to those who ask me about “books on writing.” Not because King gives you the secret to success, or gives extensive writing advice, but because it’s the origin story of one of the greatest writers of our lives. Are there any “books on writing” you’d recommend to beginning writers?
Tim: To be honest, I’m not a big reader of advice or ‘how-to’ books. I’ve gained much of my knowledge of writing through college classes, reading a ton of writing blogs and discussions with other writers. Having said that, I do have a handful of advice-type books collecting dust on my shelves. The only one I spent a measureable amount of time with is Betsy Lerner’s The Forest For The Trees. It’s a humorous take on the art of writing from an editor’s standpoint. The best thing I remember about it is the fact that it doesn’t try to hammer phantom rules and dry guidelines into your head. It comes off as a conversation.
It’s just my opinion, but I think if you read these books, they should be used as guides only. As insightful as they may be, they are also just one person’s opinion, and as we all know, art in any form is subjective. While scouring blogs, I’ve found multiple differing opinions on certain subjects and just like anything else, you have to decide for yourself which advice makes sense to you. Gather as much information as you can, then use it to make your own way. Writing is an art after all.
Chris: We’ll stay with the book theme for two more questions. What book(s) are you currently reading? Do you prefer to read books by small press and self-published authors, are you a bestseller reader, or are you loyal to certain authors?
Tim: All of the above. Like most readers, I enjoy well-written, entertaining and engaging books whose storylines draw me in. Honestly, I don’t care where the book comes from. I’ve read books from indie authors that were easily worthy of being published by one of the big houses, and I’ve read books by the big houses that were complete crap and I struggled to finish them. It doesn’t matter to me where the book comes from, as long as it’s well written and the plot interests me.
As for authors, I think everyone has certain ones they’ll spend their money on whenever that author has a new book out, big name or not. I have those myself: Dennis LeHane, Lorenzo Carcattera, Gillian Flynn, Joe R. Lansdale, Victor Gischler. I can’t get enough of these authors.
Additionally, my bookshelves are starting to overflow with books I’ve acquired from authors I’ve met at events. Some of them are good, some are very good, and I’m proud to call many of these exceptional authors friends. I’m just hoping some of their skills rub off on me!
Chris: I just have a couple more questions for you, Tim. You’ve done several types of public appearances in the past: literary conventions, fandom events, and personal signings in intimate venues. Which is your favorite and why?
Tim: Maybe I just haven’t been doing it long enough, because I’m not sure I have a favorite. I’m finding that each has its own pros and cons. No pun intended. The big conventions can be fun and you can certainly meet some very cool, if not influential people. But, these types of events also come with a lot of down time, sitting at your table for hours on end, twiddling your thumbs just waiting for someone, anyone to stroll by.
Personal signings are always fun, especially when they’re well attended. But like anything else, if the people don’t show, it’s not fun. And every author does an occasional event where people don’t show. Personal events are nice also, in that there’s not as much ‘selling’ involved. What I mean by that is that most people who show up to a signing already know they want a copy of your book. I don’t feel the overwhelming need to sell them on it, like I do at cons. And for a quiet, reserved guy like myself, anytime I don’t have to be a used car salesman, I’m happy.
Chris: You were an independent author for years, and you’ve recently signed with PlotForge, Ltd and are undergoing that “traditional” process. Having seen both sides, where do you see the small press and independent publishing scene a year from now? How about five years?
Tim: While I can’t speak to the state of small press publishing due to the fact I’ve only been signed to a publisher for a couple weeks, I can say I’ve been around long enough to start seeing the differences between them. There seem to be enough differences that the options are many for those authors looking to sign with a small press. There are publishers who look for something specific in the books they publish and have a very narrow, yet respected catalogue, while others seem to publish anything they think might sell. And that’s fine. As long as there are avid readers in the world, there can never be too many outlets for product. A prospective author just needs to do their homework and submit to the press that will best represent them and their work.
Which leads me to independent publishing. Having published four books myself, there is great satisfaction in having control over every aspect of the process and product. Having 100% the control, however, does mean doing 100% of the work. All the time it seems there are more and more writers taking on the challenge and stepping into the indie-publishing ring. All it takes is a few keystrokes, a click of the mouse and a few dollars for artwork. It’s that easy, and yes, anyone can do it. While that can certainly mean a gluttony of books on the market that may not be quite as worthy as most, (this is the big complaint from those who publish traditionally) I think readers will naturally weed these out. As far as the future goes, while I’m certainly no expert on the industry, I think independent publishing will continue to gain legitimacy in the eyes of readers, especially as more and more authors are finding success with it. The cream will always rise to the top, no matter how the book was published.
I’m not sure how well this answers your original question, but hey, we’re coming up on an election year and I’m just setting the tone!
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