Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Conversation with Mystery Author Tina Whittle

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Tina Whittle
with Tina Whittle

We are delighted to welcome Tina Whittle to Omnimystery News today.

Tina is the author of the Tai Randolph/Trey Seaver mystery series, the latest entry of which is Deeper Than the Grave (Poisoned Pen Press; November 2014 hardcover, trade paperback, audiobook and ebook formats). We recently had the opportunity to catch up with her to talk more about her books.

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Omnimystery News: When you were writing The Dangerous Edge of Things, did you know at the time it would be the first of a series?

Tina Whittle
Photo provided courtesy of
Tina Whittle

Tina Whittle: When I started getting acquainted with the characters who would eventually be the protagonists in my first book, I knew they had secrets they weren't eager to share right off the bat. Tai Randolph, my narrator, was fresh to a new city (Atlanta) and just beginning her newest career (half-owner of a gun shop catering to Civil War re-enactors) — her entire backstory lay buried down in the Savannah Lowcountry, however, like pirate treasure. And Trey Seaver, my ex-SWAT corporate security agent, was dealing with the aftermath of a car accident that killed his mother and left him with a traumatic brain injury. His life was rigidly divided into Before and After, and he was only showing me the surface of his challenges.

Characters are people, after all, only instead of living in the world of flesh and blood, they walk and talk and breathe in the realm of the imagination. I make an emotional investment in them from the first moment I open a book. That's why I prefer to read — and write — books that are part of a series, because I enjoy the deepening of that relationship. My daughter says that Trey and Tai feel like part of the family, and I have to agree. I know them more intimately than most of the "real" people in my life.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in your books?

TW: Readers familiar with some of the topics I cover might be forgiven for thinking I steal my plots directly from the headlines, but the opposite is actually true — whenever I write something for my fictional Atlanta, the real Atlanta often suffers the same.

In Deeper Than the Grave, for example, I decided to throw a blizzard at my protagonists. As I was writing the final climactic scenes, the infamous polar vortex of 2014 swirled in, layering Atlanta's interstates with black ice, and I watched the ninth largest metropolitan area in the country turn into a ghost town.

Many other events and characters I've written about, from the Ku Klux Klan's self-sanitizing rebrand to the capture of an elusive Mexican drug lord, happened either as I was writing the book or shortly after publication. A great white shark figures prominently in the book I'm working on now — I am curious as to how that's going to play out in real life. But just to be on the safe side, I'm not going in the water for a while.

OMN: HOw do you go about researching the plot points of your stories?

TW: Write what you know, they say. But no, I decided to write about things I knew absolutely nothing about, like Ferrari F430 coupes and black powder muskets and snipercraft. To compound the problem, I have very little imagination — I must experience something to be able to write about it effectively.

Luckily for me, there's the Writers' Police Academy, a weekend conference for writers featuring a series of intensive hands-on trainings, seminars and workshops, all designed to give writers a taste of what it really takes to be a law enforcement officer, firefighter, EMT or crime scene tech. There are classes on forensic identification and undercover work, workshops that take you into the pool for underwater evidence recovery and into the gym for self-defense techniques. You can get up close and personal with bomb robots and sniper gear and the Jaws of Life. You can even ride in an ambulance or investigate a mock shallow grave crime scene.

Last year, I participated in simulated firearms training, where I and my Bluetooth-rigged simulated firearm took on a bunch of video bad guys. During my last "encounter" — an active shooter in a crowded airport — I did manage to take down the assailant. Eventually. In the process, I also took down a businessman, a TSA agent, and a honeymoon couple. Needless to say, I won't be signing up for the police academy any time soon.

OMN: Your series is set in Atlanta, a city we're familiar with, having lived there for four years (though, to be fair, it was quite some time ago and the city has no doubt changed considerably in the meantime). How true are you to the setting?

TW: Though set in Atlanta, a lot of the action takes place in Kennesaw (which is a smaller city just north of Atlanta and the location of my protagonist's Confederate-themed gun shop). My readers familiar with the Atlanta area enjoy reading about places they recognize, especially the quirkier pieces of the city, and I enjoy incorporating these into my novels (I maintain an interactive Pinterest board for anyone interested in exploring these further.)

I am quick to clarify, however, that the Atlanta of my books is a hybrid of the real Atlanta and the Atlanta of my imagination. If Tai and Trey lived in the actual Atlanta, they'd spend most of their time stuck in traffic instead of solving crimes. So I play with time and distance and proximity sometimes. And if I have to do something nefarious, I make up a place to do it — if I were a hotel or restaurant owner, I would not appreciate a crime writer draping murdered corpses about, so I don't kill fictional people in real places.

Atlanta — and the larger area around it — is very important to my series both symbolically and thematically. It is the only city in the US destroyed by fire as an act of war, during the infamous Siege of Atlanta (which everyone remembers from Gone With The Wind). Atlanta's memory is long too. Its official seal features the Phoenix rising from the flames and the word Resurgens, Latin for "rising again." We are currently memorializing the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, and I am fascinated by the juxtaposition of the historic and the contemporary going on right now.

My characters are a part of this tension. Tai, my narrator, is a former tour guide with a specialty in the Civil War (and also ghosts, for even though she doesn't believe in the supernatural, she does believe in hauntings). Trey, her partner in things both romantic and crime-solving, had his own rise-from-the-ashes moment, a literal one, as he fought his way back from the injuries he sustained in his near-fatal car accident. And their relationship — a passionate but often contentious one — is a "civil war" in its own right.

OMN: Suppose your series were to be adapted for television or film, and you were consulting on casting. Whose agents are you calling for the key roles?

TW: I get suggestions from readers all the time (I suspect many of them think that Trey exists already. The number one question is get about him is, "Is he real?" To which I always answer, "I'll ask him next time I see him.")

But if I were allowed to cast my characters myself, I'd love for Katee Sackhoff to get her teeth into the role of Tai, my dirty blond Southern spitfire. I'm a fan of Katee's work in both Battlestar Galactica and Longmire, where she brought strength and depth to her performances, revealing the gritty, tenacious, and often conflicted compassion at the heart of complicated women. Because even though her characters are aggressive and assertive and tough — often considered traditionally male qualities — Katee shows how those characteristics can be an expression of femininity too.

For Trey, I vote hands-down for Dylan Bruce, currently playing Paul Dierden on Orphan Black. Any actor playing Trey would have a huge challenge on his hands, since most of Trey's conflicts and personality quirks occur under the surface. But Dylan would be up to it — he is a master as portraying deep emotion surging beneath a cool exterior. It doesn't hurt that he and Trey are the same physical type — leanly muscled, dark-haired, blue-eyed — but it's his ability to a portray both tightly controlled, alpha male dominance and the deep emotional vulnerability running below it that fascinates me, and which would make him perfect for my latently violent, deeply wounded male protagonist.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these appeared in any of your books?

TW: I've been reading tarot cards now — sometimes semi-professionally — for over a decade. My approach is a narrative, intuitive one, which relies on the ability to access subconscious knowledge and work it into a story. This approach relies on psychology, not psychic ability, which makes it a great way to explore character development and plot complications. In my current WIP, for example, I couldn't figure out the motivations of my killer, so I did a modified Celtic Cross reading — when the Four of Pentacles, the Five of Swords, and The Devil came up, I knew exactly what was going in in my villain's mind.

One of my secondary characters — Trey's French physical therapist/ ex-lover — reads tarot, but since my protagonists don't place much stock in it, they ignore her advice. Which is usually a mistake, but that's how they are.

OMN: What's next for you?

TW: I am excited to be serving as president of the Sisters in Crime chapter in my area — the Low Country Sisters in Crime — which recently inducted Lee Child as our first honorary lifetime member. And I am especially excited to be working with Sisters in Crime National on their very very new YA initiative, as we find ways to provide all the resources that SinC has to offer to the next generation of mystery writers.

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Tina Whittle is a mystery writer living and working in the Georgia Low Country. She is also freelance writer and semi-professional tarot reader. When not writing or reading, she enjoys golf, sushi, mini-pilgrimages, and spending time with her family (one husband, one daughter, a neurotic Maltese and four bossy chickens).

For more information about the author, please visit her website at and her author page on Goodreads, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Deeper Than the Grave by Tina Whittle

Deeper Than the Grave
Tina Whittle
A Tai Randolph Mystery

It's taken almost a year, but Tai Randolph has her new life together. She's running a semisuccessful Atlanta gun shop catering to Civil War re-enactors. Her lover, the sexy-if-securityobsessed Trey Seaver, is sorting out his challenges. There's not a single corpse on her horizon, and her previously haphazard existence is finally stable, secure … and unsurprising. Then a tornado blows by a Kennesaw Mountain cemetery, scattering the skeletal remains of a Confederate hero. Assisting the bones recovery effort is a job her late Uncle Dexter would have relished, as does Tai. Does she hit the jackpot on discovering a jumble of bones in the underbrush?

No. The bones reveal a more recent murder, with her deceased uncle leading the suspect list. As Tai struggles to clear Dexter's name — and save the business he left her — she uncovers deadly secrets were also buried in the red Georgia clay. And realizes there's a live murderer on the loose, a clever killer who has tried to conceal the crimes of the present in the stories of the past. As she risks her own life to unravel two mysteries — one from a previous century, one literally at her doorstep — Tai rediscovers her dangerous taste for murder and mayhem. Print/Kindle Format(s) Print/Nook Format(s)  iTunes iBook Format  Kobo eBook Format


  1. Thank you all for having me here today, and for giving me the opportunity to talk about my series.

    1. It is our pleasure, Tina! And thank you for sharing with us so much about your books!

    2. I just wrote a review for this book. May I share it here:
      In an upscale little suburban town just north of Atlanta, Tai Randolph runs the gun shop she inherited from her uncle. Good place for it. A local law requires every household in town to own a gun, so business is good. If not for an interfering snooty neighbor and a few murders, life would be just peachy. Tai has a snazzy boyfriend who is the sharpest dresser who ever drove a Ferrari, and a damn good detective. She’s not bad herself, so when a storm blows through and disturbs the tomb of a civil war era dead man, and the bones inside belong to a recently murdered guy, they’re both up to their eyeballs in intrigue. Dark corners of the internet hold clues to crimes, and dangerous people pose a threat to life and limb. The boyfriend is still recovering from injuries he received in a previous book, but he comes through when it counts. Romance, murder, cars, guns, southern gentility that might not be so genteel, echoes of forbidden love from the days of slavery, and tons of excitement kept me reading uninterrupted until the book ended


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