Monday, July 06, 2015

A Conversation with Mystery Author Channing Whitaker

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Channing Whitaker

We are delighted to welcome back author Channing Whitaker to Omnimystery News.

Last week Channing told us the backstory to his new mystery Until the Sun Rises (Dark Oak Mysteries; March 2015 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we asked if we could follow up to talk more about the book.

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Omnimystery News: Tell us a little more about your lead character. What is it about him that appeals to you as a writer?

Channing Whitaker
Photo provided courtesy of
Channing Whitaker; Photo credit Dave Muller.

Channing Whitaker: My lead character is named Harlan Holt. He's a PhD student of anthropology with a focus on supernatural and occult beliefs. He's also principally involved with a paranormal skeptic organization. Where my book begins, Harlan has been recruited as one of five contestants to explore a supposedly haunted mansion.

Originally, I envisioned the story for Until the Sun Rises to be a stand-alone novel. However, in the course of developing the story I found there was a great deal of subplot, character development, and plot-continuation that filled my imagination but that was far too much to fit into the one book. Now that the book has been released, much of the feedback I've gotten from readers consists of "When is the next one coming out?" With the ideas in my mind and an interest from readers in more, I believe I will be taking Harlan into a series of books.

Harlan is intelligent, science-minded, and a skeptic of everything paranormal. For this, he is very close to my heart. In supernatural themed fiction, be it novel or film, I feel true skeptics are underrepresented and those that appear, often exist simply to be proven wrong — foolish to have questioned the existence of the paranormal in the first place. While it's fun to let the imagination run wild with the supernatural, I think it's also interesting to have a story that is more grounded in reality, though supernatural thematically. I believe my novel, with Harlan, fills that niche. The theme deals with the supernatural but it's seen through the eyes of Harlan, an unwavering skeptic.

In his life, Harlan has also seen negative consequences from false belief in the supernatural, and lost people close to him as a result. This makes his skepticism very personal, and gives him a vested interest in the outcome when he investigates. This makes him interesting to write for. His character is unique as his interest is not purely academic. It also puts him on a level playing field with characters who believe in the supernatural whole-heartedly as that is usually connected to personnel experiences as well. This depth for Harlan is touched on in Until the Sun Rises but more will be revealed for Harlan in future books.

OMN: Into which fiction genre would you place the book?

CW: I find it a little hard to label my book, especially without giving away the ending. It's driven by mystery, but the characters find themselves in mortal danger requiring them to solve the mystery in order to save their own lives. For me, this makes the book a thriller as well. The sticky part is the involvement of paranormal themes. The mystery boils down to whether or not something paranormal is in fact going on. Labeling it paranormal, or not, sort of tips off how the story might resolve. I call it a mystery/thriller with paranormal themes. Others might call it a paranormal mystery.

OMN: Without giving anything away, tell us something about the book that isn't mentioned in the publisher's synopsis.

CW: The primary plot of the story involves five contestants of very opposing views, investigating a supposedly haunted mansion where a family went missing over 80 years ago. This is what is teased in the book's synopsis. Secondary to that plot is a sub-plot that takes place in the past, leading up to the family's disappearance.

This sub-plot involves the father of the family that went missing, Vinton Drake, attending a traveling magic show and finding the magician, Malvern Kamrar, is a man he believes to be dead. Malvern's magic show then involves him performing an act where he appears to die, but is revealed to be living and well by the end of the show. Vinton is perplexed and begins to investigate Malvern. The consequences of Vinton's investigation of Malvern ultimately lead to what befell him and his family. This sub-plot isn't well established in the book's synopsis however; it plays a key role in the book and adds significant depth and intrigue to the story.

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

CW: I consider my novel purely fictional but very grounded in reality. While no character is based on anyone real, nor is the setting based on a real place, all are very realistic. As an example, one character is a commune-with-the-dead psychic who is nationally known and popular. While she is not inspired by one particular, real-life, popular psychic, I believe there are commonalities among real, popular psychics and I created my psychic to fit right in with the same commonalities. She is totally fictional, but she feels very real. The same is true for several other characters.

Likewise, my novel takes place in a fictional, small Iowa town. It just so happens I am originally from a small Iowa town. However, my setting is not just my town by another name. I see similarities between my town and a hundred others in rural Iowa — common traits that even extend to rural towns across the country. I use these details to make my fictional town seem very real, very tangible, but go on to build a very unique and fantastic quality to the town as well, defining details that are only true in my fictional world.

OMN: How did you go about researching the plot points of the story?

CW: My fact checking includes personal experience, consulting experts, and Internet research. I believe I am fairly adept at trouble-shooting my own work for authenticity, and as I write I identify where I am making assumptions or where I'm being influenced by other fictional depictions rather than realistic ones, and then I go back and come up with a plan to improve those potentially non-authentic aspects.

In Until the Sun Rises part of the story deals with a TV show being shot as the characters investigate the supposedly haunted site. I happen to have worked in TV production for a few years and had a good sense of the camera, lighting, and crew logistics that would have to go on behind the scenes. For that, I trusted my own experience.

A small part of the story is set in the past. While the fact that the setting is in the past isn't intricate to what occurs, I still wanted it to be authentic. As an example, as I wrote those portions I often ran into characters using figures of speech, and I'd wonder if that particular language would have been used in the historic setting. For this, I could usually rely on Internet research to date the origin and prevalence of the language and then determine if it was viable for use.

Alternatively, my main character of Harlan acts as an investigative skeptic, but this was not something I had done myself, and I didn't believe the Internet could provide a realistic, in-the-moment sense of how such a character would act and what he would think. To fill in what my knowledge lacked I contacted one of the most publically prominent skeptic organizations in the country and was able to interview the organization's president. This resulted in a wealth of authentic information to help construct my character and his actions.

OMN: What is the best advice you've received as an author?

CW: The best advice I have acquired can probably be attributed to many people but is essentially that to be a writer you have to write. There are lots of places this statement could come from. It might mean that writing is something you can't learn in a class, that you have to sit down and write in order to learn to write. It can come from the experience where aspiring writers get too focused on tangents of writing. It can also relate to aspiring writers focusing on the idea of being a writer over doing the actual writing.

To me, the advice means to keep writing. The day you finish writing a novel, even if it is truly magnificent, publishers and agents typically don't show up at your door to ask to see it. It falls on you to get the manuscript out to the world, and that is quite a great deal of work. Writers might spend as much time trying to find a home for their work as they did writing it, at least when you're getting started, but you can't let that mountain of effort keep you from starting your next project.

In my experience I didn't find a home for my first few projects, but by continuing to write new material while I was trying to place my previous projects, I continued to grow. By the time I wrote the novel I was able to get published, I had developed as a writer. I was years older, and my material was years better. I got better. When I look back at my older projects, I see a lot I like. I still really like the stories, but I also see a great deal of the execution that I would do differently now. To me, this shows I improved, and I did it by writing. "Writers need to write."

OMN: Was Until the Sun Rises your working title as well?

CW: The full title of my novel is Until the Sun Rises — One Night in Drake Mansion. The title came after I had finished the first draft of the manuscript. I had a working title before that simply of "Malvern Kamrar" which is the name of one character in the story.

There is duality in the title. First, in the story the contestants are to spend one night in the supposedly haunted mansion, so Until the Sun Rises — One Night in Drake Mansion refers to where the story takes place, what the contest is, and when story is through, — at sunrise. However, as skepticism and scientific thinking is a key theme in my novel Until the Sun Rises also serves as a metaphor for enlightenment. As I plan to continue to another book with the main character, the skeptical and scientific approach will be consistent, so this enlightenment meaning in the title will remain. I envision the next book being titled, Until the Sun Rises — ….

OMN: Have any specific authors influenced how and what you write today?

CW: While there are a great many authors and books, which have had some degree of influence on my writing, I don't think any influence has been as profound as my father. He's not a writer; in fact he is a retired psychologist and a psychology professor. Between his education, experience, and talent, I believe he was exceptional at analyzing people and often shared thoughts with me as I grew up. If I had trouble with another kid at school, he might tell me to think about why that person felt the way they did, what might be going on in their life that was causing them to act a certain way? Then he might go on to suggest answers to those questions and usually I'd come away with a much more empathetic attitude.

I credit that approach to people in my approach to characters in my writing. When I need a character to do something out of the ordinary, I think about what might have happened in their life to make this their action or to justify their actions to themselves. As a result I think my characters are deeper and more believable than they might have been otherwise. Even villains have to believe their reasons for doing bad are justifiable, and when you show that in the writing it can be profound.

OMN: What's next for you?

CW: I write both novels and screenplays. Recently, I've been putting the finishing touches on a sci-fi screenplay, which I hope to start getting out to potential producers. Once I clear my desk of that, I plan to start on the sequel for Until the Sun Rises, for which I already have a great many ideas.

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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 Texas, Alaska, and currently to Oklahoma. 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 2015 release.

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

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Until the Sun Rises by Channing Whitaker

Until the Sun Rises by Channing Whitaker

A Novel of Supernatural Suspense

Publisher: Dark Oak Mysteries Print/Kindle Format(s)

Eighty years ago, a wealthy Midwest family returned home from a magic show, after which neither they, nor the magician, Malvern Kamrar, were ever heard from again. When several bystanders died in their mansion, the house was sealed.

After nearly a century of rumors and haunted stories, for a live TV event the mansion will be opened, allowing five contestants to spend one night and win their share of a million dollars. The contestants: a psychic, a high-tech ghost hunter, a Hollywood scream queen, a local woman, and a skeptic, fuel excitement as each tries to solve the mystery.

Upon entering, the journal of the family patriarch, Vinton Drake, is discovered, illuminating the mystery, rooted all the way back to Vinton's service as a medic in WWI, when he first met the magician. Departing from the familiar haunted house tale, this story explores the very nature of belief in the supernatural, with consequences more frightening than any ghost story.

Intensity sours when the contestants discover their lives, and thousands more, are in genuine peril. Is the mansion haunted? What fate befell Malvern and the Drake family? And will the contestants uncover the truth in time to save themselves?

Until the Sun Rises by Channing Whitaker


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