Listening In: Robert Whitlow

WARREN SMITH, HOST: I’m Warren Smith, and today you’ll be listening in on my conversation with attorney filmmaker and the bestselling author of legal thrillers, Robert Whitlow.

Robert Whitlow began his career as an attorney, but about 20 years ago, he tried his hand at writing a legal thriller. That book—The List—went on to sell more than 100,000 copies and was adapted into a movie starring Matthew Modine and Malcolm McDowell. The success of that book set in motion a second career for whitlow. He’s now written 18 novels and four of them had been turned into movies. Whitlow is a graduate of Furman University and received his law degree from the University of Georgia School of Law where he served on the staff of the Georgia Law Review.

Whitlow and his wife Cathy have four children and they make their home in North Carolina where he continues to practice law. In fact, I had this conversation with Robert Whitlow in the conference room of his law offices in Charlotte. We eventually get around to talking about his latest novel called Chosen People, but we begin by talking about how he transitioned from being a lawyer to a novelist.

Robert Whitlow, welcome to the program. It’s wonderful to be here with you at your office in Charlotte. In fact, the sun’s going down. It’s just a really nice environment, so thanks for your hospitality.

ROBERT WHITLOW, GUEST: Hey, thanks. It’s good to see you again, Warren.

SMITH: Well, you say, see me again because we’ve known each other for a long time. In fact, when I, years ago was doing the Charlotte WORLD Christian newspaper, you wrote a few articles for me, but that that really were commemorations of the second great awakening. You’re kind of an expert on the way the Holy Spirit has worked throughout history.

WHITLOW: Well, yeah. I don’t know if I’m an expert, but boy, I sure am interested in that and you know, wanting to learn from the past moves of God so that we can be positioned for what God wants to do next.

SMITH: Well, that idea really in some ways runs through all of your books as well, doesn’t it?

WHITLOW: It does.

SMITH: Talk about that a little bit more. Because you’re a lawyer, we’re in your law offices. You went to the University of Georgia law school, which is where I did my undergraduate work. So I’ve known you as a lawyer for many, many years and then all of a sudden you started writing novels. Tell me how the first novel came to pass because I do want to get eventually to talk about the latest novel, but let’s talk about how the first novel came to pass. 

WHITLOW: Well, I think that really does date us, Warren, because I’ve now been writing for over 20 years.

SMITH: Yeah, I know. 

WHITLOW: But I got the idea for the first novel, The List, shortly after I moved to Charlotte in 1996 and had no ambition to be a novelist. Really didn’t even know how you do that. Write all this dialogue and have it makes sense, but I got an idea for a story and my wife Cathy encouraged me, said you ought to write that. And just something about the way she said that, I was like, I really need to consider that. And kind of my perspective on things is, you know, God will initiate things in our lives and then we get the opportunity to respond and cooperate. And so my cooperation was to begin writing that first novel, The List. And so I did that over the course of about two, two and a half years and didn’t really have any real ambition whether or not it’s going to be published.

But I did find an agent who submitted it to Thomas Nelson. Three months later, I get a phone call, they said, we want to talk to you. So I’ve been with Thomas Nelson, which is now owned by Harper Collins, really my whole writing career.

SMITH: Yeah. And at this point you’ve written about 15 books, right? 

WHITLOW: Eighteen novels.

SMITH: Eighteen in total.

WHITLOW: Chosen People is the 18th novel.

SMITH: And like I said, we’ll get to Chosen People in just a minute but let’s stick back in these early days. So The List came out and you eventually ended up making a movie out of that.

WHITLOW: That’s right. We’ve done four films—independent projects—three of them shot in the, filmed in the Charlotte area, one down in Wilmington. And The List was the first one that we failed. Malcolm McDowell plays in it, Hillary Burton, Will Patton who was in Remember the Titans. So those were some of the actors that were in the first film.

SMITH: Yeah, and the movies did, I mean, you know, they weren’t Hollywood productions. You said they were independent. But of course Malcolm McDowell is a very well known actor and an award winning actor as well. So what got you in, I mean, you also served as executive producer or some level of producer in those movies. Why did you choose to go that route and how have they done for you financially, if you don’t mind me asking?

WHITLOW: Well, there’s several questions there. I was the executive producer, which means I contacted some of my buddies to see if they wanted to help fund it and then also I was one of the screenwriters and so there’s a big difference between film and novel. Novel is very much a solitary endeavor. It’s you with the computer in your writing room, but creating a film is a collaborative effort.

So we came together and I wanted to be one of the script writers, you know, not so I could impose by will, but so we could retain the basic vision of the story and then I could contribute to it as well. Some of them have done better financially than others. It’s a very difficult business model and most of the people that got involved really saw it, you know, it was a business venture, but it was also a ministry opportunity. Because millions of people have seen those films and a lot of them, the information in there about God, God’s interaction with people, things of that nature, it’s really new territory for them. So there’s definitely an evangelistic component to making films like this.

SMITH: Yeah. So you’ve kind of gotten the reputation by, with your books and in the movies that you’ve done, as kind of being the Christian John Grisham. First of all, when I say that out loud does it cause your teeth to go on edge or are you okay with that or somewhere in between?

WHITLOW: Well, I understand why you react that way because I do, too. But the reality is that Grisham’s success opened the door for people like me because the publishing companies were looking for somebody to kind of fill that niche of legal drama in their stable of writers. And so I became that guy for Thomas Nelson. I’ve never met John Grisham, you know, I understand he is a man of faith. If I ever do meet him, I certainly need to thank you because he had that influence in the whole publishing world in just opening up this genre. I mean it existed, but his success really did take it to a level that just from a circumstantial standpoint, you know, was an open door for me.

SMITH: Yeah. I’m want to talk you a little bit, Robert, you’ve got to understand… you’re a lawyer. So I probably should, I don’t even need to explain myself to you probably as a lawyer, but I ask obnoxious questions for a living. So if I ask a question that you don’t want to answer, I’ll assume that you can put your lawyerly hat on and evade my question. But, you know,Grisham sells in the millions and tens of millions. So what is Robert Whitlow sell in? The thousands or tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands?

WHITLOW: Over a million copies of my books have been sold. So it’s somewhere between one and one and a half million, which I’m very thankful for. Yeah. And don’t worry, Warren, no question’s off limits. One time I was speaking at a school group to a group of middle schoolers, and, you know, those kids, they’re very interactive and fun. And toward the end of the session there was a little boy who raised his hand and said, “Well, Mr. Whitlow, he said, what’s your worst book?” Now that was a tough question. So I thought a minute, pulled all by legal training from being in the courtroom, and I looked at him and I said, “Well, tell you what, why don’t you read all of them, and then you tell me which is the worst.” So don’t worry. You can ask me anything.

SMITH: But you’re quick on your feet.

WHITLOW: And I’m very grateful for the opportunity I’ve had. And, you know, every book is read by multiple people. I mean, that’s really the statistics on it. So… 

SMITH: And do you find when you put a new book out, people that are discovering it for the first time will go back and read the old ones, you see a little pop in sales on the old books?

WHITLOW: Absolutely, that does happen. And you have your, uh, you know, fans that readers that are loyal and interested in what you’re doing and saying, but there are always the folks that come in and they will read the new novel and they’ll say, wow, I’m going to check out some other things by this author.

SMITH: Well, again, sticking kind of to the writing process, I promise you, Robert, we’ll get to your new novel Chosen People. But just because I’m a writer myself, I’m fascinated by this part of the process. When you got started, you wrote The List, you wrote The Trial and they came out in quick succession. In fact, I think there was one year where you had two books come out. This book, it’s 2018, the last book was a couple of years ago. So the pace is slowing down a little bit? 

WHITLOW: Not really. Yeah, my contract for The List was a 2000 release and I was on a 12 month cycle. The only thing that’s a little different is I’m now at a 14 month cycle because I love the editing process and I want to have maximum amount of time after I’ve finished the first draft to go back and refine the story and make it better. So I have been on a 12 month cycle. I don’t, none of the books have actually been released in the same calendar year. There’s just been some differences in terms of the part of the year in which they come out.

SMITH: Yeah. Well, you know, since we mentioned Grisham, I’m gonna refer to an interview that I heard him do I think with Charlie Rose maybe a couple of years ago and he talked about his writing process where he starts on January 1 every year he says, and he writes for, I don’t know, however many months he writes. Five or six months, I think he said, he gets a first draft done and then he’s a big baseball fan so I think he takes a break in the summer for baseball and then comes back and does he editing. But it’s kind of an annual process as well, but this is what he does full time. I mean, he gave up his law practice a long, long time ago. And how do you manage that because, like I say, we’re here in your law office. I guess you’ve got a caseload, right? Or a client load?

WHITLOW: I do and for the, I have two part time jobs is kind of how it works. And so I’ll work at the law firm,  you know, maybe five, six hours a day depending on what I’m doing. And then I’ll also do the writing as well. So…

SMITH: Do you do that the writing in the evening or do you write in the morning before you come to work?

WHITLOW: Most of the writing’s done in the evening. Sometimes when I go home in the afternoon I’ll try to get a session in. One thing, and you probably know this, too, I know you do because you’ve been writing for decades, is you kind of have to find what your writing biorhythm is, you know? What works for you. Some people were able to sit down and just eight hours, 10 hours at the computer. I’m not that person. I can be effective for two, maybe three hours. Then I need to stop because if I try to push it back past that point, a lot of times the creative edge is gone and I’m always wanting to be fresh enough to bring a level of texture and nuance to the things that I’m creating that, you know, make it something that the reader really is enjoying living in this world that’s being created.

SMITH: Yeah. Well I’ve only written one novel. I’ve written about 10 or 12 nonfiction books and I’m kinda the same way. Two or three hours a day and my brain just, I need to go do something else. But again, you mentioned before we turn the audio on here that you love the editing process. So do you try to sort of fly through a draft and get the story down and then go back to it or how does that work for you?

WHITLOW: Yeah. I don’t know. It’s not necessarily fly because I am about a 500 to a thousand words a day guy. That’s kind of my goal. Now, toward the end of the story, a lot of times I’m writing more. Frankly, sometimes I can’t wait to find out what happens, so I’m typing as fast as I could go. But I do know, and this is something for the folks that are listening to this that our writers or interested in becoming and doing writing, is press through to the end and then go back and correct it because that’s — If you’ve got something to work with, that’s a huge, huge obstacle to overcome is go ahead and get through. So I would like to have, I will spend maybe seven to eight months on a first draft and then I want to have at least three months for revisions.

SMITH: Yeah. You mentioned press through to the end, Marvin Olasky of WORLD Magazine interviewed another sort of thriller, mystery writer John Lacroix. I don’t know if you know any of his work, but that’s one of the things that he recommended as well. He said, to the young writers he recommended finish something because it forces you to solve problems and you can always go back and fix it later.

WHITLOW: That’s right. And you know, things are depending on whether you’re working from an outline or you’re more just kind of organic going along. You discover things in the midst of the writing about characters, plot, and then you’re able to then in the editing process, you know, connect the dots and make things make sense, focus it, hone it. Because you know, one of the desires for a novelist is to become invisible so that the reader is so immersed in what’s going on and the characters and their experiences and their vicarious enjoyment and fear and excitement, encouragement, all the things you’re wanting to communicate. That’s happening with you basically just behind the curtain.

SMITH: Okay, Robert, as promised, we’re finally going to get around to talking about your latest book. I appreciate your indulgence on all that other stuff just because I’m fascinated by, but let’s talk about Chosen People. This is a book that I really enjoyed because it was set partly in Atlanta, which is where I’m from, I’m raised in the Atlanta area and went to University of Georgia as you did. And a big portion of it, though, is set in Israel. And I’ve been to Israel a couple of times. I’m not as expert about Israel as you obviously are. I mean, but it was fun  to read about the places that I’ve seen, which is I think one of the great things about going to Israel is because you read the Bible in a real different way whenever you’ve been to Israel. So talk about the book, tell me how it came to pass. And why set in Atlanta and not Charlotte, for example, where we are.

WHITLOW: Well, the answer to that question is all my novels are set in one of the three places where I’ve lived, which is Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina. Because, you know, one of the basic principles as you write what you know. Obviously your listeners could tell I’m a southern guy.

SMITH: Yeah, and The List was mostly South Carolina.

WHITLOW: It was. And so, you know, I’m writing out of that whole context of southern life. So because, you know, I’ve lived there, I’ve lived in these places, you know, you can provide hopefully the depth of perspective and character development because of the people that you’ve known, you know, just in life. Because I mean, I grew up, just hanging around my relatives listening to them talk. I mean, that’s what I wanted to do when we’d visit these people is hear their stories. And so, you know, some of that stuff has obviously influenced the writing. So, that’s the Atlanta thing. I mean, I did, I worked in Atlanta for a while myself and lived in North Georgia a lot both growing up and then also as an attorney for a number of years.

SMITH: But most of the book is set in Israel and I know that’s not an accident either. You’re very interested in Israel, you’re interested in the Jewish people, you’re interested in prophecy. All of that plays a role in this book.

WHITLOW: Yes, it does. And I first went to Israel in 1976 and that was on a college study program where we studied biblical archeology and were really able to spend a lot of time. We were there for a number of weeks and it was fascinating. And since then I have gone back 10 or 12 times for different reasons over the years. And so have, you know, had—it’s a small country as you know—and have had a real opportunity to kind of go in a lot of different places, see a lot of different things and then… I mean, it’s a unique place. There’s no place else on earth like it.

SMITH: Well it is a small country and if you’ve been there 10 or 12 times, you’ve become, I don’t want to say an expert, but something of an expert. I mean, you know, you can see the vast majority of the country if you’ve made that many trips and stayed for even more than a few days.

WHITLOW: Yeah, I’ve been a bit all over. And this book is different from anything else that I’ve ever written. One, because it does get involved in significant amount of overseas activity and things happening. Also, the way I work is I don’t have a file folder with ideas in it. I have an idea, I’ll work on it, I’ll finish that book and then I start saying, okay, what would I like to do next? I have been waiting for 15 years to write a book about Israel. In fact, my former publisher, Alan Artel, who now is with a Ransom Heart Ministries out in Colorado Springs. Alan knew I had this just in the back of my mind. He would always ask me when I would finish a book, is it time for the Israel book? Are you ready for the Israel book?

And I would just, no, no, no. And finally I believed it was time to write it. And an interesting phenomenon for that with me was I knew I wanted to do this, but then when it was finally time to do it, I started thinking, uh-oh, can I do it? Because I was in my heart to do it, I really believe it was the Lord’s initiative for me to do it and I just discovered anew that great truth that God gives the grace to do what he’s called us to do. And I’m not trying to build this up, this book up to anything more than what it is, but it was significant for me to write this. And it’s my chance just as I’ve had other situations with the world and society to speak into in the novels, this is my chance to speak a perspective that I hope is going to be refreshing, interesting, engaging, perhaps challenging, and interesting for people that pick it up.

SMITH: Well, what is that perspective? Is it that Israel is a special place and that the Jewish people are special people?

WHITLOW: Not only that is true and we’re also special people and I love the Chosen title. I really liked the title because I like titles that have levels of meaning. And you know, 1 Peter 2:9 says that we are a chosen people, but you can’t read your Bible honestly and objectively with an open mind and not see, hey, God had something special for this particular group of people and so some of the dynamics that are involved in that whole process, you know, I wanted to just lay this out in a way that people could engage with in a story. And I thought, who better to do this than an Arab Israeli Christian lawyer. And that’s the main character.

SMITH: Yeah, who happens to be a woman.

WHITLOW: Correct.

SMITH: So how was that for you? Writing… I mean, for those of you that care about these sorts of things, it’s not a first person book. It’s not written in her voice. It’s written in sort of that limited omniscient third person narrator’s voice.

WHITLOW: That’s correct.

SMITH: But she is the main character of the book.

WHITLOW: Yes. And Hannah —

SMITH: That’s the way I was pronouncing it as I was reading it.

WHITLOW: But, you know, the reader can say whatever they want to say in their mind. But yeah, that’s how —

SMITH: Yeah.

WHITLOW: And so, one thing, she is a lawyer, so we have that in common.

SMITH: So y’all have had the lawyer speak, and the lawyer voice, and the lawyer thinking beat into both of you, so you’re able to do that, right?

WHITLOW: You go to law school whether it’s at Hebrew University or University of Georgia, they’re going to put you in that food processor and everybody’s going to come out with a certain type of sausage, and it does have an impact on you. But, you know, I had a lot of decisions to make about her and you know, I wanted to make her, I mean, she’s a—for a young woman, she’s a mature believer. And so this is not a book about her spiritual journey, although there are aspects of it that are. And of course there are other characters in there that are on a journey, but I wanted somebody that could stand on their own two feet in terms of who they were as a character and have a perspective to offer.

SMIWHT: Yeah, well, Robert, I want to ask you about some artistic decisions that you made in this book because every writer wants their book to seem real and alive and authentic and yet as a Christian you have to, and you’re writing about people, let’s face it, they’re not Mr. Rogers, right? I mean you’ve got, I don’t want to give away too many of the plot points, but you’ve got some violence in here. You’ve got some terrorist in here. You’ve got some folks who were not terrorists but are decidedly not Christians as well. And in the real world, they act a certain way. They talk a certain way, they behave, you know, so on and so forth. And yet you’re writing for a Christian audience. How do you make the artistic decision to be authentic but maybe not too authentic in terms of the way people speak and behave.

WHITLOW: Yeah. In that, I’m really influenced by my dad. My father basically said that a lot of what people that speak,  that use a lot of profanity, that have all these things, that’s just because they don’t really know how to express themselves in a better way. So I grew up with his whole mindset that that is labeled under the category of ignorance. I mean, that’s what was kind of in me, not that it was not so much that it was bad, although I knew that, but that it was ignorant. And so what I really came to appreciate was, you know, you can say things in an articulate way and if that’s not a part of the milieu that’s there, people don’t miss it. And for example, there’s some romance in this story, but some of my other books have more of that, you know, if you’re not writing according to some formula that’s going to have certain things take place that I would not feel were appropriate or right for me to portray for a reader, you’re given the opportunity to be more subtle, more nuanced, more sensitive, you know, and talk about aspects of human relationship that exist, but yet don’t go into these areas that I have no interest in doing as a follower of Jesus Christ.

SMITH: Well, another aspect of this book that I wanted to get you to talk about. You’ve been to Israel, you know, a dozen times or so and when you go to Israel, I’ve only been a couple of times, but one of the things that — you become sort of hyper aware of security issues. When I went over the first time right after the second intifada where there were a lot of bus bombings and I remember in Tel Aviv one day for example, we were in a van and we came to a red light right behind a big bus and then a bus came in right behind us and we had just been talking about all the bus bombings and all of a sudden the everybody in the van, they were about 12 of us in the van, we just got really, really quiet because we were and then the light changed and we went on our way and everything was fine, but there is and you know, you’d go into a restaurant and there’d be an armed guard at the restaurant and you check in and you couldn’t just walk into a restaurant and so some of that just sort of goes with being in Israel, but some of this was not. You had to do some pretty serious research to understand, for example, how IDF operates, Israeli Defense Forces operate, how some of the security forces operate. True or false?

WHITLOW: I did some research. I tried to stay away, frankly, from too much technical information, but I knew enough and I did find this to be true, Warren, in writing this book, sayings that I thought I knew I would start writing a scene and I would get into the middle of that scene and I’d say, you know what, I better stop here at check out. So that kinda, that’s what you’re driving at. I had to do that a lot. And I had to pull back, do some research, either decide I could go where I wanted to go, or maybe had to take a little bit of a different turn to try to stay credible. 

SMITH: Yeah. One practice in particular in the book is you have this private investigator. His name is David, and I think that’s the Arab pronunciation for David. Whenever he goes in and out of the occupied territories, he would stop and change his license plate. Is that something that you’ve just made up or had you seen that happen?

WHITLOW: I made that up. But it was partly to illustrate, I bet that happens. I’ll say that. But I did make that — that was literary license. And it was just a way to kinda emphasize, you know, wow, even in this small place, in these transitions that happen between these areas, they’re significant. And there are areas in the West Bank that an Israeli citizen is prohibited from going into. And you know, they cross that line in here, but for certain reasons they were able to get a pass, which your listeners are going to have to read the book found out about that.

SMITH: Robert, in the back of this book, Chosen People, there’s a sort of a cryptic note here. In fact, I think I misinterpreted the note originally, it says I’ve wanted to write a book like this for over 15 years. It wouldn’t exist without the true story of my wife Cathy, and the encouragement of many who prayed before and during the writing process. Now you mentioned Cathy’s role in your first book. Did she play a role in this book as well?

WHITLOW: She did. Not in terms of the plot, but in terms of creating a space inside me to write this book. When Cathy and I met in Atlanta in the, around 1980, she had quit her job working for an architect and was preparing to move to Israel just as a believer. Well, we get married. That didn’t happen, but then a number of years later, we went through a process and we were having to get our passports updated and Cathy was adopted as an infant in Chicago and in a quick, through a sequence of events, she ended up locating her birth mother and her birth mother lived in La Jolla, California. And her birth mother was Jewish.

SMITH: Wow. Well, that’s a — La Jolla’s a Jewish enclave.

WHITLOW: It is. And so, you know, even before she was aware of this ethnic connection, she was under this pull and love to Israel, to the Jewish people. And so when we married, I knew — I’m just a North Georgia guy. Okay? I’m just a mutt genetically I guess, but I had to kind of buy into this aspect of, wow, this woman really has a significant call here. And so to that extent this book would never have been written without that influence.

SMITH: That’s interesting. That’s fascinating. Well, let me step back just a little bit from this book of I could, Robert, because you’ve been at this awhile now, 20 years writing books. You’ve done four movies that are based on the books. This is not a fluke, in other words. This is a really serious commitment, which is one of the things I think I’ve always admired about you, that you’ve had this really full life as a lawyer. And I mean, like I say, I know some of your law partners here, this is a substantial law firm and you’re, you know, this is a real gig. This is not that sort of a part time gig, even though you’ve said you’re doing it part time. And yet you’ve done these books and then the movies on top. What’s sort of the common thread? Why do you keep the law practice going when the books have been successful? Why did you want to write the books after being in mid life, really?

WHITLOW: Yeah. Well I think that, you know, I have both that creative and the analytical side kinda operating. My dad was that way. My father was an engineer with Georgia Power and he had that creative and the analytical side and I think I’ve got that, too. And the other thing is writing a novel, as I kind of mentioned earlier, is really a solitary endeavor. And I’m kind of a social guy. I like to be around my buddies. The type of law that I do, I’m interacting with people a lot. And so I enjoy that aspect of life as well. And so, you know, so far I’m thankful that I’ve been able to, you know, hopefully in an effective way with skill and integrity, keep my feet involved in both arenas and have enjoyed it.

SMITH: Well, I know you care a lot about Christian worldview and Christian values as well, and correct me if I’m wrong, Robert, but it seems to me that one of the things that you’re also saying by this, buy or try vocational life that you have is that it all matters to God. It’s not like the writing part is the ministry part in the lawyering part is kind of like what I gotta do to pay the bills. It’s like they’re both — if you’re called by God then it’s a sacred vocation.

WHITLOW: Man, I could not agree with you more. I couldn’t agree with you more. And that’s one thing that I have really endeavored to show the novels is that God wants to interact with us across the whole scope of life. That it’s not just a religious compartment over here, but that his involvement with us, it comes in at every place, at every level. And that’s part of the adventure, really, of being a Christian is discovering that and walking that out, you know, in the way that God’s initiating.

SMITH: Well, so if that’s one of the, I guess you could say big picture lessons of your work, what are some of the others? I mean, when people read your, I mean obviously you want it to be entertained. That’s part of the deal here is that it’s got to be a good story and you want them to keep turning the pages and buy the next book or the last book if they encounter a later book first. But what else do you want people to take away from either an individual Robert Whitlow novel or the body of your work?

WHITLOW: Yeah. And that is, you know, that’s important to think about because to have some — it’s not like a mission statement per se, but a perspective that you’re really bringing to the table. And one aspect of that for me is I believe that God wants to communicate with people, you know, the Bible says, my sheep hear my voice. God speaks and he created. And so that is a recurring aspect and reality in my stories about God interacting and communicating with people in a relational way that characters are not just, you know, living based on principles which are good and true, but they’re living out of a dynamic of relationship that is motivating or challenging or opposing, you know, what’s going on in their lives and in the context of the story. And that is a huge part of what I’m about as well.

So those two things: what you said earlier about God interacting across the whole scope of life and then God’s desire to communicate. And so, you know, I’ll go back to Chosen People for just an illustration is the main character, she wakes up in the middle of the night and meets with God. I thought that was pretty cool and I thought that was an amazing thing for this woman and when that started happening in the story, I started thinking, wow, this is something that can really be not only entertaining but inspiring.

SMITH: Well, let me ask you question, because you said when it started happening in the story, because that was an interesting aspect of Hannah’s character is that she would often wake up in the middle of the night and just spend that time until she could get back to sleep or until she chose to get back to sleep in prayer. And that was — are you telling me that you didn’t originally plan for that? That that sort of happened as you were writing the story?

WHITLOW: It happened once and then actually one of our children we have a son in his mid 30s who works a corporate job, but is an extremely talented writer. And he’s been an editor, Jacob, he’s mentioned in the credits for that, the acknowledgements for that book. And Jacob, when he read a draft, he said, you need to emphasize that because that is a powerful aspect of this story. It’s cool, Warren, when your kids tell you to be more spiritual. Let me tell you. That’s a good day.

SMITH: Well, the thing that was interesting to me about that aspect of Hanna’s character was that it is unusual that she would wake up in the middle of the night, but it was also a time where you got to know a lot about her and it was also, it just felt authentic. It gave you sort of an authentic way to talk about God in the midst of this story as well. It didn’t feel like you know what? We’re going to do the Jesus Juke over here and kind of force feed a little bit of God on these poor unsuspecting readers, but it was really organic part of her character.

WHITLOW: And that’s what I’m after. I’m after just — because there are people as much as a lot of the media doesn’t want to acknowledge or mention, there are a lot of people that live like this. That there are components that are really part of their life. My wife wakes up every night in the middle of the night. She does that and, you know, historically, I think I even mentioned it in the book, before the invention of electricity, people went to bed when the sun went down and it was very common to get up in the night and then have something called second sleep. You know, it’s just part of history. And so that’s kind of her dynamic and my goal is to have the characters be able to carry the spirituality that they’re portraying.

SMITH: Well, Robert, a related question to all of this, you know, I hope and pray you have many more years of writing ahead of you. You’ve written 15 books in 20 years. Maybe you’ve got 20 more years and you can write 15 more. But at some point you’ll come to the end of this. We all do. How do you want people to remember you? How do you want people to remember your books?

WHITLOW: I really haven’t thought a whole lot about legacy questions like that. I appreciate you bringing that up. I would love to be able to think that somebody that could read one of these books in 50 years, even though, obviously, the use of cell phones is going to be different them than it is now, that there would still be enduring components of the relational aspects of the stories that would still spark something real in the heart and the mind of a reader. That they would be able to say yes, what was going on with that character, there’s still a relevance in this dynamic that’s happening here that would speak across the generations.

(Photo/Robert Whitlow)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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