Featured Member: Haley Whitehall

by admin Featured Members. Posted on July 10, 2012.

Writing is not a passion – or a career – that comes to fruition without dedication.  To strive and succeed as a writer takes commitment, sacrifice, and an unwavering determination.  Write On The River Member and Conference attendee Haley Whitehall embodies that commitment to the art and craft of writing.  She has been involved with Write On The River in a wide variety of ways: Conference attendee, Member, critique group member, NaNoWriMo group member, Writers Meeting Writers public reader, and Conference volunteer.  She approaches her writing with pure passion and unblinking focus.  In addition to all these Write On The River engagements, she also finds time to actually write!  She recently published her first novel of historical fiction (read below for how to find and buy it!).  Write On The River is proud to introduce Haley Whitehall as our newest Featured Member.

How would you describe your writing?

I write novels exploring the depths of human nature portraying the past with sharp, straight-shooting truth. I write what I fondly call “out of the box” stories; shedding light on little known history. Many of my novels feature an underdog. I find the common man fascinating and relatable and easy to root for. Mark Twain has served as my writing mentor; I think of my writing as Mark Twain with a little more faith. An element of spirituality is ever-present in my writing.


What is one of your biggest struggles with the craft of writing?

Description does not come easy to me. It is always an afterthought. When I edit I go in and add more description. Description is key in any piece of writing, but especially historical fiction. These period details are what transport a reader back in time. Description helps readers visualize the characters and setting.

I have found that each project comes with its own unique challenges. In my debut novel Living Half Free my biggest issue was pacing. However in my current work in progress Grits and Glory I’m having trouble with striking the right balance of tension. The elements of great storytelling remain the same but each novel develops differently and therefore I have different struggles.


What is your favorite thing you’ve ever written (this could be a scene, a character, or an entire book)?

Wow. I have to pick one? That is like asking which child a parent prefers. I’ve heard many authors say that their favorite thing they’ve written is their current project. I agree with that to some point. Each piece of writing whether it is a scene, short story, or novel contains a piece of me, a piece of my soul. I fall in love with aspects of each of them. In Living Half Free I loved Zachariah’s innocence and strength. I loved Zachariah’s growth from a boy into a man. I loved the sacrifices he made for love.


What do the people in your life think of your devotion to writing?

I am blessed that my parents and friends support my devotion to writing and my budding career as an author. This has been the career I wanted since I was four years old. I didn’t go through stages of wanting to be a dancer or a doctor like most kids do. Writing feeds my creative soul. I appreciate the uninterrupted hours when I’m feverishly trying to type fast enough to keep up with my brain. I also appreciate that I have a shoulder to cry on or someone to vent to when my writing isn’t going well.

At first the people in my life didn’t think writing was a career. I think most people viewed it as a hobby. I’m planning on proving them wrong. However, to please everyone I went to Central Washington University and majored in history education so I’d have a teaching career to fall back on if I’m ever penniless and near starvation. The history classes really helped beef up my historical fiction books. Not everyone in my life understands the writing industry but they are trying and I’m learning along with them.

How many Write On The River Conferences have you attended? What/who was your favorite workshop or speaker?

I’ve attended two Write On The River Conferences. My favorite speaker was Larry Brooks. His six core competencies of successful storytelling changed my life—well, my writing life anyway. Before attending his workshop I was what Larry calls a pantser: I wrote by the seat of my pants without an outline. Now I outline like crazy and am able to develop my stories faster and make them tighter.


What/where do you look for writing inspiration?

As a historical fiction writer, I turn to history books and primary sources like diaries and newspapers. I also watch documentaries. I’m addicted to the History Channel. I’m always looking for a bit of history that has been overlooked—a strange or unique story that could spark a novel. When not looking for a story idea, I seek writing inspiration outdoors. I often go for long walks. Feeling the breeze against my face and viewing of the mountains has the power to transport me back to the 1800s and give me the writing inspiration I need to write a difficult scene.


If you could fly back in a time-machine and give some writing advice to yourself when you were first beginning to write, what would it be?

Critiques can help you improve your writing so pay attention to them, but do not take them personally. Also be aware that it is impossible to please everyone and it is okay to disregard some critiques if you do not agree with them or if they do not fit with your vision. I had a very bad critique in middle school and am permanently scarred. As a result, I seldom write poetry anymore.


Okay…you’re still in the time machine. As a writer of historical fiction, where/when would you travel to next, and what would you really want to see or experience to better inform your writing?

My writing primarily takes place during the nineteenth century. As a historical fiction writer I would love to stay in the time machine long enough to travel across the U.S from 1800 to 1899, but I would probably get claustrophobic. I would love to travel the Oregon Trail, ride with a Pony Express rider, pan for gold in California, watch a cattle drive on the Chisum Trail, and observe the Civil War. Wait I’m not sure about the last one – is the time machine cannonball proof?


You’ve participated in a number of our Writers Meeting Writers public reading nights…in fact, readers can watch a video of your most recent reading below.  What do you get out of it? What makes those experiences interesting or valuable to you as a writer and a person?

Writing is often an isolated activity. The Writers Meeting Writers nights give me an opportunity to network with other writers and share a bit on my current project. It helps me feel a part of a creative community which reminds me I’m not the only one struggling over edits or fighting with characters. The support I get from my peers is wonderful, too.


Why do you write?

I write because it is my passion, my purpose, my profession. I write because it calms my soul. I come up with several story ideas each day and need an outlet to get them out of my head. I can only handle so many characters talking to me at once. I’m addicted to writing. I live to write; live to feel the thrill of creativity flowing through my fingers.


Give us a blurb for your debut novel, Living Half Free:

When Zachariah, a naïve mulatto slave, is sold to a Kentucky slave trader, and separated from his ma and sister, he realizes the true meaning of not having rights. Seeking escape, he falls in love with a Cherokee woman, under whose direction he learns to pass as white. But, he must find his voice, and the courage to stand up for his beliefs or else lose everyone he loves forever.


HALEY WHITEHALL is the debut author of LIVING HALF FREE. It can be found at Amazon, B&NSmashwords and CreateSpace. Find out more about Haley and her writing through her website or connect with her on Twitter @HaleyWhitehall.