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On the Phone with Brad Whittington

By: Woody Dyecot
For the April issue of Lumberjack Journal

Woody Dyecot: Brad, thanks for agreeing to this phone interview. I know it's really early for you out there in Hawaii.

Brad Whittington: Now that you mention it, I'm not at my best in the morning. Next time let's do it around midnight.

Woody: Right. Let's just jump right in , then. I read your book and really enjoyed it. I'm sure most people would want to know how close it comes to your actual life.

Brad: Somewhat, I would say. It is fiction in that the things in the book didn't really happen. But it is a product of my experiences, in that it is set in places where I have lived, and in a family similar to my own when I was growing up.

Woody: Would you say the similarities stop there?

Brad: Yes. It's not really a book about my life. For example, I do have two sisters, but they are not like Mark Cloud's sisters. I'm not ready to write an autobiography, yet. And I doubt if anyone would find it very interesting, if I did. The feelings are authentic, but the events are fiction. It wouldn't do you any good to travel down to Fred and try to find the model for Jolene or Ralph or Becky, because they don't exist.

Woody: What about the influences in your writing. Your sense of humor, your storytelling . . . who would they be?

Brad: Good insight. I have influences in both going way back. The storytelling came from sitting around listening to my dad swap stories at family gatherings. It's one of those things that you pick up over a long period of time of just basking in it without realizing you are learning something. That's where you get all the timing, and understanding how to set up the flow for the punch line. The humor comes from some rather dry sources. Obscure names like Robert Benchley, Stephen Leacock, James Thurber, Damon Runyon and Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carrol) for the earliest influences. And later, Garrison Keillor and Woody Allen.

Woody: Some of those authors I know. I can definitely see those influences in your book. I would consider this book one that could be read aloud . . . a great family experience.

Brad: Yes, that is true. My editor did that on a drive from Kansas City back to Nashville, and I had my wife read it to me as we were driving through the Smokey Mountains on our 25th anniversary last year. It was a lot of fun.

Woody: Will there be sequels to Welcome to Fred?

Brad: There is a plan for a 3-book series.

Woody: So they're not written yet? Will they continue to follow Mark Cloud growing up and perhaps, getting married to The Woman?

Brad: Ha! I see you also are a reader of Acknowledgement sections.

Woody: I read books cover to cover. Sometimes the acknowledgements are as interesting as the book itself.

Brad: The other books are not yet completed, but there is a good bit of material already written. I can't give away any details, though.

Woody: I'm looking forward to the next book! I'm sure some readers will want to know about your life . . . like what did you did for a livelihood before becoming an author?

Brad: A lot of things. Some of which I'm still doing. My degree is in secondary education, but I only spent 2 years teaching high school math before I figured out it was not for me. Actually, I only spent a few weeks doing that before I realized it wasn't for me, but it took me a little while to get out! I've also taught networking in technical colleges, done some programming and other high-tech type things.

Woody: When and how did you become interested in actually getting a book published?

Brad: I think anybody who writes is eventually going to be interested in being published. But I'll go back even further. I've had an interest in writing ever since high school, when my older sister got an assignment to write a short story and I thought that would be fun. However, I hate writing longhand, so I gave it up as too much work and didn't really make much of an attempt to write anything until I got a computer in 1980. Then I kind of went crazy and wrote a lot of bad short stories. Once I finally started getting something halfway decent, I thought about getting published. However, I soon found out it is much more work to get published than to write. I figured if I was going to spend all that time doing something, I would rather be writing stories than book proposals to publishers. So I quit trying to get published and just wrote for my own enjoyment.

Woody: There are so many people out there who think they are good writers and aren't. Some even get published. Two questions. 1) How did you decide you were a good author and 2) How did you get to the point of actually being willing to go through the effort to be published?

Brad: Hmmm. Tough question! How did I decide I was a good author? I would say that if you read enough good material with a critical eye and you are brutally honest about your own work, you will realize when your writing has achieved a level of quality. It's not easy to define, so I won't try. Being willing to go through the effort to be published? I'm not sure what prompted me to try, but I know what prompted me to quit trying to get published. It wasn't any fun and writing was tons of fun! So which do I spend the little free time I call my own doing? It was not a difficult decision.

Woody: Well, congratulations on your first book! Perhaps you'd like to take a few moments to 'tickle the ears' of our readers to get them interested in reading 'Welcome to Fred'.

Brad: Sure. When I finished this book, I thought it would appeal mainly to baby boomers, since it is set in the 60s/70s. However, I gave it to a 21-year-old to read, and he loved it. He closely identified with Mark Cloud, the main character, and his feelings. At that point, I realized that the themes in the book—the need for acceptance, struggling with issues of faith and how it fits in our lives—these issues are universal to all people in their teens or older. And it's a dang funny book! I laughed; I cried; I loved it, Bob.

Woody: Bob?

Brad: Never mind.


There are three essential rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
--Somerset Maugham

My dad is 85 and up until he was 80, stood on his head every May the 1st. Don't know why.

Started off the day with a tremendous headache. Got to work and set an aspirin bottle on my desk for 20 minutes. That seemed to take the headache away, so I put it back in the drawer. At this rate, the bottle should last several years.

I dreamed the following sentence last night. "Nothing gives you less of a sense of reality than the Bundys on TV staring at a garrotted corpse." What does this mean?

The Juve (who is 21) is currently engaged to an 8th grade girl who is 15. They wanted to get married December 93, but the girl's mother said, "Look, her birthday is in December. You don't want a birthday, and Christmas, and your anniversary in the same month. Why don't you get married in November, instead?"

Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said "All men will be sailors, then
Until the sea shall free them"

--Leonard Cohen "Suzanne"

There's a seabird above you gliding in one place like Jesus in the sky
-- Jackson Browne "Rock Me on the Water"

He told me once that to put a pain into words for somebody who has never felt that pain is as much of a challenge as to put the colors of a sunset into words for somebody born blind. I suppose that trying to put his pain into words was the story of his life. Maybe it is the story of all our lives.
--Fredrick Buechner "Love Feast"