Please be quiet! That's the smartest thing you could do.
--Job 13:5 NLT
Writing is easy. All you have to do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.
There are three essential rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
Reviews of Welcome to Fred
Best Christian Fiction
Dancing Word Writers Network
Contend 4 The Faith
Honolulu Advertiser -- August 17, 2003
Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- April 6, 2003
Honolulu writer Whittington's first novel is set in small-town Texas, where the bright and engaging teen hero learns to find himself. What could have been a routine coming-of-age tale is redeemed by Whittington's mastery of low-key details, his sleight-of-hand amusements and spiritual dialectics without being preachy. Whittington will sign copies at noon to 2 p.m. Aptil 19 at Logos Bookstore.
--Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 6, 2003
The Baylor Line -- Summer 2003
"I suppose adolescense is somewhat like insanity. In both cases isolation is sometimes seen as a method for limiting the damage," writes Brad Whittington '79 in the first chapter of his first novel. The novel's narrator, a skinny kid named Mark, could think of no other good reason why his parents would up and move him at the tender age of twelve from metropolitan America to Fred, Texas.
It's the 1960s, and Mark moans that "Fred was no place for a would-be flower child seeking sympathetic flora." Take clothes, for instance. "Not a single Nehru jacket to be found in Silsbee or Beaumont." And Mark's efforts to fit in with his country counterparts aren't helped along by the fact that his dad is a Baptist preacher, prone to flowery phraseology.
Still, Mark does his best. When he learns that he "could have proper grammar or friends, but not both," he doesn't labor over the decision long before he starts saing "ain't" and "fixin' to." He sells newspapers on the backroads by bicycle. He serves as co-consiprator with Jolene Culpepper, the prettiest prankster in Fred. He goes swimming with his buddies at Toodlum Creek, which requires putting his life into the hands of the county's dominant daredevil driver.
But with a bicycle as his own set of wheels, Mark spends much of his time in a treehouse behind the parsonage, pondering life and writing in his journal, reading books that plant seeds of doubt about the faith of his father, and listening to his AM radio.
The only problem with the radio is that it picks up only two stations -- one of them country and the other not. Since they share almost the same frequency, the radio tends to vacillate between the two stations, which makes for "strange and uninteneded medleys," like a poignant blend of "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Your Cheatin' Heart."
After four years in Fred, an unexpected family vacation to the West Coast gives Mark a chance to expand his horizons, as he searches for the destiny that awaits him in California and finds something quite different than what he expected. Welcome to Fred is a strong first novel -- a tale of questioning and self-discovery, with a big dose of laughter thrown in.
--The Baylor Line, Summer 2003
CBA Marketplace -- May 2003
The heartwarming journey of a smalltown preacher's adolescent son in the late '60s and early '70s appeals to every age. Readers will smile, chortle, and roar with laughter as they read the misadventures of young Mark Cloud, who fit into rural Texas life "like a Vegas cocktail waitress at an Amish house-raising."
Whittington's gift with words is reason enough to enjoy Fred. Mark's self-image "a few points above plant life" makes for huge laughs as he navigates through adolescence among peers whose "accent was so thick you could grease wheel bearings with it." This coming-of-age story is punctuated by surprises, tragedy, and even murder.
The extra bonus is that it offers self-reflective invitations to think about what's important in life. -- John Bernstein, CBA Marketplace, May 2003
BookPage -- April 2003
Welcome to Fred is first-time novelist Brad Whittington's appealing story of a preacher's kid (PK) growing up in a tiny, isolated East Texas town. Whittington's publisher compares his style to that of Jan Karon and Phillip Gulley, but his writing is a bit edgier and more contemporary. A funny and honest account of the pains of adolescence and the search for faith. Welcome to Fred should win fans for this new author. --BookPage, April 2003
Publishers Weekly -- March 17,2003
The coming-of-age story is a perennially attractive offering for the CBA market, and this debut from a promising novelist is an agreeable contribution to the genre. Eleven-year-old Mark Cloud arrives in Fred, Tex., by way of Ohio with a large vocabulary and a hankering for paisley, psychedelic posters, and the works of artist Peter Max. He soon finds that being a Baptist preacher's kid in a hick Texas town in the 1960s leaves a lot to be desired. As Mark struggles to find his identify, he also questions the faith he's grown up with and must make his own. There's no melodrama here, no particular tension, just the slow unfolding of a slice of one boy's adolescence. Whittington has a nice command of vocabulary (refreshing for CBA fiction), although less glitzy language in places might have made for a more satisfying, smoother read. . . . Despite the first-person perspective, the reader sometimes feels more like an observer than a participant. However, there are lovely details, generous portions of humor and plenty of nostalgia (when was the last time the protagonist of a novel sold Grit magazine?). Evangelical Christian readers, especially Texans, will find that Whittington spins an enjoyable, literary story and is definitely a novelist to watch in the CBA market. (Apr.) --Publishers Weekly - March 17,2003
I give it a 97
- Woody Dyecot
Welcome to Fred by Brad Whittington.
Broadman & Holman 2003, softcover, $12.99
One might wonder if there is room in the world for yet another coming-of-age story. "Welcome to Fred" leaves no doubt the answer is, "Yep." Although it takes place during the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, as the self-indulgent Sixties gives way to the self-conscious Seventies, the story of Mark Cloud's quest for acceptance is as timeless as a warm summer afternoon. And a lot funnier.
The title refers to the town of Fred, Texas, buried deep in the Big Thicket of East Texas, which is where Mark's nomadic family lands after its trek through urban America. Years of relationships that have lasted about as long as a doomed sitcom leave him hungry for the experience of being part of the group instead of the passing observer. But in Fred he confronts a society that is as foreign to him as the Hottentots.
To add to Mark's problems, he is plagued by a beautiful classmate with an addiction to practical jokes and he suffers from a near-terminal case of unrequited love. Then he discovers a long-abandoned book that shatters his faith and afflicts him with doubts about God that he can't mention to anyone. Especially not his dad, who just happens to be the preacher at the "big church."
Mark comes to place all his hopes on a family vacation to California, where he expects to finally encounter the Beautiful People and achieve the fulfillment that his itinerant life and subsequent exile behind the Pine Curtain have denied him. However, what he finds on this ill-fated journey is nothing he could have predicted, as a long-forgotten experience from his past is reawakened and brings him to a crossroad. The answer he finds is as startling to him as it is unexpected.
Although the book is ostensibly about Fred, Texas, it is actually about Mark's journey. The first third relates his detour through Ohio where he encounters M and The Creature, two people that have a formative influence on his life. The last third chronicles the odyssey to California. In the middle, we have the chance to get a glimpse of Fred through Mark's eyes. But as the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Ohio, Fred, and the ill-fated vacation to California are nothing more than the canvas upon which is sketched a picture familiar to us all. It is a portrayal of the search for meaning and a sense of belonging that haunts the transition from child to adult, regardless of the decade in which it occurs.
In fact, while some of the charm of the book is the sense of time and place through which Mark moves, its appeal is not limited by its setting. The story is set in the era of classic rock. But rock and roll, acid rock, glitter rock, disco, punk rock, alternative rock or no rock at all, it chronicles the story of a teenager in any decade searching for a place to fit in.
It's got a good beat and I can dance to it. I give it a 97.
Somewhere between a good-read and a must-read
- Daniel Whitfield
Welcome to Fred by Brad Whittington.
Broadman & Holman 2003, softcover, $12.99
I approach the reading of a first novel by any author with a modicum of trepidation. On the upside, the book made it into print with an actual publishing house behind it. There is much to be said for that accomplishment. On the downside, this is true of many books that I would have willingly tossed into the fire were it not for the fact that I can't imagine burning any book, no matter how horrid. Not to mention that it is much too warm to start a fire today. And then there are all those environmental concerns to distract me.
Thus I approached the first effort by Brad Whittington. "Welcome to Fred." I think I know how Walker Percy felt as he read the blurred carbon-copies of "A Confederacy of Dunces" hoping that the first few paragraphs would justify abandoning the thing altogether, only to discover he was holding what would become a modern classic. Not that this book approaches Toole's Pulitzer-prize-winning masterpiece. But it will do until the next prizewinner comes along. And who knows, Whittington may eventually write it. After all, unlike Toole, he hasn't committed suicide. Yet.
What Whittington has accomplished is to take the Everyman of English Literature and transfer it to the Everyteen of the 20th century. He is obviously a baby-boomer. The story reeks of it. But the beauty of this book is that it doesn't get mired in the gestalt of its time. While it is set in the 60s and 70s, the theme of alienation and struggle for acceptance is as universal as Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" without all the awkward symbolism and that "Hey, I'm a giant cockroach!" action going on.
To give the bare bones of the story, it is a first-person narrative told from the perspective of one Mark Cloud, who takes us on an eight-year journey that culminates in the summer of his sixteenth year. Mark's particular twist is that he is a preacher's kid who shares the lack of continuity experienced by Army Brats, as they were called before the days of political correctness. Who knows what they are called now.
As the son of a Baptist preacher from Texas, Mark certainly has his share of cultural baggage to deal with. This legacy is complicated by an unexpected friendship with an African-American kid (known as M) and exposure to a homeless substance abuser (known as The Creature) while he is in grade school in Ohio. His experiences with this colorful cast are cut short when the family moves to Fred, Texas, At this point, all bets are off as Mark is forced to speed shift from a sixties counter culture to a Texas bubba culture.
In Fred, Mark encounters an array of characters ranging from a Mario Andretti wannabe driving a pickup in the final stages of dissolution to a dazzlingly beautiful but merciless siren addicted to practical jokes. And the obligatory unrequited love interest, with an interesting twist.
I would place this somewhere between a good-read and a must-read. Mark's struggles range from the clichˇ "Who am I?" teen angst to a spiritual struggle over the existence of God, with the minor complication that his dad is the pastor of the big church in this small town.
At the very least, I don't think you will be disappointed. And you can't always read Pulitzer-prize-winners. Unless you only read one book a year.