Wendy Whitman has a unique background through her decades-long work as an executive and producer for Court TV and HLN, covering almost every major high-profile murder case in America. Through her knowledge of the most detailed aspects of the crimes, Ms. Whitman has become an expert on the subject of murder in America. Before attending Boston University School of Law, Whitman worked for comedians Lily Tomlin and George Carlin. After graduating from law school, the author embarked on what turned out to be a twenty-year career in television covering crime. She spent fifteen years at Court TV and another several at HLN for the Nancy Grace show, where she appeared on air as a producer/reporter covering high-profile cases. Whitman received three Telly Awards and two GLAAD nominations during her tenure at Court TV. Her debut crime thriller novel, Premonition, was released last year. The sequel, Retribution, will be out this July.
RETRIBUTION: After the shattering conclusion of Cary’s quest for justice for the victims of a suspected serial killer in Premonition, Retribution picks up with her cohorts continuing their investigation to hunt down the person responsible for the heinous murders. Who will be next? More importantly, who will come out on top in this deadly game of vengeance?
What brought you to writing? My passion for murder victims and what they have gone through drove me in large part to begin writing. After Court TV and then on Nancy Grace’s show at HLN covering high-profile murder cases, I always felt I had a book in me. I wanted to share my knowledge of the legal system with the public. Although I initially thought I’d write a non-fiction book, I realized I could do everything I wanted in a fictional novel. So one night, I sat down and didn’t stop writing until the early morning hours of the following day. My first crime thriller, Premonition, was a labor of love. I incorporated twenty-plus true cases throughout the book, which I think is unique for a crime thriller, and gave it that extra touch of realism. My second novel, Retribution, picks up where the first one left off. Since I began my writing journey, I have found ideas popping into my head all the time. I am already working on my third novel.
Tell us about your writing process: I didn’t have a plan when I began writing Premonition. The words just flowed out of me. But as the first draft progressed, I knew I had to make a daily schedule in order to complete the book in a reasonable amount of time. So I decided every day, no matter what came up, I would write a certain number of pages; usually, that was twenty or so. Often when I was out and about running errands, an idea would pop into my head, and I would pull over if I was driving and make a note of it. Then when I got home, I would continue to write until I reached my goal for the day. They say, “write what you know.” That thought guided me throughout each writing session. This technique worked well for me, and I completed the first draft in under four months.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? This can be a tricky question to answer. I think one of the most common questions an author gets asked is: “Am I in your book?” As I wrote my novels, I found that I automatically drew upon my experiences; my life. So in that regard, you could say every character has some basis in reality. However, none of my characters were based on one single person. They were either composites or, in some cases, completely made up. Although some situations in the book may be loosely based on actual events, the characters in those situations are not necessarily actual people. When writing fiction, it is especially important to distinguish your characters from the real people in your life: they are not one and the same.
What kind of research do you do? Generally speaking, when an author is writing a fictional novel, there is less research to do than if they were to write a non-fiction book. However, in the case of Premonition and Retribution, since I included references to many true cases in both novels, I had to be careful to get the facts straight. I chose certain murders to highlight in each book for different reasons. Some cases I chose had been neglected by the media; others because the protagonist or killer in the novels was fixated on them. I looked up each case to ensure I remembered the crimes’ details correctly so the books would be as accurate as possible.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? The answer to this is both. Again “write what you know” is a good guideline for any author. The best way to maintain true authenticity throughout a novel is to write about something you have firsthand knowledge of. My novels are set in Connecticut, in the general area where I reside. Although in certain cases, I modified the name of a town or business. Each was based on an actual place. In certain instances, I used the real name because I thought it was important for the setting. So my books have both real locations and fictional ones inspired by real places.
Do you have any advice for new writers? The first piece of advice I would give a new writer is twofold: the overused but critically important “write what you know” and write about something you are passionate about. That combination is a winning formula. Part of the reason I think it was relatively easy for me to complete the first draft of my debut crime thriller, Premonition, in under four months was because I had so much knowledge bottled up inside of me about a topic, i.e., murder. Readers can distinguish between an author who knows what they are writing about and one who does not. Trying to pen a novel about a topic you don’t have a handle on will go nowhere. You can’t fake it; write from the heart, and nothing can stop you. One last piece of advice: when writing, don’t stress about whether you will find an agent or a publisher. How will you promote the book? These are distractions that need to be put on the back burner until you have finished the actual task of writing. Take pride and pleasure in your creation; most of all, have fun with it.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? Writing my first novel, Premonition, was therapeutic for me for several reasons. Having covered some of the most horrific murder cases for decades, I wanted to find a release from the horror of it all. Writing turned out to be the outlet I needed. I wanted my debut crime thriller to pay homage to murder victims and their families. I think I accomplished that goal, and I believe that intention is what makes my novels distinctive from other thrillers. The tagline of my website is: Bringing True Crime Experience to Crime Thrillers. That is exactly what I tried to do with Premonition. The story continues with Retribution, and I am currently working on a third novel to complete the trilogy.
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