Thriller author Robert Blake Whitehill was the speaker at Saturday’s gathering of Eastern Shore Writers. Robert shared his own success story with writing and publishing his Ben Blackshaw series, which has not only been a hit with readers, but has been optioned for film and is currently in the development process.
Whitehill grew up in a Quaker family in Mardela Springs (Wicomico County) but now lives in Montclair, N.J. Those Eastern Shore roots tugged at him in creating and writing his novels.
Earlier in life, he didn’t set out to be a writer, but an actor. However, he soon found a knack for writing personalized audition monologues for other actors, and then screenplays. He even found a gig writing for the “True Crime” TV series.
Both were good training grounds for how to write action and emotion: “For the monologues, whatever made them breathe faster and brought color to their cheeks, that was the subject of the monologue.”
For many years, Whitehill also worked on the ambulance crew in Montclair, which was a real eye opener into the many facets of how people really live—and die.
“Any experience you give yourself like that is tremendously helpful,” he said.
But the ambulance work took its toll emotionally and physically—hauling stretchers up and down staircases isn’t easy on a back—and he turned his attention to writing fiction. The result was his first Ben Blackshaw novel, “Deadrise.”
Blackshaw is one of those characters in the vein of Jack Reader or Travis McGee. And while McGree in particular is associated with Florida, Blackshaw is a Chesapeake Bay man.
Whitehill got to the core of his character: “If he learns of an injustice, he has to set it right. He is outside the firelight and working in the shadows, for good or ill.”
To help him in writing the books, Whitehill has assembled a team of experts on everything from firearms to the “emotional truths” of combat veterans to editing and cover design.
One unusual tip he suggested for writers is that they take a class in improv comedy. “It will take the stiffness and formality out of the dialogue you write,” he said. “Also, it will help you find your inner funny person. We all have one of those.”
The next step for the Ben Blackshaw character may very well be to the big screen. The stories are currently in the development phase, with the author taking time out to work on the screenplays. While a movie would definitely bring Ben Blackshaw to a wider audience, for now there are four popular novels where the character leaps off the pages.
Whitehill said his goal is for the reader to be entertained on every page.
“If a reader is going to give that time to me, I’m going to respect that to the utmost,” Whitehill said.