Interview: J.P. White

In the last 35 years, J.P. White has published essays, articles, fiction, reviews, interviews and poetry in over a hundred publications. He is the author of five books of poems and a novel, Every Boat Turns South.

Enjoy this interview.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you been writing?

I was born in Ohio and I spent summers in a small town on Lake Erie. My father was a Lake Erie sailor and we cruised and raced two different boats he owned. I started writing songs when I was fifteen and I had every fantasy of being a singer/songwriter of the first order. Two years later, I started writing poetry and much later I started writing prose.

Tell us about your latest book. What do you hope readers take away from it?

In the fall of 2009, I published my debut novel Every Boat Turns South. It’s a cross between a family drama and a Caribbean noir with a guilt-ridden delivery boat captain as its protagonist. The son has a confession to make about his role in the death of the favorite son, but he doesn’t want to reveal the truth too soon. My hope, I suppose, is that readers will see that the son’s moral weakness is just another facet of moral strength. And that no matter how many wrong tacks a sailor makes through greed, lust and violence, he can still find his way home.

Share some of your writing goals. What’s next for you?

I’m working on two books. One is an historical, adventure novel called Whiskey and Hard Water. It’s the story of a 13-year-old girl whose father
is kidnapped during Prohibition and she alone goes after him in her own sailboat across Lake Erie and into Canada. The second book is a series of three novellas called Three Wars from my Youth.

What’s the most interesting book you¹ve ever read?

That’s an impossible question because there are so many books that have left their mark on my psyche. The first book that offered a robust portrait of life’s mysteries and confusions was Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson and the second Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. Elements from both of those stories will turn up in my next book.

Favorite authors?

I read both popular and literary fiction and the list is long, but the ones that have stayed with me are relatively few. They include: Hemingway, Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, Robert Louis Stevenson, Kazantzakis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, Saul Bellow, Graham Greene, Joseph Conrad, Philip Roth, Dashiell Hammett, Wallace Stegner, John Fowles, William Styron, John D. Macdonald, James Cain, Richard Hughes.

Book you¹re currently reading?

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. This is an extraordinary poetic recasting on an entire era in New York City.

Any type of writing ritual you have?

I will often randomly open the Bible and drop my finger on a verse. I do this not out of religious obligation but because I love the language and the words found there will often jump start me.

Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how did you get past it? If not, why not?

If I get stuck, I put on my researcher’s hat and go looking for details that will help me focus on a scene or a character.

In your opinion, what’s the measure of a successful writer?

It’s certainly not money nor prizes. Don’t get me wrong. Those are always nice, but I guess what matters most is when a reader, who pulled my book off
a library shelf, writes to me and says something over the top like, “Your book is one of the best I’ve ever read.” Now, that’s gratifying.

Advice for other writers?

In a word, persistence. I spent over ten years working on my first novel. It took the most circuitous route to find its way into print. Many times I wanted to give up, but I hung in there and thankfully the story itself didn’t give up on me.

Where can we learn more about you?

On my website.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Stories are everywhere waiting to be told. You don’t have to circumnavigate the globe or ski to the North Pole to have something to write about. Just
look around, listen, ask questions and listen more as deeply as you can.

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1 Comment on "Interview: J.P. White"

  1. That is an interesting writing ritual. I’ve never heard of someone doing that before.

    Personally, I’m very scared of the water, but I think sailing would be lovely. (Yeah, crazy contradiction, eh?)

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