“STORYTELLER 7: A TRIBUTE TO CHARLES WHIPPLE”

— PROLIFIC WORDSMITH —

Writer Charles T.  Whipple died this past week after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Charlie wrote nonfiction under his own name and Western fiction as Chuck Tyrell. Several years ago, he participated in my StoryTeller 7 interview series. Although the interview is several years old, I’m confident you’ll enjoy his comments about growing up in Arizona, living in Japan, and writing in general. 

CHUCK TYRELL

An international prize-winning author, Charlie was born and reared in Arizona’s White Mountain country, a few miles from Fort Apache. Brought up on a ranch, he was able to interject his own experiences into his stories of 19th century Arizona.

Since winning a writing contest in high school, several more awards have followed:

  • 4th place in the World Annual Report competition
  • 2nd place in the JAXA Naoko Yamazaki Commemorative Haiku competition
  • 1st place Agave Award in the 2010 Oaxaca International Literature Competition
  • 2011 Global eBook Award for Western Fiction.

Charlie and his wife are the parents of two sons, and four daughters, and grandparents to eighteen grandchildren.

He held membership in Western Fictioneers, Western Writers of America, Arizona Authors Association, American Society of Journalists and Authors, and Tauranga Writers Inc.

StoryTeller’s 7

1. In a sentence or two, tell us about the premise of PITCHFORK JUSTICE, and something about Ness Havelock, a character who has made previous appearances in your work.

CW: Pitchfork Justice is the third of the Havelock books. In the first book, Ness, who was then known as Johnny, made a cameo appearance at the end. In the Cover, Pitchfork Justicesecond book, he was the leading supporting actor as many Havelock gathered to help Garet, the older brother. This is the book in which Rita Pilar gives Johnny the nickname of Ness. His name is Johannes, and she thinks Johnny is too “boyish.” The premise of Pitchfork Justice in a word is, good deeds come back to the giver in the end.

2. What would you say is the general theme for your stories?

CW: Not sure there’s a single theme that runs through all of them. My stories are not noir. Sometimes they get quite gritty. Heroes often get hurt nearly to death but are usually able to crawl out of the pit with some strategic help. Still, once or twice, that’s not happened.

Ness could not keep a father and son from killing each other in one story. Greed killed the master in another story. The female main character of another story committed suicide. But usually, toughness and the willingness to just keep on slugging serves to redeem the hero in the end. Of course, that does not happen if the protagonist has no saving attributes.

3. You were raised on a ranch in Arizona, and now you live in Japan. I understand you fell in love with Japan. What took there, and when?

CW: My dad just wanted to be a cowboy. But, of 10 children, my grandfather singled him out for a college education. It took father six years to get through high school because he was needed on the ranch for part of the school year. He finally graduated from Northern Arizona University when he was 29. He became a schoolteacher and then a school administrator, but he always ran cattle and raised grain and hay for them and vegetables and corn and wheat for us.

I rode Old Spot before I could properly walk, and that old paint horse took good care of me. I milked cows and slopped pigs as soon as I was big enough to carry a bucket. Biddies came in the spring, 100 to the box. Half were roosters and we started eating them at about six weeks. We butchered two hogs and a fat steer every year for the family, so I know how that works. I’ve done branding and castrating and earmarking more often than I can count (well, until I left at 18, anyway) so I know how that works. My boyhood was a good life. I’d like to leave a shadow of it behind in my Westerns.

Being a Mormon, I was called on a mission in 1960 and left for Japan in January 1961. I spent two and a half years here as a youth missionary and switched my major to Asian Studies when I returned to college. I got a scholarship to the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii for graduate work and went back to Japan in 1968. Since then, I have been in the Far East except for two years in Hawaii, 1974-1976.

My Hawaii years, after I’d turned thirty, are when I decided I wanted to write for a living. I took correspondence courses (no internet in those days) and sold my first magazine article in 1975.

Hundreds have gone through the typewriter (and PC) since. I was hired by the Waikiki Beach Press and was fortunate enough to cover the return of the Hokule’a, a traditional Hawaiian double-hulled canoe that sailed to Tahiti and back to celebrate the Bicentennial. Since then, I’ve made my living with my typewriter.

A Matter of Tea_red724. In 2010, your short story – A Matter of Tea – won the first place Agave Award at the Oaxaca International Literature Competition. In fact, the royalties your book of short stories, by the same name, go toward relief efforts in Japan. Can you elaborate a bit on that?

CW: Unfortunately, the royalties have not amounted to thousands of dollars, but the few hundred that have come in go to Books for Japan, which is still replacing the library books washed away or destroyed by the quake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. I had a few stories set in Japan, one of which won the Agave Award, so with the help of Rebecca Vickery Publishing, we put them together, along with one of Rebecca’s stories, and vowed to put all the income into helping the recovery work in devastated areas.

5. Who are three of your literary heroes (living or dead) and, if you were at dinner with them, what one – and different – question would you ask of each one?

CW: John Steinbeck, Robert Parker, Elmer Kelton.

Wow. I got to talk to Elmer at WWA (Western Writers of America)  conventions. Not too much about writing techniques, but enough to know he treated his writing seriously, fiction and nonfiction both. I try to do the same.

I try to emulate Robert Parker’s minimalist style. I’m not as good, but if I could talk to him, I’d thank him for teaching me about Spenser and Jesse Stone and Sunny Randal, and how to make tough people good. I don’t mean well written, I mean good. Take Hawk for example. He’s a guy without a conscience, it seems, but when it comes to Spenser, he’s there, because Spenser can always be believed and would never tell Hawk a lie. Parker writes about good tough characters.

I try to make my tough characters good, too. And I might ask Robert Parker for a hint or two, but reading his stuff is about as good an education in writing as you could ask for.

Of the 20th century writers, I’d have to pick John Steinbeck. He didn’t have to go abroad (like I did) to write well. He wrote what he knew about (as we are so often told to do). And if I could ask him a question, I’d probably ask if he had any special ways of observing what was going on around him, ways of seeing the places and the people who lived in his stories.

6. Give us three “good to know” facts you want readers to know about you.

CW: I sail. Don’t have any sailboat mysteries a la Bernard Cornwell, but I sail. Built a yacht designed for me by John Welsford. Built it in his Hamilton, NZ, shop Sailboat, Whippleand sailed it straight onto the rocks of Great Barrier island, cutting my planned solo circumnavigation very very short.

I write longhand. I’ve found that writing longhand at Starbucks in the morning over a cup of spearmint or hibiscus tea is a good way to get two or three novels written per year.

I go on reading binges. Right now, I’m reading everything of Bernard Cornwell’s that I can get my hands on (not buying them from Amazon by the truckload because of fiscal constraints).

His Starbuck series on the Civil War is quite good. He can do a battle scene like few writers I know. His Sharpe series, of course, made him famous, but his historicals on Alfred the Great, the search for the Holy Grail, and others, are good, I think. Ken Follett, of course, does Old England very well, but Cornwell’s my binge at the moment.

7.  What do you consider the best moment of your writing life?

CW: The best probably hasn’t come yet. But those I’ll never forget the others. The first acceptance letter for an article is one. It was for an article on Jack Thorpe, superintendent of the Honolulu Zoo, who had bred back the Poi dog, which Hawaiians had raised in pre-European days.

The first prize for writing. I won best direct mail campaign for small newspapers in 1976. And all those that have followed.

Wrote my first novel in 1979 for a Louis L’Amour write-alike contest. Didn’t win. Decided I couldn’t write fiction (I was an award-winning nonfiction writer, after all). But I kept the MS. It finally came out in 2005. Vulture Gold. That book is another thing I’ll not forget. One thing? Best moment? I hope the best is yet to come.

_______

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8 comments to “STORYTELLER 7: A TRIBUTE TO CHARLES WHIPPLE”

  • Celia Yeary

    Hi, Charles and Tom–I know what Haiku is. I feel very smart because most people don’t! I couldn’t write it though–too complicated and precise.
    Is the Oaxaca you mention the one in Mexico? I love that place.
    You are an intriguing person, Charles, and probably very modest. You should let your light shine more–how, I don’t know, but you’re a great storyteller.
    Congratulations on your writing and your awards. Please let us know when the “best moment in your writing life” comes along.

  • I write in long hand first, too. It gives me time to think about what I really want to say.
    I have Vulture Gold and I look forward to reading it.
    You’ve led a very interesting and unique life, Charles. I’m sure the best really is yet to come.
    I wish you the very best.

  • Cheryl Pierson

    Hey Tom and Charlie, I really enjoyed this interview. Charlie I learn something new about you every time I read an interview you’ve done, and Tom always asks the very best questions. You are a very talented writer to be able to write all the different types of writing you do. That is not easy. You know how I love wounded heroes, so of course, I will be reading your stories, for sure.

    Sailing is such a wonderful hobby. My kids both took sailing classes here on one of the lakes, but didn’t follow through with it as they grew older. Too much “stuff” going on, and they only taught the classes in the summer (of course). But they both loved them. You must love to just be on the water and leave your troubles behind while you’re sailing. LOL That would be something I think I would enjoy.

    BTW, I write everything longhand, too. When I sit in front of the blank computer screen and try to write anything other than an e-mail I just have no concentration.

    Cheryl

  • Cheryl–Thanks for the comment. I’m surprised at the number of those who write longhand. I like it at times because it helps slow down my thinking. Only problem is reading what I write!

  • Cheryl Pierson

    Tom, it helps me in the long run with editing. By the time you write it, and then you mark through something, you’re able to remember why you didn’t use it if you think about using it again. Then you type it into the computer and edit it again as you’re typing. By the time you actually print it and read it on paper, you’ve done 2 or 3 rounds of editing as you’ve gone along. I can usually read what I write unless I’ve gone back and added notes in the margins. LOL
    Cheryl

  • Well, you may have something there in terms of editing. At the same time, I can remember looking at longhand edits of some authors and you get a sense of why some words and phrases were deleted. Sadly, I believe that kind of “reference” isn’t as prevalent as before because of computers and other electronic devices. Those of you who write longhand can, if desired, preserve your edits.

  • Yes, Tom, I was greatly saddened at the passing of Charlie. I’ve posted this link on my blog today.

  • HI Nik–THanks for posting this on our blog site. Charlie was such a prolific writer and a daring adventurer. He will be missing. I always found him simply “nice.”

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