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Interview: J.P. White, Author of Every Boat Turns South

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After 35 years of publishing essays, articles, fiction, reviews, interviews and poetry in over a hundred publications including The Nation, The New Republic, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Gettysburg Review, American Poetry Review, and Poetry (Chicago), as well as four books of poetry, J.P. White has decided to try his hand at writing and publishing a novel.  That novel is Every Boat Turns South, a story that blends a memoir-like adventure with a moving coming-home tale.  

J.P. White currently sails a Cape Dory 25D out of St. Louis Bay on Lake Minnetonka, near Minneapolis, Minnesota.

First of all, could you tell us a bit about Every Boat Turns South? What is the story about, who are the characters, etc.

It's the story of Matt Younger, a 30-year-old boat delivery captain who returns to Florida after a 13 year absence to make a confession to his dying father. Matt wants to tell his father about a failed boat delivery from West Palm Beach to St. Thomas, but the water wants to hear about Matt's role in the death of the favorite son, Hale. The major characters are Matt's crew and the islanders he meets when he must pull into the Dominican Republic for repairs.

Do you have a favorite excerpt from Every Boat Turns South? Could you share that with us, please?

Chapter V begins in Florida at the father's bedside, then returns to South
Caicos in the Bahamas where Matt decides with crew member Philip Laforge to cross a body of water at night between the Bahamas and the Caribbean called the Thorny Path. The Trade winds are against them. A storm finds them. St. Thomas is a long way off. And then some serious trouble begins


What do you want readers to take away from reading Every Boat Turns South?

My novel is, in part, a  meditation on dying, on love and forgiveness, as well as an adventure odyssey of the wayward flesh and the returning spirit, and on how we re-invent and deny the past in order to redeem the present. The ideal reader would enter that meditation and exit on the last page feeling like he or she had taken their own journey into those themes.

What was the most fun about writing Every Boat Turns South?

I loved creating putting my characters into harm's way, then trying to figure out how to pull them back from the edge.

What was the hardest part about writing Every Boat Turns South?

I thought because I had read 500 novels, it wouldn't be that hard to write one. Many of the fundamental rules I had to learn by trial and error. I could have benefited from taking a class or two.

What kind of research did you do for Every Boat Turns South?

I loved taking a research trip to the Dominican Republic and revisiting an island I have great affection for.

Could you please tell us about your writing process?

I once read that Graham Greene wrote just 500 words a day, no more, no less. I try to write that much every day.

Do you ever put yourself within your characters?

There is a great deal I have in common with Matt Younger, who is the  captain of this story. His troubles were many of my own when I worked  delivering boats in the Bahamas and Caribbean.

Do you have any particular habits that you take part in while writing? By that I mean certain music you like to listen to, foods you like to eat, environment that helps you write better, etc.

I need the quiet of my own office surrounded by the books I love.

Where do you get your ideas and inspirations?

There are two very reliable sources of inspiration: travel and books. Travel  takes me out of a comfort zone and books return me to comfort. Between  those two extremes, there are buckets of inspiration to be found.

How did you decide you wanted to be a writer? Was there any authors or books that made you think "Wow, that's what I want to do – craft stories of my own for others to read"?

When I was 15, I started writing songs, then poems, then stories. It wasn't until I was much older, in my 40s, that I decided to write a novel. There were  a number of writers including Hemingway, Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy,  F.Scott Fitzgerald and John Fowles who hooked me early on and made me  want to try my hand.

What make you take that leap from "wanting" to be a writer, as opposed to "becoming" a writer? Many talk of being a writer and dip their toes in, but it seems there is often a sort of "push" to bring one over that wall.

There has to be some internal pressure, some sense of urgency, some  necessity that urges you on and convinces you to take the leap. Said   another way, that necessity chooses you and then you must put something  down. In other words, you have no choice. You must write or you'll feel  unwelcome in the world.

How do you come up with the names of your characters? It almost seems as though, as an author, you have the continuous fun of naming children!

Most of my characters are based on real people I've known or wished I had not known. Some part of that real person emerges in the name of the  fictional character.

Were you an avid reader as a child? If so, what were some of your favorite books?

I didn't read anything except comic books until I was about 14 and then I  started reading novels and I couldn't stop. I went a little out of control. I  would read a book a week at least starting with the classic novels by Robert  Louis Stevenson, Dumas, Bronte, etc.

If you had to summarize your life and give it a book title, what would that title be?

My life has been a series of mostly wonderful accidents. I've taken a lot of chances in my personal life, a lot of wrong turns. One of my good friends calls me OFF RAMP.

What are you working on right now? Could you give us a taste/teaser (aka excerpt) from your current WIP?

I'm writing a historical, prohibition novel in the voice of a 13-year-old who sets out in a sailboat to rescue her father from three men who have kidnapped him and taken him to Canada. Here is the first paragraph from Whiskey and Hard Water:

My dog Bob and I polish off a slab of peach pie when I see this lapstraked boat coasting in without her red and greens. The fireflies pepper this incoming craft and their glow makes me think I'm seeing double through binoculars. Bob looks hard into a moon-shot pathway of his own choosing, and he too is head-cocked and baffled by a boat ghosting in without running
lights.

What are you reading right now?

The Infinities by John Banville

Who are some of your favorite authors?

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.

If you could have lunch and chat with any author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

I think it would be a hoot to talk with Philip Roth. He has written some of
the most compelling novels of the last fifty years. He's funny, profound,
topical, provocative and he's able to shift tone better than any writer
alive.

What do you hope to accomplish within the next five years?

I'd like to publish the two books I'm working on now and return to Matt Younger and finish one more book in the quartet I have planned.

Is there anything that you would like to add? That you would like readers to know about you or your writing?

I'm a blue water sailor, not just an armchair sailor.

Where can readers get in touch with you? Twitter, Blog, Facebook, etc?
I can always be reached at: my website or on Facebook.

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