Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Meet Southern Writer Barbara Whittington, Author of Missing: Sweet Baby James

Barbara Whittington signing books at Tamarack, WV
I’ve never done an author interview before, but I thought I’d start with my friend Barbara Whittington, who just released her second novel, Missing: Sweet Baby James.  Barbara and I met many years ago when we both lived in the Cleveland, Ohio, suburbs and joined the same writing group.  We bonded over our love of writing, and that shared interest led to a true friendship. 

Barbara, who grew up in small-town West Virginia, began her writing career with short stories, many of which are available in an anthology called Ezra and Other Short Stories.  Her first novel, Vada Faith, is about a woman who decides to become a surrogate mother to afford a new house.  The story is hilarious, poignant, and heartbreaking as everything spins out of control.  Missing: Sweet Baby James, picks up a few years later, when Vada Faith’s own baby boy is kidnapped off her front porch—a nightmare no parent ever wants to face.

Here are some questions I asked Barbara about Sweet Baby James and her writing:

1.  I’ve always loved your characters.  You have a knack for making them quirky and yet real.  Where do they come from—your imagination or people you’ve known?

The answer is both. Because I grew up in a town similar to Shady Creek, where it was all about community, church and friends, I drew from my own experiences.  However, I’ve taken liberties and exaggerated.

 2.  Both Vada Faith and the sequel, Missing: Sweet Baby James, are set in the same fictional town. Why did you decide to write another story with the same characters and town?

I’ll backtrack to explain. Because my first love was the short story form, I wrote a collection of stories and tried to sell them as a book.  I was told I needed to have a novel published before anyone would promote a book of stories.  At the time, surrogacy was a big topic in the news.  I became interested and did some research. I then lifted Vada Faith and Joy Ruth from a short story and put them into a novel about surrogacy. After I wrote Vada Faith, my agent suggested that it might be easier to sell if I could offer a publisher two books. Series were becoming popular. However, family circumstances forced me to put the second book on hold.  After several years, the agent returned the rights to Vada Faith to me, and I self-published the novel. By that time, I had started the second book and wanted to finish it.

3.  How did you decide to write about a kidnapping?

In thinking about a follow-up story for Vada Faith, I felt she needed a baby to compensate for what she’d been through with the surrogacy in the first book. Thus, Sweet Baby James was born. But I needed more than adding a baby to the family. I wanted to show how Vada Faith had grown. I felt she needed to lose the thing she loved the most. I knew, too, I couldn’t write a story about a real kidnapping. When Birdie and Sissy Kapp showed up on the page, I knew I had the element that would carry the book through to the end.

4.  What do you want your readers to take away from this story?

No matter what we do or what choices we make, life will often bring us circumstances over which we have no control. Once James is safe, Vada Faith realizes that, although she can’t undo the kidnapping, she can choose how to deal with it.

5.  The main character’s Christian faith played a more important part in this second story. Why?

As Vada Faith has grown, so has her need for something more than herself to rely on. She’s feisty and independent, but she learns there are-life changing events she has no control over. Having been brought up on the outer edges of church, her faith was never that strong. Her baby missing was the catalyst that brought her back to church and deepened her faith.

6.  The people in the West Virginia town of Shady Creek are an integral part of the story. Did you always want to write about small-town life?

No. In fact, my first short story was set in NYC and about a young secretary who lived in a brownstone. Though it sold, it was never published. I quickly learned that writing what I know works better for me—small towns, quirky people, community life. They all live inside my head.

7.  Does Vada Faith share any of your own characteristics? How are you like—or not like—Vada Faith?

 Well, I grew up in a small community, going to church. Like Vada Faith, I can spout scripture verses, but also like her, I don’t know where they’re located in the Bible. I had three older sisters who were bossy like Joy Ruth, who thought being born minutes before Vada Faith made her the “oldest twin,” and, of course, superior. It’s been my experience that characters often show up fully clothed with a script. All I have to do is lend my voice to their story, do the necessary grunt work (and it is hard work), and the rewriting and editing. It still takes a whole cast of characters, and myself, to bring a story to fruition.

Barbara and me on her front porch last summer.

 I want to thank Barbara for taking the time to answer my questions. Vada Faith, Sweet Baby James, Ezra and Other Stories, and Dear Anne: Love Letters From Nam are available on Amazon and at Tamarack, a West Virginia arts center in Beckley, WV.


  1. Love this, helped me to understand the why about the book and how you shaped the the book so far and look forward to more from you ! Love you Deb

  2. Thanks Elizabeth, my long time friend and writing buddy. I love our phone conversations when we manage to talk about Lake Chautauqua and our writing workshops/visits there and about all the characters and plots that live in our heads. You've become so important to me over the years. I enjoy your books and love that you enjoy mine. Be well. Have a blessed summer. See you in a few weeks for our summer visit! Hugs! B

  3. I really enjoyed reading this interview, Barb! And I have always enjoyed your writing. ;-) Have a wonderful 4th of July weekend!

  4. I loved reading Vada Faith and recently purchased Missing: Sweet Baby James.