Sunday, May 01, 2011

Tina Whittle on Writing Atlanta

Today Type M is proud to welcome guest blogger Tina Whittle. Tina is a mystery writer living and working in Southeast Georgia. The Dangerous Edge of Things, her first novel, debuted February 1st from Poisoned Pen Press. Set in contemporary Atlanta, The Dangerous Edge of Things is the first book in a series featuring gun-shop owner Tai Randolph and corporate security agent Trey Seaver. When not writing or reading, Tina enjoys golf, sushi, and spending time with her family (one husband, one daughter, one neurotic Maltese and three chickens). You can find her at


An interviewer once asked me if I considered myself a Southern writer — I told her that was an easy yes. After all, I qualified on every count I could possibly imagine. I’m from the South, raised in the flatlands of Middle Georgia. I live in the South, in a small town near Savannah. And I write a mystery series set in Atlanta featuring characters who also have pedigrees that place them firmly on the non-Northern side of the Mason-Dixon line.

So with all this vast Southern territory to choose from, why choose Atlanta as my series setting? What is it about this particular Southern city that I find so fascinating?

In The Dangerous Edge of Things, the first novel in my Tai Randolph series, I describe Atlanta as a city perpetually too big for its britches. With a population of approximately 5.4 million people, Atlanta is always stretching out and up. The sounds of jackhammers and ringing steel are a constant, mixing with traffic noise and birdsong. Its population is a crazy quilt of people with skins in every shade from freckled buttermilk to rich saffron to dark ebony.

Atlanta is mouthy and sweet-talking, charismatic and prone to laughter. It’s also edgy and sophisticated and fond of drinking too e

arly in the afternoon. Atlanta knows what wine goes with cornbread and collards, injera and wat, or quail in

puff pastry. It has a big hat for church on Sunday. And just when you think you’ve seen all it has to offer, you turn a corner and discover an artisanal chocolate sh

op run by a gorgeous Latino guy in an emerald green sundress and in-line skates (an adventure which happened to a friend of mine last week).

Like any richly diverse urban area, Atlanta must be experienced to be appreciated. But until you get that chance, here are just a couple of my favorite tidbits about the city often referred to as the L.A. of the East.

1. One iconic fixture of the Atlanta skyline — The Peachtree Westin — is the tallest hotel in the Western Hemisphere. It measures 723 feet from the street level to the top floor, an elevator ride that takes 85 seconds.

2. Atlanta is the only city in North America destroyed by a fire as an act of war. For this reason, the legendary phoenix — the mythical bird who dies in flames and rises from its own ashes — is Atlanta’s symbol, appearing on its official seal.

3. There are approximately 71 streets with variants of the word "Peachtree" in Atlanta, even though the city wasn’t named for peach trees at all, but for a large Creek settlement called Standing Pitch Tree.

4. The Fox Theatre, an example of Egyptian revival architecture built in 1929, was designed as headquarters for the Shriners and was originally called the Yaarab Temple Shrine Mosque. It’s a masterpiece of trompe l'oeil decoration, from the plaster and steel Bedouin canopy that serves as an acoustical funnel to the indigo night sky, which is really seventy-seven twinkling electric lights and a cloud machine.

5. The house where Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind is preserved now as a museum. Mitchell and her husband lived in Apartment #1 of this three-story Tudor revival home which they affectionately referred to as The Dump. Mitchell composed the work on an old Remington typewriter she kept on a sewing table — when guests visited, she threw a towel over the set-up to keep it a secret.

6. The Buckhead area of Atlanta is the ninth most expensive zip code in the United States.

Integrating real Atlanta snippets into the Atlanta of my novel has been a lot of fun. I named my fictitious corporate security company Phoenix, for example, and my protagonist keeps getting lost on the myriad Peachtrees crisscrossing the city. But as the saying goes, the truth really is stranger than fiction. As much as Writer Me would like to close the Downtown Connector because of an escaped zebra — which really happened last year — I think my creative license might get yanked if I tried it. But for a writer who enjoys exploring themes of identity, growing pains, and the challenges of stretching one’s boundaries, Atlanta provide fertile creative ground for both my characters and me.

Despite my appreciation and affection for the city, I’ve never gotten the chance to live there. We’re perpetual kissing cousins, Atlanta and I. But even now, forty years after my first visit, I still get a thrill every time I head up I-75 and see it rising at the horizon like Oz, then dipping behind green stands of trees, only to reappear at a different angle, but always in the distance, always just ahead.


The Dangerous Edge of Things -Tai Randolph thinks inheriting a Confederate-themed gun shop is her biggest headache--until she finds a murdered corpse in her brother's driveway. Even worse, her supposedly respectable brother begins behaving in decidedly non-innocent ways, like fleeing to the Bahamas and leaving her with both a homicide in her lap and the pointed suspicions of the Atlanta PD directed her way. Suddenly, she has to worry about clearing her own name, not just that of her wayward sibling, and a shop chock-full of firearms doesn’t help matters. But it takes another murder -- and threats to her own life -- to make Tai realize that to solve this crime, she has to trust the most dangerous man she's ever met.


Donis Casey said...

I love the energy in Atlanta, Tina. What a great place to set a series. Hate having to go through the airport, though.

Tina said...

Thanks for having me today, Donis!

Even though I love Atlanta, I'm with you on the airport -- that place is the reason Atlanta is the most visited but least enjoyed city in the US. I wish it were easier to get out and experience Atlanta itself (right now is especially nice).

Jon said...

Dead on, Ms. Whittle. Your newest work will highlight the funky, multi-cultural melange that makes Atlanta today.

Tina said...

Thank you, Jon -- that means a great deal coming from someone who knows the city as well as you do.