Inner View: Hollis Whitaker by CB Shanahan Encircle Publications ISBN: 978-1-64599-046-8
Review by John O’Brien, Jr.
I have known CB Shanahan for most of our lives. Rooted in Irish history, culture and storytelling in word and song, CB is a gifted journalist, storyteller and writer, and a member of Mensa. I wasn’t at all surprised at how good Hollis Whitaker is. I read it in 2 days. Then I gathered all I had for this review.
OhioIANews: Good Morning CB; How are things on the East Coast; are you staying safe and sane?
CB: I’m in New Hampshire, which at the moment is faring better than just over the border in Massachusetts. I believe it’s because we’re not as densely populated, but it doesn’t make going to the grocery store any less harrowing. And I feel for my neighbors to the south. The whole crisis has made me realize how many things I touch in a single day… or any given minute for that matter. We’ve just visited a local distiller that is brewing hand sanitizer and we bought a gallon. No hyperbole, an actual gallon. We figured it would be nice to have some on hand if anyone we know got into trouble and couldn’t find any. So, we’re staying as safe as we can, but the sanity question might have to wait for hindsight.
OhioIANews: How did the fictional story of Hollis Whitaker form in your mind?
CB: Hollis Whittaker is a story that changed as I was writing it. In fact, originally Hollis was an adult, until I realized how much scarier things would be if the government were trying to kill a child – someone so much more helpless than an adult.
The concept came to me exactly as the novel begins, with a woman being chased in the 1940s and discarding a magical stick in the woods, only to have someone today find it. That’s all it was in the beginning.
After that I just made it up as I wrote. In fact, I didn’t have an ending until I reached it and then there were a multitude of possibilities.
OhioIANews: Did you achieve what you set out to do?
CB: I wanted to avoid the typical action hero, the sturdy and reliable alpha male with the wit and brawn to save the day. Readers nowadays don’t want the same old cliché, nor do I want to write it. That’s why the protagonists are a woman and two children.
With the MeToo movement pointing out the problems inherent in the world’s mainly patriarchal societies, I tried to pepper in just a little bit of what I imagine women have to endure. I’m not going to pretend to understand what it’s like being a woman, but I do think it’s time for men to admit we need to change and that women deserve better out of us.
Did I make that a huge portion of the book? No. But I didn’t want it to sound preachy and I think if these sorts of things are brought into art, like books, plays, TV shows and movies, society will move in that direction.
If men don’t feel like it’s being forced on them, I think a lot of them will appreciate the rationale. So I didn’t want to hammer anyone over the head with it, just to treat it as an issue that should be considered.
And past that, my aim was to write a good story. My father used to complain about pop singers, that they were trying to show off. The National Anthem was a big one for him. “Stop singing so many notes. The song isn’t about you,” he’d say to the television. “It’s about the sentiment.”
Some authors nowadays seem to be taking the same tact as the pop singers, trying to find an interesting way to tell a story, whether that be first person or some other crazy method for telling it. Hollis is third person, plain and simple. I feel it’s a good story, and that is what I feel should be paramount in a book.
OhioIANews: Tell me about the research part of the writing.
CB: I enlisted the help of the Native Languages of the Americas, a nonprofit organization, and in particular their director and co-founder, Laura Redish, in writing the book. She steered me away from a smaller tribe in New Mexico I had originally wanted to include and suggested I focus instead on the Navajo, who she explained, tend to be more open to outsiders writing about them. I can’t thank her enough for helping me there as the absolute last thing I would have wanted was to offend Native Americans. She also helped with some translations, especially with the medallion’s name, the Níłch’i Bee Hane’e.
From the beginning, I also wanted to include my love for science, especially astronomy. The vastness of this great universe humbles me, and I don’t understand how anyone can’t be blown away just contemplating it. After all, we’re the only beings we know of who can appreciate it… and we’re the only ones who can tell a story about it.
OhioIANews: Any surprises, favorite stories or memoires in the writing and since?
CB: I can’t describe how happy I was to have my first couple of reviews. The first gave it five stars and I was over the moon, and then the second came in at five stars again and it gave me hope that the first hadn’t just been a fluke.
It’s nerve-shattering to have something like a book—that you’ve spent years writing—go out to people for their thoughts on it. I mean reviews are pretty well just opinions and everyone has their own taste, so it’s not like someone can really be wrong in a review.
If a reviewer doesn’t like it, what can you do? They didn’t like it. And it’s that thought that keeps me up at night. Even though I like chocolate cake, doesn’t mean everyone does.
I haven’t started another book yet. Part of the problem is that it took me two years to write Hollis and it’s tough to settle on the next idea that’s worth that kind of time. I have a lot of concepts, but I’d like to work on each one just as much as the next. And one question keeps nagging at me: a sequel? I certainly left the possibility open at the end of Hollis. I suppose if there’s enough interest, I’d love to write the next one.
OhioIANews: Hollis Whitaker is one of my favorite books of the year. Like the year, it is surprising, with a fair bit of tension to the journey and much uncertainty on who, if anyone, will survive. Add the virus of some government agent’s disdain for life as we know it, and it is the perfect, timely escape. Hollis Whitacker is a five-star fun book, highly recommended for the excellent writing, drama and education too.
About the Book
It changed the course of WWII. In 1945, it was stolen. Now a ten-year-old boy has found it, and the government will kill him to get it.
When ten-year-old Hollis Whittaker picks up a strange medallion he stumbled upon at the edge of a stream, he suddenly begins exhibiting signs of brilliance, even discovering the solar system’s Planet X and astounding the astronomical community. The awkward, overweight fifth grader with heart problems is an instant media sensation, but all is not well. The genius-making medallion bonds to only one person for life and the U.S. government has been searching for it since World War II, which means they’re prepared to kill Hollis to acquire it so they can exploit the medallion’s immense power.
After a thwarted hit job by two military agents, Hollis treks cross-country with the aid of his best friend Kirby and a Navajo woman, Cha’Risa, whose family possessed the medallion—the Níłch’i—more than seventy years ago. They are hoping Cha’Risa’s aged grandfather will be able to help them. Unfortunately, the whole country believes she has kidnapped the boys, and the agents who are trying to kill Hollis have the system on their side.
CB Shanahan’s Hollis Whittaker is appropriate for readers aged 12-112!
Where can you get it, and more: The book will be available for sale June 5 at: http://encirclepub.com/product/holliswhittaker/ (Or search http://www.amazon.com for Hollis Whittaker)
For more on CB Shanahan: http://wwwcbshanahan.com @cb_shanahan on Twitter