Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Author Interview ~ Haley Whitehall Debuts First Novel

I just love meeting writers when they’re still in that wonderful/crazy world of working on a book.

But, It’s much better to continue to get to know them until they’ve finished the book and hold its Debut :-)

It was March of 2011 when Haley Whitehall visited this blog for an author interview.

And now, we get to have another interview about the Historical Fiction Novel she’s just published.


Haley, what is the premise of your debut novel “Living Half Free”?

When Zachariah, a naïve mulatto slave, is sold to a Kentucky slave trader, and separated from his ma and sister, he realizes the true meaning of not having rights. Singled out for abuse by his new master’s sadistic son, he dreams of only one thing: escape. He thinks he’s found it when he falls in love with a Cherokee woman from a powerful family, under whose direction he learns to pass as white. But it’s not long before he discovers that freedom that’s based on a lie will only get him so far. While struggling to find his place in the world, he also wrestles within his heart to realize his faith. This faith is tested when his slave past catches up with him, and threatens everyone he cares for. He must decide whether slavery is the price he’s willing to pay for his family’s freedom.

Very powerful premise, Haley! How did you get your idea for “Living Half Free”?

This is going to sound cliche, but the idea came to me in a dream. However, I had just finished reading Puddinhead Wilson by Mark Twain. (A secret goal of mine is to read all of Mark Twain’s books.) Puddinhead Wilson is Mark Twain’s only tragedy and follows the lives of two boys who were switched at birth–one white and one a slave who was “imitation white.” This was the first story I had read about a slave passing as white. In my dream a beautiful Native American woman stood next to Zachariah and that sparked my story in a new direction.

How much time did you spend researching before you wrote the book?

I’ve been reading about this time period since the 5th grade. There were three things that I needed to research: the transportation of a coffle of slaves to market, work on a Mississippi steamboat, and life on the Cherokee reservation after the Trail of Tears. Research took me about eight weeks. Some of that time was spent waiting for requested books from the library ;)

Haley, would you say you have anything in common with your protagonist, Zachariah?

Good question. I’m always wondering what part of myself I infuse into my characters. Until I get to know someone I am on the shy side. I think we have that in common. I also have a strong connection with my family and strong spirituality.

Why were you drawn to writing historical fiction?

I have a quote from James Baldwin on my homepage: “People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them.” I’m sure I was born with not only a pencil in my hand, but a love for history. I grew up on Little House on the Prairie books and John Wayne movies so that might have something to do with it. I do find facts comforting. Based on research, I can recreate the past instead of building a world from scratch.

Do you have any other projects in the works?

I can’t leave the characters in Living Half Free. They are still in my head and have more stories to tell. I am currently writing a collection of short stories that take place on the steamboat the Princess. I am also editing the first book in my Civil War trilogy. If you know me, you will know that I’ve been working on this series for five years. It is finally reaching completion. The first book will be available this summer.


Now is the time to click the Comment link at the top of this post and ask Haley a question :-)

Well, maybe you could comment after you see her picture and read her Bio with all her linksWhoot!

Historical Fiction Author, Haley WhitehallHALEY WHITEHALL has a B.A in history and has been fascinated with the Civil War era for as long as she can remember. She likes to write out of the box stories that feature an underdog. LIVING HALF FREE is her debut novel. Released February 29, the ebook can be found at Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. Find out more about Haley through her website or connect with her on Twitter @HaleyWhitehall or Facebook.
Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

10 responses to “Author Interview ~ Haley Whitehall Debuts First Novel

  1. Pingback: Want To Get To Know Me?

  2. Haley Whitehall (@HaleyWhitehall) March 5, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Thank you, Alexander for hosting me. I really appreciate your friendship and support.


  3. Jane Watson March 6, 2012 at 9:28 am

    Haley, the question I would want to ask you is how difficult you found it to write about someone who is not ‘white’ in a country and time when this made them an outsider? How did you prepare and imagine this experience? This kind of cultural crossover is often difficult for writers, I think, and I have found it hard, so I wonder if you were at first fearful of attempting it?


    • Haley Whitehall (@HaleyWhitehall) March 6, 2012 at 7:02 pm

      Hi Jane,
      Nice to meet you and thanks for the wonderful question. I have immersed myself in this time period since the 5th grade. It almost seems like second nature to me. However, this is my first story written from a non ‘white’ perspective. I was nervous writing this novel; I constantly worried if I was getting it right. Cultural crossover is very difficult. I will never know what it is like to be African American or what it was like to live in the 1840s. But, that did not hold me back from telling my story.

      How did I prepare? Without a time machine, I did a lot of research using primary sources. There are countless slave autobiographies available. Some even who were imitation white which brings up even more issues. I learned about the culture of the African American slaves — watched as many documentaries as I could find. Life experiences changes through the eras, but the human experience and human needs do not change. I tried to focus on those. Outsiders were treated the same way then that they are now. Sometimes they were mocked and shunned and sometimes people accepted them with open arms.

      How did I imagine the experience? I have many years of theater experience and I often put those acting skills to work to get into my character’s skin and inside his head. Incidents in Zachariah’s life are based on real events from the lives of slaves. Many come from American Slavery As It Is. I have to admit my novel became much easier to write when Zachariah began passing as white.


  4. Pingback: Building A Former World – Guest Bloggist Haley Whitehall | Fantasyfic

  5. Jane Watson March 7, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Thank you Haley, and thanks for such a comprehensive reply. You seem to have researched this really well and then made that giant leap of imagination to see the inner life of your character. I think theatre experience would help. Have you ever read ‘Getting Into Character: 7 Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors’ by Brandilyn Collins? I found that gave an interesting perspective on imagining oneself into a character’s world using Stanislavsky’s Method acting theory. I wish you every success in all your endeavours :-)


  6. Haley Whitehall (@HaleyWhitehall) March 7, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    You’re welcome, Jane. I was more than happy to help. I have read that book! For me, research was key. I needed enough information to form the background of my character. It is the same research I do when preparing for an acting role ;)

    I wish you success in your endeavors too.


  7. Pingback: Author Interview ~ Haley Whitehall « Notes from An Alien

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