The latest novel from Robert Whitlow is the legal drama A Time to Stand (Thomas Nelson). This ripped-from-the-headlines story challenges ideas of faith and justice. In this interview, the author shares why he wrote a novel that deals with racial prejudice, how he feels about being compared to John Grisham, and how his Christian faith impacts his fiction.
Robert Whitlow’s A Time to Stand (Thomas Nelson) is a relevant and gripping novel which challenges readers to ask what it means to forgive while seeking justice. The story was sparked by racially charged incidents in Ferguson, Mo., in the summer of 2014—many additional instances across the nation have continued the conversation. Realizing that such topics are often taboo, yet always needed in the social dialogue, Whitlow does not choose sides, but expresses how faith and justice can thrive alongside each other in our world.
“Before writing this book, I looked in the mirror and saw a 61 -year-old white man raised in the South. I come from an enlightened home, but that doesn’t qualify me to lift my voice above a whisper. Nevertheless, I decided to try and I found out we all have a responsibility to pursue reconciliation while loving others as we love ourselves.”
Whitlow’s experience as a lawyer in Georgia beginning in the late 1970s seeps into the book in profound ways. Whitlow received his J.D. from the University of Georgia School of Law and served on the staff of the Georgia Law Review. He is a Southerner who speaks from personal knowledge with a redemptive message of hope.
Set in a small Georgia town, the novel begins as lines are drawn and tensions mount when a young African American lawyer, Adisa, is tapped to defend a Caucasian police officer accused of shooting an unarmed African American teen, who is left fighting for his life. As the case unfolds, everyone must confront their own prejudices. For Adisa, it means seeking counsel from those older and wiser, as well as standing tall to find justice, no matter the price.
“We should always be willing to speak the truth and give every man a good answer when given the chance,” said Whitlow. “I hope this book gives readers the courage to do just that.”
Robert Whitlow is the best-selling author and director of legal novels and films set in the South and winner of the prestigious Christy Award for Contemporary Fiction. A Furman University graduate, Whitlow received his J.D. with honors from the University of Georgia School of Law where he served on the staff of the Georgia Law Review. A practicing attorney, Whitlow and his wife, Kathy, have four children. They make their home in North Carolina.
Even in today’s day and age, America still has a long way to go regarding race relations. What inspired you to write a legal novel that deals with racial prejudice?
The ongoing need for racial reconciliation in America subsequent to the events in Ferguson, Mo. in August, 2014, motivated me to write A Time to Stand. The storyline came to me in 2015, while participating in a statewide prayer meeting in my hometown of Charlotte, NC. For six hours I was surrounded by rich ethnic diversity as thousands of Christians came together to pray and intercede for our city, state and country. The unity present and the respect I felt for those at the rally showed me clearly that the best, deepest, and most practical form of racial reconciliation is only possible among believers in Jesus Christ. Pairing a white police officer with a black, female attorney in a novel would be a powerful way to communicate this truth.
As a lawyer who writes legal novels, there have always been comparisons with John Grisham. How do you feel when reviewers and readers bring up “John Grisham” when discussing your fiction?
I’m honored by any comparison to John Grisham. I’ve never met Grisham, but his success caused many publishers to establish a legal fiction writer niche. I’m a beneficiary of that response. Also, it always helps sales when an author is favorably compared with another wildly successful novelist!
What parts of the novel were inspired by real life (either research or experience)?
I am a lifelong southerner who has practiced law for almost forty years in Georgia and North Carolina. Southerners, black and white, are my people. I know them and can hopefully portray them with depth and credibility. I’ve paid attention to my surroundings throughout my life and draw from many people as inspiration for characters and conduct. Those are my roots. Not much research was necessary.
What do you want readers to take away after reading A Time to Stand?
I want readers to be entertained and encouraged. I want the influence I have on others through my writings, to be positive, not negative. I believe without reservation or apology in the power of the Gospel to bring genuine peace and reconciliation.
How does your Christian faith impact how you write fiction?
My Christian faith impacts my writing because it’s at the core of who I am as a person. Fiction is like a personal testimony. The characters don’t argue with the reader, they simply reveal in story form who they are and how what they believe effects the way they live. The characters aren’t real; the truth they portray is.