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Muscle Shoals Minister Publishes Western Novels

Rev. Tom Whatley

26 August 2004 — When a man told Jacksonville State alumnus Rev. Tom Whatley that he could roll a cigarette while “on the back of a running mule,” Rev. Whatley knew he had an anecdote for his next western novel. Rev. Whatley has already had three novels published during the last four years. He has a fourth set to be published and is ready to mail off his first mystery novel.

The sixty-four-year-old minister of a 1,450-member church, Woodward Baptist Church in Muscle Shoals, is poised to begin his third career. He hopes to retire from preaching within the next couple of years and spend more time writing.

“I do it for the joy of writing,” said Rev. Whatley, “and to contribute to someone else’s enjoyment.”

His decision to pursue a writing career is relatively new and somewhat parallels his decision to become a minister while still a senior at JSU in 1962. Rev. Whatley was an education major and ROTC member who had made up his mind to fulfill his three-year ROTC commitment and then pursue the military as a career. Just weeks before graduation, though, his heart began telling him to follow in the footsteps of his father a minister. As soon as he retired three years later from service in the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii, he entered Southwestern Baptist College in Fort Worth, Texas.

Now forty years later, his heart is telling him to change careers again. The roots of the decision reach all the way back to Lincoln where he grew up during the 1950s. Every Saturday as a youngster, he watched movies of the Wild West with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and other heroes. He continued to enjoy reading western novels as an adult and found a new hero, the western novel writer Louis L’amour.

Rev. Whatley grew disappointed when, after L’amour’s death, the genre of western novel turned dark. Heroes weren’t the good guys anymore, and the only novels he could find were full of sex, misdirected violence, and “dirty words.” Still, the idea of righting that wrong didn’t dawn on him until age 60 when he was traveling with his wife, Roslyn, to Spain for the Southern Baptist Convention.

“During the long flight I picked up a yellow legal pad and said to her, ‘I’m going to write a western novel,’” said Rev. Whatley. “She said I was crazy.”

Rev. Whatley soon proved his wife’s assessment wrong. He returned home and finished his story, which is about Reed Haddock, a strong, “homespun” cowboy who struggles against villains. Called, Cuts No Slack, he left the ending open enough to write two more sequels , Ghost Runner, and He Ain’t Dead. All three are published by Sun Stone Press from Sante Fe, New Mexico.

His fourth western, Twice as Good, is due out soon. His first mystery novel will be called, The Gatekeeper.

Rev. Whatley, who was recently accepted into the Western Writers of America, said he writes five or six evenings per month. Even when he is not writing, though, he said his mind stays full of scenes, plots, and characters. And as any good cowboy, he’s always “scouting around” for another good anecdote.

“I’ve got stories running all around in my mind,” he said.

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