Q: Phyllis...what made you become a writer?
A: It’s an itch that I finally just had to scratch. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and a habitual re-reader of books that I’ve enjoyed. While I was working as a scientist, my writing was confined to technical reports and articles for publication in scientific journals. Even so, I tried to avoid jargon and abstruse phrasing to the extent permitted by the various journal “style guides” in order to make my reports less of a chore for others to read. After a lifetime of producing technical material, I find that writing fiction is liberating.
Q: What is your typical writing day like?
A: I have no typical writing day, although I try to do something just about every day. Sometimes I write in the morning; other times in the afternoon. I avoid writing in the evening, because the characters refuse to leave my head at bedtime. There are days when I’ll sit down for an hour and produce just a few sentences. Other days, a thousand or fifteen hundred words will flow out almost without my realizing it.
Q: Do you outline? If so, how extensive are your outlines?
A: I don’t use formal outlines. I prefer to discover the story alongside my protagonist. At about the mid-way point in The Green Pearl Caper, I found that I needed to stop and think about how the story would attain the endpoint I desired. With the sequel, I knew at the start how and where I wanted the climax of the story to take place - it was a matter of keeping that target in my sights so that I could arrive there in a logical fashion.
Q: How many revisions will you typically do on a novel?
A: As many as are necessary for me to feel good about the book. The Green Pearl Caper went through about four or five numbered revisions before I published. Of course, there were innumerable minor corrections and revisions before, during and after the major ones. It’s too soon to tell how many revisions The White Russian Caper will require.
Q: What is your best tip for editing a manuscript?
A: Once I’ve completed the first draft, I print the manuscript and do a complete read-through, making notes on where changes need to be made. I make the revisions, run a copy-edit, and follow that with another read-through, this time on an electronic device (iPad or Kindle). I repeat the revision cycle until I’m comfortable with the product. Then I read the entire manuscript out loud to my husband, if he’s available, or to myself if I must. Awkward wording seems to be easier to detect with an oral reading. A final, detailed copy-edit and proof-read (electronic and manual) is a must.
Q: Which writing habits and/or tricks of the trade have made you a better writer?
A: I think about the authors whose books I love to read and try to figure out what I love about them. Then I experiment with incorporating some of those characteristics into my own story-telling. Basically, my goal is to write books that I would choose to read.
Q: Do you ever suffer through writer’s block? If so, how do you fight it?
A: I try not to fight it. Instead, I step away from the writing for a few days to allow the story to take shape in my head before trying to get it down on paper (or on computer). I use the time to catch up on my reading or to do some research for the next project. Or clean house. Or weed the garden.
Q: What drew you to write your preferred genre(s)?
A: I grew up in the mystery genre. My preferred reading as a young girl was the Nancy Drew series of books. My father used to love reading detective novels. In fact, my sister just commented to me a few days ago that I am writing the kind of books that my father used to love to read.
Q: Do you utilize beta readers?
A: Absolutely. I received very constructive comments and suggestions from the beta readers of my first novel. My beta readers provide me with invaluable feedback on pacing, continuity, consistency and clarity.
Q: In your most recently published novel, what’s one scene you really enjoyed writing—and why?
A: I was sitting in a dentist’s waiting room one day and was inspired to draft a comic-relief scene in which my protagonist cracks a tooth while eating a doughnut (the chopped nut topping contained a piece of hard shell) and requires an emergency dental repair. The scene practically wrote itself, and helped me over a time-line gap that I needed to fill in the narrative. It also helped to pass the time in the waiting room!
Q: What makes the main character(s) of your most recent novel so special?
A: He has a vulnerability about him. He cares about his murdered client, dreams about her, worries about his role in her death, and wants to fulfill his promises to her.
Q: What is your best advice for author self-promotion?
A: Learn how to blow your own horn - to your family, to your friends, and on social media. Encourage your readers to post their ratings and reviews. Use every free resource available to you, including Author’s pages on Amazon and on Goodreads. Participate in relevant discussion groups on Goodreads and on other social media sites. Develop a distribution list and send out a regular (monthly or every other month) newsletter. But, above all else, keep writing.
Q: How do you deal with negative reviews?
A: I have been fortunate so far. My lowest rating was a 3-star. I hope that I shall have the maturity and self-confidence to evaluate any negative reviews for what I can learn from them. More likely, I shall gnash my teeth and mutter unprintable imprecations.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an indie author?
A: I can write at my own pace without worrying about publisher’s deadlines. The only people I am obliged to please are my readers and myself.
Q: What is your least favorite aspect of being an indie author?
A: The difficulty in obtaining exposure in libraries and bookstores.
Q: What is your current writing project?
A: My current project is The White Russian Caper, which is the second book in the Damien Dickens Mysteries series.
Q: What are three of your favorite novels?
A: Any of Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache mystery novels, Bleak House by Charles Dickens, and Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.
Q: If you could have lunch with any novelist, living or dead, who would it be? What would talk to them about?
A: Louise Penny. I want to sit down with her in Olivier’s bistro in Three Pines and dissect the menu.
Q: What is your best piece of advice for budding authors?
A: Write, write, write. And, read, read, read. If you can, find a writing buddy or buddies and meet over coffee (or your preferred beverage) for scheduled writing stints or just to commiserate if the writing isn’t going well.
Q: What is your favorite inspirational quote?
A: I don’t think that I have one. But, if you’d like to know my favorite first line, I would have to say that it’s the opening line from the poem ‘High Flight’ by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.: “Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth.”