Welcome to the fifty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, short story authors, poets, short story authors, bloggers, scriptwriters, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with poet Phillip Ellis. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further.
Morgen: Hello, Phillip. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Phillip: Although I have lived all my life, reading and writing, it was only when I turned sixteen that I decided, to quote the Australian poet Christopher Brennan, to “go into poetry.” Since then, after a long and arduous apprenticeship, I have been published for the last fourteen years or so, with poetry, criticism, reviews, and other miscellaneous bibs and bobs now and then. As it happens, I ended up being born in Australia in the late 60s, and, as chance has it, I have had schizophrenia since I was thirteen or so, so my life has been one of many changes, and almost as many as half of those being years of desperation and quiet despair.
Morgen: I’d say that makes a perfect qualification for a writer. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Phillip: I normally write poetry and poetry criticism, though I also write about weird fiction.
Morgen: Ooh, Shaun Allan also writes ‘weird’. I love weird. 🙂
Phillip: I have also tackled fiction, speculative and otherwise, and articles for roleplaying games.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Phillip: I have self-published a number of small chapbooks, and have had a couple of publishers issue chapbooks, almost all of them poetry; one is out of print, but Analog Lands is available online for free, and the third, ‘The Flayed Man’ is available from Amazon.
Morgen: I love your ‘The Flayed Man’ cover. 🙂
Phillip: I have another collection, ‘A Harvest’ coming out soon, with a second collection with Hippocampus Press. There’s a third collection being looked at by Henrik Harksen, with a strong possibility of publication, and Picaro Press are currently looking into a chapbook of sonnets about schizophrenia, so I have yet to hear whether they’ll accept that.
Morgen: Do let me know, and I can update this page. 🙂
Phillip: Otherwise, it’s about 400-500 poems online and in print. My self-published pieces are almost all out of print, but when I can get myself into gear will re-issue them through http://lulu.com.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Phillip: Not as much as I should. I’ve just started coming out of a protacted patch of family matters that have taken too much time and energy away from my poetry, and I’ve only just started to resume blogging and tweeting on any degree of regularity. As for other efforts, they’ll come in time, when I get back into the swing of things.
Morgen: Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Phillip: I’ve yet to be shortlisted, but then I’ve only recently been able to afford to start applying for poetry competitions. I was longlisted for a Bram Stoker award for ‘The Flayed Man’ as it happens, and I shall be sending ‘A Harvest’ out to try and win some awards. As for helping with success, used properly they can help quite a lot, especially if the winning work is a book or a chapbook.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Phillip: I’ve yet to get an agent, but then poets usually don’t get them until they become major, almost house-name authors.
Morgen: That’s what I’ve heard – a vicious circle really isn’t it?
Phillip: I will probably need one for my criticism and scholarship, although I did land the concordance to the poetry of Donald Wandrei without an agent (but then I knew the publisher, and key players in the publisher’s team, the editor and the typesetter).
Morgen: Handy people to know anyway. 🙂 Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Phillip: My first chapbook was an ebook, and is out of print, from what I can tell.
Morgen: Ooh, I didn’t know eBooks went out of print. Interesting.
Phillip: I’m happy to have ebooks, especially if they can assist sales elsewhere; but it’s still early days for me yet.
Morgen: What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Phillip: My first acceptance was ‘The Meadows of Ebony’ which was accepted by the Eldritch Dark website. I guess having transcribed a short story by Clark Ashton Smith earlier that year, since the site is dedicated to CAS, may have helped.
Morgen: Or it was actually good. 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Phillip: I’ve lost count of the number of rejections I’ve had. I guess I manage to land about ten to twenty percent of my submissions, with some markets accepting more often than most. As for how I deal with them, I get the poems out there again, and pay attention to the letters. Quite often I’ve been asked to submit more material, and that’s been good, often leading to a later acceptance.
Morgen: Good statistics I’d say. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Phillip: I’m currently working on miscellaneous poems, writing drafts for later submission. I’m also working on a review and an article about Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, which Gary William Crawford (the publisher of ‘The Flayed Man’) has commissioned for his online journal dedicated to Le Fanu studies. I’m trying to do a great job for him, as he has been a very good friend to me, and very helpful for my career; plus he’s a wonderful bloke, and deserves every ounce of support I can give him.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Phillip: I try and write every day, but often, to paraphrase Brennan this time, “life intervenes”. I can’t remember the most I’d written in a day. Possibly it was 20 thousand words or so, one Nano attempt.
Morgen: Ah the great NaNoWriMo. I’ve done it three times and, without wishing my time away, am looking forward to this November (although they’re doing a ‘summer camp’ version – http://campnanowrimo.org – in August so I may do that too as I have a week off). What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Phillip: I think that it is an affliction that I find self-inflicted. I’ve never had it, always finding something to write, so I’ve no other way of “dealing with it” than writing. Mind you, I consider revision an integral part of writing, so if I’m not composing something new I’m usually revising other material.
Morgen: I’ve had a few authors say this, definitely good to have a mix. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Phillip: I usually run with my poetry, but plot my nonfiction. I’ve pretty much stopped fiction other than narrative verse, and usually don’t plot those unless if it’s for Nano, when I usually plot what I can to ensure I have enough stamina to work at length.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Phillip: Usually I see the characters in my poetry as facets of being, brief flashes rather than a sustained blaze. Even then I draw from my own life and experiences, to add depth.
Morgen: Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Phillip: I have many first readers, so it depends on the poem more than anything. My first readers for my nonfiction are friends I can rely on to critique my drafts.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Phillip: It varies, but I’ve also got to the point where I can edit quickly and lightly at the point of drafting, usually after the pen is on the page and still blottable, so to speak. My prose still needs a lot of editing; though I find the effort worth it.
Morgen: I’m the other way round; my prose is pretty tightly formed the first time but my poetry needs so much help it almost needs resuscitating. 🙂 What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Phillip: My creative process is simple: I start the gears up, and get into the creative space before I sit down. But then I often compose poems without the ability or desire to preserve them, and I use them for ideas of technique and style.
Morgen: Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Phillip: I use both, depending on what I feel like, and where I am. Having a new laptop has helped me prefer the computer recently, though. 🙂
Morgen: Me too. My handwriting is quite a bit slower. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Phillip: I like to use all three to varying degrees (second person is the least common). The other two are about equal in frequency.
Morgen: Second person is less popular commercially but I love writing it. Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Phillip: I’ve not had the chance to use them, outside of one verse novel in progress.
Phillip: That’s percolating, as it happens, and I hope to be able to start revising it soon.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Phillip: No, not yet. A lot is personal, in the sense that it’s for friends and family, but I try and keep copies in the hope a complete collected poems is ever published.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Phillip: My favourite aspect is the ability to give pleasure to others; my least favourite aspect is the low pay for poetry. 🙂
Morgen: Ah yes, famous for it unfortunately. Hopefully eBooks will help rather than hinder with poetry. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Phillip: My biggest surprise so far is that I am now able to support friends and colleagues from around the world, via the internet, and receive so much in return.
Morgen: Ah, that’s lovely. My answer would be the same really as I was (pleasantly) surprise how supportive other writers are – I guess they know how tough it is. Like literary learner drivers. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Phillip: Don’t be afraid to learn the technical aspects of writing, because you craft tends to prosper rather than dim.
Morgen: Absolutely, practice makes… and all that.
Phillip: And network as much as possible.
Morgen: What do you like to read?
Phillip: I love to read poetry, as well as a wide and eclectic selection of fiction and non-fiction. It all adds up!
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Phillip: There are so many to choose from! As a poet, anything that helps you practice your craft, and that helps you perfect it. And market listings, every one that’s relevant!
Morgen: In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Phillip: I’m based in Australia, which isn’t really a hindrance, thanks to the internet.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Phillip: I’m on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, and considering others, because they all add up to developing networks of poets and other readers and writers.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Phillip: Google my name: “Phillip A. Ellis” – don’t forget the quotation marks. I’m slowly getting a dedicated website, which will have a detailed bibliography, with links to all relevant online poems.
Morgen: Yes, I hadn’t realised that the “” meant a specific search until a few months ago. It’s really useful. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Phillip: I think the future holds a lot of promise to those adaptable, talented, and wilful enough.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Phillip: Don’t be afraid of hard days and hard work, and don’t be shy when opportunities arise.
Morgen: Do you have an extract of your work you’d like to share?
Phillip: I wanted to include something especially written for the interview, and I hope the following isn’t too rank.
“On my Poetry”
Oh, you fellows are fine
at what you do when you do it,
when you don’t lounge on the lounge
with pizza and Budweiser,
or whatever’s similar
in the country you find yourself in,
and that’s a small mercy
at the end of the day.
I am glad you reside here,
and am glad that you multiply
like a mathematician
who finds that their taxes
are more than ‘just fun.’
Morgen: Thanks Phillip, that was fun. 🙂
Phillip A. Ellis is a freelance critic and scholar, and his poetry collection, ‘The Flayed Man’, has been published by Gothic Press. Gothic Press will also edit a collection of essays on Ramsey Campbell, that he is editing with Gary William Crawford. He is working on another collection, to appear through Diminuendo Press. Another collection has been accepted by Hippocampus Press, which has also published his concordance to the poetry of Donald Wandrei. He is the editor of Australian Reader, Melaleuca and Breaking Light Poetry Magazine.
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