Welcome to the two hundred and fifty-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Dale T Phillips. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Dale. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Dale: Hello, everyone, and thank you Morgen for hosting this chat. I’m Dale T. Phillips. After many years of travel and adventure, I settled here in Massachusetts in the U.S. to raise a family.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and started by sending in jokes to Boys’ Life magazine over 40 years ago. I was lucky enough to have Stephen King as a writing teacher in college, and have kept writing for years, publishing non-fiction, more and more stories, poetry, and finally, recently, my novels. I’ve made a living for over 20 years as a Technical Writer.
Morgen: Wow! What a mentor. His book ‘On Writing’ has been the most recommended writing guide (in these interviews) by far. You’ve mentioned stories, poetry and novels, what genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Dale: My stories are of many different genres, without a preference– whatever the story requires. The first book I wrote was a horror tale, and then I began writing a mystery, the first Zack Taylor book, “A Memory of Grief”. It was going to be a standalone, but I soon realized I could tell many tales about the state of Maine, and a series was born. I’ve got many book ideas in other genres, too.
Morgen: As an avid reader of Stephen King’s in my teens (I blame him for me wearing glasses as I used to read his books under my duvet with a torch when I should have been sleeping), Maine has always struck me as such a rich source for a writer. What have you had published to-date? Do you have a favourite of your books or characters?
Dale: I’ve had over 20 short stories published, a number of poems, and my non-fiction book on improving your interviewing skills has been out for about a year. This summer saw the release of my first novel, and so far, that’s my dearest child, with the protagonist Zack Taylor (so far my favourite), a conflicted man with problems. My second novel, “A Fall From Grace”, the second in the series, will be out by the time this is posted.
Morgen: It is. And you’ve got a launch party on Saturday, how exciting. 🙂 This may not apply, but can you remember where you first saw one of your books in a bookshop or being read by a member of the public??
Dale: The novel has only been out a short time, and being from an independent publisher, it’s only in a few bookstores so far, so haven’t yet had that thrill.
Morgen: Yet, there’s always the launch party. 🙂 What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Dale: Space and Time bought my first short story (which was also my first reprint) “Yesterday and Today”, which I think is a really good one. It’s based on how we keep our bodies young, but our minds break down, so imagine a whole broken-down society like that, of people whose memories are shuffled at random every morning.
Morgen: Oh I can. I love quirky. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Dale: Oh, plenty. The best way to handle that is to see if they mention any specifics, log the information in your submission spreadsheet, and immediately send the piece out to the next market on the list. If the piece is good and you keep doing that, it’ll sell. And then write another one.
Morgen: Absolutely. Nice to meet someone like me (I wouldn’t call you nerdy but I certainly am) who catalogues it all in a spreadsheet. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Dale: Haven’t yet, as that’s not my focus. Awards are nice, but not necessary. I suppose they might sell a few to readers who think well of them.
Morgen: And something for a CV but I do think submissions for potential pay is where a writer should concentrate (says she who hasn’t submitted for ages but is about to email two competition stories off after this interview goes live). Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Dale: I had an agent for 2.5 years, but despite an interested acquisitions editor and a good book, no sale in that time. I eventually ended the relationship and struck out on another path. Agents are useful for those who want them, and are pursuing a particular path, but nowadays there are numerous options.
Morgen: There are, which leads me perfectly on to my next question. Are your books available as eBooks? And do you read eBooks?
Dale: Oh, yes, that’s a growing share of the market. Ignore it at your peril. My first foray into eBooks was my interviewing book, and the novel was put out in eBook format a few weeks before the print version came out. So far, it’s very handy having that for the folks who only read eBooks. I’m going to put up my stories (and possibly some other works) as eBook individuals and bundles, so I’ve got a lot of work to do in that area. I do read eBooks, mostly to check on promising new writers.
Morgen: Most of my eBooks are stories as that’s really what I write most of (and where my heart it). I’ve only gone the Smashwords route so far but once you work out how to format the first one, subsequent ones are easy. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Dale: Enormous amounts, constantly, to the detriment of writing. But I want to reach readers, and for small press authors, it’s vital.
Morgen: I should (and want to) write more than I do (every other Monday night’s writing group is about it at the moment) but I do consider this blog as marketing because apart from mentioning my eBooks every now and then (usually less than I have today) it’s getting my name out. Do you write under a pseudonym? Do you think they make a difference to an author’s profile?
Dale: I’m going to have one for my horror novel to be released this winter, to differentiate it from the mystery series. I’d dislike for someone think they were getting one thing and finding themselves with an unwanted different genre book they’d hate. It’s a convenient way to keep things in separate categories. A difference? Not sure, unless the pseudonym becomes more famous!
Morgen: 🙂 Some famous authors use a pseudonym for their different genres (Joanna Trollope = Caroline Harvey / Ruth Rendell = Barbara Vine etc) so it’s a sensible thing to do. If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Dale: Regrettably, many action stars can’t act very well, so we’d need someone who could portray the best of both worlds. I suppose Matt Damon could do it justice– he’s proven himself with the action of the Bourne films, and yet has the gravitas, the smarts, and the humour needed. Let’s call him, I wouldn’t mind working with him, after his work on Project Greenlight.
Morgen: I don’t think that reached the UK (I have Sky TV and as far as I know it doesn’t do HBO) but what a wonderful idea. Did you have any say in the title / covers of your book(s)? How important do you think they are?
Dale: I had total control over both, which is the reason I went with Briona Glen Publishing (www.brionaglen.com). For this series, it’s vital, as the titles are from literature, and reflect the theme of the whole work. The covers were professionally done by my wife, who came up with a killer concept that can be carried forth on every release. This is important– just ask best-seller Barry Eisler about the green garage-door cover picture he got stuck with.
Morgen: If he’d let me interview him, I’d gladly ask. 🙂 Kudos to your wife, they’re stunning covers. What are you working on at the moment / next? Do you manage to write every day?
Dale: Promoting books 1 and 2, writing book 3, editing the horror novel, writing new stories, revising my website, blogging, researching, learning the writing business end, and working on a storefront to sell other works myself. Cannot write every day, as I go to work and then sometimes am out late.
Morgen: Ah yes, the day job – I’m trying to shake mine at the moment but it’s hanging on iron-gripped. 😦 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it?
Dale: I’ve got too many ideas to not write something. Can’t force any particular thing, but by being flexible, can usually get something down. A professional writer can’t really afford the luxury of writer’s block. It’s simple fear, which is pushed aside when you’ve got work to do.
Morgen: Exactly, many of my interviewees have said that – Mark Billingham perhaps the most memorably so far. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Dale: Both, at various times. I’ve worked all ways, from knowing every little bit that’s going to go in, to other times starting with nothing but a title on a page.
Morgen: That’s one of the exercises I give my Monday nighters and it’s wonderful the variety that comes out. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Dale: Not really a method, they create themselves as needed. In “A Fall From Grace”, Cassie Alexander appeared out of nowhere in rewrite 3, and she took over the whole book. To me, names are very important, and I put a lot of time into creating them. Often, there’s deeper meaning to them. Making characters believable is a matter of having them talk and do things like real people, giving them an important goal and big problems, and turning them loose.
Morgen: I’m a big fan of names (and book titles) and really like Cassie Alexander. It has a nice rhythm to it. You mentioned non-fiction, poetry and short stories earlier, do you still write them?
Dale: Quite a bit. I’m always writing more stories, and have had poetry published in Ghostlight, Poetry Quarterly, Haiku Journal, Every Day Poets, and Silver Blade. My non-fiction book, How To Improve Your Interviewing Skills, helps job seekers.
Morgen: I’ve been one of the lucky ones with interviews; I just go in thinking I have nothing to lose (as I usually don’t – I fall back on temping) and am pleasantly surprised if I get the job (or not so gutted if I don’t). Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Dale: It’s quite a mixture. Sometimes it doesn’t need much work after the first draft, and sometimes a dozen rewrites.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Dale: I usually write first, and research afterwards. On several occasions, have found that my imagined thing was dead-on accurate. That’s fun! Most of my writing is about things I have some familiarity with. But I’d like to do a historical series, which will involve a lot of research.
Morgen: It would for me – history was my worst subject at school. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc., do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Dale: Usually silence is the best, with no distractions, alone in my writing space.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Dale: As a mystery lover, I love first person, it’s so immediate for the telling. Second person is ridiculously hard to pull off. Yes, I’ve tried, but not to any extent, or for long. No story has yet really suggested itself in that form.
Morgen: I adore second person but what you said is write – it’s hard to maintain that point of view. I find go much over 1,000 words. One of my competition pieces is a 161-worder (including the title) second person and I’m pretty proud of it (especially as it’s a twist in the tail). I wrote it from five keywords I handed out in class and although we only have 10 or 15 minutes a go, I’m constantly in awe of what my group achieves – I’m very lucky. 🙂 Of course some of the things we (I) write need more work than others, do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Dale: Not really. If I put time into anything, it has a reason.
Morgen: Good thinking – I might remember that when I go back to my 100+ stories I wrote over the last few years that I’ve done nothing with. 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Dale: Least– giving up everything else to write, after a day of work. Missing out on family, friends, reading, to create more words in a compelling tale. Favourite– having someone come forward and tell me how much a piece of my writing meant to them. I wrote a flash story (Heartsounds) that people said had them in tears. That touched them as a person.
Morgen: Wow. I love reader feedback; even if it’s “constructive” it means someone’s reading my work. Really, that’s what we’re all after. We’re storytellers after all. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Dale: Learn and study the craft, expect to write a million words before you’re good (per John D. MacDonald), learn the business side as well, commit yourself to excellence, figure out your best path, and have tenacity to continue in the face of adversity, and develop a thick skin that’s tougher than a rhino, because no matter how good you get, someone’s not going to like it.
Morgen: You mentioned not having time for reading, what do you like to read?
Dale: I’m omnivorous in my reading, going through over 100 books a year, fiction and non-fiction, different genres. Anything good, and things I can learn from.
Morgen: Wow wee. I’m lucky if I read half a dozen. I clearly have my priorities wrong (the aforementioned day job :)). If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook?
Dale: Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Voltaire, brilliant, multifaceted minds able to grasp things outside their immediate experience. Minestrone soup for da Vinci (his favourite), and whatever favourites of the others.
Morgen: Thomas Jeffersons’ Wikipedia page is really interesting, although sadly no mention of food. There is on Voltaire’s … of sorts (Newton’s apple) – you couldn’t go wrong with apple pie. 🙂 Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Dale: Many of them. I keep a log of those that appeal to me.
Morgen: (Mine’s “cuddle”). 🙂 Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Dale: Book groups, writing groups to help others.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Dale: Many things, but time with family and then reading are at the top. Medieval studies and re-enactment, martial arts, chess, tournament poker, golf, tennis.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Dale: A great many. Check out my website, www.daletphillips.com which has a lot of this — too much to mention here.
Morgen: http://www.daletphillips.com/Links.html – there’s a great mixture. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Dale: Have been too busy for most of this.
Morgen: Oh dear. Well, they eat up LOADS of time so you’d need chunks. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Dale: Exciting times for those who can adapt and keep writing. Things are changing, but the human race needs and lives on good stories.
Morgen: Yes, it does. We do. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Dale: My website www.daletphillips.com, blog http://daletphillips.blogspot.com, newspaper article (link on my website).
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Dale: In my writing, I try to do more than just entertain. There’s a lot of learning to be had.
Morgen: I think that’s what we need from a book or story. To think about it afterwards. To not shrug your shoulders and casually move on. Thank you for chatting with me, Dale. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Dale: You put an enormous amount of time into helping readers get a better understanding of writers and the process. How’s your response to all that effort?
Morgen: Really good. In the seven months these interviews have been running I’ve actually no complaints and very few requests to alter any of the text. It’s been incredible actually. Also the fact that the answers vary so much. I’d thought that by asking the same questions (more of them in recent months) it would become very repetitive but I’m pleased to say it hasn’t (or at least no-one’s told me so!). 🙂 Thank you, Dale, and good luck with your launch.
I then invited Dale for an extract of his writing…
The jailhouse lay before us, an ugly, squat, building full of menace. Pelted by the November sleet, I was unable to make myself move, like a fear-frozen kid on a high-dive board. Allison looked at me, waiting for me to make good on my promise to go inside with her. I had agreed for love’s sake, and now had to plunge into a lake of broken glass to help out a stranger.
Allison came to me trembling. She shielded us with the three-dollar umbrella she’d bought at a LaVerdiere’s drugstore on the way. It had improbable yellow daisies in defiance of the locale and the weather, and reeked with a sharp smell of bad vinyl. Sleet crackled on its surface.
My arm went around her and I put my head against hers, her scarf tickling my nose.
“I don’t want to go in either,” she said. “But we have to.”
Yeah. So we did. But I was in another jail, on the other side of the country, where I’d been more than a dozen years ago. Flashbacks came in lightning flickers, illuminating painful memories that had lain long buried.
Dale has published two novels, over 20 short stories, poetry, and a non-fiction career book, out on Smashwords. He’s appeared on stage, television, and in an independent feature film, Throg. He competed on Jeopardy and Think Twice.
He co-wrote and acted in The Nine, available at http://www.Libertynewstv.com. He’s travelled to all 50 states, Mexico, Canada, and through Europe. More information can be found at www.daletphillips.com.
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