Interview with Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T Stephens.jpg

1) Can you tell us a little about the inspiration behind your entry for this contest?

I’m finishing the last set of edits on my novella Doublemint Gumshoe which pits the most clueless detective since Clouseau against a cabal of mobsters, internet gangstas, corporate interests, nanobots and possibly alien invaders. It originated as a Twitter novel  several years ago, which I posted tweet-by-tweet three nights a week for six months. I plan to start shopping it around next month, and thought a heads up for readers might be fun. 

Bob developed from a series of short story Tweets featuring a detective who never solved a case. (e.g., “Detective Bob had never solved a case. When a fraternity pledge drowned while bobbing for beer cans at a toga party, he knew a hitman poisoned him.”) After a dozen Bob Tweets I knew he was destined for bigger mistakes.

2) What made you decide to enter this contest?

I’m an Indie Author too. This seemed like a fun way to support a worthy cause and, hopefully, gain a little more exposure.

3) Who are some of your favourite authors and why?

I’ve always been a fan of Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor. Possibly my Bible Belt upbringing. I’ve read Love in the Ruins six or seven times, and I taught “A Good Man is Hard to Find” in my first semester lit classes. It’s a great story to make readers aware of how much can go on beneath the surface of a story.

My frustration with indie authors is that no one seems to be pushing the envelope with literary writing. Amazon isn’t helping matters by keying suggested books to category listings. 

Great writers mix genre too (Moby Dick was one of many seafaring tales novels popular in his era), and Hemlock Grove came from an MFA program writer. But most of the indie books I read seem written for a market and not for readers with broader tastes. 

There are some exceptions. Rayne Hall’s Storm Dancer is a well-crafted read, and Ian Probert’s Johnny Nothing is one of the funniest novels I’ve read in years. Jen Finelli’s Becoming Hero explores some interesting themes and her use of the comic book trope adds to the tension. 

On the other hand, young literary lions may be too invested in the academic machine to branch into indie publishing. I still get the feeling that indie authors are the literary equivalent of porn actors. Hopefully more will make the move and we will see new literary forms emerging within indie publishing. 

4) What is your favourite book you read this year and why?

Nothing has gripped my interest this year, but it’s still young. My favorite is probably Maria Popova’s book Figuring, gleaned from her Brainpickings posts. She’s very good at finding the the threads between seemingly unrelated topics and tying them together. Much like Bill Bryson, but she focuses on human connections.

5) What is your best piece of advice for all the new independent authors out there?

Don’t get caught up in advice. I’ve heard lots of it, much of it conflicts with the last thing I heard, and what works for one writer will never work for all of them. Be open to new techniques, expect success but if it doesn’t work, don’t feel that you’re the failure.

Here’s what seems to work for most writers:

  • Find your voice, don’t copy others because they sell. But if a style works for you, feel free to borrow.

  • Don’t look for the perfect starting point. Write the part of your story that speaks to you, even if it’s crap. You have to push the crap through the pipes to get the water flowing. 

  • Don’t invest in your words. They’re not precious gems, yet. The need culling, refining and polish to shine. And that means throwing a lot away. I would work with more than one editor (not on the same project) in the beginning until you get a sense of who understands your writing best and gives you the best advice.

  • If a journal takes one of your stories or poems, never, ever argue with the editor. Take their advice, suggest alternative changes when it’s really important, and remember that no one will read your story if the editor kills it because you’re a pain in the ass.

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