Hey there Reader! Thanks for joining me today! I have a geat interview with Phillip Stephens that will unearth some life-shattering details of an indie author’s perspectives on being indie. Phillip and I met through Author Promo Co-op (the book club/indie group I co-admin with Jessica Wren). He’s been a great asset to the group and I am honored to have him on my blog today.
1. What genre do you write and what drives it for you?
I write in whichever genre the story suggests. I thought of Raising Hell as a literary novel, but I don’t have the pretensions of a literary writer. It really was a workplace satire that grew out of two consecutive workplaces, which I won’t name. Both were schools, one in the school system, the other one of the first charter schools in Texas. In fact, I really write literature and market as genre.
I would like to say about Raising Hell that the decision to release it for a dollar was not a decision I came to lightly, not was it a marketing or promotion gimmick. I have long believed artists owe something to the world, whether the world understands the nature of the gift or not. I knew if it was free it would have no value it all, but everyone can afford a dollar. This was my thumb to the nose of a world that says you should be in it for the money. I believe we’re taking nothing out of the world, so it’s more important to leave something of value behind, and Raising Hell was the book I wanted people to have.
Now I just have to get it into their hands.
I have it and have been looking forward to the read as soon as I get to it! However, Tessa Belladonna read it and will review it this week!
2. How has self-publishing changed the way you read?
Not much. I think, as with many of us, I expected a lower bar because indie authors don’t have the same editorial and proofreading support network. But I’m discovering even that doesn’t have to be true. Rayne Hall’s Storm Dancer, for instance, is as professional as anything from the big houses. She could compete with James Clavell as a storyteller and is a hell of a lot better than many of the potboiler novelists.
Publishers like Tor crank out a lot of mediocre genre fiction. Or there might be a series that starts out well and degenerates, a meme that catches on and a host of derivative books would flood the market as publishers would push their authors to ride the crest. So the only real difference is that indie authors have to compete with the books publishers are flooding into the market as well.
The myth used to be that the editors stood as gatekeepers, but it was a myth and I know it for a fact. I wrote Raising Hell originally around 2000 and Carol and I begin to shop it around, attending conferences and workshops as well as letters and queries. I even had a solid letter of recommendation from a respected published writer to get me past the first round of gatekeepers.
The question was never one of quality it was one of marketability. The editors don’t make the decision, the marketing department does and the marketing department doesn’t ask if they can market the book they ask if you do.
So I guess the answer to the question is, I haven’t changed the way I read, but I have changed the way I select books. If I have to choose between a book by a publishing house and a book of the same quality by an indie author, I will go with the indie author. And if the author is in my network, I will support that author.
But I still expect the author to know how to write, edit and proofread. I still download samples, for instance. If the writing is sophomoric, I’ll move on.
I have committed to only reading indies this year and I have found the same to be true. In fact because of that commitment, I have read a book that was better than William Faulkner and along the same lines, and a book that was better than Twilight and along the same lines. It has been a wonderful reading experience!
Who or what has helped you become a better writer over time?
Reading and editing. By reading, I don’t mean reading books in my comfort zone. I mean reading books well outside my comfort zone, and seeing movies outside my comfort zone as well. Writers have to break the connections between their neurons and form new ones to allow their brains to grow. So I read history books, books on religion, books on science. I read experimental fiction and poetry. I read Russian, French and Spanish writers. My writing was most influenced by Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor and Thomas Pynchon, but also by Ernest Hemingway and Saul Bellow. But I can’t dismiss the influence of Lem, Eco, Calvino, Borges, and Garcia Marquez.
That being said I also learned by rewriting and rewriting constantly, looking for the best way to phrase every thought in my prose or poetry. Even when my books are out, I’ll still find a sentence and say, “Wow, I should have written it this way.” But the revision process teaches you to be a writer. Of course, you can’t do that without also workshopping your prose with other writers who don’t just glad hand you and tell you how good you are, but who are willing to call you to the carpet.
Those kinds of connections are INVALUABLE!! Veronica Del Rosa is the woman I turn to when I need a swift kick in the nuts (so to speak).
You have put your blood, sweat, and tears into your work. What made it worth the effort?
It’s hard to say. I really think one moment was my first review by a reader who really understood what I was trying to do with my writing. She summed it up in two sentences; “Story-telling skills on par with the best. Engaging and fast-paced plot, witty dialogue.” That validated my writing career.
I also think returning to my books two or three years after they’re finished and seeing that they still work, even if they’re not perfect. That makes it worth the effort.
For some people, money makes it worth the effort, but I’ve never been driven by money. I’ve always been one of those people who’s driven to finish a project, make sure it’s absolutely up to the standards I set out for it at the beginning, and then I’m on to the next project.
For Carol, however, if I can build a loyal fan base who is also willing to pay for my books, it will certainly be worth the effort for her. I’m not saying she’s mercenary. She’s not. But she is the one who put in her thirty years at a real job to guarantee we would have a real pension for retirement. My only pension was a slender adjunct instructor’s pension, which didn’t carry us very far. So, yes, she deserves some pay back even if I find it hard to be financially motivated.
I know the difficulty in being motivated by something that doesn’t seem important for your work. Carol sounds like a lovely lady; hope I get to meet her sometime!
When did you start writing for publication? What made you decide to put your work out there to be read by others?
I wrote for publication in college, when I wrote reviews for the college paper. I even took over as feature editor. I had articles, short stories and poems published and even a couple of volumes of poetry published by Plain View Press.
I did the same, but in high school. In college it was all about the academic journals for me.
Tell us about your favorite memory related to reading or writing?
Reading Wallace Stevens in the park on fall afternoons.
When I was in high school there was a dell two blocks from my house with a huge flat rock hidden inside the trees. I used to sit on the rock after school and write my first novel. When I discovered weed, I would smoke while I wrote. But that was 1970 and the weed days are long past.
It was a really terrible novel that I was wise enough to throw away. Little did I know my mother saved it and showed it to the family after I came home from grad school. I wasn’t happy with mom, but I loved that rock.
HAHA!! Good mom!!
I found you through your social media presence. What do you like to see from your fans, followers, readers, and supporters on your social media sites?
I would hope they would have a good time and refer me to their friends. I try to reserve my Twitter presence for gags and promoting other writers and artists. If you want to see me write, follow me on Twitter @stephens_pt.
I established my Facebook site before I began promoting my writing and that expresses my political and spiritual ideas.I avoid them on Twitter because it’s purely for entertainment. On Facebook, you’ll find out I’m a die-hard old school leftist and a Christian with little tolerance for the Christian Right. That being said, I believe anyone who can defend their position without rehashing the same old memes being kicked around the Internet is welcome to the fray.
I still haven’t really built a strong blogging platform yet. I used to blog a site called Righteous Indigestion www.bpkblog.com based around my experience as a Baptist Preacher’s kid, but I was getting to pedantic so I gave it a rest. I may pick it up again. I do a writer’s blog on Goodeads called Wind Eggs at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/583139.Phillip_T_Stephens/blog.
PKs have a hard life. They are expected to be like their preacher parent, and don’t always get a chance to be who they are and who they want to be. I’m glad you got out of that terrible cycle.
What kinds of activities do you do to keep yourself fresh and happy with your writing?
Because of my severe osteoarthritis, I don’t get out much. I love movies, however. Always have. And fine dining. Once I get knee surgery I will go back to hiking.
Tell us a bit about your current work(s)-in-progress.
I will be releasing Seeing Jesus in the fall. It’s the story of a girl who feels isolated from her peers and makes friends with a homeless man no one else can see. I’m also working on the first of a series called Scent, about two detectives involved in a case where the supernatural world protects the other side from us.
Honestly, if it were real, supes would definitely have to be protected from us, not the other way around. Humans make up monsters, I think, because we are lonely: we want someone else to fight with and to fuck with…aliens, monsters, supernaturals…we only want them for two reasons.
When you consider your future, what would you like to make happen for you?
I would really like to build an online community around Raising Hell and the gdi Mondays logo. I already have the web site. I just lack the promotional skills. I would like to be able to build enough of a fan base that other young writers and artists would contribute their own stories and create new characters and add fan art. Maybe even develop a comic strip or a 6 issue graphic novel.
I tried to attract some interest in a role playing or online game where players could either side with Lucifer and try to make Hell worse, or side with Pilgrim and make hell better. But I have to sell enough books to generate a fan base first.
Still I think there is an audience out there of students who suffered through narrow-minded teachers and workers who suffered through micro-managing supervisors. I’m not talking about the rebels without a clue, but the genuinely brilliant students and employees who were brighter than their teachers and supervisors but would never get the recognition they deserved. When I taught, especially in one of the early Texas Charter Schools that prided itself on freedom of expression, I marveled every day at how teachers who thought they were being spontaneous and creative because they read books on spontaneous and creative teaching marginalized the most creative and brightest students who really operated on a plane the teachers could only dream of.
I found it even more frustrating that I could mobilize those truly brilliant students to inspire the other students simply by knowing when to establish my authority and when to sit back and let the students have the run of the classroom. The other teachers told me I ran my classes all wrong but my students, even the students labelled as mediocre, consistently turned out projects that were light years ahead of students in the other classes. They produced magazines with the photocopier, movies, web-pages, and several classes collaborated to produce a CD-Rom on student governance. Many of these kids were former dropouts, or came to us from the Texas Juvenile Justice system.
They would walk into the other teachers’ classes and perform below par, exactly as they were expected to do. The world is filled with students and employees who suffer under that kind of management, and if Raising Hell can find that audience, I think it will develop a following. And if I can strengthen those connections with www.gdimonday.com, all the better. But I still need to build the fan base and develop the forums.
Similarly with my next book, Seeing Jesus. I don’t care if I make money. But I do think there are people who want to make connections with other people who feel isolated and disconnected from mainstream society. Like my heroine Sara Love, they see the world as a bigger place than other people want the world to be, and don’t want the world to be squeezed into the narrow ball of social expectations. If I can connect with those readers, and they can connect with other readers, I will be happy.
You are talking of turning your book into a pulp fiction classic. I think that would be marvelous! Jessica’s husband teaches, perhaps you can talk to him about it. Honestly, I think indies should be in classrooms. Katya Mills book, Daughter of Darkness, is modern-day Faulkner and needs to be in classrooms. It’s really that good! I wonder if just reaching out to your local PTA and making that kind of networking connection you might be able to get a start on your dream. Also, talk to Morgan Wynn de Byrd or Ani Manjikian about your website. They can definitely help there. Adri Sinclair can help with marketing as she is a guru at it, having had a long career of marketing before becoming and indie author and supporter.
And what about your previous works? How we can get our hands on them?
You can find my my Amazon author page at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0091XK7HS with links to my Kindle eBooks. Or you can go to smashwords if you hate Amazon https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/totalthinker. However the eBook for Seeing Jesus will probably be available exclusively at Kindle.
You can find Cigerets, Guns & Beer Trade Paperback at createspace at https://www.createspace.com/5372114
The Raising Hell Trade Paperback will be available the first or second week of August at https://www.createspace.com/5646464
Where can find you to tell you how amazing we think you are?
I write a blog on Goodreads, Wind Eggs, https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/583139.Phillip_T_Stephens/blog
And theres always my Twitter @stephens_pt
I do drop by Facebook too https://www.facebook.com/phillip.stephens.77
Thank you so much for joining me Phillip! This has been both enlightening and fun. Raising Hell is on my kindle awaiting my attention and am looking forward to it. And thank you, Reader, for sticking with us! Feel free to leavea comment or a question and as you might be able to tell, feel free to contact Phillip on any of his links above!