29 June, 2014

#SpecialFeature :: #Interview with #Author Mike Phillips

Now Presenting:
*** SPECIAL FEATURE - June 2014 ***

In ancient times, magical creatures inhabited the earth. They lived on mountaintops, in trees, at the bottom of lakes and rivers. But that was long ago, before the human race declared war on the creatures they feared and hated. Now the enchanted peoples are all but gone. Those few that remain fear being stretched out on an examination table in some secret, governmental facility. The only place they can hide from the ever increasing number of satellites and smart phones is in the World Below. 

Mitch Hardy is going through a hard time in his life. In his early twenties, he was working his way through college when he suffered an accident that left him flat broke and physically deformed. When Mitch decides to make a fresh start in a new town, things start looking up. He finds a place to live, a decent job, good friends. He even meets a nice girl. Unknown to Mitch, his new girlfriend is one of the Elder Race, what some call the Faerie Folk. Mitch doesn’t know that Elizabeth is looking for a father she never knew. The key to finding him is somehow tied up with the mysterious Blade of Caro. Desperate, she steals the Blade from its protector, the despotic ruler of the World Below, the Dragon of Worms, Baron Finkbeiner. When Elizabeth is kidnapped by the Baron, Mitch is pulled into a world or magic and monsters he never imagined.


How did your life as a writer begin?
MP: Writing was never anything I intentionally pursued. I work as a safety engineer. I’ve traveled all over the United States consulting with and educating people on the benefits of risk management and loss prevention. I believe in what I’m doing and it’s important work, but safety is a job that leaves little room for creativity. Shortly after graduating college, I became bored with my new career. To occupy an overactive imagination, I started writing stories. One led to the next and I thought writing a novel might be fun to try. That first manuscript was a crime novel, tucked safely away in the darkest recesses of my hard drive, but it fueled my desire to do more. I now have three novels and over a hundred stories in print and there is no end in sight. Life is so weird.

What makes you feel inspired to write?
MP: Nature, the world around me, is my true inspiration. I can’t tell you how many of my stories began with a low hanging cloud or a rustle in the bushes. I find miracles in everything around me. The Earth is a wonderful place and I try to express that beauty in my work.

How did you come with the idea for your current story?
MP: The World Below takes place in a real city. It is Traverse City, Michigan, USA. Though I don’t live there, I’m a short drive away and I often have the opportunity to visit for business and pleasure. If you or your readers have never been, Traverse City or TC to us locals, is set on Grand Traverse Bay, which is a part of Lake Michigan. There is a strip of public land that stretches between the City and the lakeshore that is over a mile long. The beaches are white sand and the water is blue and clear. The artist community is thriving. Theatre, music, dance and the arts are a part of everyday life in the summer. There is always something happening, even if you are just taking a walk on Front Street. I paint an idyllic picture, I’m sure, but isn’t that a part of fiction too? 
Anyway, I had been planning an Urban Fantasy for some time and thought TC would be a perfect place for it. I began scouting out areas for the book. The beach was a natural, as much a part of the city as the buildings and the people. The old cottonwood and the organic foods market and gallery row are actual places. I don’t think I ever named the pizza bar in the book, but if you ever find yourself there, have a slice of Pangea’s best. You’ll love it. Unfortunately for the ladies, Lars doesn’t run the hot dog cart at the bank. The guy who does isn’t exactly a supermodel, but seems like a good guy. 
The hero of our story, Mitch Hardy, finds himself flat broke and physically deformed after suffering an industrial accident. He moves to TC to start a new life. What he doesn’t realize that this is one of the last refuges for all the magical creatures of legend. After an act of kindness, he is adopted by a crew of goblins. They bring him into the World Below, a sort of refugee camp, a place that lies beneath the city, a place where the enchanted creatures can live in safety. Here, dwarves and fauns and centaurs and orcs live from the cast-offs of human society, making their way the best they can. 
Anchoring a story in a real place, at least in my mind, makes it more authentic. Wait, that doesn’t explain it very well. I like to have my feet on the ground, so to speak. By using a real place as setting, it disciplines the work, brings it more into reality. Let’s try that another way. I observed sword play and fought with swords so my action sequences would be all the more real. I have spent time working in foundries and know the job and the people. I find it important to draw upon the world for my writing. Though I write fiction, and the more fantastical the better, the non-fantasy parts of what I do are ever the more important. Without the reality, the fantasy doesn’t have impact, it just doesn’t work. Otherwise, you end up with comic book literature, dull and uninteresting. That’s not what I do.
I have always found myself drawn to stories of the supernatural. Since The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, my introduction to the world of fantasy beyond the basic fairy tales, I have sought evidence of other worldly creatures in both literature and in life. That is why it has become such a central aspect of my work. I won’t quote Shakespeare at you and say how many things in heaven and earth are yet unknown to man, but I try to keep an open mind. I’ve never seen any evidence that would suggest pink unicorns or purple hydra are hiding out in the backrooms of Walmart, but you never know. Stranger things have happened. The basis of the World Below is that these creatures exist. Once they were common, but with the spread of humanity over the planet, they were all but erased from existence. Like in my book, maybe the faerie folk are hiding out from us, or maybe it was all just drug induced hallucinations that dreamt them up in the first place.

Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline, or are you more of a seat of your pants type of a writer?
MP: There’s not much method to my madness, I’m afraid. Writing for me is a hobby, not a way to make a living. I do it because I enjoy the creativity. Most of the time, I’ve thought about what I’m going to write during the day. I drive a lot for my “Real Job” and I will typically turn off the radio and think about the story I’m working on. Same goes for exercise. I take long walks five or six times a week, up to two hours at a time. Rather than listen to music or a recorded book, I think about my writing. When I finally get a chance to sit down, I can usually knock off a thousand words in an hour or so. Then again, there are days when I go to the computer with my mind a blank and have just as much success. Like every other writer, there are days when nothing works. 

Who is the one author that you would love to meet someday and why?
MP: I have diverse reading habits. Short stories, poetry, novels, I read it all. I have an interest in science and engineering, so I read a lot of non-fiction articles as well. When I’m reading fiction, I gravitate toward stories of the supernatural. Some of the new authors you find in online anthologies are really pushing the boundaries of the genre and are worth checking out if you haven’t already. I also like historical fiction. My most guilty pleasure is the Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. The poetry of WB Yates has been a big influence on my writing. I love the imagery. My style of writing is most influenced by James Lee Burke. Beyond that, I must give a nod to Dean Koontz. He is a master of suspense, and really knows how to draw out key moments to make the action more dramatic. 

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?
MP: Publishing has been a twisted journey for me. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. Just when I think everything is going great, something bad happens. For a while I thought I might be a jinx. At different times, I had contracts with a half dozen book publishers that went out of business, and my work never got published. The same thing has happened to many of the publishers of print and online periodicals. With the internet and ebooks, the publishing business continues changing, and I don’t think anyone has really figured it out yet. My best advice is to keep doing what you love and success will find you. Work is a gift. Enjoy yourself. Enjoy the work. Don’t worry so much about success or business. Rejection letters are part of the experience, so try to learn what you can from any comments, but don’t dwell too much on any one bad review. Do what makes you happy and your writing will find an audience.

How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite place to go and unwind?
MP: Travel, seeing new things, meeting new people, is one of my passions. Reading about history in a book is important, but until you’ve walked the meadows of Appomattox Courthouse or scaled the walls of Fort Sumter, it’s hard to understand exactly what the people were facing. It puts into perspective how the people of history didn’t do great things because they were somehow different from the rest of us. They were people too. The first time I toured Ephesus, I couldn’t get over how ordinary life there must have been. There was the famous library, of course, but also bakeries and shops not all that different from modern times. For someone from the United States, I think mission work is important. US citizens are so very fortunate, something that is hard to appreciate unless you’ve experienced firsthand how people in other parts of the world live their lives. Travel, to me, teaches perspective and compassion, lessons that are as important as learning about cultural differences.
I also enjoy gardening. Even though I grew up on a farm, I’m not very good at it. Pulling weeds from a row of beans is nothing like making flowers bloom all summer. Spring appeals to me in a strange way, it makes me want to get my hands dirty. As a result, I dig up large portions of my suburban yard and plant things that usually wither and die. Ugh!

What do you have in store next for your readers?
MP: My new book, Dawn of Ages has just come out. In the book, war has lasted for generations. In this technological age, no longer must humans risk their lives in combat. Fierce robots operated by remote control make up the bulk of the militaries. Satellites in the atmosphere render the heavens a frenzy of violent confrontation. But the war has little effect on everyday life. The bloodshed is minimal, the disruption to commerce even less. It is a comfortable war. Most of the populace believes they have nothing to fear. Little they know their world is about to come to an end. –So that’s exciting. The second book in the Goblin King series is in the editing process. We’re shooting for a release early next year. There are a number of short story projects I’m working on too. That’s a lot, I know, but you can keep up with me at mikephillipsfantasy.com

Is there anything else you’d like to share with your readers?
MP: Thank you so much for having me as your guest. Thanks to your readers for their interest in my work. I hope you all enjoy the book! Take care, Mike Phillips


Mike Phillips grew up on a small farm in West Michigan, living much the way people did at the turn of the century. Whether it was growing fruits and vegetables or raising livestock, Mike learned the value of hard work and responsibility at a young age. 
While his friends spent their summers watching reruns of bad sitcoms, Mike’s father gave him a very special gift. He turned off the television. With what was affectionately referred to as “the idiot box” no longer a distraction, Mike was left to discover the fantastic worlds that only exist in books. When not tending sheep, gardening, building furniture, chopping wood, or just goofing off, Mike spent his time reading. 

With all that hard work at home, Mike was always eager to go to school. He excelled as a student and went on to pursue a career in the sciences. Working as a Safety Engineer in the Insurance Industry, Mike soon became bored with the corporate grind. Writing engaged him like nothing else. After a few novels and numerous short stories, he thought getting published would be a pretty neat idea. And so, here it goes…

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