Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Philip Mann author of Dark Muse.
Norm: Good day Philip and thanks for participating in our interview
Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background.
Philip: Hi Norm., and thanks to you also. There’s not much in my background that says,” Of course, the perfect training for a writer.”
I sold promotional goods for a very long time, and I enjoyed listening to my client’s life stories more than trying to sell them pens or ball caps. Maybe that’s it, though. The willingness and ability to listen is a basic part of a writer`s tool kit. But looking (way) back to my university days, I always enjoyed essay questions, and was able to answer questions in half a page when everybody else took two or three.
Norm: How did you get started in writing, why do you write and what keeps you going?
Philip: A few years ago, maybe six or seven, I started to write down odd things that came to mind, very short pieces. I enjoyed coming up with an idea, putting it in writing ( or in virtual space) and seeing people's reaction.
I wrote two practice books before Dark Muse, and used some of those ideas in it.
I write for the same reasons, I enjoy the feeling of coming up with a scene and then seeing if it works. And when it does, I imagine it is something like a baseball player watching the ball he just hit go sailing over the centre-field wall. Got it! (at least, until my editor sees it.
Norm: Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process.
Philip: I once told my editor that my writing process is like my painting myself into a corner, and then saying, “Now what?” I challenge myself and of course, the reader.
But it’s definitely a combination for me. On the logic side, you have to realistically portray the reactions of any character to a situation. The actions may be a physical threat, or a terrible choice to be made, such as duty versus friendship. Their reactions have to be logical and comprehensible. The reader has to be able to identify with what that character does, or they lose interest.
The intuition is how you come up with that initial action. As an example, in the second book, I have Cal, who is Vi`s husband, confront a mugger outside an ATM. That part is intuition, in that I needed some action for him, and rummaged through ideas until I came up with that one.
Cal then takes a certain course of action, one which may have been the only one available to him, to prevent the mugger from invading his home. That was where the logi
Norm: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing? As a follow up, do you have a specific writing style?
Philip: Well, I’m orthodox Jewish, so a lot of parts in Dark Muse can be identified as coming from the Torah, although this is not what is known as an inspirational book. Nobody finds God here, they just represent a spectrum of belief, and are often very contradictory. Just like real people.
Also, I’m spare on the descriptions. I like the reader to use their imagination. My action scenes jump right into it. You could compare it to being thrown into the deep end.
Dogs of War, by Frederik Forsythe, one
time. In the middle of one long paragraph a bad guy went to his post
office box to see what mail he had. Forsythe shocks the reader, as
the villain finds the head of one of his henchman stuffed in the box.
I liked the surprise aspect of it, and how easy it was to imagine
that happening, and I try to use that technique in the violent parts.
Short, sharp, get it done.
Norm: How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your debut novel, Dark Muse?
Philip: About seven years ago, on Boxing Day in this city, somebody walked out of a party near the waterfront and just disappeared. He was found two days later and a mile away, his body washed up on the banks of a canal.
Now, I usually read non-fiction, such as biographies, history and the like, so it was logical that I would write a paranormal book around this story, you would think. (Norm, this line is my idea of a joke.)
But I also have an overactive imagination, and the event still haunts me. The idea of somebody, however inebriated, wandering a mile just to walk past barriers, onto thin ice, and drown made no sense. Slowly, the idea germinated and took root in my mind. But it stayed as a short piece, 847 words- I still remember the word count- because it was complex and contradictory. I had no idea how to handle it, and had never taken any kind of writing course. But I showed it to people, and many of them wanted to know more about Vi, such as who she was, what she was. And so did I as a matter of fact. So after stalling for two years, I began to write Dark Muse
Norm: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
Philip: On a personal level, I wanted to complete a difficult project, and write a commercial quality book, and I believe I succeeded in that goal.
Besides that, I had something else in mind. Too often, I see Jewish values or traditions caricatured or watered down, and I wanted something different. To raise the flag, if you will. So my characters are Jewish, including a Hassidic rabbi, and certain Jewish traditions are mentioned, such as the Sabbath, and shiva. And of course, you have Lee, the more dangerous paranormal in Dark Muse, who is Sabbath observant. But as I said, this is not an inspirational book.
Some people might say, why put religion in a novel at all? After all, religious belief is in the decline. I beg to differ. Look at three movie franchises.
Alien. The director is trying to answer the question of where we come from, ultimately. Good luck to him.
Star Wars. Nothing says religious content more than “May the force be with you.”
Superman. You can’t get more messianic than looking skyward and saying, “Superman, we need you.”
In short, I believe there is a longing for faith, for a solid right and wrong, and not just random, meaningless violence in the world. I hope I addressed that in the book and the seri
Norm: Did you learn anything from writing your first book and what was it?
Focus can go a long way in this life.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
Philip: Learning how to write a book. I had started on my own, without any courses or education. Then, after about six months I hired an editor, Marjorie Quarton, from Ireland. She loved the introduction and second chapter, but the rest, well...
She had me take out whole chapters and characters because they got in the way. A huge amount of the first draft was dialogue, and that had to go also. She taught me how to write a book, and not just indulge a hobby. The first book took almost two years to reach its final edition. Four, if you count the time I wrote that first introduction. Now, I can write a book the same size in about nine months.
Norm: What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Philip: Taking a simple idea, a germ of a thought and building it, giving it a structure, form, and having it influence events in the book in ways I hadn’t anticipated. As an example, early in the book, Vi relates how her parents died in a car crash on highway I87, south of Montreal ten years before. It was just a throwaway line, but I built on that throughout the series. And in the third and fourth books, it plays a major part.
Norm: Did you know the end of your book at the beginning?
Philip: No. I had a rough idea, but the details only came about three-quarters through. Besides that, the series is constantly evolving. The characters are always challenged by new events, and their circumstances are always changing. My editor taught me not to use the same scene twice. That’s a challenge, but it makes for a good book.
Norm: How did you go about creating the characters in your book?
Philip: Vi is an amalgam of people I know, or knew. So is Rabbi Jacobs, the Hassidic rabbi. I have to envision a person, draw a profile if you will, before I fill in between the lines.
Lee literally came to me in a vision, a scene that popped into my head. I saw Vi siting on a park bench, eyes closed and sunning herself. And I saw this other woman standing right in front of her, wearing a wide straw hat, wraparound shades and munching an apple, just watching Vi. That image became Lee, brash, predatory, flamboyant, and every man`s idea of a dangerous girl.
A lot of the secondary characters are people I know, or have known. David, introduced in this book and a prominent character in the second book, is modelled after somebody I know. Bernard is an uncle who died around 2008. Serious characters are modelled after people I may know, but have altered.
Norm: In fiction as well as in non-fiction, writers very often take liberties with their material to tell a good story or make a point. But how much is too much?
Philip: I call it pulling a rabbit out of a hat, or as the expression has it, deus ex machina. You can force a point once in a while, but then you have to work with what you yourself, as a writer, have created. Even in a paranormal, things have to make sense, in their own way. If you take too many liberties then that’s cheating, and the reader will lose interest.
Maybe it’s my upbringing, but I believe that the story has to be grounded in reality in some way. Anything we do has consequences.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Dark Muse?
Philip: I’m on Quora, Linked In and a couple of Facebook sites. Dark Muse is available online at Amazon and at Barnes and Noble. Besides that, I’m in the phone book. (what’s a phone book, uncle Phil?)
Norm: What is next for Philip Mann?
Philip: I’m continuing with the series, and have just finished the fourth book. With some luck a film offer will drift my way. Dream big or don’t dream is my motto.
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
Philip: Are you Cal? Who is Vi, really? And who is Lee?
Next time, Norm.
Norm; Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors
Philip: And thanks
again to you Norm.