Mike Phillips is author of The World Below, Reign of the Nightmare Prince, and the soon to be released Dawn of Ages. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications both in print and online. In this interview he talks about the inspiration behind his book, keeping narrative exciting, and the meaning of success, among other things. Visit his website to find out more.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The World Below. When did you start writing and what got you into writing fantasy?
The story of my writing is not a usual one. I didn’t go to college to become a writer. My intent was never to be a writer. It was a hobby that just-sort-of got out of hand. I’m a safety engineer. I get to help people every day. I love my profession. But I needed a creative outlet in my life. I’m no good at gardening or painting or music or woodworking or fixing cars, so I began writing short stories. After accumulating a number of stories, I thought it might be fun to see if I could get one published. That went well, and I wanted to try something new, so I started work on my first novel. Writing a novel is a huge undertaking. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I loved every minute of it. That first novel is hidden in the dark recesses of my hard drive, never to be seen, but it started me on the path where I find myself today. My third novel, Dawn of Ages, is coming out in early 2014 and my fourth is already spoken for. It has been an interesting journey and I hope your readers stick with me and see where it goes.
What was your inspiration for The World Below?
The inspiration for The World Below was twofold. My novel-length projects had been centered on a blend of fantasy and science fiction, and I wanted to try something new. My short stories up to that point were mostly fantasy with some light horror mixed in. I enjoyed the freedom and creativity these projects brought with them, so I thought it might be fun to try something with a modern setting while keeping strong elements of fantasy. That brought me into a world where creatures of myth and legend still exist, a place called the World Below. The other part was the protagonist, Mitch Hardy. I didn’t want to do another book with the typical chosen one come to save the world or even a tortured hero. I wanted a real person, someone you might meet at work. Mitch is a regular guy. He’s a big guy, tough in his own way, but he has to rely upon his friends to get things done. Building a hero on that premise was a challenge and a welcome change, I think, for most readers. That is how the story began.
Who is your target audience?
Genres like fantasy, modern fantasy, urban fantasy, and dark fantasy have all been applied to my work. As in life, however, things aren’t as simple as all that. There are elements of romance and comedy that are a part of nearly everything I do. My goal in writing is to have fun and to stretch my creativity. I must admit that it was surprising to me was being adopted by horror fans. I think it was because of the goblins. Let me say that I’m a total wimp. Blood and guts, slasher type literature, turns my stomach. I do, however, love spooky tales. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I like to use fear and light horror in my writing, but my aim is to use it as tool to build suspense or develop characters. So the target? Well, though I never seem to be on target, I often hit the bull’s eye nonetheless.
What do you hope readers will get from your book?
One of my favorite things is to escape into a good book. I hope my work brings that gift to others.
Did your book require a lot of research?
None. Ha! None at all. That may sound terrible at first, but I wanted to put the magic back into fantasy. When you read modern fantasy, all too often magic becomes a system. It becomes standardized, like a science unto itself. For me, that takes the fun out of it. In The World Below and its forthcoming sequels, anything can happen. My goal is to make my work like Christmas morning, seeing all those beautiful packages and being filled with wonder and expectation. So I didn’t do any specific research for the book. A lifetime of reading, an interest in myth and legend, have strongly shaped my work and this book is no exception.
What do you do when your muse refuses to collaborate?
Don’t push it. That’s my advice. Often I find that if I’m having trouble writing, it’s because the story hasn’t worked itself out in my mind. Over time, I have learned to step away from the computer and take a break when I need to. At other times, it may be an issue of physical or mental fatigue. At these times, I take a nap.
How do you keep your narrative exciting?
When the narrative gets bogged down, there are a variety of ways to get things moving again. I might try a little humor to liven things up. Describing something in a new or unusual way can be interesting too. I might switch over to dialogue if it fits. If I’m really having trouble, I know that suspense or romance will come to the rescue. If all else fails, I crank up the music, hit it as hard and fast as I can, and worry about the rest when it’s time to edit.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
I’m a busy guy. I have a demanding job, a wonderful family, and all the mundane responsibilities of running a household. In order to keep on track, I try to find time for writing whenever I can. This is usually at night after my daughter goes to bed or early in the morning before I go to work. When I’m exercising or travelling, I’m usually thinking about the story that I’m working on. So when I finally get a chance to sit down, I’m ready to go.
How do you celebrate the completion of a book?
When I finish a novel or short story, I turn off my computer, throw away the remainder of my notes, and marvel at what I have done.
How do you define success?
Success for me is when I’ve told the story, polished it to a shine, and have that little voice in my head telling me that it’s done. It’s a feeling of accomplishment like no other.
What do you love most about the writer’s life?
Very simply, I love the work.
Where is your book available?
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
Thank you so much for having me as your guest. I hope your readers enjoy The World Below and my other work.