Thomas Phillips is the author of The Molech Prophecy, a novel that blends elements of mystery, suspense and religion. In this interview, Phillips talks about this his latest novel, his unexpected success, and the craft of writing, among other things. His story is intriguing — though he had published five mystery novels in the past, it was not until he became a full Christian that success really knocked on his door. Read how he began writing his novel in August, finished it in December, signed with an agent in February, and sold it to a large publisher in September.
Thanks for being my guest today, Thomas. Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?
A little about me, huh? Well, I work full time as an employment law paralegal. Always wanted to be a police officer. Went to college for a criminal justice degree. Turns out, my eye sight was so bad, there was no way I would ever pass the police physical. (So writing mysteries is a way for me to fulfill that dream).
I was married for fifteen years and have three awesome kids (two boys, and a girl). My kids are my life. No way around it. I live for them. My goal is to write full time. It may take years and years, and to be honest, it may never happen, but it is what I strive for. Aside from my kids, writing, and work, I enjoy playing guitar. I have a few acoustics. I sing when I play. You’d never want to hear me sing though, really. It’s that bad. But I have fun, regardless!
When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
I grew up with a reading disability. It wasn’t until seventh grade that I finally read a book, cover to cover. It was S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. When I found out she was 16 when she wrote that, I was like — man, I’m a storyteller, maybe I can write books? Maybe I can inspire reluctant readers — and from that day forward, yeah, I knew I’d be a writer.
I had the first short-story I ever wrote published in the high school annual magazine. It was called, "I Made It," and it was about a bus-boy who always had to scrub pots and pans until one day – he got to bus tables. How funny is that? You write about what you know. At 14, that’s about all I knew.
Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
I am very excited about The Molech Prophecy. The back cover summary reads:
Former gang member Tommy Cucinelle thought he had left his old life behind when he became a Christian. That's why he's surprised when his pastor asks him to use his old "skills" — finding people who don't want to be found — to locate the church secretary after she mysteriously disappears and the church is vandalized. The police don't have any leads.
Tommy's investigation brings him face-to-face with the unpleasant memories from the past that threaten his new identity, but turmoil is soon the least of his worries. A local Wiccan church is at the heart of the mystery, and Tommy's search uncovers a startling prophecy about child sacrifice to the pagan god Molech. When the missing woman's sister–Tommy's newfound romantic interest–disappears as well, the quest becomes personal.
To explain the inspiration … well, this is a long-winded answer. Bear with me …
In 1995 I began my professional writing career with the sale of my first short story. From there, I went on to sell more than 70 short stories and articles until in mid-2000, my first secular novels were published.
By 2003 I had five mystery novels under my belt. And then in April, everything changed.
I became a Christian.
It wasn’t that anyone told me to stop writing, or to change the way I wrote. It was that I realized the books I’d written did nothing to honor God. With sex, bad language and graphic, senseless violence filling my pages, I knew I needed to take a break.
It was bad timing for my then-publisher. My first hardcover had recently been released, and I decided not to do much to promote it. As a New Christian, I was confident that the works I’d written — as I said — did nothing to bring honor and glory to God. At that point, I quit writing, more or less.
But, eventually, I got into writing weekly devotionals for my church’s e-newsletter.
In late 2005, I began a journey into a deep, dark valley. I felt like God was testing me. As time went on, I realized, the valley only got deeper and darker. In the fall of 2006, I was inspired to write a new mystery novel. But this would be a Christian themed work.
I believe that God allowed me to begin to work my way out of the valley through writing. Only this time, He wanted me to write books that glorified Him (and not just feed my own insatiable need for fame).
When I completed the manuscript, I managed to sign with an awesome agent and she placed the work with Whitaker House in just a few months.
See, my earlier works were all released through small presses. Overall sales were small. But, at the time, I was happy to be publishing at all.
The big difference is that for the first time, I’ve landed a large publisher. An awesome publisher, I might add. And I believe that this happened because I’ve changed from secular to Christian writing. I like to believe that God is blessing this new ministry I’ve undertaken, and that, perhaps, He is more pleased with my writing than He has been in the past.
The key, however, will still be visibility. Getting my name out there. There are so many talented suspense writers. Before, for me, it was about competition. Now, it’s not. It’s about spreading a message. Sharing my faith through my stories in some way. And I’ve talked with some great writers (James Scott Bell, Mark Mynheir, Eric Wilson) who have been nothing but supportive and helpful.
I want to be sure I answer the questions. There is a difference. It’s not about making money. Not this time around. Sure, I’d love to make my living writing full time. What writer wouldn’t? But I’m not consumed with that thought – the way I used to be.
And I think my latest works are some of the best stuff I’ve ever written. You always hear writers say things like, You have to write for you. That was the old me. Now, when I write it is for me, yes, but for others, as well. And although I guarantee my characters are flawed, and like real people, there will always be God’s presence in power, and love fit in between the pages. I didn’t have that before. Thankfully, I have that now.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
Stream-of-consciousness, mostly. I don’t use an outline. I do map out some direction, but it is a vague map. Before I begin writing, I basically know the beginning, middle and end. It’s getting from point A to B to C that is the fun of the journey. I find that using an outline can restrict the process. However, I am always aware of drifting, too. Drifting is not so good, lol.
Did your book require a lot of research?
Fiction still needs to be factual. I book covers aspects of Wicca, and pagan rituals. I’m not saying that everything is factual in the story, but I needed to understand the “truth” before I could bend and twist things to work the way I needed things to work. A shocking thing I discovered was that Rochester has a huge Wicca and pagan population. All I hope is that my book will be well received by all.
Who is your target audience?
You get to learn a lot about the main character, Tommy, through flashbacks to when he was a teenager. I believe that in doing this, The Molech Prophecy will appeal to mystery/suspense/thriller fans spanning from age 14 and up … and love knowing that the book is content-appropriate for such potential readers. It is dark, gritty and intense, but still appropriate.
What will the reader learn after reading your book?
I hope that readers will come away with one main lesson. Christians are people. Flawed. Real. Being a Christian does not mean your life is now on auto-pilot. In fact, the Bible promises a tougher road for those who proclaim Christ as their Savior. In a way, I show that to readers in my story. (Non-Christians are always quick to point out mistakes Christians make, as if to say, ah-ha! Caught you! There is nothing to catch. We all make mistakes. I make them daily! That’s to be expected. No one, except Jesus, was or ever will be perfect. It’s that simple, yet, this is something that is often overlooked.
What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?
I am both. It is from my life experiences, my daydreams and nightmares that my stories are born out of. Someone once said, I have no idea who, that there are no bad experiences in a writer’s life, only opportunities. (I’m sure I mangled the quote—but the context of it is accurate!)
From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?
I started writing The Molech Prophecy in August 2006. I finished it in December. Signed with an agent in February, and sold it to Whitaker House in September 2007. It hits stores July 1, 2008. I believe this is pretty fast, and not very common. I feel blessed for the opportunity.
Describe your working environment.
For years it was my kitchen table. The last year has been the Starbucks at Barnes & Noble. But since the beginning of June, this new coffee house, Café Amenity, opened up right by my apartment. I write there now. All the time. I use an iPod with earphones, volume up, and plug away for hours, several days a week.
Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?
I believe in getting it all down on paper first. This could be because I hate the edit and re-write process with such passion that procrastination drives me, lol. Seriously, getting the story down is important for several reasons. First, it is too easy to lose momentum if you stop to edit. Second, it is too easy to delay the completion of the manuscript. And third, the sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing a manuscript give me the stamina to roll up my sleeves and edit. I have a great friend who has been writing his novel for 9 years. That’s too long. It’s the best half of a book I’ve ever read. Every word. Every period. Every character. All perfect. But the work’s not done yet. The time he dedicates to the editing and re-writing take away from the time he could be spending on simply finishing the story.
They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?
I’ve never heard that. Not as a stereotype. I believe I — can’t speak for all — worry more about what people will think of my story, and not so much about actual negative criticism. Naturally, I want people to like what I’ve written. Over the years, one thing I have developed is a thick skin. I have enough rejections to wallpaper a home ten times. Never would have kept keeping on if I didn’t have a thick skin, or if I’d had a fragile ego. I don’t mind if someone doesn’t like what I’ve written, but I want to know why. Can’t improve my writing if someone just tells me the book stunk.
As a writer, what scares you the most?
Book signings where no one shows and I sit alone at a table for two hours trying to make my pen the most interesting object in the world…
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
My publisher is holding my second manuscript, Convicted, hostage. They want to see some sales numbers roll in on The Molech Prophecy before they decide whether to offer another contract. I hope they do. I think Whitaker House has been awesome to work with.
This is the summary for Convicted:
Best-selling mystery author, Noah Fuller, shocks his readers when he announces that he’ll only be writing mysteries with a Christian theme from now on. When angry letters are sent to the publisher, his agent and even to his house, Fuller is certain the storm will pass. But when his four-year-old son is abducted from a grocery store parking lot, the police suspect the author’s fans are more than just fanatical.
In an attempt to employ his fame, Fuller utilizes the media to generate a nationwide search for his son.
However, the police investigation uncovers a dark secret about Fuller’s past that threatens to kill his new writing career, his marriage and the very life of his son…
I am a heart beat away from finishing a third manuscript, I call Line of Fire, and am half way into a fourth – a unique vampire/mafia style thriller (yes, it is still Christian fiction), and have mapped out the idea for fifth.
I hope to be writing Christian fiction for a long, long, time!
Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!