Monday, May 31, 2010

Mark and Charlotte Phillips Answer Questions

Today I welcome the writing team of Mark and Charlotte Phillips. Please tell us about you and your work.

Mark: I’m originally from Illinois. I grew up on the classics: Greek mythology, James Bond novels, golden age science fiction, and Batman comics. In college I majored in philosophy and minored in film. Now I teach high school precalculus and political philosophy in Houston, Texas. I’m a biblioholic and ardent individualist anarchist.

Charlotte: I grew up reading in Pennsylvania. I had wonderful elementary school teachers and librarians who wouldn’t let me get away with reading only Nancy Drew. They challenged me to read books by Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, and Edgar Allen Poe. From these wonderful books I developed a love affair with reading that quickly grew into a love of story telling.

When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?

Charlotte: I was nine when my youngest brother was born. As soon as he was old enough to understand, I’d invent stories to make him laugh. But when teachers began asking for works of fiction, I returned to my first love, mysteries. I’m sure I wrote more than one very bad Nancy Drew rip-off. I do hope all the evidence is long gone.

Mark: I got the writing bug early, when I was seven years old. I still have all my juvenile manuscripts. Most are pale imitations and pastiches of authors I admired. I loved humorous adventures of lovable rogues. I have numerous failed attempts to mimic Keith Laumer’s Retief stories and Harry Harrison’s tales of Slippery Jim di Griz. I also greatly admired and tried to pastiche the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories by Fritz Leiber. Only a wet-behind-the-ears kid would try to mimic any of these authors. I soon learned that their magic was not only beyond my juvenile abilities, but also beyond all but a few masters of their genre. But the biggest influence had to be the writings of Robert Heinlein. I was about seven or eight when my mother bought me Podkayne of Mars. After devouring his juveniles, I quickly moved up to his classics. His The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress set my political views on the path towards individualist anarchism. His I Will Fear No Evil opened my mind to the possibilities and complexities of gender. He was an author of ideas, integrity, and just plain fun to read. I tried to evoke a little of the spirit of Heinlein in my science fiction novel The Resqueth Revolution.

How do you develop characters? Setting?

Mark: We use our own personalities. Steve Marks, the first person protagonist of The Resqueth Revolution, is definitely a version of me. The Eva Baum character is an amalgam of character traits from Charlotte and me as we were in our youth. As both characters react to events in their respective novels, I think you will notice that both have major issues with authority. We haven’t yet had to work out those issues as violently and decisively as Steve and Eva, but who knows what the future may hold.

Who’s the most unusual/most likeable character?

Mark: I think we both enjoy writing about Shade, a mentally unstable, homeless street-artist who is a continuing character in the Eva Baum series. He has a fascinating personality, and it took us a long time to get his voice just right. I think we both feel he has a lot of possibilities for substantial character development as we get farther into the series. A new character, Janet Ives, will, hopefully intrigue our fans as well.

Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?

Mark: We hammer out the outline carefully so that we can work on different parts without too much danger that they won’t fit together later on. But sometimes I get pulled into new directions while I’m immersed in writing. I’ve occasionally thrown some monkey wrenches into the process. But one ignores one’s muse at one’s own peril.

Charlotte: When Mark changes the outline on the fly, well—I have a mantra, “Don’t hurt the people you love. Be flexible.”

Do you have a specific writing style? Preferred POV?

Charlotte: Yes. Most of my favorite mysteries are written in first person POV. That writing style comes naturally to me, so I much prefer it. I’ve been challenging myself to learn to write engaging third person POV stories. I think I did a credible job in “A Cave in the Canyon,” a story in the soon to be published Twisted Tales of Texas short story collection.

Mark: First person seems more honest for detective fiction. If the reader sees and hears only what the detective does, there’s less opportunity for the writer to cheat.

How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?

Charlotte: I grew up in the inner city and had to suffer bullies most of my childhood. Bullies don’t usually survive in my stories. The same is true for anyone who abuses power. I really enjoy beating them up and/or killing them off – fictionally, of course.

Mark: I agree. I have a deep loathing of anyone who uses force or intimidation to control others. Anyone who pretends to have the authority to wield such power is evil (though I hope not irredeemably so). Criminals who prey on innocents disgust me. Politicians who oppress and exploit people from behind the cover of law enrage me. I am an individualist anarchist because I believe government authoritarians, kleptocrats, and the people who bribe them are the source of most pain and misery in the world. One of the characters in The Resqueth Revolution extols Bugs Bunny as being our most profound political philosopher. When someone tries to oppress or threaten Bugs, or when he simply comes across anyone pompous enough to think he has any authority, Bugs’ reaction usually involves anvils and explosives (and, bizarrely enough, dressing up as a woman).

Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.

For The Resqueth Revolution, we were thrilled to read the Midwest review that said, “The premise is thrilling and readers will be so intrigued with this well-written sci-fi they will be reluctant to put the book aside once it's finished.”

We thoroughly enjoyed reading what one Hacksaw reviewer said: “Beginning on page one, Hacksaw is one mystery/thriller that the reader won't want to put down - not for food, sleep or even sex.”

What are your current projects?

Charlotte: We are anxiously awaiting publication of Twisted Tales of Texas, a short story collection that contains three of our stories. We are also busy putting the final touches on several stories we plan to submit for the next mystery anthology from The Final Twist, and working out final plot details for The Golden Key, an Eva Baum mystery.

Mark: Eva Baum fans will love the next installment. The Golden Key has our plucky heroine mixed up with spies, gunrunners, counterfeiters, bikers, and anarchists. We’ve got a first draft, but Charlotte had a brilliant idea about how to add a layer of emotional subplot that will require some rewriting—so not all the deviations from the agreed outline are my fault.

Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

Please check out our website at

Thanks so much, Susan for inviting us to your blog.


Charlotte Phillips said...

Thank you Susan. The blog looks great. You has great questions.


cassandrajade said...

Thanks so much for sharing this interview. It is great reading how other writers go about it.

Charlotte Phillips said...

You are most welcome.

Please feel free to share any gems you've acquired.