MY INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR TONY PHILLIPS!
What’s your name and what genre would you consider your books to be?
Tony Phillips – The Fires of Orc is a work of science fiction/dystopia with elements of political intrigue, thriller and literary fiction. I don’t typically write sci-fi. In fact, this is my first foray into the genre with a novel-length work. I have also written nonfiction and I recently finished a coming-of-age historical novel.
Tell me about your book. How did you come up with that (story, angle, idea)?
The title of The Fires of Orc is taken from a William Blake’s 1793 poetic work, America a Prophecy. The book is told in two story lines, with the central story set in 2032, recalled by a narrator looking back on events 50 years later. The main story line concerns the events of the 2032 U.S. Presidential Election, specially, how a third-party candidate upset the usual political process using the power of quantum computing, the ability to micro-target the electorate and the perversity of the American electoral system to finish last in popular vote count and states won yet still win the election. Incidentally, the math behind that hypothetical is actually possible.
The outcome of the election and the skullduggery and hubris of the campaign set the stage for a global calamity and the end of the old world. The narrator, himself an architect of the campaign, is one of few survivors from the old world and in his extreme old age he shares his honest recollection of how that world ended in fire, in part through his own actions.
I’ve had the story in mind for many years. I started writing it in 2015 and it began to take on a flavor or real-life as the 2016 election unfolded.
How did you get interested in writing this particular genre (historical novels, mysteries, sci-fi, children’s books, etc.)?
Although I’m a lifelong scifi fan, I’ve never written in the genre. When I sat down to map out the story of The Fires of Orc, I conceived of it originally as a work of present-day literary fiction. But as the story unfolded, it worked out better to set in a near-term future, a foreseeable time, and to imagine the exponential leap forward in information technology that will come with the emergence of quantum computing. What our networked systems can do currently is dwarfed by the potential on the horizon and most of us haven’t thought deeply enough about what to expect, about not only the benefits but also the hazards of such power to control information.
What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
I own a consulting company that specializes in grant writing and policy support for nonprofit organizations, educational systems and government agencies, so I write literally all day, though most of that writing is the equivalent of tossed word salad. I also write for two print magazines and I’m a frequent contributor to online media platforms, writing op-ed and the occasional piece of investigative journalism.
When doing none of the above, I write creatively, usually a few thousand words a day, the overwhelming majority of which get thrown out. My most productive hours are late at night and into the wee hours of the morning. I work on my couch, while my wife is asleep upstairs and my two elderly dogs are sacked out, one on either side of me.
I have tried and consistently failed to set daily writing goals. I have written as much as three or four acceptable draft chapters in a day and I’ve had entire weeks of zero quality output. As rule, however, when I’m applied to the task, I try to write a chapter a night.
Is there a genre that you’ve been wanting to experiment with?
I would love to write historical fantasy – dragons and wizards and princesses and ice and high mountains. I’ve done the occasional fantasy short story, but nothing yet that I’m especially proud of. I look forward to getting immersed in a fantasy project sometime soon. I find the nature of that genre, how it lends itself to lyrical structure, to be extremely freeing for the frustrated poet in me. I don’t have a story in mind yet, but I can hear the sound of epic tale-telling in my head.
Do you have a new book in the making and if so, what’s the name of your upcoming book?
I recently completed a final draft of a novel tentatively entitled The Prince of Piedra Plana. It is a historical novel, set in West Texas in 1934, and a coming-of-age tale that follows a 15-year old protagonist over the course of one day during which he encounters the characters of his home town on the High Plains.
Can you give us a few tasty morsels from your work-in-progress?
I’m happy to share the first five paragraphs of the book, which I expect to be available online and at bookstores by the end of this year.
Fifty miles west of the headwaters of the Brazos River, a day’s ride from Lubbock, the town of Piedra Plana stood on the edge of the high plains like a monument to audacity. The land for a hundred miles around dared life and tempted death. From the arid, bitter ground rose the defiant little town with its few hundred pugnacious denizens, lean and mean-eyed as the Comanche warriors whose ghosts wandered the rutted roads and cracked earth by night.
Dust-choked, adrift in a realm of boundless horizons, Piedra Plana defied time and conflict, surviving first the war of nation against nation, then of brother against brother and, finally, the war to end wars, each time sending its sons, terrifyingly beautiful in their murderous intentions, south, then east, then overseas to battle forces that never threatened the parched crops of home.
In nineteen-thirty-four the summer rains did not come to sweep the high plains and fill the pockets in its red-brown sands. Cotton bolls never opened. Grapes turned to gravel on shriveled vines. Cattle wasted and died, their dry carcasses stripped bare by the buzzards that descended like dark specters, driving off packs of scrawny dogs. The sun crossed day after day the cloudless sky, fire-hardening the earth. Night brought little respite and dust-streaked flimsy rags flapped wildly in open windows, hearths and homes beleaguered by the dry and ceaseless wind.
In October, the land gave way and rose with the wind to scour and scrape the town in demon dust. Fence posts shrank into gathering mounds and where plow lines once crossed the earth the dead land laid flat and hard with bumper crops of past seasons a fading memory in the minds of townsfolk, their cheeks hollow, their faces cut deep by lines of hunger and worry. Sending generations of boys to war had not broken Piedra Plana. By the end of nineteen-thirty-four it appeared drought might do what war could not.
A rumble of dust rose faintly in the wide, flat distance, chattering along the twisting mile to the Watkins farmhouse just north of town. The rumble inched its way nearer, minute after slow minute in the red light of a freshly risen sun already about its daytime business of hardening the crusted ground. Theo Watkins sat up in his bed and peered through a streaked window.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both. At times, when it’s all flowing perfectly and the writing angels are all lined up just right, the act of writing returns more energy that it consumes and the product is rewarding, line by line. At those times, sleep does not come and the night turns to day and leaves me fully awake. At other times, however, the drudgery of each key stroke makes the words heavy, dull and completely exhausting. But it’s only by powering through the hard times that the good times finally come. One just has to write through the rough patches.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Perhaps at my own expense, I try to be true to myself as both an author and a reader. That probably means I lose out on some opportunities to crank out work according to familiar formulas and capitalize on established niche readerships. But I think it would be insulting to the reading public to suggest there’s no market for original, innovative, quality literature. I’ve found that over time, a devoted, reliable readership tends to come from an authentic expression of the author’s voice and vision. Not every book is a bestseller, but that’s not the measure or quality and worth that matters most to me. I need to appreciate it myself before I’m willing to share it with the world.
Where can your fans find you and follow??
My home page is www.Tony-Phillips.com, and I can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TonyPhillipsBlog. My Amazon author page is www.amazon.com/Tony-Phillips/e/B01N7H3MG3 and my Twitter handle is @TPhillipsSD. You can also find me by googling “The Fires of Orc.”
I welcome all feedback, positive or otherwise, and I love corresponding with readers.