Friday, October 25, 2013
SCHMOOZING WITH PHYLLIS SMALLMAN
Agatha Christie has always been my ideal of the perfect mystery writer. She leads you down a path that you're totally committed to, only to finds that it goes nowhere. I've looked at her books again and again to see how she does it. She sets the stage, creates tension, and delivers death with a minimum of words and description. My latest book, Long Gone Man, is really a salute to Christie. The opening was inspired by a Christie play. A car goes off the road in a fog. The driver goes to the nearest house and knocks on the door and it’s opened by a woman with a gun in her hand. On the floor behind her is a body. The woman says, “Come in.” The book ends with all the characters in sitting in one room for the unmasking of the murderer.
2. What are you working on now?
I've just signed a contract for my 6th Sherri Travis novel, which will be out in the fall of 2014. While I'm waiting for the final edit on Martini, I'm working on the second Singer Brown novel. Singer finds the diary of a teenage girl and the next day, before she can return the diary, she learns the girl has been murdered.
3. In what ways is your main protagonist like you? If at all?
I always feel if the protagonist is like his or her creator than so is the worst character in the book. Do we want to hold our hands up to that as well? Maybe Sherri Travis is the woman I'd like to be, young, a scratch golfer and fearless...well most of the time.
4. Are you character driven or plot driven?
I don't feel that character and plot can be separated. The plot evolves out of the characters and their interaction. The same plot, with different characters, would create a different story.
5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
Both, I start out with a plan and never stick to it. Somewhere along the way dark forces take over and lead me astray. At that point I need to trust that somehow I'll get back on track and it will all work out. It's a little bit like following a recipe where you accidently put in the wrong spice, cloves instead of cinnamon. Like storylines, the best dishes are the ones you play with and tweak.
6. What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?
This is an interesting question and one I've been thinking about a lot lately. Initially I just wrote without thinking about what people take away from these stories. Now I realize that there is a reoccurring theme in them, something that has a lot to do with the way I view the world. Friendship and survival are at the heart of every book. Surviving the evil that life throws at them, Sherri and Singer get by with a little help from their friends. Isn't that something we all need?
7. Where do you see yourself as a writer in 10 years?
Well, if I'm very very lucky, I'll still be sitting here in front of my computer -except I'll be older. I’ll be very, very, old. I have three books outlined and I would like to finish those. Beyond that I can’t begin to guess. The truth is, I have more story ideas than I will ever be able to use.
8. What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?
Nothing! Pretty much what you see is what you get, except maybe I'm not as brash inside as I am outside.
9. What do you like to read for pleasure?
I read mysteries. I only dip into literary fiction for my book club. Most of the time it just frustrates me, much ado about nothing, and I want to yell, "When is something going to happen?" I dip into a lot of books I don’t finish. In fact, I probably only fully read about one in five of the books I pick up. The ones that I put aside are the ones where I start editing, tweaking the plot in my head, and redrawing characters. Writing changes the way you read and makes you far more critical.
10. Give us a summary of your latest book in a Tweet.
Singer Brown arrives on Glenphiddie Island to kill a man. Someone has already done the job. Now the murderer is coming after Singer.
Phyllis Smallman’s first novel, Margarita Nights, won the inaugural Unhanged Author award from the Crime Writers of Canada. Her work has appeared in both Spinetingler Magazine and Omni Mystery Magazine and she has received two awards for her short stories. The Florida Writer’s Association shortlisted Champagne for Buzzards as the best Florida book for 2012. Long Gone Man is her 6th book.