Friday, April 2, 2021

Interview With Author and Agent Paula Munier

Hello again. Today we're honored to present Author and Agent Paula Munier

She's a USA TODAY bestselling author of the Mercy Carr mysteries. A Borrowing of Bones was a Mary Higgins Clark Award nom and named Dogwise Book of the Year. Blind Search, inspired by the real-life rescue of a boy with autism, also won a DWAA award. 

The newly-released The Hiding Place is now out. 

Paula credits Mission K9 Rescue, her own rescue dogs, and her beloved New England as her major influences. She’s also written three books on writing: Plot Perfect, The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings, and Writing with Quiet Hands, as well as Fixing Freddie and Happier Every Day.


Q. You wear many hats in the writing world: former reporter, editor, literary agent, non-fiction writer, and now award-winning novelist. How do you fit it all in, and decide what to work on next? Do you have habits of particular writing times?

A. I just work a lot. Seriously, like many of my clients, I have a day job as a literary agent, which I love and which takes up most of my time. I write at night and on weekends and whenever else I can squeeze in some scribbling. I work from home, so my time is my own to schedule. Although the pandemic has kept me from traveling (I used to spend a week a month in Manhattan, go to conferences, etc.), and I miss writing on planes and trains and buses.


Q. So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A. I had a title, because in the struggle to find a title my publisher liked for BLIND SEARCH, THE HIDING PLACE proved the runner-up. And my editor suggested that I write a cold case story. My heroine Mercy Carr’s late grandfather was a sheriff, and I figured that the cold case could be a missing girl he’d never found. This missing girl haunted him—and now she’d haunt Mercy.


Q. Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?

A. I wrote a book called PLOT PERFECT: How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene, in which I set out ways in which writers can plot out their novels before writing them. So I have always outlined first. That said, I’m writing Book Four now, and I’m going way off script. We’ll see how it turns out. 


Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)? Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

A. THE HIDING PLACE is about, well, hiding. Not just about how we might bury secrets or treasure or dead bodies, but also about how we might conceal the truth from others and from ourselves. Most important, it’s about how we hide who we really are from others and from ourselves.  


Q. What makes a good book or engaging story? 

A. Great characters and good storytelling. As my editor likes to say, “They come for the mystery, and they stay for the characters.”


Q. Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A. When you’re writing a series, anything and everything is fair game. I read widely (I am an agent, after all) and so I draw inspiration from everyone from Shakespeare and Jane Austen to Maya Angelou and Mary Oliver to Alice Hoffman and Julia Spencer-Fleming. Lately, I’m obsessed with Elly Griffiths and Attica Locke. And I do make a vision board and a playlist for every book….


Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A. I believe in storytelling as a basic human need: Food, clothing, shelter, and stories.  


Q. Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A. I’m just trying to get through Book Four.


Q. Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A. When I send to the book to the publisher, I’m usually rushed. And I revise like crazy.


Q. Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?

A. My editor is Pete Wolverton at St. Martin’s. He’s a genius (and I don’t say that lightly, having been an acquisitions editor myself for nearly twenty years). I listen to what he has to say. He’s never steered me wrong, and my books are far better for his input. If I need feedback before I turn in the manuscript, I go to my own agent, the wonderful Gina Panettieri, and/or Dana Isaacson, editor extraordinaire.


Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

A. I’m an agent. I’m besieged by writers asking for help. I do what I can when I can. I also wrote three books on writing, do lot of workshops and conferences, and I’m a founding member of Career Authors. 


Q. Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?

A. My books are available as audiobooks, read by the amazing voice actress Kathleen McInerney aka Veronica Taylor. She’s fantastic. She makes me sound good.

As for TV/film adaptations, I’d give myself the same advice I give my clients should the opportunity arise: Take the money and run.


Q. What's the next step in your writing world?

A. Book Four.


Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A. I make really good gumbo ;-)


Sunday, March 28, 2021

NEWS for Spring

Lots happening in the writing world these days, keeping me busy.

And bookstores are reordering my books!

First off, just got a great video review (my first) for Shadow of the Wendigo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrD1P0FL0y



My book How to be a Successful Indie Writer is now out in print, joining the ebook and audio versions.

Just got a terrific 5-start review on that one, too!



I'll be moderating a talk with Eddie Vincent of Encircle Books on Tuesday, April 20th at 7 pm. 

Sponsored by the Tewksbury Library-- register here: 

https://tewksburypl.assabetinteractive.com/calendar/virtual-program-tewksbury-writing-group-8/


I'll be giving a talk - sponsored by The Freethinker's Corner Bookstore via Zoom on 

Thursday, May 6 at 7pm. 

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/may-is-for-mystery-w-dale-t-phillips-tickets-148439752295


I'm giving an online class in Suspense for the SEVEN BRIDGE WRITERS' COLLABORATIVE

Saturday, May 15, 2021 @ 10:30 am – 12:30 pm

Hosted by the Thayer Memorial Library, 717 Main Street, Lancaster, MA

https://sevenbridge.org/event/using-suspense-in-writing-with-dale-t-phillips/?instance_id=663



Saturday, January 30, 2021

Welcome Back

 Hello campers- yes, it's been a while since I've posted here.

Life kinda kept kicking us in the nethers, so I've been dealing with all that.

COVID scares, health issues, job woes, the country being betrayed by traitors trying to overthrow it, family not being here for the holidays, and massive depression. Too much life stuff to deal with. 

So- the job was taken away, and several friends are in similar situations. Tough out there.

So if anyone needs a good editor, I'm available. 

At least the daughters got to visit for a late Christmas (though no gifts- the first time ever). 

It's been months since I published anything, though I've been working on various projects.

This is year 10 since I got my first book published, the first book of the Zack Taylor mystery series (A Memory of Grief- only $2.99 on Kindle). 

I have to hustle to finish a set of goals I'd set for myself back then- to publish 10 Novels, 10 story collections, and 100 stories. 2 novels to go, and that should happen by Summer. Have to write and submit about 25 more stories, however, so it's going to be busy. 

And once that's done, it's on to much more! That's just the beginning. 

I'd like to get this blog back up and host interviews and great content, so check back. 

Stay healthy and sane.



Saturday, November 14, 2020

Latest news- audio, Zoom talks, and more

So much going on these days, most of it good stuff, for a change...

Editing services now available. Make your manuscript better, at an affordable cost.

Contact me for details and rates.

Two Zoom events coming up:


And I've got recent audiobooks out, with more on the way!
Some are free with an Audible trial membership!

  • Deadly Encounters- 3 Zack Taylor stories
  • The Return of Fear- 5 Scary Tales
  • Neptune City- A Mystery- Coming soon
  • Five Fingers of Fear- 5 Scary Tales- Coming soon
  • How to be a Successful Indie Writer- Non-Fiction writing help- Coming soon



Friday, October 30, 2020

Stephen King for Halloween

Scary time of year, isn't it? More so than usual. Much more horror this year. Death seems ever closer.

Here it's SNOWING (a lot) on the day before Halloween-- which has been cancelled, anyway.

Along with our Samhain firepit celebration with friends... too much COVID for safety.

Freezing and miserable. Ugh. No fun. All-around frownie-face emojis.

So here's a little something fun. It's an article I wrote a long time back on having Stephen King as my writing teacher, back at the University of Maine, when he returned to teach for a year. 

And yes, it was awesome. Even more than it sounds. Best part of my college career. 

Pics from his talk at UMass Lowell- and I cannot believe that was 8 YEARS ago. 

Photos courtesy of Anne Kuthmann and Bruce Lepore.

For a post on that night, and meeting him years later, go here.

My Teacher, Stephen King

(First Published in Parlour Papers, July/Aug 1994)

The University of Maine at Orono was a great place to be in the late 70’s. The turbulent activism of the 60’s had quieted down and the campus had yet to experience the horrors of the 80’s Yuppie greed and the 90’s politically correct agendas.

It was announced in my junior year that Stephen King would be returning to his alma mater to teach for a year as a writer-in-residence. He had had a few hits out and was well-known, but had yet to explode into the megastardom of later years.

It was easy to get into his literature course in horror/science fiction, but I needed his permission for the writing seminar. Off I went to his on-campus office to plead my case (and ask him to sign a few books).

Stephen King is not one of those celebrities who are told “I thought you would be taller” when people meet him for the first time. His height and his eyes are what keep him from going unnoticed. He doesn’t need capes, or fangs, or skeletons to illustrate what he does. He just looks at you (or the camera) and focuses those intense, slightly out-of-kilter eyes through thick glasses, and you get a little nervous. When he smiles, you shiver and go check the children to make sure they’re safe. He knows what effect he has and likes to ham it up a little when he’s in the mood. Nervous as I was, he soon put me at my ease and graciously consented to my requests.

The literature course was an excellent study of fiction that shaped the genre, and King provided a well-versed and enthusiastic instructor.  As good as the literature course was, however, I was even happier having my writing critiqued by a writer whose work I enjoyed. King told us right from the start that we were going to write a lot, and we churned out an immense amount of work within a fairly brief time. All of this King read and commented on, and returned in short order, while keeping up with his other classes and writing his own works. This should give you some idea of why he has been so astonishingly prolific over the years.

I had never drilled so hard in writing, before or since. To produce enough work, I had to constantly think of new ideas, create new characters, and plot story after story. King was helpful without being condescending or handholding. He is not a subscriber (as are some writers) to the belief that constantly tearing apart someone’s work makes better writers. Rather, he told you in plain language when writing wasn’t working and why it wasn’t working. When you turned out something good, he was delighted and encouraged you to do more of the same. We made plenty of mistakes, but we learned a great deal. Not unsurprisingly, I wrote horror stories almost exclusively.

Why does someone choose to write horror? Because he or she has a way of looking at the world with a fascination for things macabre. A comedian looks at life and draws humor from situations; an artist may constantly seek the relationship of figures and color. The answer to the inane question ‘Where do you get your ideas?” is “All around.” A horror writer looks at a nasty machine in a laundry and imagines what it could do to human flesh. Then the idea comes of how the machine becomes alive, seeking victims to mangle. The frightening part is how easy it is to look at the world this way. Gahan Wilson turned life into funny macabre cartoons. Stephen King puts nightmares into stories.

The popularity of horror today illustrates just how many others share this same way of looking at the world. After scraping out a meager living at teaching and other odd jobs, King finally got a book published, and then another, and so on. He got very lucky and makes a good living writing whatever he wants, but he didn’t get there overnight. He hammered out dozens of stories while polishing his craft and sold them cheaply to whoever would publish them. In those days the usual buyers of horror fiction were “men’s” magazines.


Writing as he does, King makes the task look easy. Sure—just a matter of sitting down at the old Underwood (or computer terminal or Big Chief writing tablet) day after day, week after week, until the months and years roll by, spinning yarns that people want to read. Lots of people can do it, but the successful ones are those who give up that huge part of their lives to pound away at the keyboard. King has said it’s like weightlifting: if you do it properly and long enough, you’ll develop muscles. After say, 10,000 pages or so, you should be able to write something fairly decent. If not, maybe you should give up writing in favor of some other hobby, or something more rewarding.

“So what’s he like?” This is a common question from people when they hear I took classes from him. He’s very laid-back, self-deprecating, witty, and plain-spoken. He dresses comfortably and casually, with no eye to fashion, much like most of the people in Maine. He likes watching the Red Sox and popping a brewski (at least in those days) now and then. He loves the crusty old downhome sayings that abound in Maine and elsewhere, and uses them in his writings. He likes movies, especially the bad old stuff of the 1950’s, with monsters and aliens threatening our American way of life (and of course, the local teen beach party). He reads a lot—as good writers do—and can discuss horror and many other subjects with a depth and breadth of knowledge that is astounding. He has been married to the same woman for years, and has raised children. So what is it about him that attracts people’s attention?

The first is fame. When a person reaches celebrity status, people want to know what it is that makes them special, sets them apart. But more importantly is his subject matter. He revels in the stuff many people don’t want to think about. He’s the one telling the scary tale by the campfire, the one who turns over the rock and peers beneath, the one who pokes the dead animal with a stick. He is an explorer into the dark and terrifying chthonic world. He makes you face the shadowy fears of our unconscious.

The first thing I read by King was Salem’s Lot, recommended by a librarian, and to my mind, one of his best works. The vampire story was great (admittedly owing much to Dracula and Invasion of the Body Snatchers), but better for me was the dead-on rendering of small-town life in Maine. Having had that background, I felt a real connection to the setting. King created ordinary characters, made us care about them, and put them into extraordinary situations. King’s first book, Carrie, was more than a teen revenge fantasy, it was a scathing indictment of the brutality and pettiness of high school hierarchies. After that, the books came so fast it was hard to keep up with them.

Even high school kids, who read little, read Stephen King. He suffers the sin of being popular, and of having a “non-serious” genre. But his success and output continue to amaze everyone, including himself. Not bad for a writer who admits his work is the literary equivalent of junk food. He does, however, pay homage to the masters, and has now become the standard by which others are gauged.

There are many imitators riding his coattails. Most of them dispense with character, and plot, and originality, and spend their time describing various dismemberments of human forms. I once received an unsolicited tape in the mail from some of these “Grand Guignol” writers reading their works and requesting I purchase some of the same. The only horror I discovered was that someone thought this hack garbage was worth money. With cardboard characters, bad plots, developments you could see coming like a slow-moving train, and dialogue that alternated between filth and the level of a not-too-bright 12-year-old, it was repulsive. I threw it away in disgust, wondering if these people actually thought they could make a living writing this way. Is it too much to ask for a modicum of effort and imagination? Lazy writers looking for a quick buck shouldn’t get your money. Demand and seek out quality work.

The way Stephen King writes, you think that the movies made from his horror books would be blockbusters. The scenes he presents should look great on film, but many turn out to be simply embarrassing. The most awful ones have characters attempting and failing a Maine accent. They end up sounding like deranged Englishmen with a speech impediment. Most of the directors with a King horror vehicle don’t seem to know what to do with it. After watching maniacs with weapons chop up teens by the score, maybe it’s time for something different.

Stephen King’s writing has brought him fame, which has proven at times an annoyance, or worse. He used to be amused at the fan mail he received, strange as it was. Many people wanted to know where Salem’s Lot was, and insisted that it exists. Guess they wanted to sign up for the Undead Foreign Legion. King bought a house pretty far up in Maine, whimsically decorated with bat-wing gates. Hordes of fans would troop around, hoping for a glimpse (“I actually saw him MOWING HIS LAWN!”) King has found out that real loonies can get into your house and need to have the authorities take them away.


If you’re a celebrity like King, you can never relax in public. Autograph hounds will shove books in your face whether you’re trying to have a meal, watch a ball game, or even go to the bathroom. Heaven help you if you don’t smile and be charming, because the offended one will go whine to the tabloids about what a nasty person you really are. And the press is always waiting for a quick hatchet job, justified or not.

King does actually manage to be nice to people most of the time. I ran into him several years after college, and he remembered me from class. He was so well- known that he could not teach again, as he did for that one glorious year. I think back on that time, remembering the lessons, and working for the day when a book of mine is published. King has demonstrated just how far someone can go with a lot of hard work and some luck. He has also proven that success doesn’t have to spoil you, and you don’t have to step on people on the way up. In his example are lessons for us all.


Happy Halloween folks. Let's hope we can have non-deadly gatherings by the next one.

 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

MORE Spooky Tales in a NEW collection- just in time for Halloween!

 Something about the horror of our current situation is creating fertile ground for good escapist fiction.


Just published another short collection of 5 tales of horror- just made the Halloween deadline! 


I mean, I already posted a bunch of good options for reading or listening recently. 


So now check this out- you can snag it on Kindle for the price of a coffee.

Five Fingers of Fear







Sunday, October 25, 2020

Spooky Tales for Halloween

 Hello all you boys and ghouls!

We are approaching Halloween, and so you need something spooky to read- or to listen to.

I know, current events are scary enough, but these tales will get your mind off real horrors for a time.

Gotta tell you, putting out all the lights and sitting in the dark, listening to a scary tale is really a terrific experience. Give the audiobooks a try.

And so here are a few things to consider- if you dare!


For a longer work, try Shadow of the Wendigo- but not just before bed. Two readers have told me they had nightmares after absorbing this. So you've been warned. 

(May also cause woods excursion avoidance...)

Oh- and even better- FREE with an Audible trial- more great listening!


For 10 tales of pure scary, try Halls of Horror

Also FREE with an Audible trial. 


Dedicated the book to Stephen King, who I had as a writing instructor in college at UMO! 

Just for fun, here's an article I wrote about that.


For 5 more tales of terror, go for the latest- The Return of Fear

And yes, this one is also FREE with an Audible trial. 


How's that for a bargain bag of scares? 

Happy Haunting!