Nearly a month ago . . . okay, so I’m slow . . . Nigel Fields, author of Walk to Paradise Garden, interviewed me about my writing. He featured the interview under the tab Conversations with Authors on his website: http://nigelfields.wordpress.com/ I thought I’d feature it today on my blog for two reasons:
1. I am aware that I haven’t blogged lately. (That is an understatement.)
2. And I needed to indulge in something narcissistic. (I wanted to boost my spirits. It is a bad hair day. And that is another understatement. I look like I am wearing frizzy buttocks on my head.)
So here is an excerpt from Nigel Fields’ Conversations with Authors:
Interview with Thea Phipps 03/23/12
Thea Phipps writes humorous mysteries. Charades With a Lunatic and The Doll in the Wall had us laughing throughout. Loved the aunties in Charades.
I’ve heard snippets about her third book and am eager for its release. For now, I am happy to post her interview to share with all of you.
Tell me something of your background that prepared you for this venture.
There were several things that set me up. Probably first of all would be my DNA. Besides inheriting my father’s short legs, English teeth, and ability to sit and stare into space, I inherited his love for reading mystery stories. Not only was he a reporter for one of the local papers, he wrote Barnestorming, a weekly humor column.
Secondly, when I was in 5th grade a classmate lassoed me into writing a 100 page mystery story with her. It was a masterpiece of misspellings, inept police, kidnapped horses, and jungle-covered islands off of the coast of California. We had a character that played professional football with Joe Namath, and his best friend, an accountant. I remember the first line of our book with fondness: ‘The sun was high and warm.’ Like it would be anything else… From then on, she continued to write, while I merely supplied her with plot embellishments and a token sentence in her stories just so she could say we wrote the ‘books’ together. We had gotten back together to write a few more times after we had graduated, but we soon discovered that it didn’t work to yoke two very different people into the same creative harness. She continued to write her own way, while I went back to doing art.
Do you see real family members or friends in your books?
Family and friends lurk in the back of my brain when I write, but only after a work is finished and I’m editing do I see that they’ve made an appearance.
My mother seems to crop up quite often. First, in a virtually deaf Austrian, Elsie Schnitzler, who shouts everything she says, then in Zinnia Bunt-Joliet, an elderly ballet dancer plagued with arthritis and a European’s love of malodorous cheese. Thirdly, my mother shows up in Chloe O’Rourke, a tiny octogenarian who wears a different wig in every scene.
I have also placed one of my brothers and his wife in the first book, Charades with a Lunatic. I did this at his request. When the book was going to be published, I called him up and offered to change the names. He insisted I leave their names in the story even though his wife had a slight anxiety attack over it. They make their appearance on page 250.
Besides them, there are many friends who seem to have unconsciously slipped into my writing. There is Tamsin Hugo, the best friend of my protagonist. She was inspired by Vanessa, a friend I had when I was 19. We roomed together, worked together, and did volunteer work together until I got married at 20.
Since my first book came out, I have had requests from other friends to purposely be put into the stories. Nathan Beatty, an artist, appears in my third book, soon to be published. I haven’t come up with a title to that one yet. It is set in Greece. My husband suggested The Greek Caper, and a friend came up with Run into Strange Capers, but nothing has been decided. Three other friends, Debi, Lisa, and Kara, show up as themselves in my fourth book. I am only halfway through writing that one.
How did you come by the idea of “Charades with a Lunatic”?
There were two contributing factors. First was a sense of desperation coupled with insomnia. There was a dry stretch where I couldn’t find any good books to read. I was in urgent need of entertainment and it seemed as if all the books I kept running across were full of grotesque murder scenes, foul-mouthed prostitutes, or scarred female detectives who sniffed their armpits to see if they were clean enough to attend cocktail parties. I took it as a personal challenge to see if I could come up with a more wholesome mystery, so I took up writing. (It was only supposed to last a night or two, but it has continued beyond 3 books.)
With Charades, I wanted to come up with a fun premise, something that would intrigue me, something I would do if I had the chance, so I developed the concept of a treasure hunt that takes place in an old English mansion. I wanted atmosphere, so I added storms, flickering candles, lightning, secret passages, and eccentric characters. I didn’t intend to write a comedic mystery, but by the end of the first page, I found myself overwhelmed with a desire to poke fun at my imagination. I enjoyed that so much, I kept going. In fact, I think I would lose interest in writing if I couldn’t use humor.
I love the aunties–any insights on their coming into being?
When I was in grade school my family would watch The Snoop Sisters, a series featuring Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as elderly mystery writers solving crimes. They were generally clueless and scatty, but oddly shrewd, extremely lady-like, and hilarious as they got themselves into trouble. This is another example of belatedly realizing my inspiration. It wasn’t until I was working on my 3rd book that I saw from what recess of my mind the aunts, Astrid and Aurora, came from.
What did you learn from your first novel that has helped you with your others?
One thing is that a book is never finished, a writer just has to know when to let go. (Don’t even mention the word ‘rewrite’ to my husband. He is continually asking, ‘Isn’t that thing ever going to be finished?’ In fact, I’m thinking of using that as a reader review on the cover of the third book, along with my mother’s ‘I think it’s a waste of time.’)
Secondly, I learned that the most important thing for me is to just have fun. If a writer does not enjoy what they are doing, neither will the readers.
I have also learned to be true to my natural writing rhythm, which is to engage my right brain and play with the plot and the characters, however messy, and then only after I’m finished go back and use the left side of my brain to polish and edit.
And fourthly, I learned that the saying, ‘practice makes perfect’ is true. The more I write, the easier it becomes to deliver a greater impact with a shorter sentence, something else I needed to learn.
How do you like to approach writing?
When I began, I was writing in the middle of the night, my only tools being an electric typewriter, a hand towel under it to muffle the buzzing so it wouldn’t wake my husband, and a bottle of Corona at my elbow.
After the insomnia left, I realized that I needed ‘white noise’ to work. Silence seemed too vacuous and television intruded, so, having graduated to a laptop, I wrote in local coffee shops and delis. I was surrounded by all the ‘white noise’ I could wish for… Except for those times when badly behaved children entered the scene. I’d once lost over an hour of work over a little girl who would rhythmically scream, run across the bench seats, and lick the window in an endless loop that had me fascinated. Then there was the little boy who kept trying to spit on me from his vantage point two booths down. I only thought of ‘medicating’ him after he threw a wet noodle in my hair.
To get back to your question, once at the coffee shop, I found the perfect method to prime my pump. I have a ritual. Usually I find a private niche, such as a booth or a table in the corner, set up my computer, pull up my files then set the computer to hibernate. Then I eat breakfast while reading a book. When I’m ready, my timer pops much like a roasting turkey. I am suddenly overcome by a desire to write instead of read, and at that point all that is left to do is to open my computer, type, and sip my frozen mocha. For three years that has been my unfailing ritual… except for the frozen mochas. I found myself resembling that Butterball in the oven, so I’ve replaced the frozen coffee drinks with iced tea. I figured better a kidney stone than a motorized wheelchair cart in Wal-Mart.