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Interview with Phil Slattery


Q.1 Tell us a little about yourself? Perhaps something not many people know?

A. I have a B.A. with a double major in German and Russian. I attended three semesters of graduate school in German before joining the Navy as an Intelligence officer, where I stayed for ten years. I have traveled to 24 countries, and speak German and Spanish fairly well, but I also speak some French and Russian, though I am rusty at both.

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
A. I probably won’t publish another book of poetry, though I think about it now and then. I simply don’t write poetry anymore. I still enjoy it, but the passion to write it has passed. I am passionate about writing fiction now, mostly in the horror and sci-fi genres, though I occasionally write literary fiction as well. I am currently working on a horror novel and a sci-fi novel, which I hope to have completed before long. I am also working on a play. I write short stories occasionally.

Q.3 What did you do with your first advance?
A. I haven’t gotten the first advance yet. I have been paid for a few short stories and poems. That money is sometimes enough to buy lunch.

Q.4 What advice do you have for writers?
A. Study the greats: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Poe, Tolstoy, Hesse, Mann, Pushkin, Flaubert, Kafka, Proust, etc. to recognize what excellent writing is. Your writing will subconsciously tend to resemble those that you read.

Q.5 Does writing energize or exhaust you?
A. It energizes me. Sometimes, it’s very hard for me to tear myself away to do something like eat, much less take out the garbage or do household chores.

Q.6 If you could tell your younger writing self-anything, what would it be?
A. Stay dedicated to writing. It provides me now more relief and satisfaction than anything else I am doing now. It’s very rewarding to see even your smallest story or poem published. The writing business takes a lot of time. To be successful, you need to start early in life, the earlier the better.

Q.7 What are the most important magazines or websites for writers to subscribe to?
A. Duotrope.com is a great submissions engine that writers can use to find where to publish their works. It also relieves a lot of administrative burden on the writer by providing a place where writers can track their submissions. Lithub is good for reading up on literature and its history.

Q.8 What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
A. Probably the experience that made me sit up and take notice of language was reading Russian literature in college. It’s passionate and dramatic and grabs the reader. I had a good Russian Lit teacher, who was Ukrainian and a colorful old school character and gentleman. Rumors were that he had fled the USSR and worked for the CIA for a while. He managed to instill some of his passion for Russian lit in me.

Q.9 Do you believe in writer’s block?
A. In general, yes, but it also depends on your definition of writer’s block. It could also be called writer’s burnout or writer’s fatigue.  The best cure I have found so far is to put your work down for a while and come back to it later.  Sometimes this can be for as brief a time as smoking a cigar or having coffee or taking a walk.  Sometimes, it might take days or weeks or months. The idea is to get your mind off what you’re working on. I suppose the mind’s like a computer CPU. If you have it working on too many things, it may slow down or freeze until it can resolve some of the problems it’s working on. In which case, you may have to use task manager to close a few programs or you may have to reboot entirely.

Q.10 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
A. I read them. Of course, I am elated at good ones. Bad ones are more problematic. Fortunately, I have not produced anything yet where the reviews have been consistently bad. Bad ones I examine to see if the reviewer offers constructive criticism. If so, I decide whether it is useful and therefore whether I should take it to heart. If it’s not constructive and just a lot of venom, I write it off as coming from someone who doesn’t know what he or she is talking about and hopes others recognize that. I also look at how many bad reviews I have gotten for a work. If the majority are good, particularly if they recommend my work, I don’t sweat the bad ones.

Q.11 Does your family supports your career as a writer?
A. Yes, they do. My wife supports it, but I don’t think she realizes the solitude, time, and focus it requires. It’s hard to write when she keeps asking you to go to the grocery or to mow the yard, etc. This may be why divorce has never been uncommon among writers.

Q.12 What do your fans mean to you?
A. Everything. There’s little point in writing if you don’t sell your books and your fans buy your books. If you’re not into writing to publish, then writing for you is basically therapy.

Q.13 How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
A. I have written a lot of short stories and poems, which I have compiled into anthologies, and a couple of the longer stories I have published as novelettes, just to give readers that don’t have a lot of time something short to have a taste of my writing.  Which is my favorite is hard to say, because each may be a different genre. Nocturne, my poetry collection, is the one I have the most sentimentality for, because I wrote the poems to reflect the emotions I had at the time. A few years ago,  I decided that all my poems were scattered in various magazines and across the Internet, and that I wanted to collect them into an anthology, so that if I published nothing else in my life, I would have them as my legacy, as they are the most personal work I have done and reflected exactly what I was thinking and feeling, as opposed to a short story, where the author does reflect what is going on in his/her head or emotionally, but it’s kind of a murky, blurry reflection seen through the eyes of a fictional character.

Q.14 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?
A. I prefer to write in coffee shops or restaurants, where there are people providing some white background noise, and hard tables and chairs, coffee and tea, and people to keep me alert. If I get too comfortable, I go to sleep.

Q.15 What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
A. My best accomplishments will be the novels and play I am currently writing. Of my few published works so far, my best accomplishment is A Tale of Hell and Other Works of Horror, which is a collection of my horror stories.

Q.16 What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
A. I can’t think of one particularly unethical practice, but perhaps the most distasteful is catering to hacks that write for the money and not for the art. Of course, who is to say what is art or not, but there’s a lot of bad writing that’s doing well because it brings in money to corporations.

Q.17 Who edited your book and how did you select him/her?
A. No one else edits my works. I do all my own editing.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
A. Hemingway. He’s my favorite author. I wish I could have had some of the adventures he had, though I wouldn’t want his problems, of course.

Q.19 What is your favorite book and why?
A. This is hard to say. It depends on my mood when I am asked the question. It would probably be A Farewell to Arms, A Moveable Feast, The Sun Also Rises or some other Hemingway work. The Great Gatsby is also at the top of my list.

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
A. How does one answer this? I am only beginning and already the journey has shown itself to be long, complex, and challenging but rewarding. It engages the mind, spirit, and soul. That is perhaps the best answer I can give without writing a thesis. I could also say that my works generally reflect my experience like a funhouse mirror, but perhaps that is not the best analogy.

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