This week’s interview is with author, Phillip Frey, whose novel “Dangerous Times” was previously reviewed here at Flying With Red Haircrow.
Phillip Frey grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where he performed as a child actor at The Cleveland Playhouse. The day after he graduated high school he moved to Los Angeles and attended Los Angeles City College. Enrolled in their Theatre Arts Department, Phillip performed in many of their plays while also performing in local theater. He then moved to New York, where he performed with The New York Shakespeare Festival, followed by The Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center. With a change of interest Phillip wrote, directed, and edited 3 short films, all of which had international showings, including The New York Film Festival. With yet another change of interest he returned to Los Angeles to become a produced screenwriter. “Dangerous Times” is Phillip Frey’s first novel.
What genres do you write? Why do you write the stories that you write?
I enjoy writing dark-humored and light-humored short stories. Dark or light, I do it so readers can have a good time. When it comes to novels, I would rather write about the more serious side of our nature, like crime and murder.
When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer?
When I was around 8-years-old I read Edgar Allen Poe’s poems and short stories. It was then I decided to become a fiction writer. No doubt Poe has been an inspiration to many other authors.
But then life took me on a different course. I somehow ended up as a screenwriter, still always wanting to write a book. After years of being under the thumbs of producers, working for them on treatments, rewriting and doctoring scripts, and having sole screen credit on one film, I had an idea for a book. For some reason I had never been ready to work on a novel, not until “Dangerous Times” began to swim around in my sudsy mind. It developed into my first completed book, and I’ve recently started another.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Sitting back at the end of the day and watching a film on DVD, or watching one that I’ve recorded. Other than that I like to satisfy my curiosity; look things up and try to understand their meaning. Mostly things that have to do with the sciences. My curiosity also includes taking something apart when it needs fixing, see if I can fix it myself, especially if it’s a small item. Ever have the spring of a wristwatch fly up into a nostril?
What books are currently on your nightstand?
On top of the nightstand, alongside the radio, is what I’m currently reading: Swedish author Henning Mankell’s “The Dogs of Riga,” translated into English. The main character is a detective.
On the lower shelf of the nightstand are the books I’ll be reading next: Henning Mankell’s “Side-Tracked,” followed by a rereading of Raymond Chandler’s “Farewell, My Lovey,” then the rereading of James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice.”
When done with those, I’ll be reading an English translation of Norwegian author Jo Nesbo’s “The Snowman.”
Why do you write?
Probably because my mother was a writer. She wrote freelance for newspapers and magazines. She had always wanted to write a novel but never did. Maybe by writing a novel myself I was trying to fulfill her desire. But to get off this mysterious psychological road, one thing is for sure: she got me to appreciate literature.
What excites you about writing?
The challenge. It’s a long way from the mind to paper, trying to put down exactly what you mean, to make sure you have found the right word. As Mark Twain said, “Writing is easy, all you have to do is get rid of the wrong words.”
When I write I want the results to be simple because the simpler it is, the clearer it is; a difficult task to be sure, though one that I enjoy.
I don’t want to be referred to as a sesquipedalian (a wonderful long word because it means someone who is given to using long words).
What is your work schedule?
A long time ago I took the advice of Tennessee Williams and it has worked for me. Set a daily start time, then sit there, same time each and every day for a chosen number of hours. For Tennessee it was 4. If nothing happens on paper, it doesn’t matter. Just stare at the blank page, daydream about hot fudge sundaes, maybe even daydream about what you’re trying to say on paper. The important thing is not to run from it. Whether or not a single word is written, the mind is still working. The writing hours are never wasted.
Once you have a first sentence down, more will follow.
How long does it take for you to finish a book?
A long time. The plot simmers for a while and the characters grow in mind. Then once I start the first chapter I do a lot of over-writing because I’m trying to discover what it is I’m actually after. I also over-write the characters to find out who they really are. It’s the characters who will show me the way through the book. That’s why I don’t write outlines. I want the chapters to be unpredictable for me, resulting in the same for the reader.
Trust is the name of the game. Start something, keep at it, and everything will follow. And then comes the rewriting, over and over and over. That’s why I’m not a fast writer. I need to continually hone. A 10-page chapter might end up being a 5-page chapter.
I rework each chapter as I move forward. There usually comes a time when there’s a turn I hadn’t expected, then I’ll have to go back and rework some of the previous chapters.
It’s a lot of work for me, but the reward of completion makes it all worthwhile. It’s much harder than writing a screenplay, and that’s the way I like it. I enjoy the struggle.
Have any of your characters ever haunted your dreams or woken you up during the night demanding attention?
Oh, yes. As I mentioned before I begin a project without knowing exactly what is going to happen. In “Dangerous Times” for example, I would get stuck, not knowing the next chapter. During these periods I could see the characters where I had left them, saying to me, “C’mon already, let’s get moving, we’re tired of just sitting around doing nothing!”
One thing that would help me out of the mess would be to go back a few chapters and rewrite them, even if there were only very minor changes to make. Then when I’d get to the stuck-for-the-next-chapter part, it would just come to me out of the flow of having rewritten the previous chapters.
Are there any characters from any of your stories that resonate deeply with you?
The antagonist in “Dangerous Times.” Frank Moore is the evil part of our human nature. Frank gave me the opportunity to sink into a hellish place, one in which I could call up the malevolence we all keep secret and harbor from others.
In a short story of mine, HYM and HUR, it’s the character of the grim reaper, simply named Death, who resonates with me — now wait a minute, I should say that the story is a fun story, humorous and entertaining with a little message or two. The Death character is not at all like Frank Moore of “Dangerous Times.”
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
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