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C. T. Phipps – Interview

C. T. PhippsWhat do C. T. Phipps and Stephen King have in common?

  1. They’re prolific.
  2. They explore the darker sides of human nature.

King has a few decades on Phipps and is undeniably more famous with a host more published novels and short stories. Nevertheless, Phipps is doing his best to catch up and has a growing and very loyal following of enthusiastic fans. I joined that group a year and a half ago when I picked up Wraith Knight, Phipps’s rendering of a Ringwraith-like spirit’s life after the death of his Dark Lord. I fell in love with protagonist Jacob Rivers, the dark magic wielding undead knight with a heart of gold (you can read my Fantasy-Faction review of Wraith Knight and its sequel Wraith Lord here). Phipps writes in all areas of speculative fiction: weird western/horror (Cthulhu Armageddon), urban fantasy (Bright Falls Mysteries and Fangton series), dark fantasy (Wraith Knight), space opera (Lucifer’s Star), cyberpunk (Agent G), and superhero fiction (Supervillainy Saga).

In all his work, even the darker narratives, Phipps tells his tales with humor and great affection for human beings and all of our deep and glorious flaws. No doubt because of these aspects of the work, Phipps, his coauthor Michael Suttkus, and narrator Arielle Delisle were recently honored with an Independent Audiobook Award for I Was a Teenage Weredeer. We chatted via PM about these aspects of his work, and I’m pleased to share that interview here.

You’re tremendously prolific. Does the dedication required to produce that volume of work come naturally to you, or is it something you have to force yourself to do?

Cthulhu Armageddon (cover)I think it’s mostly a matter of chasing my inspirations. A lot of authors can get easily distracted from a main project by not focusing on it (see George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss), but chasing those inspirations also gives us great new creations. I never would have created the Supervillainy Saga if I hadn’t let myself get distracted from my urban fantasy work and the same for Cthulhu Armageddon from my supervillainy work. If you have a story inside you, you should tell it. Mind you, I do need to wrap up more series than is perhaps healthy.

So, it sounds like the craft of writing comes relatively easily? When you sit down to work on something, do the words really flow, or do you struggle?

Writing is a skill you develop through use and not at all easy. Everyone believes when they start that they are capable of writing the Great American Novel, and I was no different. I have dozens of completed books that were complete garbage. You learn things about description, plotting, your prejudices, pacing, over-description, as well as basic grammar through trial and error. I think I wrote Cthulhu Armageddon a good six times before it was the book I wanted it to be, and I culled a third of its size at one point. There’s an old saying that the first million words you write are going to be crap. Ironically, my most well-loved book was The Rules of Supervillainy, which was written by me trying not to write a great novel but just a bunch of harmless nonsense. That turned out to be what a lot of people wanted. My best advice to new writers is not to get discouraged, listen to criticism, and have the help of existing writers as well as a good editor.

Is there one series that’s your personal favorite, which you prefer above the others, or do you love the book you’re currently writing best of all?

The Rules of Supervillainy (cover)I love all of my books, but which I love most depends on my current mood and interests. I had a huge love of vampires, urban fantasy, traditional fantasy, superheroes, and more growing up. All of that contributed to me creating my various series. Sometimes I feel like Gary (Supervillainy Saga) is my all-time favorite character because he’s the one closest to that insane Bugs Bunny-meets-Deadpool voice in my head. Other times I love Jane (Bright Falls Mysteries) for her snark and Peter (Straight Outta Fangton) for his Charlie Brown nature. I think some of my books are “better” than others but they’re often less “fun” than others, so every one of them has a different appeal.

Do all your series have a comedic flavor, or are some more serious?

When I told one of my editors (David Niall Wilson) that I wrote Cthulhu Armageddon to be dark and humorless to contrast against my superhero send-up (The Rules of Supervillainy), David laughed at me because he found Cthulhu Armageddon to be snarky and full of ridiculous situations as well as humor. Basically, I have a very sarcastic view of the world and that bleeds through like Joss Whedon’s work (or so I claim). I actually think the reverse is true, with all of my humorous novels having a strong emotional core and plot. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever read was by Mel Brooks, who said that the best parodies of something (Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles) require a work to also be a good example of the genre. In general, the Supervillainy Saga, Bright Falls Mysteries, and Fangton books are my most humorous. Wraith Knight, Lucifer’s Star, and Cthulhu Armageddon are my most serious.

Rules of Supervillainy may be “harmless nonsense,” but a lot of your books have a social commentary subtext that’s pretty obvious. This is something I like about your work, but you’ve received some criticism for it too (perhaps from fans who just want the “harmless nonsense”). What would you say to those critics—as well as other writers—about bringing one’s personal views into fiction?

Straight Outta Fangton (cover)It’s interesting enough to find out what is controversial these days. I received a lot of hate mail for the Supervillainy Saga as well as letters talking about how the books were important to some readers. This turned out to be because I’d included a very racially diverse cast (Gary is Jewish, his best friend Diabloman is Mexican, his ex-girlfriend Gabrielle is Afro Latina, and his wife Mandy is a Korean bi woman). This wasn’t me setting out to do anything but just noticing that it reflects the people I know. I also incorporated a trans character called the Human Tank.

Some readers believed I had an agenda, and others felt they were (or at least people who were like them) being included in the world of superheroes in ways they weren’t normally. I personally saw no reason to cater to the former and was glad I was special to the latter. When I make books like Straight Outta Fangton and have a black vampire lead, it’s because I think it makes a good story and it’s more original. I think that’s just reflecting reality. I will admit politics and storytelling are intimately intertwined. The Bright Falls Mysteries take place in a town that’s riddled with racism, drug abuse, economic downturn, and a questionable past—which reflects small town life as I know it. I will admit all of my characters also punch any Nazis they meet. They get no tolerance from my heroes.

You have cowritten many of your books with Michael Suttkus. How did that collaboration come about?

Michael and I have been friends for literally decades. We wrote a tabletop RPG book together called Halt Evil Doer! that was about superheroes in a modern setting. He came up with the idea of a sci-fi setting called Black Hole. We didn’t make that into an RPG but wrote the Lucifer’s Star books inside it instead.

How do you two work together?

Quite well. We work on the background, characters, and themes together then plot out the story. We each write the parts we like and fit them together.

Let’s finish up with your audiobook catalog, which is pretty extensive and well received, as judging by the award you received for the audio version of, I Was a Teenage Weredeer. Why do you think audiobooks have become so popular?

I Was a Teenage Weredeer (cover)I think that audiobooks were always well liked but few authors gave them the necessary support they needed. Before it was radio plays, now it’s audiobooks. Technological advancement means that now everyone can listen to them on their phone, though. It’s an entirely new market and that benefits indie and smaller presses if they can afford it.

What advice would you give to authors who want to turn their work into an audiobook?

I think that for indie authors that they should either seek out a publisher who can afford it or have the money to do it with a reputed narrator who has the equipment. It’s an expensive process that will cost a few thousand dollars, probably, but it’s worth it in the long run. Sadly, a lot of people who can’t afford it try to do it themselves and it’s something that just doesn’t work out in audio quality or sound design. If you’re successful in the indie markets, you can sometimes benefit from a reputable narrator willing to do it for profit sharing. But basically, yes, you need to go with a legit reader rather than think a reading can just be done with a cellphone or laptop. Try contacting narrators via social media or their websites after you’ve listened to work you like.

We would like to thank Mr. Phipps again for taking the time to speak with us today. You can learn more about his writing on his website and you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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