CJ: Glad to be able to talk with you Phil. How are you doing? Tell the readers a little about yourself.
PT: I’m wonderful Caleb, glad to be talking with you as well. So far it’s been a busy month with my radio show “What Are You Afraid OF?”. My co-host, T. Fox Dunham and I just wrapped up an interview last week with Katrina Weidman who’s on Paranormal Lockdown, which airs on Destination America and also Lloyd Kaufman of Troma Entertainment and the creator of The Toxic Avenger. I’m from the Philadelphia area so we recently did two shows from the infamous Pennhurst Asylum in Spring City Pennsylvania. We got some great interviews with some paranormal investigators from Ghost Hunts USA, and that was a blast. This is our most hectic month of the year so there’s always something going on.
CJ: Now, that’s a lot of work, but it’s gotta be a blast when you have people like Lloyd Kaufman around. I still watch my copy of Poultrygeist every year around Halloween—which just so happens to be my favorite holiday. I’ve been really enjoying our Halloween submissions this month as well. Yours was especially cool; I loved the writing style. It must’ve taken a lot of hard work getting your particular style down. When did you first start writing? Is it something you’ve always been passionate about?
PT: Yes, I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember. I started when I was a kid by taking notebook paper and printing the dialog and sketching the illustrations onto each page before stapling them all together. I did many, but I only remember two of the titles; one being “Horror High” about a killer named the Snake Man who roamed the halls of a suburban school, and the second I remember was called “3010: The Year That Moves at the Speed of Light,” which was essentially about the breakout of WW3 in a thousand plus years and involved laser guns and anti-gravity ships. So yeah, I’ve been doing it awhile. I moved to screenwriting as an adult and then to novels which I currently alternate back and forth.
CJ: You were an imaginative kid. I bet a lot of that creative energy has carried over into adulthood. Especially when you’re dealing with screenplays and novels. What is your writing process like? Are you a coffee shop writer or do you need to be distraction free to write?
PT: I actually am a coffee shop writer, or a bookstore writer if I want to be accurate. I enjoy going to the local Barnes and Noble and setting up my laptop for a couple of hours a day when I can. I don’t go everyday, but I try to get there at least a few times a week. There’s just something about being surrounded by all those great books that I draw from while I’m working.
CJ: It certainly is a great writing atmosphere. Writing in a book store is actually a great idea as most coffee shops may present a variety of distractions. Even something as simple as the music playing is enough to bother some writers. What is your stance on listening to music while writing? Does it help you write or does it ruin your concentration.
PT: It really depends on the mood I’m in and what I’m writing. For example, when I was working on my 80s screenplay “Three Tunnels” I listened to a lot of 80s New Wave music and soundtracks from the neon decade. When I worked on “The Poe Predicament” the experience was much different. It’s a gothic novel set in New York City and centers around a modern-day man named Richard who inadvertently finds himself in the nineteenth century and his encounters with a young Edgar Allan Poe. For that I listed to a lot of classical and ominous tunes that brought me back to that time period. Then there’s those times where I just prefer silence.
CJ: The Poe Predicament sounds awesome and original. I’ll definitely have to check that out soon. This story also had a very cool premise, too. How did you come up with the idea?
PT: Every October I see these Halloween displays in the stores and around the neighborhood, some being full size scarecrows or ghosts. I was looking at a few earlier this season and I just wondered, what if someone had been displaying the bodies of their victims for years in the open for everyone to see? I realized that most people wouldn’t even notice or give it a second thought. Also, what a vile and egotistic move it would be.
CJ: It sure would be sadistic. I could also see a movie using this premise. Hell, I’d watch it. Of course, I love everything horror related. Do you find yourself particularly drawn to horror stories?
PT: Oh yes, it’s my favorite genre. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been obsessed with horror movies and all things spooky. The first horror movie I’ve ever seen was John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween when I was around five years old. My parents didn’t knowingly allow me to see it, but it just kind of happened when we went over my aunt’s after trick or treating. There were a lot of people there and it was on TV, so I sat and watched it while my cousins counted their candy.
CJ: That’s one of my all-time favorites. You have good taste! Now, with being such an avid horror fan, do you primarily focus on horror and horror themed stories in your work? Or do you like to branch out to other genres as well?
PT: Even though horror is my favorite, I do like to branch out every now and then. I also don’t usually write about traditional horror tropes like zombies or werewolves or the killer in the basement. I like to make up my own original stories and a test I give myself is if I’ve never seen a movie or read a story based on an idea I have, I’ll do it if I think its good.
CJ: I wish major movie studios would test themselves that way. Original horror stories are strongly lacking in all entertainment mediums these days. Fortunately, there are still people out there like you who actually care to be original. Speaking of original, this story has a pretty unique ending. Did you outline before coming up with it?
PT: Thank you. I did outline to an extent, but my original ending was different from what I actually ended up using. In the outline I had the killer, Mr. Pritchard, pass away during the month of October, and while reeling from the disappearance of his daughter, detective Sturgis and some other officers discover her body on the front lawn while cleaning Pritchard’s place out and preparing it for sheriff’s sale. But when I got to that point in the story, it just wasn’t working and I had the idea for Sturgis to fall victim the same way his daughter had, continuing the madman’s cycle. I know it’s not a happy ending, but I think it was more effective.
CJ: Sometimes happy isn’t the way to go. I think you nailed the ending to this story perfectly. You said you outlined to an extent for this. Outlining for flash fiction can be tricky at times and many writers don’t do it for flash pieces. But since you did do some outlining here, I must ask, do you outline other work? Or are you what is referred to as a discovery writer? Someone who comes up with the story on the fly?
PT: I always outline, but I’m not the kind of writer that has to jot everything down beforehand. I leave enough open so that I have to fill in the blanks as I go, and a lot of times I end up changing a lot during the process. I believe all stories grow as you move through them and they evolve into unforeseen conclusions. So, even though I do outlines, I still love to watch the constant changes they take on.
CJ: That’s a pretty logical way to outline. It’s best to leave things open for change. You probably wouldn’t want to spend a great deal of time outlining anyway since you’re so busy. I think it’s impressive that you make time to write at all with your schedule. Do you have any other projects in the works right now?
PT: Right now I’m about halfway through my second novel, “Worst. Afterlife. Ever.” It’s a satirical horror/comedy set in Hell and centers around a hapless man named Drake Teller who is told by Satan, who’s actually a six-year-old named Scott that he’s there because he accidentally killed one of his prized pet squirrels while on Earth, but Drake is given the chance for a potential do-over by participating in the Halo Run contest. It’s definitely a strange book, but I think people will like it.
CJ: Strange doesn’t begin to describe how I feel about the concept haha. It’s sounds incredibly interesting, though. Other than this new novel, what are some of your ultimate writing goals for the future?
PT: I would like to just keep going and do as many novels as I can. I prefer quality over quantity, so as long as I feel inspiration I’ll keep doing them and build a body of work.
CJ: That’s a good way of looking at things. Too many writers feel like they have to constantly crap out work to make a name in the industry. Unfortunately, that usually leads to crap writing. Though, you seem to have your act together. What advice would you give to aspiring writers who haven’t found their voice or style yet?
PT: Always be reading and writing. I wouldn’t start off with full length novels until you’ve perfected your craft through short stories and flash fiction, even novellas. But just keep doing it as much as possible. I’m a huge advocate for short fiction as a building block because it works.
CJ: That’s precisely the message we advocate. Start small and work your way up! I must say, this has been a great interview. I could certainly talk with you all day, but we must wrap things up. Thank you so much for speaking with us. It was a pleasure reading your work and talking with you.
PT: Thank you very much, it was my pleasure. I enjoyed speaking with you too and I hope to do it again sometime.
Phil Thomas is an author and screenwriter from the suburbs of Philadelphia. His screenplays have been produced into the feature films “False Face” and “Always from Darkness,” and are available in major retailers such as Best Buy and Target, as well as availability on Netflix and Amazon on Demand. His short films can be viewed on his YouTube channel: Filmzero Presents. He is a member of the “International Association of Professional Writers & Editors”. He is also the co-host of “What Are You Afraid Of?” a weekly horror and paranormal show which airs every Friday night at 9pm on Para-X Radio and is available on iTunes, iHeart Radio, and Stitcher. His first novel, The Poe Predicament is set for publication in 2018 by Caliburn Press. He lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia and is hard at work on his next novel, Worst. Afterlife. Ever.
If you want to see what else Phil is up to, you can check him out on What Are You Afraid Of Podcast, the podcast Twitter profile, his Twitter profile, his Facebook page, and his website. We told you he was also a busy guy! Also, be sure to check out his novel, The Poe Predicament. Trust us, you don’t want to miss out on reading it.