A lifelong freelancer with three hundred articles and short stories published in national magazines, Phil Bowie writes suspense novels set mostly in North Carolina. His series novels Guns, Diamondback, and Kllrs are endorsed by top best-sellers Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts.
Phil has a new collection of his short stories out, Dagger. In them you can read about an ingenious hit man, a vicious biker gang, a threat from space, and a mischievous voice. Several of these yarns have been published previously in national magazines.
He met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about the E Book and working as a freelancer.
Why do you think people want to read about crime?
Crime fiction is a study in good versus evil–a fundamental human conflict–so it’s of interest to most of us. But more than that, I think we’re fascinated by those who live on the edges of society–the outlaw bikers, the old West bandits, the pirates (Blackbeard still lives in the imaginations of eastern North Carolinians), the lone avengers, the heroic cops, the crime bosses with all their money and power (witness the enduring popular interest in the Godfather series). Reading crime fiction lets us vicariously experience life out there on the edge, and gives us glimpses of how humans can confront and overcome evil. While the conflicts in thriller/mystery stories are extreme, each of us faces a constant series of conflicts in daily life, and how we resolve them is largely the measure of us.
Who are you literary influences?
Ernest Hemingway for his clean, powerful style. Mickey Spillane for his hard-boiled yarns. John D. MacDonald for his humanity and clarity. Harlan Ellison for his great Sci-Fi. And I like so many contemporary authors, including Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, Wilbur Smith, Janet Evanovich, Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Gregg Hurwitz, Ken Follett, David Levien, Harlan Coben, and Elmore Leonard to name just a few. For the past three years I’ve served as an awards judge for International Thriller Writers, and that has introduced me to many fine authors I never would have enjoyed otherwise. I’ve read thousands of novels over the years, and usually have two or more going at a time.
Tell us about Dagger.
Dagger and other tales is a collection of my short stories, several of which have been published in magazines, such as my award-winning version of the Stephen King yarn, “The Cat from Hell” (with King’s first 500 words published herein with his kind permission).
The stories run the genre gamut from suspense to horror to humor to Sci-Fi. There’s even my version of a romance tale. I’ve included a few brief words about how each of the 17 stories came to be. Dagger is available as an Amazon e-book ($4.99) or in autographed print form directly from me ($8 to Phil Bowie, 814 Neuse Dr., New Bern, NC 28560, free shipping)
How do you think the rise of the E Book has affected the market?
The Internet has, of course, profoundly changed publishing, as it has many other enterprises, and authors must be willing to adapt to the continuing industry changes. The e-book is currently a blessing and a curse. It opens publishing to anyone and allows almost instant uploading to sites like Amazon for exposure to a worldwide reader base, but therein also lies the curse. Traditional publishing (a publisher purchasing a book under an advance/royalty contract) is a time-consuming, frustrating, and difficult path for an author, but because the publisher must fork over good money to an author, both to purchase a book and then to promote it, that publisher is going to be quite sure a book is of good enough quality to sell. E-publishing, on the other hand, involves no financial outlay or risk to the publishing site, so there is no longer any quality control, and as a result good e-books get buried under an absolute avalanche of poorly conceived and poorly written books. I think the Internet is slowly correcting that major flaw, for example with review sites that readers can access to discover the worthwhile books out there. So I think the new publishing industry will sort itself out, but it’s going to take time.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a stand alone novel about a yacht delivery captain who’s taking a yacht from Houston to Miami when he gets embroiled in a murder mystery. The story revolves around big oil and the lofty realm of the super rich. (One of my pleasant sidelines is captaining a trawler for NC State University, and doing occasional yacht deliveries. In 2010 I helped take a yacht from Houston to Miami during the height of the Gulf oil spill.)
How much do you think the environment has been corrupted by the interests of the multinationals?
Big question. With seven billion of us now trying to share the planet, environmental degradation has been inevitable, I’m afraid. Air and water pollution, with resultant health issues, are major concerns in China and India, of course. There’s a patch of plastics and other refuse concentrated in the Pacific that’s the size of Texas. Our thirst for oil only grows. Even the space around our planet is increasingly littered with dangerous debris. But those are obvious problems. There are insidious consequences of trying to feed many more people cheaply, for example. Where I live in eastern North Carolina, there are ten million hogs being raised in high-density factory operations. Aside from deplorable humane issues, the hogs are fed steroids to make them reach slaughter weights faster, and their feed is laced with antibiotics so whole herds don’t fall sick. These compounds linger in the meat and have long-term effects on our health. The animal waste washes into our waterways, increasing nitrogen and phosphate levels, which fuels massive algae blooms, which in turn robs the water of oxygen and can result in massive fish kills. For several years I’ve been involved with an environmental group, flying a light plane over pollution sites to document conditions with photos and video, so I’ve witnessed many of these sad effects. But we have good people working on such problems around the world, so the future is not so bleak as it might appear. As an author, I try to do a small part by working some societal issues into my stories simply to remind folk (without, I hope, becoming preachy or boring about it). Pollution is an issue that should transcend politics. And I don’t think we can simply blame the large companies which, after all, are only trying to meet our demands (I don’t see how BP, for example, could possibly have done or spent more in their cleanup efforts after the Gulf spill). Each of us is a polluter, and it’s going to take significant changes in our attitudes and habits to attack pollution issues, but I have faith we’ll do it. We really don’t have much choice.
If you were to give advice you yourself as a young man what would you say?
You come up with some good ones, Richard.
I’d say, Phil, have more faith in yourself and renovate your dreams to make them much, much larger. There’s a river of opportunity flowing past and you have but to dip your hands into it to enrich your life, so why don’t you? Stop the drinking and smoking and carousing and endangering the only body and brain you’re going to get with super stupid sports and abrasive encounters with high-speed blondes. You damn sure don’t want to be looking back several decades from now and saying “I wish I had” about anything.
How has working as a freelancer helped you as a novelist?
Freelance writing is great training. I’ve met a wide variety of people and interviewed them in depth, which has helped me breathe life into fictional characters. Writing magazine articles and short stories within fairly restricted overall word lengths, and working to deadlines, I’ve learned to write clearly and concisely and on some kind of schedule. For many of my articles, I also took the accompanying photos, and that has taught me to scrutinize the world around me, helping to bring my fiction alive with accurate details and an occasional lyrical comment.
Graham Greene said writers have a piece of ice in their hearts. What do you make of his observation?
It’s a curious statement. Maybe he meant writers can emotionally detach themselves enough to objectively analyze the world around them, to imagine the world from even the point of view of a mad person, for example. Or maybe he meant that when a writer is experiencing something intense in her or his own life–witnessing a disaster, or going through a car accident, or making love–a segment of the brain remains aloof enough to record everything for possible use in subsequent prose. And I think all of that is true. But I also think readers experience our work with only some fraction of the passion we must invest in it to elevate it above the commonplace. Great writers, like great artists and great musicians, seem to give everything they have to what they do, and that essence comes through to those they’re trying to touch. We can only try to emulate those great ones.
Phil, you have a series of three suspense novels out, GUNS, DIAMONDBACK, and KLLRS. Your protagonist goes under the witness protection alias of Sam Bass and then under the alias of John Hardin. You never do reveal his real name. Where did this character come from?
I believe in the old advice to write what you know. So Sam/John is partly me and partly the man I’d like to be, I suppose. He flies a light plane, rides a motorcycle, and has a lady who is part Cherokee. All that is true of me. But he has more courage, more ruthlessness, and more cunning than I. Anyway, when I have him climb into his Cessna, gather speed down a runway, and break free of the earth, I know what that shot of euphoria feels like, so maybe I can convey some portion of it to the reader, and thus make my fiction more alive. Or when I have him fire a Colt .45, I know what the kick feels like in the hand, what the sound does to your hearing, what the gunsmoke smells like, and just how difficult it is to hit a target at any distance at all despite many hours of practice. I can weave some of that into a gunfight scene and make it a bit more real. We have to write largely out of our imaginations, augmented by research (thank the Lord for the Internet), but we also need a degree of realism that sometimes can only come from personal experience, I believe. I say this full well knowing that many fine writers never have actually experienced much of what they write about, and all I can say of them is they must possess a hell of a lot of talent.
Speaking of experiences, this interview has been a good one. Thank you, Richard, for taking your time to do it.
Thank you Phil for a refreshing and informative interview.
Author website http://www.philbowie.com/