Interview With Phillip Thompson
Updated: Jun 16, 2020
Phillip Thompson is the author of five crime novels, including the Amazon Best Seller Outside the Law and his latest novel, Old Anger, to be published later this year. He has also authored a nonfiction account of his Gulf War experience, Into the Storm: A U.S. Marine in the Persian Gulf War. His short fiction has appeared in O-Dark-Thirty; The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature; Out of the Gutter Online; Thrills, Kills 'N' Chaos; Near to the Knuckle; Yellow Mama; and The Shamus Sampler II. On June 20, he’ll be reading from one of his fiction pieces during a virtual "Noir at the Bar" event. Read on to find out more.
Tell us about Noir at the Bar.
Noir at the Bar is a sort of grass-roots phenomenon that stared nearly a decade ago. The idea is to get a smallish group of crime fiction/noir writers to gather in a bar, step up to a microphone, read a piece of their work, then sit down with their fellow writers and have a drink or several. The idea caught on across the country, and now across the globe. These are pretty adult-oriented events: it’s about gritty, noir, murder, mayhem, and bad language.
What will you be reading at the event?
Depending on my mood at the time, I’ll either read a selection from one of my Colt Harper novels or a short story published by Out of the Gutter.
Have you done this event before?
Yes, in 2015 I read an excerpt from my novel Deep Blood at a Noir at the Bar event in Baltimore. My reading can be viewed on YouTube.
How can I attend the June 20 Noir at the Bar?
The RVA City Writers will host this 8 pm event virtually on Crowdcast at: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/richmond-virtual-noir-at-the-bar/register?fbclid=IwAR1pACFFxS1MbF8hz-i6BBh_X7-vGjk-5bdNWh2hJT2wDKuYJrHKITNXfyE
You can also get more information on the RVA City Writers Facebook page.
Who is Colt Harper?
Colt Harper is a Mississippi sheriff whose moral compass is slightly askew. He doesn't care for the mundane parts of his job, he drinks too much, and tends to lead with a pistol. He’s divorced; his most recent relationship is with a stripper who regularly violates the drug laws of the county.
Tell us a little bit about your upcoming book.
OLD ANGER is a story about race in the South and past secrets, biases and injustices. Harper thinks he’s color blind when it comes to justice, but the murder of a black man in his county puts his belief to the test.
How did you get interested in writing fiction?
I was a voracious reader as a kid. I have an aunt who gifted me a subscription to the Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen pulp fiction magazines. That’s what started it. But when I was in my twenties, I read several of John D. MacDonald’s classic Travis McGee novels. That was the first time I thought, I want to write novels like this.
What was your inspiration for Outside the Law?
OUTISDE THE LAW came from an idea of what happens when a person with moral authority faces a moral dilemma. I’d read a news story about drug dealers being ripped off by unknown assailants. I thought, well, couldn’t happen to a better bunch of people. Do you really want to prosecute somebody stealing from drug dealers?
Which element of novel-writing do you find most challenging? (Plot, setting, characters, etc.)
Outlining the thing. I used to never outline. I’d just sit down with my characters and let them go wherever they want. But that gets hard to manage when you’re writing a novel-length story. So I had to learn how to outline. Even now, though, I don’t really outline. I start with a fabula, which is really a 10-page (or so) narrative of the whole story. Once I get that developed, I start writing out those scenes. I find I can stick to that, or change the fabula as I need to.
Do you base your characters on real people or make them up from scratch in your head?
My characters are all—except for one—more of a mash-up of people I’ve met in my life. There’s only one that I can point to and say, “Yeah, that’s the person.”
What is your favorite part, and least favorite part, of the publishing journey?
Favorite part is probably getting that first box of books in the mail from the publisher. Just a whole box of books with my name on them. That’s when I know it’s real. Least favorite part is pitching the idea(s) to editors.
What challenges did you face while writing your most recent book?
Finding the time. Working a day job and commuting makes it really difficult to seclude myself for long stretches of time and concentrate on nothing but writing and characters.
How many hours a week do you write?
Usually, about 5-10
What promotional and marketing tips can you offer other writers?
Take every opportunity to talk about your book: conferences, social media, events like Noir at the Bar. Word of mouth is still a pretty effective channel.
How do you deal with reviews, both positive and negative?
I’d be lying if I said I don’t read reviews. But I don’t dwell on them. And I assign them all equal weight. The positive ones are always great, but they don’t mean that I am great. Likewise, some of the negative ones can sting, but they don’t mean I’m a failure.
What are you currently working on?
My latest Colt Harper novel, OLD ANGER, is currently in production with Brash Books, due out later this year.
Do you have a specific writing routine?
I have more of a process than a routine. I start with writing out the narrative (the aforementioned fabula). Then I usually write longhand in a notebook that I keep w/me at all times, and usually in pencil. When I get a chunk of time, I’ll transcribe the handwritten stuff onto my laptop. I suppose it adds an extra step, but I love the feeling of writing something by hand. And when I transcribe it, that action becomes my first edit. Also, I tend to write in chapters. I’ll write an entire chapter at a time, usually 5-10 pages.
What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
Stop saying, “I have an idea for a novel,” and just write it. And don’t stop writing it until you get to the end. Also, read. I think the best way to become a good writer is to read a lot.
What comes first, character or plot?
Are you an outliner or a pantser?
I’m a recovering pantser and reluctant outliner. But I’m getting better.
At what age did you start writing fiction?
I think the first story I ever wrote was in the eighth grade. For a class assignment. It was bad.
Do you ever get writer’s block, and if so, how do you overcome it?
Not really. I don’t think I’ve ever just stared at the page/screen for days/weeks at a time without writing anything. I’ve hit lulls where I didn’t know what to do next, but that is usually overcome by reading. As soon as I start reading something, my brain kicks in and says, “you should be writing.” And then I know what to do.
Tell us a one-sentence horror story.
In 1955, 14-year-old Emmitt Till was tortured and lynched in Mississippi for being in the presence of white woman.
What are you reading right now?
Face of my Assassin, by Jan Huckins and Carolyn Weston
What kinds of books do you like to read?
Since I write crime fiction, I like that genre the best, of course. I also like history and some biographies. The best nonfiction book I’ve read in the last few years is Say Nothing, an extraordinary account of The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
How do you go about choosing a book to read?
Usually, I’ll see something in the newspaper, or someone will recommend a book.
Who is your favorite author?
That’s hard to narrow down, because I have a lot of people on that list. But, Larry Brown is the one who has to be at the top of that list.
What was your favorite childhood book?
Either To Kill a Mockingbird or Once an Eagle.
What’s your favorite book of all time?
If you could bring a fictitious character to life and live next door to that person, who would it be?
Either Travis McGee or Atticus Finch.
What’s your favorite childhood memory?
Spending time with my Granny. She was a character and a storyteller, and she always had time for her brood of grandkids. She wore clip-on earrings, red (REALLY red) lipstick, smoked Salems, and carried a pistol everywhere she went.
Aside from writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Read and watch movies.
What’s something you’re good at?
What’s your favorite place to visit?
New Orleans and the Outer Banks.
You find a hundred-dollar bill in the gutter. What do you do with it?
Find some way to write a story about the moral dilemma of finding a hundred-dollar bill in the gutter.
Are you closer to being a hoarder or a minimalist?
A hoarder. I’m writer—we never throw anything away.
What’s your favorite guilty-pleasure TV show?
Brooklyn Nine Nine
What’s your earliest memory?
Playing outside with my toddler buddy and neighbor, Bub Brown.
If someone gave you an envelope with the date of your death inside, would you open it?
What’s something that’s on your bucket list?
Driving old Route 66 in a convertible.
What’s one thing you want to be remembered for?
Just that I was a decent person.
WOULD YOU RATHER...
…lose the ability to read or lose the ability to speak?
I’d never want to lose the ability to read.
…travel back in time or visit a far-away planet of highly intelligent, benevolent beings?
Back in time. The last thing I want to do is go somewhere where the beings are smarter and kinder than me.
…be in jail for a year or die one year sooner than you would have otherwise?
I’d do the time.
…ne able to teleport or read minds?
Teleporting would be cool. Especially if I could teleport to the beach.
…lie on a beach or hike in the woods?
…be good-looking but stupid or highly intelligent but ugly?
This is a trick question.
…be an amazing artist or a brilliant mathematician?
I can’t math worth a damn, so some questions answer themselves.
…be able to fly or able to breathe underwater?
Fly, of course. Breathing underwater is what scuba is for.
…be forced to eat nothing but spicy food or nothing but bland food for the rest of your life?
..live the rest of your life on the equator or in the Arctic Circle?
Equator. I hate cold weather.
…be lost in a bad part of town or lost in a forest?
Bad part of town. Think of the stories…
…be free from junk mail or free from email spam for the rest of your life?
Email. Maybe all email.
…be able to type incredibly fast or be able to read incredibly fast?
Typing fast would come in handy.
…lose your best friend or lose all your friends except for your best friend?
Gotta have a best friend.
…never have to clean a bathroom again or never have to do dishes again?
Dishes are easy.
…be able to see only in black and white or never eat dessert again?
I already think in B&W most of the time, but I’m never going to give up dessert.
…lose all your teeth or lose all your hair?
Teeth can be replaced. Hair, not so much.