Here in New England, we have a real crime fiction community. Thanks to our robust Sisters in Crime speakers bureau, we meet up regularly at libraries. We gather at events like the Boston Book Fest, and we exchange ideas at Mystery Writers of America meetings (and parties). Through this community, I’ve gotten to know Dale Phillips, and I’m thrilled to host him here today,
How does a book start for you?
For the Zack Taylor mystery series, it’s a title which conjures an image, since each title is also the theme of the book and taken from a literary reference (such as Plato, Emily Dickinson, The Bible, Nathaniel Hawthorne). The books start with Zack getting bad news or being forced to do something he doesn’t want to do, so right off the bat we get conflict, stakes, setting, and reactions to show character. The opening will sometimes suggest the ending as well. Then it’s developing a natural progression and an interesting journey from one to the other, leaving a strong impression at the end.
Who in your latest book has surprised you most – and why?
A tough female FBI agent, who was wounded overseas and now is embroiled in something big. Not just a character, but a fully-fleshed person, with her own demons to match those of Zack. Didn’t plan for her at the start, but when she showed up, there was the meat of a solid story, and something wonderful. Zack is tough, but she slaps him around until they develop a mutual respect.
When and/or where is your latest book set and is there a story behind that setting?
Portland, Maine, is the base, and then upstate in the vast wilderness of lumber country. Logging and lumbering has been Maine’s history, and we see the past through the lens of what’s happening today, and what it means for the state and the outside world. The setting is quintessential Maine, and vital to show that so much is connected to a larger stage that we cannot see.
What are you working on now?
A Darkened Room is book #6 in the Zack Taylor series, though it’s taken a long time to get here, since I have two other novels that have been worked on in parallel. People ask why I’d do something crazy like that, and I just shrug and say that when the Muse speaks, I go with whatever She offers. So the past two years have been alternately working on three completely different books. Can’t wait to get all of them done and work on just one at a time.
Which question didn’t I ask you that I should have?
Why do I write? All my life I’ve loved stories, and derived meaning from them. From omnivorous reading and years of applied study of craft and practice, I have a level of appreciation and skill to tell good stories in an interesting way, and this is my path to creating art. Through my work, I can speak to people across the globe, and to those who haven’t even been born yet. That’s a mastery of time and space like Dr. Who. How glorious and satisfying it is to be the creator of worlds, to imagine them as you will, and share them with others.
Dale has published novels, story collections, nonfiction, and over 70 short stories. Stephen King was Dale’s college writing teacher, and since then, Dale has found time to appear on stage, television, radio, in an independent feature film, and compete on Jeopardy (losing in a spectacular fashion). He’s a member of the Mystery Writers of America and the Sisters in Crime. He’s traveled to all 50 states, Mexico, Canada, and throughout Europe.