Another bookmark for the Scribbler – our first guest from the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, USA. When I visited Phyllis’ website, I liked the intro – Espionage Fiction. Real Spies. Real lives. A hint of romance. Can’t go wrong with that.
Recommended by another fellow author, Phyllis has agreed to a 4Q Interview and is sharing an excerpt.
Phyllis A. Duncan is a retired bureaucrat but one with an overactive imagination—or so she’s been told since she started writing stories in 3rd grade with her weekly list of spelling words. A commercial pilot and former flight instructor, she graduated from Madison College (now James Madison University) with degrees in history and political science. History and politics manage to find their way in almost everything she writes.
After a career in aviation safety, she retired a decade ago to write for herself instead of Uncle Sam. In between writing sessions and spoiling her grandchildren, she reads anything she can get her hands on, sings in a UU choir, cheers on the New York Yankees, and watches NASCAR.
4Q: What caught my eye on Amazon is A WAR OF DECEPTION received the New Apple Award for Excellence in Independent Publishing - Best Historical Fiction. Please tell us about this story and the thrill of winning the award.
All of my work is based on historical events from the mid-Cold War forward. They say write what you know
Then came the email from New Apple Awards. I was beside myself with joy because I felt that the award was recognition not only for a good story but for my acumen as an historian. I’ve always been frustrated by historical fiction that gets the details wrong, especially now in the age of The Google, and I was determined I’d do my best to assure I got the facts straight. I felt this award was an acknowledgement of that.
4Q: I’m impressed with your large collection
of work. I know this is a difficult question but do you have a favorite? One you enjoyed writing the most?
I’ve been productive since my retirement, which was the point. Several of the works published I started years ago when I worked full-time and could never finish because of my workload. In fact the last 3 to 5 years in my job, I hardly wrote anything of my own—only studies, reports, and white papers for my agency. Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe there are 13 books with my name on them out there in the world, with number 14 coming out in the spring: 4 novels, 2 novellas, 4 short story collections, 3 novelettes.
Designating a favorite is hard; I love them all as if they were my babies. But, I’d have to say my favorite is a novella entitled THE YELLOW SCARF, which is about the Balkan civil wars in the early 1990s. I think it’s my favorite because it shows public servants will put the personal aside for the mission, and it also deals with coping with personal loss and the importance of the media when genocide is involved. The backdrop for most of the novella is Sarajevo in then Yugoslavia at the height of the sniper attacks.
4Q: Please share a childhood anecdote or memory.
Oh dear. It was a difficult childhood, but I’ll go with something from the early years of high school.
I was a huge fan of STAR TREK and
I thought I’d never see it again, and the next day she asked me to stay after class. Figuring I was in big trouble, I was set to apologize, but she gave me the notebook back. She’d read all the stories inside and had made editorial suggestions. “Don’t stop writing,” she told me. “Just not in my class unless it’s an assignment from me.”
In 2000, I won a small publishing contract and had a collection of mostly literary short stories published, RARELY WELL-BEHAVED (out of print). I dedicated it to her. I truly felt the loss when I heard she’d passed away not long after I graduated from high school. She’s still the reason I continue to write.
4Q: Tell us about your writing habits.
PD: I try to write every day, either something new or to edit something I’ve written. I have a blog where I post about writing twice a month (www.unexpectedpaths.com), and a bi-monthly newsletter (Secret Briefings). I also write a lot of bad ad copy for marketing my books. LOL. That’s one form of writing I’m not very good at, but I have a marketing consulting who helps. I still keep a notebook with me and often will write in a coffee shop or restaurant, taking down interesting snippets of conversations I overhear.
Every November I participate in National Novel Writing Month (a 50,000-word rough draft in 30 days). Most of my yet-to-be-published works have come from that exercise. This year was my 12th time.
I usually write/edit/revise/research for a couple of hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the afternoon. I have been known to look at my watch and realize I’ve been at it all day.
4Q: I understand that you are an editor as well as a talented author. Care to tell us more?
I started my writing career as a reporter on a government aviation magazine, and several years later had the opportunity to become the magazine’s editor. I’m a stickler for good grammar, aka a “grammar Nazi,” and for good, solid writing, so it was perfect for me. Yes, that was nonfiction, but I set a standard at the magazine that our articles would not be dry and full of technical jargon. I wanted people reading the magazine to feel as if they were “hangar flying,” i.e., sitting around an aircraft hangar talking flying. In the beginning that took a lot of rewriting.
I also edited a huge technical manual for aviation safety inspectors, getting it into language that fit the gambit of education levels in our workforce. My fiction editing started with my writer’s group where I live and other members asking me to read their stories and make suggestions. Some aspects of fiction and nonfiction editing are the same, though I prefer fiction editing now because of the language flexibility.
I’ll edit almost any genre, though I don’t read much romance or religious fiction and don’t feel qualified to evaluate work in those genres. However, if it’s a good story, if it piques my interest and holds it, I’ll edit it.
4Q: Anything else you’d like to mention?
PD: Yes. Learn your craft. Go to workshops and other types of writing instruction. Annually I go to a weeklong workshop at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop. There are often one-day workshops available most anywhere, but if that’s not possible for you, there are plenty of craft books out there: Stephen King’s ON WRITING; Ursula LeGuin’s STEERING THE CRAFT are two of the best. I firmly believe you can’t tell a good story unless you first learn the structure of a story.
Join or form a writing group in your area. It’s important to have a support network of like-minded people to encourage you and/or critique you—especially when the rejections occur. But most of all…
An Excerpt from THE YELLOW SCARF:
(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission.)
A Man of Means and Taste
“Though not yet arrived by the calendar but felt in the bones, winter in Sarajevo means its citizens will have to strip the city of its remaining trees for firewood. They will also resort to other sources of fuel: interior doors, furniture, even books and clothing, anything burnable.
“But that hasn’t happened yet. There is still hope things will go back to the way they’d been. Faint hope diplomacy will restore common sense. Fainter hope the U.N. will be effective for once.
“The waning autumn has dyed everything in the city a miserable gray, darkened the pocked buildings, and shrouded the mountain ridges with clouds, hiding the positions of the Serb artillery there. Even the people seem gray, their faces pale from a summer and fall spent inside and venturing out only at night for the false safety that provides. The fog over the city rarely dissolves in the weak sun, and a pall of smoke from thousands of wood stoves feeds the dingy air.”
Zachary Holbrook stopped the playback of what he’d filmed the day before. He knew what would soon happen on the tape, and he wasn’t ready to relive that yet. Also, the feel of the narration wasn’t quite right, even though he’d been editing it most of the night. No, he’d have to go back there with a fresh tape and reshoot some footage to lay the narration over.
He ejected the cassette from the Handycam and pressed a label on it. With a Sharpie, he wrote the date and the words, “Yellow Scarf,” on the label. He put the cassette in the messenger bag where he stored all his tapes, the bag he took with him everywhere.
Zack dressed in his least smelly set of clothes and pulled on his flak jacket. A check of the Handycam showed him it had a full charge, but he put extra battery packs in the pockets, along with plenty of blank cassettes. He took a back stairway to the Sarajevo Holiday Inn’s parking garage to avoid running into his media colleagues at breakfast. Many of them, who had regular jobs with American and European networks, looked down on freelancers, even when they paid to use film he’d shot because he would go to places they wouldn’t. He didn’t want any of them glomming onto him today.
Zack missed the little Fiat he’d had the year before, but this ancient Land Rover served him better. He could off-road out in the countryside. The stories weren’t always in the city. Rumors swirled about an orphanage between Sarajevo and the mountain ridge, caught in the crossfire. That would get good play. Maybe he’d head there later today, but first things first.
He pulled away from the mustard-yellow box of a hotel he couldn’t bring himself to call home and drove back toward Sniper Alley. Last year, someone had spray-painted “Welcome to Hell” on the wall of a bombed-out building near the Holiday Inn; it hadn’t faded.
Every day, for luck, as he passed the graffiti-ed wall, he intoned, “Welcome to Hell,” his mantra. He shoved a cassette of his favorite music, a gift from his lover in Paris, into the tape deck and smiled when Mick Jagger began to sing, “Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m a man of means and taste.”
Thank you, Phyllis for being our guest this week. All the best to you in your future endeavors.
And thank you to my readers. If you want to discover more about Phyllis and her stories, please follow these links:
Amazon Author page: http://bit.ly/PADuncan
Facebook Author page: ww.facebook.com/unspywriter
Newsletter Sign-up: http://bit.ly/SecretBriefings