Sunday, June 16, 2013

Author Interview with Phoef Sutton

As some of you may (or may not) know, I am writing a serialized installment of The Dead Man series with two fantastically talented authors, Phoef Sutton and Lisa Klink.

Phoef (Cheers, Terriers, Coupling, Boston Legal) recently released a new novel:  Fifteen Minutes to Live which happens to be free this weekend.

He was kind enough to drop by for an interview and I had a great time finding out what makes him tick.

Why did you write 15 Minutes to Live?

It’s my first novel. I’d always wanted to write one. I’d been searching for subject matter when I read Oliver Sacks’ THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT. In it, he talks about Korsakov’s Syndrome, a form of amnesia that makes impossible for a person to form new memories. After that, the ideas just flowed.

What is it about this project that makes you happy or proud?

I finished it! It’s a huge thing to finish a book, regardless of whether it’s good or not!

What was one of the first books to inspire your interest in this genre?

When I was a kid, I used to read the ALFRED HITCHCOCK mystery anthologies, and that lead me to the works of Cornell Woolrich. RENDEVOUZ IN BLACK, THE BRIDE WORE BLACK and his marvelous short stories full of romance and dread and doom. I was lucky enough to adapt one of his novels, I MARRIED A DEAD MAN, to the screen as MRS. WINTERBOURNE. I guess his works have always stayed with me.

Who influenced your voice as a writer?

I feel silly mentioning names like James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler in the same breath as mine, but they were writers who made me want to write. Also, as I said, Woolrich and such diverse names as C.S. Forester and Richard Matheson. I was a voracious reader and I lived my childhood in books. They gave me companionship in a friendless existence!

How did you learn how to write? How did you develop your style?

I started writing like everybody else, alone in a room. I learned to write when I got my first job in television, writing for CHEERS, under the tutelage of great names in the field of comedy writing; Les and Glen Charles, David Lloyd, Ken Levine and David Isaacs, Bill and Cheri Steinkellner. They taught me how to outline, how to write and, more importantly, how to re-write! Writing a half-hour comedy might seem to be a whole ‘nother animal from writing a novel, and it is in many ways, but the basic tools of writing remain the same.

What is your process when you begin a new project?

I guess the first step on the road to any piece of writing is when you think about the notion all the time. In the shower. On your walks. When you should be thinking about something else. Basically when you can’t stop thinking about it. I’ve had many “good” ideas that evaporated from my mind. A lot of writers jot down ideas or fragments of ideas they might develop in the future. I do just the opposite. I try to forget them! If an idea doesn’t keep bobbing up in my mind for at least a few months, I’m not meant to write it.

What are some writing tips or tricks that work for you?

I find that the hardest part of writing is starting. Facing that empty blank page (or screen) and knowing that it’s first thing anyone will read or see is rather daunting. One trick I use is to start writing somewhere in the middle. Just to break the ice. I pick a scene I think I know well and just start at it. Once I’m in the flow of things, I go back to the beginning and find that it’s much easier to tackle. When I get to the scene I’ve already written – well, it’s a nice surprise to find it done. Though I usually have to re-write it from scratch!

What is one of the happiest moments in your writing career?

I could say when I won two Emmys for CHEERS. But to be honest, it was first moment I was on a sound stage with a script of mine in production. The glorious feeling of having people laugh at words you wrote is never to be forgotten.

What advice do you have for people who want to become writers?

Write. Write, write. Write. Write horrendously bad stuff until it gets better. That’s the only way to do it.

What upcoming projects are you working on?

I have two new novels that should be out this year or earlier next. One is a hard-boiled mystery novel called CRUSH. The other one is a ghost story called FROM AWAY.

Now... Just for fun...  You're in heaven (so anything is possible) and you own your own television network. What shows are on your channel?


What is your favorite pen to write with?

I used to love writing longhand, with a fountain pen. I have quite a collection of ink stained pens. But about six years ago I suffered a massive brain aneurysm that all but killed me. Since then, my handwriting (never very good) has been rendered so illegible that I can’t even read it. It’s too bad, because I miss the physical contact of writing by hand. But now I seem to be chained to the computer.

Favorite beverage while writing?

Diet Root Beer.

Name five books you love.

THE HORNBLOWER SAGA by C.S. Forester. I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson. THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY by Patricia Highsmith. THE DORTMUNDER NOVELS by Donald E. Westlake. And ANNA KARENINA by Tolstoy. For starters.

Leather bound editions or paperbacks with a great pulp fiction covers?

Pulp fiction covers. I used to prowl used bookstores and collect them. When they had used bookstores.

Tell us about your favorite teacher and how he or she influenced you.

Dr. Roger Hall at James Madison University taught a course in playwriting that was the only actual course in writing I ever took. One assignment he gave us was writing a play without dialog. I learned so much from that. That a story is about what people do, not what they say

What is your favorite quote about writing?

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” — E.L. Doctorow”

Thank you so much, Phoef for coming over to talk with us!  Make sure to check out his book, Fifteen Minutes to Live, available FREE this weekend on Amazon Kindle!  Like his page on Facebook and follow him on Twitter!

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