Phil is a lifelong freelancer with 300 articles and short stories published in multiple magazines, including The Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, Harper’s, Yankee, Troika, Heartland USA, Make, AOPA Pilot, Southern Boating, and many other travel, aviation, and boating publications.
In addition to his magazine publications, Phil also has a collection of short stories out. “Dagger and Other Tales”, includes a number of previously-published yarns such as “The Cat from Hell,” an award-winner begun by Stephen King.
“GUNS”, his debut novel in the John Hardin series, earned honorable mention at the London Book Festival.
- Tell us about this book. Is there a central message? How will it add value to a reader’s life?
- If you could compare this book with any book out there we might already be familiar with, which book would it be and why?
(PB) One that comes to mind from a generation ago was Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann (1966, “Dolls” is a euphemism for pills). We apparently haven’t learned a lot as a society in the half-century since. There’s now a pill for everything, and they’re often still overprescribed and abused.
- Tell us about the central characters in the book. Are they pure fiction or did you draw from people you know?
(PB) The protagonist is John Hardin (a WITSEC identity because of his dark past), who’s a pilot, motorcycle rider, lover of old western movies, astronomy buff, and likes to work with his hands. That’s me, essentially, except John is a lot more charismatic, resourceful, and handsome. John’s girlfriend is a beautiful independent Cherokee lady named Kitty Birdsong, who rides her own motorcycle. My lady Naomi (incisive critic, excellent editor, soul mate) is also part Cherokee.
John shares his log home on Eaglenest Ridge overlooking the Great Smokies village of Maggie Valley with octogenarians Hank and Hattie Gaskill, escapees from a depressing rest home where they had been legally confined. They’re probably based on my maternal grandfather, John Caughey, a lean stone mason and builder who lived to 103, and his good wife Hattie, loved by everybody who ever met her.
- Tell us your most rewarding experience since publishing your work?
(PB) I keep a file of notes and e-mails from readers who have liked the books. It’s about two inches thick now. I peruse it whenever the road ahead looks too steep to continue.
An example: “This is the first fan letter I have ever written in over twenty years of reading . . . your books have taken me back to what I miss the most, the outdoors and all its splendor, what it means to be alive . . . your writing stays with me as I step up the physiotherapy intensity . . . I thank you sincerely.”
That came from a man in Birmingham, England, confined to a wheelchair because of an auto accident. It’s taped to the wall behind my computer.
- If someone wrote a book about your life, what would the title be?
(PB) The Man Who Never Stopped Trying
- How would you describe your writing style?
(PB) I learned a lot in writing articles and short stories for major magazines over several decades. I try to be clear, concise, and accurate. Rather than use easy clichés, I’ll study people and nature until I can write my own descriptions for freshness. I like to write as much as possible from actual experience to add verisimilitude. You read over and over, for example, that “shots rang out,” but I’ve never heard a shot “ring out” in my life and I own and shoot five guns at targets. You have to actually shoot a gun before you really know what it feels, smells and sounds like and then you can truthfully describe it.
I want to set the next novel in Africa, but I’m uneasy because I’ve never been there. So it will take lots of detailed research, at least, before I’ll be confident launching into it.
- Who influenced your writing the most?
(PB) My mother, Edith, was an excellent newspaper reporter back when reporting was supposed to be scrupulously objective and unbiased. She interviewed Boris Karloff (Frankenstein’s monster on the movie screen, but a mild-mannered gentleman in person) and Eleanor Roosevelt, a lady she much admired. She told me real and imaginary stories, and instilled in me a love of and respect for language, for its beauty and power.
- Are you more of a character artist or a plot-driven writer?
(PB) I basically create a cast of characters and then see what happens as they interact, making most of it up as I go along (not an uncommon writing process that some of the greats have used; at least that’s my excuse). This means lots of going back and revising to make everything work out, but it’s the only way I know. I wish I were a much better plotter, like Jeffery Deaver, who with his wife’s help lays out every scene in successive ever-more-refined outlines before he even starts writing a book, which helps him build in many clever plot twists.
- Other than selling your book, what do you hope to accomplish with it?
(PB) I hope my books entertain above all, and maybe cause a few readers to smile or shed a tear, and even incidentally learn something or at least gain a new perspective on some issue.
And I think every writer would like to leave a few books behind as a modest legacy.
- Who should buy this book? Who did you write it for?
(PB) Everybody in the known universe. But especially for fans who’ve asked for another in the series.
- Where can readers find you and your book?
(PB) Direct buy links in print or e-book at www.philbowie.com