Mike Phillips is author of The World Below and Reign of the Nightmare Prince. His short stories have appeared in ParAbnormal Digest, Cemetery Moon, Sinister Tales, Beyond Centauri, the World of Myth, Mystic Signals and many others. Online, his work has appeared in Lorelei Signal, Kzine, Bewildering Stories, Midnight Times, and Fringe. He is best known for his Crow Witch and Patrick Donegal series. Please visit Mike at http://www.mikephillipsfantasy.com.
1) Tell us a little about your book.
The World Below: In ancient times, magical creatures inhabited the earth. They lived on mountaintops, in the branches of trees, at the bottom of lakes and rivers. But that was long ago, before the human race declared war on the creatures they feared and hated. Now the enchanted peoples are all but gone. Those few that remain fear being stretched out on an examination table in some secret, governmental facility. The only place they can hide from the ever increasing number of satellites and smart phones is in the World Below.
Mitch Hardy is going through a hard time in his life. In his early twenties, he was working his way through college when he suffered an accident that left him flat broke and physically deformed. With some good advice from a friend, Mitch decides to make a fresh start in a new town. Things start looking up. Mitch finds a place to live, a decent job, good friends. He even meets a nice girl. Unknown to Mitch, his new girlfriend is one of the elder race, the faerie folk.
Lady Elizabeth is looking for a father she never knew. The key to finding him is somehow tied up with the mysterious Blade of Caro. Desperate, she steals the Blade from its protector, the despotic ruler of the World Below, the Dragon of Worms, Baron Finkbeiner. When Elizabeth is kidnapped by the Baron, Mitch is pulled into a world he never dreamed existed.
2) What gave you the idea for this particular story?
I can’t trace The World Below back to a single idea. I knew I wanted to do an urban fantasy, something where I throw out the rules and just have fun. I always liked the bad guys in books and movies, so I thought it might be interesting to let the goblins be heroes for a change. I threw in some adventure and romance and there you go.
3) Do you read widely?
I have diverse reading habits. Short stories, poetry, novels, I read it all. I have an interest in science and engineering, so I read a lot of non-fiction articles as well. When I’m reading fiction, I gravitate toward stories of the supernatural. Some of the new authors you find in online anthologies are really pushing the boundaries of the genre and are worth checking out if you haven’t already. I also like historical fiction. My most guilty pleasure is the Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell.
4) Who are your favorite authors?
WB Yates, Margaret Atwood, Walter Mosley, Neil Gaiman, Dean Koontz, James Lee Burke, and Jim Butcher are some of my favorite writers. When I’m taking a break from writing, I like to read old favorites like Watership Down or Anansi Boys.
5) Who influenced you most?
The poetry of WB Yates has been a big influence on my writing. I love the imagery. My style of writing is most influenced by James Lee Burke. Beyond that, I must give a nod to Dean Koontz. He taught me how to write suspense, how to draw out key moments to make the action more dramatic.
6) What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?
I love storytelling. I try to make my writing as imaginative and as vivid as I can. I write in the horror and dark fantasy genres, but I don’t go for blood and guts and the gross stuff. I like suspense and things that puts the senses on edge. That said, in The World Below goblins become the heroes. They do, admittedly, tend toward the behavior of fifth grade boys. So you might get a gross out or two from them.
Oddly enough, it never fails to surprise me when readers and editors tell me how scary my writing is. On more than one occasion, I’ve been credited with nightmares. I’m not typically frightened by the supernatural. Real violence, especially against women and children and animals, only makes me angry. So for me, the real thing to fear in modern society is accountants.
8) Where can we find you online?
Staying in touch is not my strong suit. Sorry. I have mikephillipsfantasy.com, but to date I’ve done nothing with it. I’m a regular on quite a few print and online periodicals. My Crow Witch and Patrick Donegal series of short stories have been especially well received. The World Below launches in a month. I promise to get the website up and running soon.
9) Is there anything in your story based upon a real life event? If so, tell us about it.
I’m a safety engineer by trade. Being a chemical and industrial hygiene specialist, and living in Michigan, I’ve spent a lot of time in heavy industry. The accident Mitch suffers at the beginning of the story is based upon what I’ve seen in my career. He gets burned by molten iron. I had a similar experience, though mine was certainly not as serious as the one Mitch goes through. I was “baptized”, initiated, into the crew. They overcharged a crucible of iron and jogged the hoist control as it passed by me. It ruined my favorite leather jacket and scared the heck out of me, but they knew what they were doing. I got a shower of sparks without a single burn on me. What a way for the union guys to say, “Welcome to the club, kid.”
10) When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I never wanted to be a writer. I went to college, got a great job when I graduated, and was bored out of my skull. I didn’t have any money when going to school, so I was used to working forty hours a week and taking a full time schedule. When I got my “real job” I had more down-time than I ever had in my life. Stories just started developing in my mind and I thought it would be fun to write them down. Now I can’t stop. If I don’t write, the stories work their way into my head anyway. The only way I can get the stories to leave me alone is to write them down. Don’t get me wrong. I love writing, but it was never anything I set out to do.
11) Have you ever written something that you’re afraid to let other people read? Why?
Talking about my writing embarrasses me. I don’t know why. I’ve had great success with my short stories, but I never told anyone that I was a writer until my first novel, Reign of the Nightmare Prince, came out two years ago. Then, I had to come clean to my friends and family. You know, I get a kick out of seeing my work in print or online, but to me it’s all just academic. I write what pleases me. I don’t think of the people that –wait, now I am…
12) Why do you write the genre(s) you do?
Stories of the fantastic, stories or terror, these have always delighted me. Writing for me is all about pushing the boundaries of my imagination. The more fantastic it is, the better. That’s why I write in horror, dark fantasy, and Sci-Fi.
13) What is the toughest part about being a writer and how do you get past it?
The toughest part about writing is marketing and staying in touch with my readers. I feel a deep sense of gratitude to all those people who have supported my work over the years. I wish I was better at telling them how much I appreciate their loyalty. I also have a sense of obligation to my publishers. Taking a chance on an unknown like me is a huge financial risk. I feel that I need to be better at supporting what they are trying to do in promotions and sales. I’m afraid that all too often I fall short of expectations in this regard.
14) How much is your protagonist like you? How different?
In The World Below, the protagonist is a guy name Mitch Hardy. He’s just starting out in life, trying to put himself through college. He wants to be a teacher, to influence young people in a positive way and give back to his community. Life has treated him harshly, but because of those experiences, Mitch has a strong sense of right and wrong. I wish I had been as mature at his age.
16) What kind of research did you do for this type of story?
I’m proud to say I’ve done absolutely no research for The World Below. It all comes from what was bouncing around in my head at the time.
17) Do writing violent or highly sexual scenes bother you? Why or why not?
I don’t like writing scenes with profanity, explicit sex, or gratuitous violence. The world has enough ugliness in it already. That’s the world we live in, though. That’s the human experience. So ignoring sex and violence would be a mistake.
18) What about your book makes it special?
The World Below is one of the wildest rides you’ll ever take. It’s full of crazy characters, imagination, magic and action. I hope you all agree.
19) What are your thoughts on the future of books?
My next book, Dawn of Ages is coming soon from Damnation/Eternal Press. So look for that sometime around the New Year. I’m about half way through a sequel to The World Below. The working title is The World Beyond. I’m also editing a collection of my Crow Witch stories. When completed, I hope to find a good home for that too.
20) What are your hobbies? Do you ever work them into a story?
I’m a farm kid and I like to get my hands dirty. Every year, I dig up my suburban yard and do something different. My neighbors think I’m nuts. I call it gardening. In my Crow Witch series of short stories, Miss Weigenmeister is an avid gardener. She gets better results than I do.
21) What are you passionate about?
Spending time with family and friends, travel and the outdoors. Reading and writing fits in there too.
22) How do you want to be remembered?
Go ahead and forget me when I’m gone. I’m not at all worried about being remembered. I try to be the best person that I can be in the here and now and not worry too much about what life will bring.
23) How does your childhood influence your writing?
What a great question. This is the most significant influence on my writing. I grew up on a small farm. We grew most of our own fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs. We heated out house with wood. We built the majority of the furniture ourselves in my dad’s workshop. In the summer, my dad turned off the television and brought us to the library. Now, our closest neighbor was a mile away, and they weren’t very fun. So, most of my summer was spent reading. My love of a good story came from that experience. My characters are hardworking, fun loving people. I was the third of four brothers, the rascal, the smart mouth. I like a good scoundrel and I think others do too.
24) Everyone has a quirk; what’s yours?
I love animals. I grew up with dogs and cats and all the different farm animals you can imagine. I even had a pet duck that used to follow me around. Her name was Peeper and I rescued her from a weasel the night of her birth –or should I say hatching? My wife is allergic to fur, so I can’t have a dog or a cat or any of the usual suspects. I do have a pet rat. Her name is Sassy and she is my second rat. Once you get past the tail and the black plague thing, rats are great pets. They are very affectionate. They are intelligent and trainable too. I often think of Sassy as a very small dog. When I have a party, I bring Sassy out for everyone to meet. Am I cool, or what?