10 Questions With Author Phil Cobb

We’re back with the latest edition of ‘10 Questions’ and the man of many hats, author Phil Cobb. We had a blast coming up with questions for this guy. To quote Phil, “If I can entertain people and provide some laughs along the way, I’ll be a success.” Well, mission accomplished, Monsieur.

The former newspaper writer and editor’s responses are relatable, insightful, and humorous. Read on to see for yourself, we dare you not to laugh out loud!

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The Celestial Thread: Let’s start with the obvious, what are you working on now?

Phil Cobb: Here’s the pitch I sprung on literary agents at a writers conference: When an egotistical dog decides to become a hero, he messes up relationships, creates angry enemies, and panics the U.S government. More than one agent responded: “I don’t do dogs.” Well, neither do I; I’m just writing a novel about one. 

Currently, I am re-editing the draft -- a process that has me saying “Oh, my god” and rubbing my face in dismay like chef Gordon Ramsay. 

In addition, I’m crafting a novella as an origin story that will be a giveaway to help promote the novel. 

TCT: Paper copy, e-reader, or audio book – which is your preferred medium for reading? Any favorites you’d recommend?

PC: I have two full bookcases, plus a Kindle and a Nook. They all call to me with their siren songs, but I alternate among the three so that none feels slighted for too long. If there’s a choice for downloading a digital book, I prefer the Nook because its Eink is easier on the eyes. As for audio, I’m a virgin; maybe someday we’ll hook up.

TCT: Describe your writing style in three words…ready? Go!

PC: Direct. Inventive. Humorous.

TCT: If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?

PC: Turn off the tube and become the equivalent of a literary body builder. In other words, flex all the writing muscles by creating short stories in different genres: military, detective, thriller, romance, sports, sci-fi, et al, while trying out different styles in each genre -- sparse, wordy, flowery, overheated, stream of consciousness, etc. -- and rewriting each story from different points of view. 

Also, read a book for 30 minutes, then spend another 30 minutes analyzing the purpose of that passage and the techniques the writer used.

Crap. That’s what I should have been doing instead of watching game shows on television. Can I have a do-over?

TCT: Do you hide any secrets in your writing that only a few people will find?

PC: Sorry, there aren’t any clues to a hidden treasure, but there are references that I expect some folks will recognize and many won’t. For example, my protagonist encounters five buzzards, each with an odd name taken from a Charles Dickens character. Alert playgoers may figure out who was my inspiration for a dogcatcher’s relentless nature. There are many more, such as clues to the model I took from television for the wisest of beings and his baffling advice.

TCT: Who is your author hero, and why?

PC: Just one? I’ve got several, but let’s go with Tom Wolfe for his brilliant skewering of what I call human “graspirations” in “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” his masterful presentation of the space program in “The Right Stuff,” and his energetic “boffo” style of reportage in such pieces as “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.” 

TCT: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

PC: It’s a choice among a sloth, a snail and a turtle. Snail wins because a sloth gets nowhere and a turtle moves too fast. But if someday I can kick my writing speed into a high gear, my spirit animal will be the squirrel who chews on my nuts, the ones that fall from the tree outside my window.

TCT: What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? We’re lady folk, Phil…proceed with caution ;)

PC: I’ll start by saying that I have not tried to get in touch with my feminine side the way Norman Bates did in “Psycho.” 

Not knowing how women talk among themselves is a problem in writing dialogue. For example, if a woman is commenting on a blouse that a friend is considering, I can’t have her say: ”That sucks, bro.” Rather, I need to learn more code, a la: “Do you think that is your season?”

Also, to keep the narrative from bogging down, I cannot have female characters interrupting too many sentences.

Seriously, if I’m having a depiction problem, I go to the memory bank and draw upon the actions, personalities, motivations and machinations of lady folk whom I have known. 

TCT: What is the best money you ever spent as a writer?

PC: When I write, thoughts for new scenes will intrude on the scene that is in progress, so I jot them down and shove them off to the side. Later, like Dr. Frankenstein, I need to rearrange and stitch all those scattered parts into a logical narrative. Unfortunately, MS Word and OpenOffice weren’t flexible enough for me. WriteWay Pro and yWriter5 were more helpful. 

But I continually heard other writers crowing about the digital megalith: Scrivener. So, I watched a video that demonstrated its wonders. Drooled like Pavlov’s dog. Bought Scrivener. Uh-oh, couldn’t figure it out. Bought Learn Scrivener Fast to baby-step me through it. Ding, ding, ding! We have winners! Those two programs are the best writing money I have spent.

TCT: What are your future writing goals?

PC: I want to experiment with different genres. Right now, I’m listening to Dan Brown’s MasterClass on writing thrillers (whether you love his stuff or hate it, he is an excellent teacher). I also might try a mystery novel, perhaps with humor interspersed.

Overall, my goal is to enjoy writing. You see, I spent many years writing and editing material for companies and clients both full-time and overtime, leaving me worn-out time; but that’s over, and now it’s my time to do what I want. If I can entertain people and provide some laughs along the way, I’ll be a success.

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My Life -- Phil Cobb

I was born in paradise -- Hawaii -- but I was a military brat so we left when I was one-year-old, precluding any future happiness as a surfer, beach bum or hotel pool boy. 

Still, I can’t complain about my childhood. Going to school barefooted in Alabama was great. In Virginia, I got to dodge frozen dog poop that my best friend threw at me; he had gloves, I didn’t. 

In high school in Ohio, I didn’t get a letter sweater even though I was an athlete on the chess team.

At the University of Texas-Austin, I gave up my dream to become a marine biologist because my Bunsen burner wouldn’t stay lit in the chemistry lab. My consolation prizes were a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in journalism.

After taking a year off from responsibility to write the Not-So-Great American Novel, I got hired as a copy editor on the San Antonio Express. I felt like a real newsman when I got yelled at just like Jimmy Olsen on the Daily Planet. But when I found out that I made less money than the city’s bus drivers, I switched to the Houston Post. 

As time went by, I signed up for one of life’s standard packages: wife, kids, in-laws, pets and a mortgage. But they all needed money, so I switched to producing publications for Conoco. After that, I helped start a communications firm; we played a lot of solitaire while waiting for the phone to ring.

Today, I’m happily immersed in a bilingual Spanish-English marriage where I get chewed out in both languages. Other highlights: I’ve run a marathon and didn’t finish last; I took up yoga so it could put me in the hospital; I pick at my guitar like it’s a scab; and I’m teaching myself French while struggling to beat the computer at Scrabble. 

My sites:

  • Facebook: @philcobbauthor - Where you can see my famous shower photo.

  • Twitter: @PhilCobbBooks - I scour the internet for writing tips for you.

  • Website: philcobbauthor.com - A blog about fun, follies and loss of innocence in writing and life.


On the Blog Today: Author Q & A

Author interviews? We love them! it’s a great way to learn about other authors and what inspires them to write. And hey, if we’re lucky, we might even get a vibe on just how many cats they have.

So, we thought we’d try a new thing on our blog - a series where we interview authors in any stage of their writing journey. Published? Awesome. Writing your first draft? We can relate. Into writing poetry or flash fiction? Bring it on. You get the idea, we’ll come up with ten random questions for a quick bit of insight into what makes you, as an author, tick.

To kick things off we’re interviewing each other (blast the ego!). It’s a quick read, and if you make it to the end - thanks for humoring us. If you decide you want to join in on the Q & A fun, drop us a line in the comments and we’ll get in touch! (p.s. If we know you, consider yourself asked. 😉)

Authors, Denise M. Smith and Andrea Hunter

First up, ten questions for Denise:

  1. If the moon was cheese, would you eat it?

    Yes, but only if it was served with fava beans and a nice Chianti...

  2. What is one book you’ve read that you just can’t shake and why?

    The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. It’s horrible, traumatizing really, but at the same time grand sweeping and filled with wonder - a love story unlike anything I’ve ever read. It shattered me into a bazillion pieces - can’t wait to read it again! 

  3. What’s your writing Kryptonite?

    Prioritizing! I always wade deep in guilt for not getting “real stuff” done first. Also, Andrea sometimes reads in random accents - I am useless after that. 

  4. When you’re not writing or reading, what are you most likely to be found doing?

    Well, lately with our frigid Midwest weather I’ve been binging Netflix with my daughter - we watch all different genres, so I learn tons about character and story arcs. Like reading, it really helps with my own writing. Also, I enjoy fun hiking adventures with our ginormous dog. 

  5. Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

    Yes! Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina...ugh. Just. Can’t. Loved the movie, does that count? 

  6. When did the writing bug bite you?

    Oh, haha for a sec I thought you asked where! Um, I wrote a lot of interesting stories in grade school - paper notes count, right? But I didn’t get really into it until high school when I had an amazing and hugely supportive creative writing teacher.

  7. Kiss, marry, kill (hypothetically speaking, of course): Jamie Fraser, Edward Cullen, Mr. Rochester  

    Kiss - Jamie, love him but couldn’t live without modern amenities. Marry - Edward, only because my skin would sparkle instead of wrinkle Kill - Mr. Rochester, yuck! First wife in the attic? Circumstances be damned - reg flag! 

  8. What are you currently reading?

    The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton & Dana Fraedrich’s Out of the Shadows. One in the car, one on my nightstand. 

  9. You’ve invited your favorite author over for dinner, what’s on the menu?

    Crab legs and cold beer, “Welcome, Stephen!” 

  10. Would you rather live in a haunted mansion, or in an un-haunted cottage?

    UN-haunted cottage. I bring my own demons, so...

Still here? Awesome, Denise had some good questions for Andrea:

  1. If you could travel anywhere on earth right now where would you go, and why? 

    Bulgaria. It’s so full of mystery, history, and magic *wink* - it’s a perfect setting for our book - I would love to experience it in real life.

  2. What author/piece of writing most influenced you?

    Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It is beautiful in its simplicity, and timeless in its message. I was in 5th or 6th grade the first time I read it, and I’ve read it at least once a year since then. Every time I do I get something new out of it.

  3. What dream would you most like to realize? 

    I used to dream of being a rap music icon. And while I still feel like that’s an attainable goal (despite my obvious lack of musical talent), it has taken a backseat to getting our book published. 

  4. What song lyric speaks directly to you soul? 

    It’s so hard to pick just one, but my brain instantly goes to U2’s “All I Want Is You.” You know, the part (in my head) where Bono singles me out in an ocean of screaming Mrs. Bono wanna-be’s and sings, “But all the promises we make, from the cradle to the grave, when all I want is you.” Yeah, that’s the one.

  5. Who fostered your creativity more than any other? 

    My mom. She was crazy creative - like, no coloring books in our house because coloring on plain paper forced you to use your imagination - creative. She believed I could do anything, and made me believe it too! (Though, I think she was pretty clear in expressing her doubts about my future as a rap star.)

  6. What’s your favorite movie adapted from a book?

    Of course I loved Lord of the Rings, I even liked the Harry Potter movies (I know that’s a touchy one with some people). But One movie I love that was adapted from a book is Water for Elephants. Ugh! It got me right in the feels…I sobbed through the book AND the movie. 

  7. If you had unlimited money, what would you use it for?

    I’d bust out of Illinois and buy my goat farm in Montana. We’re talking goats for days. Then I’d host a Goat Farm Writing Retreat…yes, you’re invited. No, you cannot milk my goats.

  8. What’s the biggest Ah-HA moment writing advice you have received along your writing journey?

    I’ve gotten a lot of writing advice through the years. At first I took it all to heart…and you know, some of it was slightly soul crushing. I have this writer friend who I connected with on Instagram, we were recently talking about how we deal with rejection in our industry. It can be a tough pill to swallow, and you have to have thick skin, for sure. But she reminded me that perseverance is key. JK Rowling and Sylvester Stallone received dozens of rejections for Harry Potter and Rocky. BUT they kept at it and, well, we all know how things ended up for them! We even made up a hashtag to use as a mantra to not give up - #BeASlyBeAJK , I use it frequently!

  9. Would you rather have your book be published or turned into a movie or television series? Yes, and YES!

  10. What do you do in your spare time when you’re not writing or reading? 

    I’m in my garden when it’s not sleeping under a blanket of snow and ice. Otherwise, I enjoy taking hikes with my dude and dog, working on my sweet dance moves, and coming up with craft projects that will set the flea market circuit on FIYAAAAA! ;)

There you have it. The weird, the writerly, and the moderately entertaining duo. Want in? We’d love to come up with ten questions for you. We’ll share one Author Q & A each month - can’t wait to learn more about your authorly adventures!



Yikes!