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!
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.
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.
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.