I met Phil Locascio at Love is Murder in February. He's a nice guy, and while a newcomer to mystery, he's not at all a novice writer. Phil has published several horror titles, but his latest book is in the mystery genre. He kindly consented to chat with me about it.
Hi, Phil! Thanks for chatting with me.
How are things in the Illinois capital?
Well, I work for the State of Illinois and we haven’t had a raise in a few years. The Governor’s a real a__hole toward state employees. The good news is I only have 8 days left before I could retire if I wanted. I've got a 13-year-old, so not yet I’m afraid, but it’s good to get to that point.
You have a strong reputation as a horror writer, but now you’ve entered the realm of mystery with The Sins of Orville Sand. Can we assume that, with your bent toward horror, this is a rather dark book?
Actually I don’t consider it a “dark” book. It’s really a story about the things people “have to do," and how even if you want to do the right thing, somebody’s liable to get hurt. It’s an ongoing theme of my work. Both of my first novels revolve around it, as does the one I am working on now.
Based on what you’ve said about Orville Sand, you seem to have a sort of Stephen King sensibility in your theme: the ordinary man caught up in extraordinary events. Is this a fair assessment?
Yeah, my heroes are generally young people who find themselves entering that part of their lives when they have to start doing and figuring things out for themselves, and it is not always clear what the right course of action is. They want to choose good, because that’s what they have always been taught. But no one told them doing the right thing would be so hard to figure out.
The supernatural or horror /suspense element of the story is sometimes just a vehicle for me to deliver the message I want to.
I met you at Love is Murder, and you are a very friendly, mild-mannered person. Why do people so often think that a friendly personality is incompatible with writing horror?
Some of the nicest people I have met are horror writers. Basically I find them to be low key, very sensitive, intelligent and friendly. There are some prima donnas also, but they are everywhere. I think you have to be intelligent and sensitive to write good horror. Otherwise it turns into messy bloody slasher bullshit. Generaly good horror always has an underlying message it’s trying to tell that is apart from anything to do with horror.
You mentioned, on one of your panels, that people are always surprised when they read your books, saying, “It was actually good!” Why are people unwilling to believe in the writing ability of their friends and neighbors?
Because they can’t conceive that their friends actually could be one of those writers of great books they have read. Sometimes the anonymous nature of (reading)keeps up the illusion that some “wonderful, fabulous” writer is responsible for the work. Or that the book just “came to be” from out of the ether, like looking at a majestic mountain in the distance. No one is really responsible. It’s just there!!!!
Okay, that was two “why” questions in a row, so I’ll toss a “how” question at you. How do you go about plotting your books? Do you have a specific process?
Yeah. I sit in a chair, stare at walls, and think about possible plots. I also am constantly reviewing the short stories I wrote earlier, trying to think of how I can make them into longer pieces. I think that if I found a good story to make a short story out of, then I was convinced of the [quality of the]work in the past and therefore [could conclude] there was a good story there.
Will your next book be horror or mystery?
If it’s either, it will be as a side issue to my main point of people having to try and wind their way through a maze of decisions they must make. The one I am working on now is basically a suspense/thriller. I think that is what I really write.
What are some of your favorite books, and what are you reading now?
I am reading The Terror by Dan Simmons, who is one of my favorite authors. Ken Follett is another. Some of my favorite novels are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Call of the Wild, by Jack London, The Dead Zone by King, Intensity, by Koontz, and The Man from St. Petersburg,” by Follett.
An interesting mix. Do you find it difficult to make time for writing, or are you able to work it into your daily schedule?
It’s hard to find the time. You've got to fit it in wherever you can. Just like finding time to work out. Got to put your mind to it and always keep it in the forefront of your motivations.
Tell me about it. How are you promoting Orville Sand?
Any way I can. Just had an article published about me in the latest issue of Springfield’s Own Magazine. It is a Springfield, Illinois hometown magazine, but very well done, all color. And they sell them at Barnes and Noble. I have done signings, been on radio interview shows, had a newspaper article written about me, etc. I also had made up color bookmark-type postcards that I mailed to everybody in the Horror Writer’s Association, and I give them out everywhere I go, to everybody I know.
Good tips. I'm writing those down. There’s some discussion about unusual names on DorothyL this week. Your character’s name is, in fact, unusual. How did you come up with it?
I wanted a name that would portray a guy with a kind of a semi-nerd first name but dominant second. Both intellectual and driven. I think I accomplished that.
Is your wife also a horror or mystery fan?
Nope. She wonders what goes on in the head of that man next to her in the bed.
I was recently in Springfield, and I visited Lincoln’s tomb, where I witnessed a moving 21-gun salute to the 16th president. What other sites would you recommend?
The brand new Lincoln presidential Museum is an absolute must see. State of the art, like a Disney attraction type thing. Outstandingly done. Well worth the trip. Also Lincoln’s home, his office, etc.
If you could have lunch with any writer, living or deceased, who would it be? Why?
Edgar Allan Poe, my favorite. Did I forget to mention him earlier?????
What’s the best part about being a writer?
Going to Barnes and Noble, seeing a friend there who doesn’t know I am a writer, drag him over to the book shelf and say to him “Have you ever read anything by this guy?”
That's good. I'll have to try that. :)
Thanks for talking with me, Phil. Good luck with the promotion.