Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Get Lit. with Author John Phillips

In October 2015, I met John Phillips, author of Comfortably Nowhere. Phillips read from various poems and short stories at my Get Lit. night at Lit on Fire Used Books in Peoria. This month, Phillips is the featured author. On Wednesday January 20, you can pop in at Lit. on Fire between 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. to share your work—poetry, prose, song, or any creation. It’s BYOB and offers an incredibly welcoming and supportive atmosphere. Around 8:00 p.m. Phillips will take the stage where he will read original work and offer his insights on writing and publishing.

Phillips read original work at my Get Lit. night in October!

Phillips lives in central Illinois and writes poems and short stories. Most notably, he’s the author of Comfortably Nowhere, which he describes as a screenplay turned novel extravaganza. It’s both comedy and drama, and it’s available for purchase at Lit. on Fire Used Books, so you can snag a copy and get an autograph when you Get Lit.

He enjoys writing comedy and horror, as they can complement one another quite well, although his definition of horror is unique. For example, he describes horror as being stuck in a room with someone who is talking about something very uninteresting (my students can probably relate to that, John).

Phillips is currently working on a short story collection. He has written at least forty stories for the collection and has a few more on the way.

Here are a few additional questions I asked Phillips.

What’s your favorite book?

My favorite book is The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. It has this great absurdist story for most of the book before completely shifting gears towards the end. I also really like Jonathan Carroll's Land of Laughs, which is about a couple who go to the hometown of their favorite children's book author, only to discover a nightmare. Another favorite is Katherine Dunn's Geek Love, which is about a circus which slowly transforms into a cult. I also like the poetry of Charles Bukowski. Last Night of the Earth Poems and War All the Time are some of my favorite books of his.

What’s one of your favorite lines from your work?

"Jeff walked the aisles collecting more worthless crap into his cart. One thought repeated in his mind "Must buy more worthless crap."" From the short story "Blackest Friday," which is about shopping on Thanksgiving.

How did you publish Comfortably Nowhere?

For publishing Comfortably Nowhere, I decided to go the self-publishing route. It just seemed easier as Comfortably Nowhere is actually a screenplay, and I don't really know of too many publishers putting out screenplays for never realized indie films. That and I was really proud of what I had accomplished, and just wanted to share it with people on my own terms.

What advice do you have for other writers?

If another writer asked for advice I'd say the best material you'll write is the stuff you haven't thought of yet. I've found that I very seldom like a piece that I've spent a lot of time thinking about. But for the stuff that just comes to me and I get it down on paper quickly, that's the kind of stuff I feel to be my strongest material. I guess I'm trying to say keep an open mind and never be too precious about your writing, because that can really hold you back.

What advice do you have for those who wish to be published someday?

It's a fight. But it's a fight worth experiencing. It'll not only strengthen you as a writer, but hopefully as a person (as well as provide you with more material to write about).

What’s next on your to-read list?

Next I'm going to read The Manuscript Found In Saragossa by Polish author Jan Potocki. I don't know much about the book other than it's supposed to deal with secret societies, conspiracies and the supernatural, so it sounds like a real winner to me.

What inspires you to write?

Daily events inspire me to write. I'll see or hear someone playing the fool or acting self-delusional and I'll write something satirizing that. A lot of my writing, recently at least, has come from people not realizing how they are acting. Hearing someone express disappointment that there are no stores to shop at on Christmas day or listening to a girl argue with her boyfriend about how "we never fight enough" give me enough material to keep on writing.

What other passions do you have besides writing?

Aside from books and writing I also really like movies. I like art films and foreign films, but recently I've really been into independent horror movies made from the late 1960s to the mid 1980s. There's lots of gory little treasures like "Nightmares In a Damaged Brain," "Don't Go In the House" and "Last House on Dead End Street" made during that time. I also really like world music, starting with early ska and reggae from Jamaica then moving to stuff like American funk and soul music before going out to places like India for psychedelic funk or Nigeria for Afrobeat music.

What’s the hardest thing about writing?

The hardest part about writing is waiting for the idea to come to you. Sometimes it'll come to you quickly, but other times you'll have to wait.

What’s the most rewarding thing about writing?

The idea of creating something that wasn't there before.

Do you have a favorite character that you’ve written? 

I think the characters of Reilly and Oliver from Comfortably Nowhere would be among my favorite characters that I've written. They're both youthful, creative types that work well off each other: Reilly is a writer who doesn't know it yet and Oliver does all these obscure art projects like paint random sayings on realtor yard signs that he's stolen and places them in people's front yards. They’re both such oddballs and you don't know what either is going to do next. Also, there's two characters from a short story called "Babe Beer." Both characters are nothing more than foils to keep the story moving along and they both find out in the end that they are living in a beer commercial. It was really fun writing two characters who were so vacuous.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

would choose telepathy. But I would want to have already mastered this ability. I wouldn't want to be driven insane with people's thoughts or anything like that.

You can find Comfortably Nowhere in Peoria at Lit. on Fire Used Books on Main Street, I Know You Like A Book in Peoria Heights, as well as online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. If you make it to the Get Lit. event, you can get your copy signed!

During the Get Lit. with Author John Phillips event, he’ll be talking about the history of Comfortably Nowhere. It started as an experience with him and a few friends trying to make it an independent film and then becoming the book he published. He will also talk about how much more h came to appreciate writing and literature while working on his book, and how he continued to keep on writing once Comfortably Nowhere was finished and published. He will also be reading some poems and short stories for the event.

RSVP to the Facebook event here, and be sure to share it and invite your friends! 

About me:

Joe Chianakas is the author of the novel Rabbit in Red and is a professor of communication at Illinois Central College. Follow him on Facebook here


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