Eleven Questions for: Lyda Phillips

MrTsmallLyda Phillips is a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. Her novel Mr. Touchdown was awarded first place by the Writers Notes Book Awards, juvenile fiction, and an honorable mention from the Independent Publishers Book Awards, multicultural juvenile fiction. A native of San Antonio, Lyda went to school in Memphis, Tennessee, and has degrees from Northwestern, Columbia, and Vanderbilt universities. Here are her positions on eleven burning issues.

Q:
Indie authors have a lot of jobs on top of writing. Which do you think is the hardest? Which is the most fun?
A:
My day job?

Sorry, I know you mean all the other things we have to do that a legacy publisher might, or might not, do for us after publication, like advertise, promote, solicit reviews, enter contests, sell to bookstores, buy a booth at BEA and put stacks of the new release on tables, with us behind, signing away. Indie authors have to do 99 percent of that for themselves. The hardest part for me was cold-calling bookstores, schools, review sites, and risking that patronizing pity indie authors so often encounter. That “bless your heart” reaction. The cold touch of loser dust falling on my head.

Absolutely the most fun was school visits. Kids don’t give a flip who published your book. They just like to put off taking the math quiz for an hour or so. Plus they ask great questions and are usually cute. But wait, I just remembered that by far the most satisfying experience I had was visiting the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis (Mr. Touchdown is set in Memphis, 1965), and seeing a group of kids act out a scene from the book. I think a tear or two might have been shed.

Q:
Mr. Touchdown deals with some difficult issues. What was the most challenging part of writing it?
A:
Putting my characters in jeopardy. I was in a great writing group in in Nashville at the time and one of us ran across a bit of advice about treating your characters like a teacup on a slanted table, slipping closer and closer to the edge. The advice was to keep tilting the table. It was really hard because you start to love your characters and want to protect them. But that’s not dramatic tension.

Q:
There’s a lot of indie vs. traditional debate out there. Name one factor that you don’t see discussed often, but that you think writers should consider when deciding which path to publication is best for them.
A:
I think most writers should make an attempt to publish traditionally, try to get an agent. That process informs and educates, it gives you an eye into what works, what sells, what sucks, what’s ridiculous and mocked, the importance of grammar and proofreading. (Jen? You said you would correct typos, right?) [Note from Jen: I didn’t find any.]

Q:
Fill in the blank: When I sit down to write, I must have ________.
A:
a chair.

Seriously, I can write with pen on paper in a coffee shop, on a laptop at work, sending myself an email, in silence or with my husband grinding smoothies next to my ear, sitting on the porch staring out at the yard. What I can’t do is sit up in bed and jot notes to myself.

Q:
Plotter or pantser?
A:
A bit of both, I pants and then I plot, pants, plot–back and forth to the last syllable of recorded time …

Q:
Mr. Touchdown takes place in 1965. That’s not far in the past, but it was still a very different time. Did you do any particular research or have any particular rituals to put yourself in the right frame of mind?
A:
Mr. Touchdown is semi-autobiographical so a lot of it was memory driven by guilt. I also heavily researched the Civil Rights era, especially events that happened in Memphis, most of those after 1965, like James Meredith’s March Against Fear, the Memphis Sanitation Workers strike, with the chilling slogan, I AM A MAN, which directly led to Dr. King’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel. And I could slip into that world just by remembering the smell and sound and chaotic excitement of the cafeteria in my high school.

Q:
Best cream pie?
A:
Coconut, but best PIE is Miss Sally Bobo’s Chocolate Fudge Pie, Lynchburg, TN, home also to Jack Daniels.

Q:
You write both novels and screenplays. Are you equally comfortable with both? Has your experience with one influenced how you approach the other?
A:
I started with novels, moved to screenplays and felt I had found my place in life. I was a wire service reporter and screenplays totally synched with that rapid fire, no padding, tell the story in dialogue and action. When I tried to move back to writing novels, I have found it very hard to make myself fill in all the thoughts and feelings and description that a screenwriter knows will be handled by the cinematographer and the actors’ faint smiles and raised eyebrows.

Q:
What are you reading right now?
A:
I just finished The Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan, and am about to start Under Magnolias, by Frances Mays (Under the Tuscan Sun), which I’m reviewing for Chapter 16, a book review and essay site sponsored by the Tennessee Humanities Council.

Q:
Best marketing tip?
A:
Don’t let your hurt feelings make you quit calling.

Q:
Fictional character you’d like to hang out with?
A:
Boris from The Goldfinch

 


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