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Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Interview with Phillip Chen, Author

Philip Chen was born in China in 1944 and immigrated to the United States in 1949. Growing up in Washington, D.C., during the 1950s and 1960s, Philip learn both the pains and triumphs of American society at a crucial turning point in America's history. After receiving a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering with Distinction from the University of Virginia and a Master of Science from Stanford University, he worked as an ocean research engineer in the development of deep submergence systems. Part of his work dealt with vehicles that could freely dive to 20,000 feet of water depth. He also participated as a hyperbaric chamber operator for manned dives. Although his training included being pressurized in the chamber (he went as deep as 125 feet) he was not qualified or crazy enough to go 1,500 feet. They used US Navy underwater demolition team members for that task. They were the predecessors to SEALs. He holds one U.S. Patent for an underwater mooring system.
After his stint as an ocean research engineer, Philip was an environmental and energy engineer, a trial attorney, a public securities attorney, an investment banker, a corporate executive, a private equity manager (in Africa), a strategic consultant, a cartoonist, an illustrator, a website manager, and author. He received his law degree from the University of Minnesota.
One of his mentors once told Philip that it wasn't that he couldn't hold down a job; he couldn't even hold down a career!
Philip's biography has been included in Who's Who in America and in Who's Who in the World for many years.


Tell us about Falling Star in a few sentences.


Falling Star uncovers the truth about mysterious objects buried deep in the oceans that suddenly awaken and start sending signals to outer space.  Mike is abruptly pulled out of a comfortable existence back into a dark world of intrigue to help decipher these signals.  In the course of doing so, he is attacked by bands of ordinary Americans bent on killing him.  On top of all this, Mike learns that a revered friend has died.  Will the death of Mike's friend mean that the secret of the mysterious objects will remained forever buried in the silt and muck of the ocean bottom?


What qualities do you need to be a successful writer?

You have to have a thirst for the unknown whether that unknown is in the people around you, mysterious happenings, or how the world evolves.


What is your working method?

I constantly mull over the storylines for my work; arranging and rearranging events and characters.  The actual process of putting thoughts on to paper, or into computer bytes flows smoothly once the sequence has hardened in my mind.


What is the single biggest mistake made by beginners to writing?

Writing before they actually have anything to say.


How did you come to write this particular book?

In 1990, I had a series of recurring nightmares in which gangs of ordinary Americans engaged in apocalyptic violence against other people and institutions.  Because I was traveling to London on a regular basis and carried a Compaq Aero, I started typing on the red-eye flights and on weekends.  Within one and one-half months, I had a 560 page manuscript completed.


If you have a favourite character in your novel, why that particular one?

I particularly like Mildred, a kindly old Norwegian grandmother who possesses a most unusual trait and skill.


How can people buy your book?

At this time, Falling Star is available only as a Kindle Book.  It can be found at http://amzn.to/Falling-Star.


To what extent are grammar and spelling important to a writer?

Correct use of English is very important and I work hard at making sure my manuscripts are grammatical and that my spelling is correct.  Unfortunately, mistakes will inevitably happen.


How much revision of your MS do you do before you send it off?

Multiple and never-ending revisions, even after it has been sent off.


Where and when is your novel set and why did you make these specific choices?

Two major time periods were needed to make this story work.  The first was the discovery of the objects by an oceanographic survey flight and the second was the abrupt recall of the principal character Mike back into the clandestine agency to help decipher the messages.  The U.S. Navy actually was engaged in geomagnetic surveys around the United States in the 1960s and this provided an interesting nexus to begin the tale.  Some who have read this novel have asked if this story is real.


To what extent do you think genre is useful in the publishing world?

I think that genre is important; however, I think that too many people blindly follow these artificial categorizations in making decisions to buy books.  Falling Star is a thriller, but with a definite science fiction theme.


What are your writing habits?

As I discussed above, I mull over the scenes for a long time and then have bursts of writing to capture my thoughts.  I have recently found that early morning is probably the best time for my writing.


How do you know where to begin any given story?

I am an engineer by training and I find myself usually starting from scratch in conceptualizing a story.  In Falling Star, I start with the discovery of the mysterious objects.


What sort of displacement activities keep you from actually writing?

The need to provide food, shelter, and education for my family has been the greatest displacement activity that has kept me from writing.


Do you have support, either from family and friends or a writing group?

No.


Is presentation of the MS as important as most agents and publishers suggest?

There are a thousand ways to say no and only one way to say yes.  While I have not heard that my "presentation" of the manuscript has kept my book from being published; I think that I have heard every other reason.  I supposed that if I had "presented" my manuscript by tying it to the steering wheel of a brand new Porsche 911, it might have worked in my favor.


How long does it normally take you to write a novel?

I have completed two manuscripts; each took me about one to two months after I started writing.  Editing takes considerable longer.


What are your inspirations?

I have these stories running around aimlessly in my head, crying to come out.  I find that even ordinary interactions are filled with absurdities; that can blossom into the most outrageous scenarios with one small change.  Take Mildred, for example.  I married into a Scandinavian family and began learning about the typical older Norwegian woman, who endures her life, but fills it with attempts to bring happiness and joy to those around her.  Well, give that person a special proclivity, make her very, very good at what she does, and you have Mildred.


If there’s a single aspect to writing that really frustrates you, what is it?

My greatest frustration was trying to get traditional literary agents and publishers to take a look at my manuscript.  As I have often said, "I endured the slings and arrows of outrageous rejection from righteous agents and publishers for too many years before finding Kindle."  [Spoiler Alert]  For twenty years, agents and publishers probably thought that my sub-plot about foreign agents living in deep cover in America, marrying, having children, growing hydrangeas, and working at ordinary jobs was preposterous.  After all, something like that could never happen in our country.  Then June 2010 arrived ….


Do you think writing is a natural gift or an acquired skill?

I believe that it is a combination of gift and acquired skills.  Just like the opera singer with a natural talent will not be able to sing at the Met, an author with a great story will go nowhere unless he or she can put that story down in a cogent fashion.


What are you writing now?

I am writing the sequel to Falling Star.  The book will be called, Plain View.


Is there any aspect of writing that you really enjoy?

Telling the story and having people interested in what I am saying.


Do you have a website or a blog that readers can visit?

I have several, but I need to spend more time with each.
The first is my community message board, Soundings: Puget Sound Speaks at http://pugetsoundspeaks.com.  Incidentally, I invite independent authors to come and talk about their work on this site.  Another feature of this site is that I am moving my cartoon blog, There is Strangeness in the Universe, to the community message board.


Given unlimited resources, what would be your ideal writing environment?

Making enough from writing so that I can continue to write.


Where do you actually write?

On my computer keyboard in my office at home, such as it is.


Falling Star, a thriller, uncovers the truth about mysterious objects buried deep in the murky depths of the oceans and secret government attempts to uncover their real meaning.  These objects wake up and start sending messages to outer space. Mike is pulled back into a clandestine world that he thought he had left behind to uncover the truth about these weapons. But he is attacked by gangs of ordinary looking Americans and must fight for his very life.  On top of all this, Mike learns that a revered friend has died. With the death of this friend, will the secret of the mysterious objects remain forever buried in the silt and mud of the ocean bottom?
The book is available as a Kindle at:
One reader recently said in his review:
Great read that left me wanting more (rumor alert: sequel in the making!?) With the political/military intrigue of a Tom Clancy novel and the Sci-Fi feel of the 2001/2010/2061 Arthur C. Clarke novels coupled with the page turner, fast paced plot of a Dan Brown novel how could you go wrong. Chen's knowledge runs deep and shines in the book. His characters are very cool and well written.
The book was also positively reviewed by Robin Hathaway, the Agatha Award winner for her mystery novels and Gordon Ryan, an author of Political Thrillers.
Gordon said in his review:
As an author of political thrillers, I was quite pleased to discover Phil Chen's Falling Star while browsing the Kindle offerings. From the early pages, I knew this was a writer to be taken seriously. Mr. Chen has penned a dynamic, thought-provoking cross between contemporary thriller and science fiction tome. His characters are well developed, the multiple storylines complex, and the ending . . . well, you'll have to see for yourself. Suffice it to say that I feel this particular ending is NOT the ending for this writer. And I anxiously await the follow-on volume.
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/24267 (Smashwords)  (The eBook is on Smashword's Premium Catalog)
https://www.createspace.com/3493702 (soon to be released on Create Space in Print at Create Space, Amazon, and Booksellers)
My sites:
Finally, I am a proud member of Operation E-Book Drop.  http://www.operationebookdrop.com/
Thank you for conducting this interview.
Best regards,
Philip Chen
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