Join us as we peek behind the scenes of our upcoming anthology, ON TIME. Learn more about Phillip T. Stephens in his featured interview.
ABOUT THE STORIES
What inspired your story?
I first wrote Coincidence and Correspondence as my annual monologue for the Texas Liars Contests (a series held at different cities throughout the state). The gag was that my wife would call my cell phone as I was finishing the story and I would tell the audience (spoiler alert), “Sorry, I have to leave. That was the sheriff…”
The dream in the story is a real dream I had often as a child, a recurrent insecurity nightmare, a theme which underlies the story.
Aims True developed from a series of sketches I wrote while plotting a novel about an artificial intelligence trying to influence the past. I never finished the novel, but I made the first chapter into this story.
Can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist?
Coincidence and Correspondence
I wrote Coincidence and Correspondence to read like an autobiographical account. To do this, I borrowed details from my life. Both of us are ministers’ sons, both lived near a lake, both of our families hovered near poverty because our fathers’ churches didn’t want to pay decent salaries, both our fathers died young, and both are married to a woman named Carol. Both had next-door neighbor named Vic who put us up to stupid pranks.
My protagonist lives next to a boating dock on the lake in an impoverished community. His neighbor Vic convinces him to swim in the lake even though his parents forbid him. When his father confronts him, he lies that he fell in the lake because he saw a dead body chained to the pier. The father calls the police, who find a body in the lake exactly as he described.
Restless One would do anything to be a heroic hunter like his uncle, who saved their prehistoric Algonquin tribe during a blizzard. He is so desperate to prove his worth that he ventures into taboo territory with his uncle’s prized spear. While tracking a herd of bison, he discovers why the tribe forbids members to enter the valley.
What is the most interesting thing about the world you’ve created?
I try to create new and interesting things every day. My favorite may be my novel Raising Hell. A clueless optimist makes life miserable for Lucifer by making hell the best place of eternal damnation ever. Raising Hell plays with a number of favorite themes, including
- the mind-numbing oppression of bureaucracy, and
- the limitations of punishment as a tool of enforcement.
What genre or mix of genres does your story fit into?
I wrote Coincidence as literary fiction, but it contains elements of mystery and science fiction too. Think of the original Twilight Zone series. Aims True is both science fiction and historical fantasy.
How have your personal experiences influenced this story?
Coincidence and Correspondence
During my childhood, I dreamed of being abandoned by my mother in a theater and confronting faceless men as I tried to get home. It is one of two childhood dreams I remember (the other being sitting with other families on the roofs of our houses while helicopters swarmed the skies accompanied to the Junior Birdman tune).
If there were any personal experiences I drew on, it might be the frustration of a capable young man whose teachers failed to recognize he might have anything to contribute. (This is a situation I encountered often as a teacher when other teachers belittled and suppressed students who were smarter than they were.)
What would you like readers to take away from your story?
Coincidence and Correspondence
Modern physics speculates that causation travels forward and backward in time. I want readers to consider the implications. I also wanted to explore the notion that impulsive actions reverberate with unintended consequences long into the future.
This one was just for fun, although I realize the theme of impulsive decisions and their consequences does recur.
What was your favorite part of the story to write, and why?
Constructing timelines that made sense from every moment in the stories.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
When did you write your first story, how old were you, and what was it about?
I was in fifth grade, and I a fan of MAD Magazine parodies. Our teacher asked us to write about life in New England, so I wrote a parody of Miles Standish.
What is your writing survival checklist?
Write. Just write. As often as possible. If you can write without cats walking across you all the better, but if you rescue cats, as we do, cat free writing is a pipe dream.
What has influenced you most as a writer?
I’m eclectic with influences from a variety of schools of art, music, literature. I’m also influenced by history, philosophy, religion and science.
Two books most influenced me: Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins, and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Two teachers who influenced me
What font do you prefer to write in?
I find monospace fonts to be the most legible and the easiest to select and correct. I prefer Courier, but my writing app (Ulysses) uses San Francisco, which is a reasonable Sans Serif alternate.
Do you have any writing blogs/vlogs/podcasts, etc. that you would recommend?
No. There are too many blogs with conflicting advice. What works for one writer doesn’t work for others. Two of the best general resource blogs are Chris the Story Telling Ape and Sally Cronin’s Smorgasbord Blog Magazine. I would also recommend Rayne Hall’s Writers’ Craft series, especially her Word Loss Diet entry.
I also would recommend taking at least one college writing course and finding a writing group who will provide open, honest and even brutal criticism while encouraging you to find your voice.
What is your favorite and least favorite word, and why?
“Shit” is such a useful word. I spend several pages extolling the virtues of “shit” in Raising Hell. It’s short, visceral, and sums up your emotion at the moment.
Teamwork is my least favorite word, mainly because it’s used as a bludgeon to cudgel more talented team members into compliance with group think. I used to tell students, “there is no I in teamwork, but there is no “us” either.” When I heard it repeated in a soda commercial, I thought, I’ve made at least a small contribution to society.
Phillip T. Stephens attended the writers’ workshop at Michigan State before teaching writing and design at Austin Community College for 20 years. His writing and art appear in anthologies, online, print and peer-reviewed academic journals. His work most recently appeared in the Kill Switch, Monsters We Forgot and Frozen Adornments anthologies, as well as Maintenant, Flash Fiction Weekly and Duende. He lives with Carol in Oak Hill, Texas where they built a habitat in the shade of their oaks to house foster cats for austinsiameserescue.org. They found new homes for more than three hundred abandoned pets. You can find his work at https://medium.com/@reifinery.
ON TIME is coming in Summer 2020. Be sure to follow us on Amazon.