A big welcome to my guest today, Phil A Davis, award winning architect and hugely talented author, all the way from the island of Maui. He studied music and was a songwriter and performer from 1969 to 1971. He has been a practicing architect since 1984 and has worked on projects across the U.S. and in other countries around the globe. Phil and his lovely wife Barbara have three grown daughters, three granddaughters, and a grandson. Apart from being a really great guy, I love his writing, and find his points of view on many subjects really inspiring. Thanks for joining me Phil. Love the lei!
When did you start writing? Did you write as a child, and how do you think that your life has influenced your writing? Share a little with us about who Phil A Davis, the man behind the pen is.
My oldest friend, Graham, is the son of two prominent actors who performed at the Laguna Beach playhouse way back in the fifties and sixties. Later in life he became an accomplished actor and was once a part of Clint Eastwood’s troupe. He is best known on the silver screen for a supporting role in the movie Pale Rider. He’s living in Virginia with his wife and teaching theatre at the University of Virginia, and we get in touch about once a year.
Graham and I used to make up stories, always fictional verbal accounts and each of us would contribute a portion to advance the story. It was all on the cuff and there were times when we actually did some of the storytelling with his parents listening – that must have been entertaining.
I didn’t do much with writing or storytelling again until I was in high school. Music became important to me when my then girlfriend asked me to join a singing group that performed locally. I wrote a few of the songs we performed and actually learned to score music on my own because most of the members could actually read music. As you can imagine, when I went to music school I was bored for the first year. It became a long piano lesson that I intend to kickstart in the future.
The end to my potential music career came when a few of us broke off and started performing in local bars and coffee houses and it was three years of working for next to nothing. As idealistic as I was I came to realize that our chances of becoming the next “thing”, or anything for that matter, were pretty slim. I broke off from the group and took a two-month vacation to drive across the country. I flew from Los Angeles to Maryland and then drove from Virginia to California. The trip didn’t take long to make life changes in my thinking. I remember sitting by a remote lake in Tennessee watching lighting bugs fly among the reeds along the shore and thinking architecture school didn’t seem so intimidating.
My young life as a musician is a time I look back at often when I am writing.
Tell us a little about your two very different careers. Do you sometimes wish you could just write all the time?
I have many interests, but creative endeavours have always challenged me.
I’ve always loved working on cars and I paid a large part of my college tuition keeping them running for friends and other students. I hated that I smelled like parts cleaner most of the time and my knuckles looked like I was a prize fighter in the thirteenth round. At that point in my life girls were becoming discerning young women and my red knuckles and odour wasn’t appealing to them or me. I still work on my cars, but only as a break from my version of everyday insanity.
I was also a pretty good baseball player in high school and college and for a time was scouted by the Los Angeles Dodgers – that is until an arm injury took me out of contention.
Architecture is my mistress. It always was, even when I studied music, and it always will be. It’s hard to explain the feeling of creating environments that people live and work in. It’s not just the buildings it’s the impact we as architects can have on people’s lives – and all the cool technology that is being employed today is something I’ve waited years to see evolve.
I did my thesis on “Passive Gain Solar Systems” way back in ’78 and back then I came to understand that the technology wasn’t up to the dream. I really thought we had come a long way since putting a man on the moon, but we were neophyte’s in a world we’re just beginning to see emerge today. We’re getting closer to the dream and we can do a lot in making buildings smarter and safer, but there is still a long way to go.
Up until three years ago I only wrote for mental recreation. I don’t tout my novel The Red Poppy too much, but it was written over twenty years ago on my Mac Plus. It was parked on a floppy disk, far from my professional pursuits until I ran into Jason Mathews. Jason opened my eyes to self publishing. I dug out that floppy (and it actually worked) and did some editing. The urge to write was re-invigorated in me at that point and I’ve kept on going since.
Raindancer was about half way complete on the same floppy disk so I did the same and published it as well.
When I was deeply immersed in The Affect of Red my wife was visiting in California and Colorado most of the spring and summer that year. Architecture work was pretty slow at that time so I was able to develop my writing habits. I wrote from 4 am to 9 am every morning. By 6 pm I was back at it until around 10 or 11 pm and by the end of the last chapter I was physically and mentally drained. I then asked my editor (Amy) to run through it with me and the dance started over again.
I work that same disjointed way today. Small bursts of inspiration in the morning, a little mind wandering around mid-day, and then back to more writing.
I love reading different genres by my favourite authors, and you in particular do them all incredibly well. What were the inspirations for Affect of Red, Raindancer, and Red Poppy? Do you maintain the same writing style across genres, or do you take on a different author persona for each of them?
New technology has always interested me. Even today I will sit and watch YouTube videos on new technology, physics and scientific subjects (Geek – I know, I know).
The explorer in me really came to life when Star Trek and Star Wars came out. Although I was never of a mind to become a trekky, I did spend a lot of time thinking about the reality of space travel and the technology it required.
The movie Serenity had the most impact on me as a writer. The characters were more interesting and very different than other space-based stories. Although technology is part of the story, it was mostly in the background and the personalities of the characters drew me in. I’ve watched it several times and still enjoy Mal’s (Nathan Fillion) wild west gunslinger persona. The sexual tension between him and Morena Baccarin (Inara) isn’t too far removed from Marshal Dillon and Miss Kitty from the old western, Gunsmoke, and it’s a relationship much to my liking.
But I didn’t want to get pigeon-holed into SciFi. I wanted to write something in the fiction genre for a change, but I needed a topic to draw me in and hold my interest.
The topic became apparent when I began to think about the human condition we experience today. I saw a program on human trafficking and was horrified with the images. I remember thinking that as a species we’ve come a long way, but we’re still very primitive in many respects. The strong (still) exploit the weak, men abuse women and children bear the brunt of societies short comings.
I needed a cause to write fiction and The Affect of Red came from the disgust for this exploitation. I thought about how to present the subject for some time and after doing some research I began an outline. To get my details correct I did volumes of research on human trafficking, and then I read other novels on the subject. Two were very graphic, I mean blow-by-blow, hardcore descriptions. That’s not my style, but I’m glad I stuck through it. The brutality is harsh, but it’s real today.
There were times when I almost stopped writing. One part of the story that is a mainstay of the storytelling, a short chapter of 2083 words and it took me over a week to write. I walked the beach from Kihei to Maalaea almost every afternoon that week. I considered what I was about to do and what was the best way to do it. I was breaking major writing rules. I knew the reaction would be strong but I was in twenty chapters and needed to see it through.
Why? Because my writing style, no matter the genre, is an exploration of my characters lives. I came to know Camille Durran, Robert Jordan and Stacy Babineaux like old friends and there was only one resolution to my hesitation. Do it and don’t look back.
Do you have a favourite genre to read or write?
Just something that holds my interest and is written well. Thanks to Lelani Black (a good Hawaii girl), I’ve even read some romance.
You live in a very beautiful environment. How do you prefer to do your writing? Out on the beach, or do you have a particular writing area and set routine?
When I talked about distractions earlier I wasn’t talking about sitting on the beach to eliminate distractions. Really? Sitting under palm trees and tickling the keys sounds very romantic, but you know who shows up on the beaches of Maui? Too much skin – way too much distraction.
Believe it or not, I write at the kitchen counter.
Architecture for me these days is more about solving problems and less about designing buildings, but it’s all done from my home office and I spend long hours at that desk.
I need a change of venue for writing. I also know my most creative work comes in the mornings as opposed to afternoons. It’s quiet from 4 am to 8 am in the kitchen and I can listen to music (with my earphones) or enjoy the quiet.
What books have influenced your life most?
OMG! What part of my life are we talking about?
I had an English professor who loved Ibsen. We read Narcissus and Goldman and Beneath the Wheel (among others) that semester. I attribute my love of intense character development to Ibsen.
Anything by Mark Twain. He had an amazing gift for words, wit and humor. Tolstoy’s grace in the simplicity of his writing influenced my belief in what good writing and thorough storytelling is.
Contemporary indie writers like Liz Hoban, who writes amazing fiction much in the style of Pat Conroy, Sarah Hoyt’s science fiction and Mary Fan’s science fiction have had an influence on me through their writing. Oh yeah – there’s a girl from South Africa by the name of Jo Robinson whose prose is magical and whose point of view is unique.
Coming from you, that’s the nicest compliment I’ve ever had. Thank you Phil! Now, tell me, What do you find most challenging when you’re writing?
My finicky, convoluted style or writing. If I don’t know it, can’t see it or believe it, I won’t write it.
I’m glad you have such a fantastic imagination then! What do you like to do to relax, when you have the time?
Barb and I both have a lot going on. We try to get down to the beach at Ho’okipa or baby beach and just walk. I grew up in a beach town and the ocean was always a soothing place for me. Barb didn’t have the same experience growing up in inland Orange County, but living in Hawaii and spending so much time at the seashore has instilled the same sense of cleansing in her.
Living in paradise gives us the advantage of getting away to one of the large resorts for a weekend. When we lived on the Big Island and our youngest daughter was away at college we’d get a room at the Royal Kona or the Outrigger in Mauna Lani and have a short Hawaiian vacation. Really! A Hawaiian vacation just like any of you would enjoy.
I’ve been travelling for work quite a bit lately and Barb recently decided to start coming with me. We just did a couple of days at the Ala Moana in Honolulu. I visited sites with my client during the day and then Barb and I played tourist in Waikiki in the evenings. It was a great time and something we will continue.
Learning new things has become a new form of relaxation these days. Coding Java has caught my interest recently. Who knows, maybe particle physics next week (Geek – I know, I know).
What are your thoughts on publishing and marketing books in this new world of the internet?
Writing a novel is an incredible adventure. Marketing is tedious, internet or not.
After attempting to publish The Red Poppy years ago I learned that breaking into that world was much like the music business. Sure, you’ve got to have some talent, but it’s better if you know someone who’s willing to help push your career.
As an indie writer I’ve come to believe that books in the mainstream have a sanitary feel about them. Don’t get me wrong, the work of today’s top writers is incredible no matter the genre. But it’s all so formula-driven and just like Hollywood, it’s all so perfect and so predictable, and it’s all so controlled by the big publishing houses.
When I read for pleasure I always seek out something from the indie world. The internet has given us access to great writers and stories via Amazon, Goodreads and Smashwords – there’s so much out there. I could read every hour of the rest of my life and barely scratch the surface of what’s available.
Tell us about your books?
Isn’t that what I’ve been doing?
Mmf, titter. The covers for all of your books are great. How did you choose them?
I can’t say too much about cover design. Until I started using Photoshop (in my case, GIMP) I’ve thought my covers have been pretty one-dimensional.
As there is a lack of bookstores here on Maui (and the Big Island) I’ve resorted to combing the books at Costco for cover inspiration. I know I should just scroll through Amazon but I’m always looking for an excuse to get out and interact with people from time to time.
Cover design starts early in the writing process. A recent habit has been to find images that depict characters and settings for my stories. It’s become a standard process in developing my characters and for me it really helps with the writing. My editor was all over me during The Affect of Red. The words “Get into her head!” was a familiar cry in her editing comments. I found that coming up with images helped me identify with my characters at a different level earlier in the writing process. When I came up with an image for Camille Durran she became familiar and easier to write. With Amy’s help I went back to the beginning and re-wrote her character. She became more real to me through that experience and I crossed some difficult bridges in my writing during that process.
I’ve done the same in my current SciFi series (Beyond the Door) and I’ve turned all the images into a Glossi (online magazine). It’s just another way to stave off block and I get inspiration and I’m able to generate different covers as a break during the process of writing.
I love that idea, and have every intention of pinching it! I know that affairs of the real world have a big influence on your writing. What would you change in the world if you could, and what affects you the most.
I’m affected by the ignorance of educated people and the tolerance of those same people to let shameful acts continue, and then do nothing.
When we were young our inexperienced and sometimes undisciplined minds jumped without thinking for almost anything. Enthusiasm is part of the growing and learning process. Today I see grown adults blindly drawing conclusions based on the beliefs held by their social groups. I see leaders who aren’t leaders, they’re more like celebrity entertainers.
Maybe it’s always been that way. Maybe it’s the 24/7 media with a voracious appetite that brings it to light, spewing venom in the guise of news stories.
Don’t get me started, Jo. Until recently I’ve stayed away from social commentary in my writing. Up to the time I delved deep into research for The Affect of Red world affairs was never a part of my writing mindset.
Just recently I did inject a little corollary to current affairs in my scifi series that runs on my blog, but that’s about as far as I’ll go. Rather than providing a mirror on society, I view my place in writing as an entertainer, hopefully a teacher and inspiration motivator. But I’m always looking for ways to draw my readers into the story.
How would I change this world? Eradicate ignorance in its many forms. It’s a game changer – maybe the exploitation of young women and children would stop if people really stopped to think – stopped to really care. Maybe, just maybe…
Hear, hear! I totally agree. So. Do you believe that fiction can make the world a better place, and if you do how do you think it could be written to make any sort of social impact?
As writers we have the opportunity to entertain and teach. Not teaching like lectures and lessons, but something more subliminal. Fiction should capture the readers interest, open their eyes to an objective or bring humor into their lives.
When I put on my writing hat I might take my reader into the gutter and expose man’s inhumanity to man, but my characters struggle and find a way to overcome. Good over evil is a yin & yang of storytelling, but the reality is that evil never goes away – it requires periodic maintenance.
What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you in your writing career?
My novel, Exit Wounds, just flowed out of me a year ago. I don’t know why I wrote it, but there it is on Amazon.
My main character is a young hit-woman in Europe. Although she wants ‘out’ she knows the only retirement program is a death sentence.
When I got to what needed to be the end of the story I reached a philosophical dilemma. Hoping I could spare her I had her successfully managed to extricate herself from the profession of death, and then I had two choices: let her re-enter normal society and fade into obscurity, or make her pay for her past.
I was bothered by my choices and began soul-searching for the right path, so I posed the dilemma to ten friends, five men and five women. Here’s the general gist of their responses:
From the men: is she good looking?
From the women: let her burn in hell.
And now your latest book! What is Affect of Red about?
Robert Jordan and Camille Durran both find themselves victims of failed relationships. Robert is a studio manager for successful engineering firm and Camille is a young attorney in San Francisco. They both have consuming jobs that leave little time for romantic affairs.
Camille meets Robert in a bar in San Francisco. She is wearing a red evening dress and she attracts Robert’s attention. They both quickly realize their connection is a fairy tale of love at first sight. They meet the following weekend in Reno, Nevada for lunch, and then find themselves fleeing to Costa Rica from the Russian Mafia thugs who are after Camille. They fall in love, and when they return to the US, they marry, have a child, and begin living an idyllic life in the wine country of California. But the threat of the Russian Mafia never leaves their lives.
Thank you so much for taking the time to join me here Phil. It’s been fantastic to find out more about you, and your amazing life, and I’m really looking forward to reading Affect of Red soon.
Find Phil Davis on Amazon.
Visit his author website.