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Phoenix Connor


How do you handle writer’s block?

I’m fortunate in that I have have two close friends, also writers, who are incredibly supportive and patient with my writing problems. If I paint myself into a tricky corner and am unable to get out, I usually use one of them as a sounding board. I don’t expect them to provide the solution, but somehow the very act of verbalising a plot problem seems to eventually trigger a solution from my subconscious.

What’s your typical writing day like?

I try to get in an hour’s exercise before I head to my study. Since I’ve definitely inherited slug genes, my natural inclination is to never exercise a day in my life. But being a writer, by definition, means long hours of typing and thinking—great for finger and brain workouts, terrible for the rest of the body.

When I finally get down to writing, I start a scene by examining what I want to achieve in it. What are the plot points I want to hit? The character points? What’s the purpose of this scene beyond mere action? Action by itself is just sugar—full of empty calories. It’s far better to make each scene substantially layered in some way.

After I’m satisfied with the planned scene, I start writing, aiming for at least a thousand words a day. When I’ve reached my goal I print off the pages and revise them several times.

I usually write 5-6 days a week, finishing late each evening. Of course, these hours are interspersed with the usual life interruptions: domestic chores, family situations, appointments, and so forth. Over the years I’ve learned how to focus on my work despite a noisy family; I’ve also learned how to juggle activities, like revising pages while waiting for the car to be serviced.

How much research did you do for Crater?

A lot. Important avenues of research started with books, magazines, and documentaries, along with some internet sites. Once I had an overview of my topics, I branched out into broader areas. For example, besides going to California, where the story is set, I also explored the crater of a mildly active volcano in Hawaii and wandered through its lava tubes.

To research the rock climbing incident that opens the story, I climbed and abseiled down a cliff face—not once, but three times; I figured that if I memorised the experience, I’d never have to do it again. (Did I mention that I dislike heights? Hard to believe, considering the number of height-associated activities I’ve done in my life.)

Where possible I spoke to experts in various fields: herpetologists, disaster management personnel, police, bikers and doctors. I’ve always found people to be friendly and helpful, with most enjoying the opportunity to share their passion with an interested listener.

How do you know Dean Koontz?

Many years ago I interviewed Dean for a series of articles I was writing on him. Since then we’ve maintained a steady contact.

When I wrote Crater, Dean was kind enough to give detailed comments and suggestions on various aspects of the manuscript.

Over the years, I’ve used Dean’s work as a how-to guide for writing. I’ve studied his use of lyrical descriptions; how he creates suspense; his use of atmosphere almost as a character; the intricacies behind his characterisation and backstories; and his ability to develop action scenes.

Of course, no writer can—or should—try to emulate the work of any other writer. I didn’t want to be a clone, a pale version of the more vibrant original. I wanted to develop my own voice. But I knew I could learn from the masters, even if I only absorbed a fraction of their skills. It’s one thing to read how-to books, it’s another thing to actually see that advice being applied in published novels, and to then try and incorporate some of those skills into my own work—again, in my voice.

An old Chinese proverb says it best: I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.

What are your favourite books?

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. Brilliant.

Dust by Charles Pellegrino. This novel deals with the ramifications of all insect life dying out on the planet. Gripping and enthralling.

Watchers by Dean Koontz. A wonderful cross-genre book that combines horror, suspense, romance and humour—plus the world’s most engaging dog, Einstein.

Sahara by Clive Cussler. A fabulous fast-paced adventure novel with a gripping story and a plot that twists and turns.

The Last Gasp by Trevor Hoyle. A well written and intricately plotted story of an ecological disaster that results in the diminishing of the world’s oxygen levels.

Replay by Ken Grimwood. A middle-aged man dies and is reborn in the body of a 16-year-old, with all his adult knowledge and memories intact. This is the start of countless deaths and rebirths.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. A classic whose poetic beginning and memorable ending bracket an engrossing story of love, sacrifice and revolution.

Who are your favourite writers?

The authors mentioned above, plus:

In literature, I enjoy Shakespeare, Henry Handel Richardson, Leo Tolstoy and William Makepeace Thackeray.

Contemporary fiction favourites include James Rollins, Steve Berry, Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, Tom Clancy, Wilbur Smith, Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Isaac Asimov.

I don’t have a lot of time to read non-fiction unless I’m doing research, but I enjoy the works of Bill Bryson and Sir David Attenborough.

In screenwriting, I’m a great admirer of Joss Whedon, the creator of the TV shows Buffy and Angel; his plotting, dialogue, pacing and characterisation skills are brilliant. Other screenwriters whose work I admire include David E. Kelley (Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal, The Practice, Picket Fences), and Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing).

What are your future adventure goals?

I’ve already flown along the Grand Canyon and hiked its rim, now I’d like to whitewater raft down its Colorado River. Scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef ignited an unsuspected passion for the underwater world, and I’d love to dive in other tropical paradises, including Pulau Sipadan in ‘The Land Below the Wind’—Borneo.

While I’ve enjoyed touring the museums and art galleries of Europe on past vacations, I much prefer wilderness environments, and am determined to explore the wonders of Antarctica one day. Exotic Turkey, where I traced the Silk Road, has awakened a desire to visit Masada in Israel and Machu Picchu in Peru. I’ve hiked in Death Valley and Bryce Canyon and, in keeping with my love of the wilderness, want to explore the beauty of Patagonia in South America.

With so many wonderful and exciting places to visit on the planet, it would take several lifetimes to see them all.

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