Many writers scribble ideas on the back of a napkin. But when Phil Giunta wrote the first draft of his novel Testing The Prisoner, he tried to do so in a very green way, by writing out the novel on the backs of scrap paper from his day job. Phil talked about the process of writing Testing the Prisoner as well as his writing process in our recent interview.
Tell me a little bit about your book.
My first paranormal mystery novel, Testing the Prisoner, premiered in March 2010 on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. It was published by Firebringer Press, a Maryland-based small press publisher. It’s distributed by Lightning Source International and is available from various online booksellers globally.
Testing the Prisoner is about a young small town mayor named Daniel Masenda who finds himself haunted by two opposing entities on the night of his estranged mother’s death. Each entity uses memories from his abusive childhood to manipulate Daniel into either forgiving his mother and allowing her to move on, or condemning her soul for eternity.
Daniel’s story involves reunions with a few people from his troubled past including a psychic-medium named Miranda Lorensen with whom Daniel had been deeply involved during their teen years. While writing the final draft, it occurred to me that of all the characters in the book, Miranda was the most viable to carry a spin-off novel or perhaps even a series (if I should be so lucky). Hence, my second novel will be another paranormal mystery with Miranda as the protagonist. We’ll get to explore her abilities a lot more as well her team of paranormal investigators that she briefly mentions in Prisoner. At this time, I’m about 44,000 words into the first draft. The working title is Enough to Kill.
I don’t believe I have any truly interesting stories about writing the book. In an effort to be “green”, about 70% of each draft was written on the back of scrap paper produced at work or from previous drafts. Corporate America is a great source of waste and stacks of innocuous documents are thrown away weekly. As most of these are printed only on one side, I collected it, popped onto a clipboard, and voila, instant notepad.
I tend to hand write first, type later. I’m not fond of staring at a computer screen for hours on end. As a Systems Analyst, I do enough of that on my day job. For me, there’s nothing like taking pen to paper.
Perhaps the only other noteworthy event was the fact that I began outlining the story in 2003 and only dabbled with it until January 2007 when long time friend and fellow writer, Steven H. Wilson, told me that had started a small publishing company and was looking for submissions. That was all the impetus I needed to get cracking and hammer out a worthy draft by July of that year. I don’t think I’d ever been more ambitious about anything in my life!
Steve is a very busy guy so it would take him months between drafts to read and provide feedback but never once was I ever offended by his suggestions, which were very insightful and our give and take discussions were always productive. He is wonderful to work with and I look forward to submitting my next manuscript to him and helping him grow the business.
I want to take a moment here to express how utterly amazing Steve Wilson is as a writer, publisher, actor, producer, director, and convention organizer. Most of all, he is a good friend and mentor. In addition to Firebringer Press, Steve also co-founded the Farpoint SF media convention in 1993 and shortly after, created the Parsec and Mark Time award winning podcast site, Prometheus Radio Theatre. Steve writes, produces and directs original SF, fantasy and horror audio shows with a very talented cast of voice actors, some of whom have written episodes or entire series of their own.
Steve encouraged me to record the audio book for Testing the Prisoner on my own. I was nervous and very self conscious at first, but I’m fortunate enough to have a fiancée who is very knowledgeable about audio. So I set myself up with a Blue Snowball mic, a Mac Powerbook, and Garage Band in April 2010 and completed the book on July 1. I recorded all characters and narrative. It was an educational experience and once I quickly cast aside all inhibitions, it was enormous fun!
I was also honored to do a short book signing in August to support Livestrong, the Lance Armstrong Cancer Foundation.
Tell us about you as a writer. What genre do you like to write in (science fiction, fantasy, romance, western, steampunk, mystery, etc?)
As a longtime science fiction fan, I started writing fan fiction in the mid-90s—stories from existing universes like Star Trek, Star Wars, Indiana Jones and a few others. I thought that fan fic would be the perfect training ground for me to hone my skills as a storyteller and I still believe this.
There are rewards to being a part of a large fandom. In 1995, I submitted one of my first Star Trek short stories to a contest that was sponsored by the Farpoint SF convention and while I was not the winner, I was apparently a top contestant. The individual who told me was Farpoint co-founder, Steve Wilson. We met for the first time that weekend when I approached him for an autograph on a Star Trek comic book that he had written for DC Comics.
Fifteen years later, Steve’s Firebringer Press is the publisher of my first novel, but he certainly didn’t take it easy on me. Steve and his team of editors truly challenged me. He and I had several productive discussions that truly made Testing the Prisoner a stronger book.
Of course, when I told people that I was working on a novel, the first assumption was that it would be a science fiction story. However, I have a deep interest in the paranormal, in what lies on the “other side”. I am not a fan of blood and gore horror, but give me a good ghost story any day.
What do you do when you aren’t writing?
When I’m not writing, or working on my house, I like to get out on a lake or river with rod and reel as much as possible. Sometimes, I’ll bring my manuscript with me and fish in the morning, then write in the afternoon by the water.
I’m also a celeb junkie and, along with my fiancée and our friends, I attend about six to eight autograph shows per year including Farpoint, Shore Leave, Chiller Theatre, Wizard World comic con, Monster Mania and any other shows that catch our attention.
I don’t watch a lot of TV but there are a number of shows I like that alternate seasons with one another, especially on Syfy (a name change that I find irritating) like Warehouse 13, Eureka, Stargate Universe, and Ghost Hunters. I also enjoy Psyche on USA. As a Star Trek fan, I love the classic series through Deep Space Nine and I’m a diehard fan of Richard Dean Anderson so MacGyver and Stargate SG-1 are at the top of the list.
What do you do to spark your creativity? Do you write to music? Fish with a pen in one hand and paper in the other? Choreograph fight scenes while balancing on the back of your couch and using a paper towel roll as an improvised sword? (Or maybe that’s just me)
Sometimes I think of a cool title first then form a story around it. Such was the case with Testing the Prisoner. I had an inkling of an idea that expanded to a bloated outline which was then trimmed down to a more focused and emotionally powerful story. Many of the more moving scenes were written while listening to music. I have very eclectic tastes so one day I could be inspired by a few songs from Seal or Natalie Merchant while the next day, it’s the Moody Blues, Grey Eye Glances, Genesis, or the soundtrack from a season of Doctor Who.
I don’t think I’m alone in that there are certain artists and songs that inspire a certain mood or get the creative juices flowing. Many times, I’ll craft a scene to a particular piece of music and very often the result is remarkable.
Any advice out there for people who want to get started writing?
As a first time author, I don’t pretend to have sage advice. I will say this: read, read, read! If you’re interested in fiction writing, read books in the genres you enjoy. Observe the styles of each writer, the rhythm of the stories, pacing, character and setting descriptions, etc.
You never stop learning. Read books about writing. If time and finances allow, take a creative writing class if you can find one.
As for the mechanics of writing, my process starts with a treatment and a list of characters with short bios and those are poured into an outline of the story. The outline is never static, it evolves even as I write the narrative.
There are so many avenues to publishing today that the process of getting your work out to the public is actually less daunting, yet can be more confusing, than ever whether it’s traditional publishing, small press, self-publishing, POD, eBook. Research these options to determine which is best for you.
Any upcoming appearances we should know about?
My next scheduled appearance will be at the Farpoint media convention, February 18-20, 2011 at the Timonium Crowne Plaza in Timonium, MD. http://www.farpointcon.com
Where can we find you on the web?
I can be reached in a number of ways:
On FaceBook, I have both my page: http://www.facebook.com/phil.giunta#!/phil.giunta
And a group dedicated to my paranormal mystery novel, Testing the Prisoner: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=243145030368
My Live Journal blog, which began in June 2010, can be found here: http://pgiunta.livejournal.com
At the moment, my blog posts occur on a bi-weekly basis (sometimes more often) and are limited to articles about writing, updates on the audio version of my novel, book signings, and references to other writers that I know. In the near future, I intend to expand the blog to include related topics such as interviews with other writers, discussions of films and television shows, and convention reports.
My publisher’s website also contains information about Testing the Prisoner: http://www.firebringerpress.com